Jan 4, 2018

banning cellphones from shul

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is now banning bringing cellphones into his shul in Taeneck, NJ (Congregation Bnai Yeshurun) and using them.

According to Jewish Link NJ:
The largest Orthodox synagogue in Teaneck has begun the new year a little quieter, with a little less noise intrusion from the outside world. Congregation B’nai Yeshurun’s mara d’atra Rabbi Steven Pruzansky has banned the physical presence or use of cell phones during minyan times in shul.“So addicted are we to devices, that some have found it impossible to break away,” Rabbi Pruzansky told The Jewish Link, explaining that phones should not be brought into holy places because of our kavod (honor), our yirat shamayim(reverence of heaven) and our wish to daven to Hashem with kavana (focus). “I think this can really revolutionize our tefillah,” he added.  “It is no secret that we all struggle with kavana in davening,” he wrote in a letter to his congregation, noting that cell phones intrude on davening with a persistence that is both mystifying and vexing. "The last thing we need is a tool that is designed to distract us [from being] present and active during davening, time during which we are supposed to focus on our relationship with God. Yet, too often, the mere presence of the phone has enticed holders to check their emails, respond to texts, read the paper or even (I was once told) play Scrabble during P’sukei D’Zimra, Chazarat Hashatz and other times during davening. It is as much a desecration of the shul as it is a squandering of the precious time we have to stand before God in prayer.”
“Effective immediately in the new year, the entry of cell phones into shul is banned,” Rabbi Pruzansky wrote. “Signs will be posted advising people of this change and boxes will be placed outside each davening location allowing each bearer to place their turned-off phone inside before entering the shul to daven.”
“If use of such phones can be banned or deemed culturally unacceptable in courtrooms or movie theaters, it stands to reason they have absolutely no place in shul,” Rabbi Pruzansky wrote. “But the addictive qualities of these devices has led many people to genuinely feel that they cannot part with them even for the 30 minutes that the morning and afternoon davening requires, or even the eight minutes for a Mincha or Maariv davened separately. Using these devices as siddurim exacerbates the problem, and we are blessed with enough siddurim in a variety of versions that no one needs to use a phone as a siddur.”

I have no problem with the rabbi banning cellphones in his shul. I have no opinion on the matter, and I understand where he is coming from. Cellphone use in shul is inappropriate - yes, some people use it for the siddur app, but most are not. The siddur app is wonderful, and is a big help when one finds himself out in the field, somewhere with no siddur available. In shul the siddur app is almost never necessary, so the expected benefit of banning them should override the minor benefit some people get by using the siddur app.

I will say this. even if it is a fine thing, banning the cellphone from shul will not help.

I am not even referring to the preponderance of devices that he will not be able to keep up with - the smart watches, the smart glasses, and whatever else gets developed next to keep us online for even more of our day. He won't be able to keep up because in these days of advancing technology, there will always be some new device that he will not have banned yet. And when he adds those to the list, there will be even newer devices. Though this does not mean he should not try.

The cellphone is really just the latest flavor in what distracts us from our davening. If cellphones get banned from shul, it will be a book, or a magazine,  or the guy sitting next to him, maybe a chumash or gemara, maybe the signs on the bulletin board, maybe the shul newsletter, the parsha sheets or something else. For those of us with not much kavana who do not connect well to the essence of tefilla, there will always be something in shul to distract us.

 I have no opinion on if this is a good or bad move. I understand the idea that cellphones might be inappropriate in shul - and that is not even referring to the potential for browsing inappropriate sites. However, I do not think banning cellphones will help anybody connect more to tefilla. Those who love tefilla and daven well generally aren't on their cellphones in davening anyway, while those who do not will always find a way to pass the time, whether it is with a cellphone or with something else. That does not mean he should not try, I just see it helping.

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  1. Yasher Koach to the Rabbi! Rabbi Pruzansky has always been a common sense guy!

  2. Yes, many shuls in Brooklyn have already innovated this ban on cellphones during tefilah and thank you Rabbi Pruzansky for initiating this in the Jersey area.
    Leaving cell phones in a cabinet during tefilah will help the concentration level and connection needed to make davening more worthy.


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