Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Should a Wedding be Called Off Because of a Smartphone?

Rav Chaim Kanievsky (Arutz Sheva)
At an Agudah convention a few years ago, one of the themes was about the dangers of owning and using a smartphone. Accessing porn or anything else that is illicit is a lot easier to hide on one of those things. That’s because no one else has access to it but the owner/user. Unlike a desktop or laptop, whose screens are much larger and can be seen by others - a smartphone screen is very small and is generally under full control of the user at all times.  This means that the fear of discovery that might be felt by a laptop or desktop user who accesses porn, is practically eliminated by use of a smartphone. 

That smartphones were deemed a far greater danger than laptop and desktop computers is an understandable conclusion. If you are a curious teenager with a smart phone and a healthy sex drive… well you can figure out the rest.

This doesn’t mean that every teenager will go there. But it does mean that those that do will very likely not be discovered. And statistics show that the most accessed sites on the internet are porn sites. So, do the math.

Which is why I am opposed to giving teenagers a smartphone. Even if you trust them. You just never know and why take the chance? Unfortunately, a lot of parents seem to ignore this common sense advice and allow their children to have smart phones. Which can be accessed by friends without smartphones. How to deal with this is beyond the scope of this post. (Although I don’t really have a good answer for that). I mention all this to point out that the concerns of that the Agudah expressed that evening are quite valid.

But that  doesn’t mean we should ban them from our lives. What about the porn and other taboo sites? Well, if one is a mature adult beyond their teenage years - hopefully the use of smartphones will be done responsibly. There are of course no guarantees. The fact that porn is so widely accessed tends to argue against even adults owning one.

However , a smartphone is just too valuable a tool to abandon from our lives. One might say we still should despite its value because you are otherwise playing with fire. But fire is too valuable an asset to our lives to abandon it. The same thing s true with smartphones. I am not going to go into detail. But those of us that own and use one know why this is true.

This was illustrated by one Agudah Executive Vice President, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel, one of the speakers at the above-mentioned Agudah convention. As he was talking about the dangers of smartphones, he pulled out his own smartphone to access something relevant to his speech… apologizing for it as he did it.

I found this to be quite humorous and contradictory to his message. But as I was told later by an official of Agudah that they require all of their officials and spokesman to have one.

If that doesn’t show how valuable it is even to the right, than nothing does. What about the possible porn that Rabbi Zweibel might access? (I am not accusing him of that. Just asking a hypothetical question.) Well, they trust him and I guess they realize, just like the rest of us do that the good outweighs the bad. 

Then there is Israel There is a story today in Arutz Sheva that illustrates just how serious the smartphone ban is there. R’ Chaim Kanievsky declared that if a Kallah finds out that her Choson has a smartphone, the wedding should be canceled: 
According to a report Tuesday morning in theKikar HaShabbat website, Rabbi Kanievsky explained his decision, saying that a person within the haredi community who ignored the directives not to possess such a device would not raise children devoted to the faith.
Such a person, the rabbi warned “would not have generations of kosher descendants.”
Rabbi Kanievsky has been at the forefront of efforts within the haredi community to ban cellular devices with internet and text message capability, as well as unfiltered internet connections. Phones without those capabilities and which can be used for calls only are known as "kosher phones."
This is quite a departure from even the Agudah position. To be fair, this is as much about breaking the rules as it is about using the smartphone. If you are part of a community that bans them, then you have shown that you disregard the rules set in place by people you see as your leaders. That may very well be an indicator of  future violations along the lines R' Kanievsky speaks. So this is not as outrageous as it fist might appear.

But still, I have to wonder if R’ Kanievsky is more worried about smartphone misuse or  breaking the rules. If it is about rules, what about other rules? Would he tell a Kallah to call off a wedding if her Choson  doesn’t for example wear a hat and jacket for Davening? Or if he used non Chalav Yisroel products? Or decided to join the IDF (even Nachal Charedi) instead of Kollel? My guess is that he would not. Certainly not in the current ‘Shiddach crisis’ climate. At least I hope not. 

If the 2 of them want to get married and they fully understand and accept the other’s shortcomings, there should be no ‘calling off’ the wedding.

I would apply this to smartphones too. If the Kallah knows that her Chsoson has a smartphone and accepts it, I would respectfully disagree with R’ Kanievsky. I don’t think the wedding should be called off. Unless he has a porn addiction for which there are probably cues in his behavior which signal something like that  - breaking an engagement is a pretty serious consequence of smartphone ownership. In all likelihood, the Choson probably uses it the way the most of rest of us do – responsibly and for good purpose.

I would therefore hope that R’ Kanievsky reconsiders the consequences of breaking off a marriage because of that rule violation. And that he even rethinks his outright ban on smartphones. And instead just advises people not to have them rather than ban them outright. Hopefully he will understand why it is considered such an important tool that even the Agudah Moetzes requires its officials to own one.

It has come to my attention that this story about Rav Kanievsky in Arutz Sheva was inaccurate. A longer version of the story reported elsewhere explained that R' Kanievsky did not Paskin this way for everyone. It was a response to only one person in a particular circumstance. That said, the points I made in the post remain the same. The only difference being that R' Kanievsky's views on this issue may not be all that different from my own.