Twenty years ago, I’d occasionally face this problem: I’m at a wedding at a hotel, and a group of individuals begin gathering together to say Maariv. There are no siddurim. I don’t have one of those pocket-size Mincha and Maariv booklets with me. And I am not that well versed to know the entire weekday Maariv prayers by heart. I might look over someone’s shoulder who has a siddur, or I might choose to skip davening at this service entirely.
Today, of course, my problem is solved, as I have a siddur app on my phone—and I can say Maariv now wherever I might be, whenever the opportunity might arise.
I’m so used to my siddur app that I now use it in the morning when I go to shul for Shacharit minyan, even though there are plenty of siddurim I could use. And it’s a “smart” siddur, too—since it knows what day and time it is, it automatically inserts or omits any sections appropriate for that particular day. Not only that, it also seems to be a Zionistic smart siddur, as it inserts Hallel with a bracha on Yom Ha’atzmaut! (I often wonder what would happen if I accessed my siddur app on Shabbat … would a message saying, “SHABBOS!!!” appear on my screen … or perhaps my iPhone would explode?)
Technology is wonderful when it makes our tasks easier. And for the Torah-observant Jew, there have been myriad technological breakthroughs in the last two decades that have greatly enhanced our daily lives.
The siddur is only one example. Another is counting the Omer. Years ago I relied on a chart that I posted in our kitchen bulletin board to remind me about counting the Omer, and to remember what day it was. But I was not always home at night, and not always at Maariv minyan, so there were times when I forgot to count. Today it’s almost impossible for me to forget—I get a daily text right after sundown every evening on my phone, and if for some reason I miss the text, I also get an email with a reminder of what day of the Omer it is.
Tefilat haDerech? No problem. I have an app for that, and now when I am on a plane, I just call it up on my phone. (I finally tossed the old Tefilat haDerech card I have carried in my wallet for close to 50 years!)
Tehillim? If I find out someone is in need of prayers for their health, I can immediately recite any paragraph of psalms from the Tehillim app on my phone.
In the early 1980s, when the eruv was first built in Stamford, we alerted folks about whether or not the eruv was operational that week by hoisting a green flag in front of the shul to signify that one could rely on the eruv. Today, it seems like what we used only 40 years ago was equivalent to using smoke signals for communication, as there is now a Twitter feed for the eruv and other messages that are posted online about its weekly status.
Zmanim? Not only can I tell you the time for sunset at the press of a button, but I can also tell you the latest time for shema (according to the GRA and the MGA), plag hamincha, and tzeit according to Rabbeinu Tam. I guess we still need those tattered printouts with the zmanim, that are usually kept on the rabbi’s shtender, for use on Shabbat.
Every month or two, I deliver a shiur after the early minyan on Shabbat here in our community. I am far from a scholar, and while I have a plethora of English books on Torah subjects, my library of seforim at home consists basically of Tanach, Mishnayot, Gemara, Rambam, Shulchan Aruch and Mishna Berura. If it weren’t for several fantastic programs such as HebrewBooks.org, AlHatorah.org, and Sefaria.org (which allows me access to hundreds of other sources), there is absolutely no way I could properly prepare my shiurim. And God bless the people at Sefaria for making an organized source sheet so easy to produce!
Exactly 10 years ago, in May 2012, there was a gathering of 60,000 people at Citi Field, to hear many leading Haredi rabbis speak about the evils of the internet. Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner, a prominent Haredi rabbi and halachic decisor from Bnai Brak who has since passed away, issued a halachic ruling that day, stating there was no justification for using the internet at home under any circumstances, and further ruled that schools should not accept students if they used the internet at home.
Thankfully the tide has turned, and virtually all Haredi individuals use smartphones and computers to access the many apps for Torah-observant Jews that are available on the web. Agudah has a very useful website for its members. And all of the many organizations in the Haredi world rely on their websites to reach their constituents.
The leaders in the Haredi world are finally realizing that it’s an impossible battle to prevent their adherents from using the internet. More important, they recognize what we in the Modern Orthodox community recognized a long time ago—that the internet is simply a medium that can be used for both good and bad purposes, and if we can channel people to take advantage of all the good things, we will be much better off than if we try to prevent its total use.
Let’s all continue to take advantage of the many wonderful amenities that technology provides to Orthodox Jews of all stripes.
Michael Feldstein is a contributing editor for The Jewish Link. He owns his own marketing consulting firm, MGF Marketing, and can be reached at [email protected]