In recent years, word has spread that some teen yeshiva students – exactly how many is a matter of dispute – send text messages on their cell phones on the Sabbath. In modern parlance, these teens are said to be keeping “half Shabbos.”
“They are in an age where this type of electronic communication is ubiquitous,” says Rabbi Yaakov Glasser. “Asking a teenager not to text on Shabbos is like asking an adult never to talk in shul. It’s an expectation, and something they know we’re not supposed to do, but it’s part of our nature.
“Teenagers have always needed peers, have always needed affirmation, have always needed acceptance. That used to manifest itself through communication over the phone and in person. Now it’s happening 50 times an hour through text messaging and Twitter and all these different platforms,” he said.
One study, conducted by the Institute for University-School Partnership of Yeshiva University’s Azrieli School of Jewish Education, found that 18 percent of students at modern Orthodox yeshiva high schools definitely texted on Shabbat, with a further 5 percent reporting themselves “ambivalent” about the practice.
The figures come from a survey of 1,250 students from six modern orthodox yeshiva high schools across the country, as part of a program called Religious Understanding in Adolescent Children, which aims to help yeshiva high schools promote the spiritual growth of their students.
“Religion is not necessarily as important to adolescents as we want it to be,” says Scott Goldberg, director of the institute. “There’s a normal developmental decline in terms of spirituality and religiosity.”
Prof. Alan Brill, who first publicly reported the hitherto clandestine half Shabbos phenomenon on his blog last year, believes the half Shabbos phenomenon clearly reflects a generation gap and technological shift, but doubts whether it is the watershed in Orthodoxy that some fearful observers suggest.
“The responsa literature show many communities that had to deal with adolescent transgressions, including with mixed dancing, bundling, swimming on Shabbos, brothel use, not wearing tefillin, and petty theft. In all of these cases, they remain in the community, and it is acknowledged that they are deviants within the social norm.
“Don’t assume it is permanent. A kid may start texting in 10th grade and then give it up by the end of 11th.”