Saturday, November 14, 2009

Kosher Cellphones

One of the many battle Jesus regularly faced in his day is that of "legality".  Is it lawful to do anything on the Sabbath (like healing a sick person), etc etc etc.  Out of the many things he said, he spoke in Mark 7 about what makes one "unclean".  Specifically he said (it's worth quoting the whole thing):

1The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and 2saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were "unclean," that is, unwashed. 3(The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.[a])

 5So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?"

 6He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
   " 'These people honor me with their lips,
      but their hearts are far from me.
 7They worship me in vain;
      their teachings are but rules taught by men.'[b] 8You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."

He goes on to explain other things, but it's worth noting that he isn't dismissing God's word, but their use of it.  Anyway, it's interesting and all, but the reason I bring it up is cause I just read about a modern example of this. 

Specifically "kosher" cell phones.

The kosher cellphone looks like an ordinary cellphone, can make and receive calls, and may have a calculator and alarm clock.  But it cannot send or receive text messages, browse the internet or take photos - all activities that could potentially involve behaviour considered "immodest" among Haredis. For example, SMS capability could lead to the unwitting receipt of mass text messages publicising secular events. It could also be used as a method of illicit communication between male and female teenagers.

So far doesn't sound like a big deal right?  After all, all old cellphones would fit this description right?  Well, except for one thing:

All the major Israeli cellphone companies have accommodated the powerful Haredi constituency by providing kosher phones, and cheaper-than-normal packages which connect only with other Haredi numbers.

As the companies have created distinct code prefixes to accompany the kosher phone plans, the phone numbers have quickly become a badge of religious observance.

Not only do some Haredi newspapers refuse to publish ads with non-kosher phone numbers, but parents are worried their children will be blacklisted by the shadchan, or matchmaker, if their numbers are not kosher.[emphasis added]

This is what the problem with Kosher is.  You start with one (seemingly innocent/good/well-intentioned) principle, and it become something else altoghter.  How does one go from being cautious about what you do --- to the point of getting a phone that is fairly limited and even stamped "kosher" with an approval from a Rabbi -- to being forced to have a specific area code/designation?

You can argue that if that person doesn't have this area code, they could make a call with the cell to any number and theoretically could be unclean (i.e. it doesn't "guarantee" it's clean).  But I think Jesus answered it best.

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean.' ... "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'? 19For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." [Mark 7:1415, 18-19]
In other words, if I call this "teenage girl" because I'm concerned for her (for whatever reason). I'm better off than another who has this cellphone, doesn't call her, but meets her in private in order to convince her to do something that she/he shouldn't.  Or if I make some agreement with a person (agreeing to do or not do something), but does not address the true heart of the disagreement.

It's funny where people draw lines really.

ሰላም  ዮሃንስ


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