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Jan 27, 2009

Interesting Psak from Rav Steinman: Answering Phones During Learning/Davening

The Mishpacha newspaper reported this past week on a discussion between someone creating a cellphone jammer of sorts for yeshivas and shuls to install and Rav Steinman.

Rav Steinman, and other rabbonim, supported the concept of the jammer this person is trying to introduce. Rav Steinman said, "It is a chilul Hashem when people answer their cellphones in the beis medrash during learning or davening. Hashem is present when a person is learning, and it is as if you are telling Hashem - wait for me until I finish [with the phone call]."

he does not need my agreement, but I find it very disturbing when someone's cellphone rings during davening. With the little kavanah I have, once the phone rings, it all goes out the window....


  1. So this is yet another way to put Responsible Behavior on the shoulders of someone else?

    Instead of simply saying at the beginning of the shiur "Please turn off all cellphones", or have signs posted in various places in the Beit Medrash, these boys and men are once again shown that personal responsibility doesn't have to exist for them. (AFAIK, at the start of every movie, you are told to turn off your cellphone or at least put it on vibrate. Seems to work for the most part)

    Instead, we'll depend on our Rabbis to come up with a Psak or Chumra.

    My husband hates davening at the Kotel on a weekday because as he stands there with his face in his Siddur, trying to say the Shmoneh Esrei, he's got schnorrers sticking their hands in his face demanding 'tzedakah'. Better someone should come up with a jammer that will allow a person to daven in peace at the Kotel.

  2. the truth is that most shuls have such signs. People simply ignore them.
    I would even be willing to bet that a large percentage of people do turn off their phones in shul. But the one or two guys who did not, it is invariably their phones that ring and disturb everyone...

  3. So all those 9th pregnant women who's husbands are learning in Kollel wont have anyway to get in touch with their husbands when they begin going into labor.

    Half the Kollel Learning Force will start learning at home...

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. find a kollel that learns in a beis medrash that does not have the jammer installed, I guess...

  6. While I agree entirely with the sentiments behind this psak... can't we learn from Avraham Avinu who told Hashem to wait while he attended to his visitors? Maybe also kabalat sicha gadol mekabalat pnei hashechina? :-)

  7. With all due respect, I think this p'sak can be disputed.
    Here are some problems with it:

    1. Let's say I am an ambulance driver, and I want to go into the beis midrash and put my phone on vibrate. With a jammer I won't receive the call. So, if I don't know about the jammer (and from what we see posted here there is no condition that people must be notified about the jammer) then it can prevent saving someone's life. If I do know about it, then I have to stay out of the Beis midrash
    (This of course applies to lesser emergencies as well. If a parent or husband needs to be on alert, he can't go to beis midrash at all...)

    2. In case of emergency, one can't call out.

    3. The jammer is CONSTANTLY transmitting possibly harmful radio waves in the room, risking peoples' health.

    Perhaps a better solution would be a fine charged to those who forget to put their phone on vibrate or turn it off.

    R.Steinman's p'sak also seems to indicate that even if it is a silent ring, one shouldn't answer while learning, and even if one leaves the beis midrash. It isn't dependent on disturbing others. Rather, it is telling Hashem to wait.
    This is also problematic, because then anyone who needs to answer calls for business or family, can't learn while he is expecting a call because he would not be allowed to interrupt.

    It is more sensible to say, that
    one should be selective about what one interrupts learning for.
    One can/should have an eis kavua to learn where nothing disturbs him other than a genuine emergency.
    If he must do other things, then he may learn while waiting for a call /or while being on call, as long as his conversations/ringing won't disturb others.

    I remember the days in yeshiva before cell phones. If someone had to make a phone call they needed to wait in line for a payphone. If someone needed to get in touch with someone, usually it was impossible. If they were lucky enough for someone to pass by and answer the payphone, then that person would waste 15 minutes looking for the person.
    People who put cellphones on vibrate if they might be called on an emergency and left the B"m to answer calls from certain numbers, generally caused less disturbance.
    Perhaps, having a secretary who can convey messages to people in the B"m would be a better solution, but in absence of that I think cellphones are helpful as long a they aren't abused.

  8. Rafi - I was thinking that too, but that would only apply to a dvar mitzva. There are enough times where the phone rings in the middle of davening or learnign and it is not a dvar mitzva or tzorchei tzibbur, that the comparison is not one that should prevent this from happening.

  9. anon - I hear you, but the article did not really detail specifics of the jammer system, how it would work, if there would or would not be signs, etc. It just discussed him going to the rabbonim for their support and a bracha.

    But the problem you describe with hatzalah and others in similar situations could be a real problem.

    Regarding the memory of the paypones, when I was in yeshiva I knew some guys who would never answer a ringing phone because they did not want to waste ten or fifteen minutes looking for the intended recipient. You go to the beis medrash two or three times, run up the stairs to his dorm room, look out in the chatzeir, etc.... the cellphone is better than that, but just for one person - for everyone who hears it ring and it throws there concentration, it is worse.

  10. 1. I would hope that the rabbonim learned about the specifics before giving their blessing.

    2. Ringing is disturbing. That is why there is vibrate.

    I recall a story in the Artscroll biography about R. Yaakov Kaminetsky, where he was studying in
    an intense mussar yeshiva where the bochurim were expected not to look up from what they were doing.
    One time, a visitor came and nobody noticed him for 2 hours.
    R. Yaakov suggested that for each day one person would be appointed to look out and help visitors while everyone else would focus on their learning.

  11. forget during davening - if this statement is for "all times you are in the beis medrash", then how is that different from simply talking to your friend? And even during davening, the mishna says one is allowed to answer shalom, so we have precedence for putting god on call waiting.


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