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Ultra-Orthodox idolatry

Op-ed: Smartphone-smashing at synagogue shows rabbis consider these devices to be dangerous deities

Published: 10.12.12, 14:59 / Israel Opinion

Have you seen the video in which a worshipper smashes a smartphone during the traditional singing and dancing with Torah scrolls at a yeshiva in Jerusalem? Wonderful. The worshipper, who is following his rabbi's orders, breaks the abominable device as the holy crowd cheers him on. The rabbi then says the man can bless those present, indicating that he has reached a higher level of spirituality. The angry rabbis from the Union of Communities for Purity of the Camp, who organized last summer's mega-rally in New York in which they warned against the "dangers" of the smartphone, can sit back and smile.

 

The phone-smashing ceremony at the yeshiva's synagogue was idolatry, not Tikkun olam (repairing the world). In Judaism, when someone bows before a physical object, such as a cult image, he is an idol worshipper. Meaning, if someone attributes "divine" qualities, such the ability to work miracles, to inanimate objects, then he is considered to be on the same level as those whose idols were smashed by Abraham, the first patriarch of Israel. They thought their toys were gods, the idiots.

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The youngster in the black t-shirt at the synagogue is holding a device that can make his life easier, and also waste his time. He chose to purchase it and he decided what use to make of it. Emails from work or free porn, updates from the children's school or stupid card games – it's up to him. Free choice is a fundamental concept within Judaism. Since we were created in God's image, he expects us to provide for ourselves the best we can in this lifetime. If we make the right decisions, maybe we will profit from it in the next life.

 

And who gives the smartphone "divine" significance? The rabbi, of course. The young man is justifiably embarrassed mainly by the fact that what he sees as a mere device is viewed by the rabbi as a small, dangerous deity. Attributing supernatural qualities to a device is idolatry.

  

Phone-smashing ceremony

 

The rabbi is merely following more prominent rabbis, perhaps even Torah sages, who have already issued their ruling regarding the device. They too are idol worshippers in a sense, as they also believe the object has supernatural destructive qualities. These rabbis should instead voice their opinion on the qualities of human beings, those that allow us to tell the difference between good and evil and differentiate between a cell phone bill and what is just in the eyes of God.

 

Those rabbis who curse the smart phone are guilty of another sin: They do not have any faith in the intelligence of their followers. They believe that man, even if he is raised in a blessed ultra-Orthodox environment, is a mere sack of lust, urges, addictions and overall stupidity. Anything - a picture of a six-year-old girl in the newspaper, a cell phone, the sound of a woman singing or seating arrangements on a bus – can distract him from the Torah.

 

It seems that deep down inside the haredi leaders would like to keep their holy audience shacked to the benches of the beit midrash (study hall) with tefillin straps from morning till night. This way they will all sit quietly like obedient dummies and study Torah. Until this happens, allow me to question the spiritual qualities of the youngster who smashed the phone and the understanding of Judaism attributed to the rabbis who encourage such behavior.

 

 

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