For Many Orthodox Teens, ‘Half Shabbos’ Is A Way Of Life
At a recent campgrounds Shabbaton sponsored by a local Modern Orthodox high school, the teenage participants broke into small groups after the meals, as is usual, to talk with their friends.
On their cell phones.
Of the 17 students who attended the weekend program, said 17-year-old Julia, a junior at the day school, most sent text messages on Shabbat – a violation of the halachic ban on using electricity in non-emergency situations.
“Only three [of the 17 students] didn’t text on Shabbos,” Julia says. Most did it “out in the open,” sitting at picnic tables. “They weren’t hiding it.”
The students at the Shabbaton were not the exception for their age group. According to
interviews with several students and administrators at Modern Orthodox day schools, the practice of texting on Shabbat is becoming increasingly prevalent, especially, but not exclusively, among Modern Orthodox teens.
It’s a literally hot-button issue that teachers and principals at yeshiva day schools, whose academic year ends this week, acknowledge and deal with it in both tacit and oblique ways. For the most part, they extol the virtues of keeping Shabbat rather than chastising those who violate it.
The practice has become so widespread – some say half of Modern Orthodox teens text on Shabbat – that it has developed its own nomenclature – keeping “half Shabbos,” for those who observe all the Shabbat regulations except for texting; “gd Shbs,” is the shorthand text greeting that means good Shabbos.
This is not a new phenomenon. There have always been Jews who are unfamiliar with the complicated laws of Sabbath observance, who view the day as a restriction on their usual enjoyments and do not understand how to enjoy the sanctity of a divine day of Rest. Texting is just a modern example, in previous generations there were Jews who secretly surfed the Internet (2000’s), watched TV (1950’s), or listened to the radio (1930’s), chatted on the phone (1920’s) or smoked cigarettes (1900’s), or played sports, shopped and rode horseback (antiquity).
The problem is not “texting” per se, it is a failure to appreciate the spiritual dimension of a Day of Rest, where enjoyment is achieved without relying on weekday activities.