‘Half Shabbos’ Article Triggers Full Range Of Responses


There was nothing halfway about the response to our article this week on Orthodox teens who refer to their seeming addiction to Shabbat texting as keeping “Half Shabbos.”

Soon after it was posted online Tuesday evening and before the print edition was delivered, the story went viral, prompting dozens of comments on our website as well as many more on various blogs.

It’s the fault of pampered kids, indulgent parents, clueless teachers; you name it.

In part, the piece highlighted the gap between adults who don’t understand why youngsters seem unable to give up their cell phones for 25 hours a week, and teens who don’t understand why adults are so shocked about this habit.

The article also seemed to touch a raw nerve in an Orthodox community threatened by evolving forms of the “slippery slope” theory, in which seemingly minor infractions of halacha could lead to more serious ones.

This case is unusual on several levels, though.

While texting on Shabbat is as serious a religious prohibition as, say, driving a car, most of the teen texters would not even consider tooling around the neighborhood on Friday night (even if they were old enough). They either rationalize that texting isn’t so bad, or are so addicted that they simply can’t stop.

Surprisingly few if any adults in the community are denying that the situation is very real, with the head of the Orthodox youth group NCSY acknowledging “it’s a big problem.” Just what percentage of teens are offenders is up for debate, though.

And then there is the relatively low-key approach parents and school administrators seem to have in response to teen texting, recognizing that pushing too hard may find the youngsters turned off to observance altogether.

Difficult as it may be, discussion/debate is healthy because the deeper issues here relate to parental involvement in their teens’ lives (to which, they acknowledge they may be unaware), and making Shabbat a more active and positive experience, and not just a litany of prohibitions.

I know one precocious five-year-old from an observant home who wanted to draw pictures on Shabbat and, when gently reminded that “Hashem says we shouldn’t draw on Shabbat,” replied: “Hashem is the master of the universe; what does He care if I draw?”

Good question.

Do we have good answers?

was editor and publisher of The Jewish Week from 1993 to 2019. Follow him at garyrosenblatt.substack.com.