Electronic Readers and the Seventh Day

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Many writers have already responded to Uri Friedman’s December 21, 2010 article in The Atlantic about the dilemma faced by observant Jews who spend a significant part of each Sabbath reading, but cannot use eReaders that day. He explains that the use of electricity is prohibited because of its relationship to work, and that some rabbis believe that the turning of the pages to create words in e-ink is a form of writing, also prohibited work.

A self-turning eReader is certainly conceivable and might be acceptable, but Friedman questions whether it would honor the spirit of the Sabbath. Rabbi Fink of the Pacific Jewish Center responds in his blog that orthodox Jews seek to honor both the law and the spirit of the Sabbath, not find a “workaround solution.” Sue Fishkoff notes in Jewish Exponent that a major producer of Jewish books, ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications, is starting to create digitized versions of its titles but is excluding Sabbath and High Holiday prayerbooks.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library,Shabbat frees us from our weekday concerns, from our deadlines and schedules and commitments. During the week, we are slaves to our jobs, to our creditors, to our need to provide for ourselves; on Shabbat, we are freed from these concerns, much as our ancestors were freed from slavery in Egypt.”

As Jews and other religious groups evaluate the impact of technology on their canon, we might give pause in secular considerations too. Does the constant barrage of technology enrich or alienate us from our communities? Some of us will always want to leap ahead, others to hold onto tradition and its boundaries. Technology gives us freedom to ponder.