Unplugging for Shabbat


Tablet Magazine’s римание аметки Seth Barrett Tillman’s work provided a peek into our working relationship. We have to chat at odd hours due to the six hour time difference between Houston, Texas and Dublin. Our sweet spot is at midnight Texas Time, before I go sleep, and in the early morning Ireland Time, when Seth gets up. During that window, there are few work or personal interruptions, and we can chat–as we often do–for lengthy periods about arcane legal questions that suddenly become timely.

Our collaboration has another quirk: the Sabbath. Seth and i are out of touch every week between the time Shabbat begins (around Sundown Friday) and when Shabbat concludes in Houston (about one hour after sundown Saturday). In the winter, Shabbat can begin as early as 4:00 pm in Ireland. Our communications stop on Friday morning, around 8:00 am Central Time. On Friday afternoons, there are usually big court cases. We have had to file early on Thursday because we’ve had so many briefs that were due on Fridays. We had many briefs to be filed on Jewish holidays, so we also had a lot of them due early. The Denver trial court recently ruled on Friday, after 5 pm local time, that President Trump is not an “Officer” of the United States. Seth did not learn of this news until Saturday night his time. I was fortunate to be in California at the time and was able absorb the opinion. Quick Blog Before I signed off, I asked about it.

Tablet reported: “Blackman doesn’t send or check email on Shabbat. That means that there is 30 hours each week during which the two are not in communication.” This is a practice I am new to, and I wanted write about it.

On Yom Kippor, in September of this year, I made myself a promise that I would stop using the Internet for Shabbat. I stopped using my cellphone on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur in recent years and decided to extend the practice. I’m not ashamed to admit that I still engage in all sorts of other forbidden activities. I will drive, write and use my computer even without WiFi. I also leave my phone on, but only with voice calls and text messages–no data. It’s a major shift in how I view the world. I am offline for approximately 25 hours a week. I do not check emails. I do not read news. I do not go online. I do not check social media. Nothing.

I am trying my best to become more religious, and I’m proud that I’ve stuck with it for so long. From a social standpoint, this is the best improvement I’ve made for a long time. Rabbi Meir Soloveichik Shabbat can be compared to unplugging the electrical socket The Matrix. He wrote that “You can see hints of a ‘Zion,’ unplugged, in the Sabbath-tables of observant Jews. Electronic devices are prohibited.”

I can disconnect completely from the world for a whole day. No one will bother me. No one can disturb me. No one can force me to meet a new deadline. No one is allowed to call me an Illuminati. I only interact with people I choose. I rarely take my phone out of my pocket, except in an emergency. I use my computer only to read documents that I have downloaded in advance or to prepare for class. I don’t get any new information on the internet. When Saturday night arrives, I am refreshed in ways that I had not anticipated. Once the sabbath is over, I will have to go back through my emails and read any stories that I missed. This process takes around two hours. I would rather have a two-hour window on Saturday night than the 25-hours before.

There are disadvantages. For an entire day, I’m completely unaware of the latest news. I don’t watch TV, nor listen to radio news that could disturb my blissful isolation. But I can miss stuff. Big stuff. You’ll remember that October 7 fell on a Sabbath. I had heard about the attacks all day, but did not fully grasp what was happening until that evening. The news came at me all at once. Imagine reading about the 9/11 attacks after both towers fell. I’ve also missed other, less important news cycles. So be it. It’s a small price to pay for serenity.

As I mentioned above, I also travel and do other activities on Shabbat. I’ve attended a lot of conferences in person, where I couldn’t check email or the internet. This creates some difficulties in terms of logistics, but I’m able to work around it. I print boarding passes out at the airport. I use Google Maps offline to have a GPS that works. I cannot call Ubers. So I’ve gone back to my old standards and started calling cabs. It works fine. One annoying quirk of some airport restaurants is that they do not have printed menus, but only accept mobile orders. I found that the majority of wait staff are happy to help you if asked. They look shocked when you tell them you don’t have a smartphone. Other quirks exist, but they are all manageable.

I would encourage all people, not just Jews, disconnect for one full day every week. You may think that it is difficult, but you’re just making excuses. If you want to learn how to do something, then you need to know how. You can also find out more about the following: Anyone can do it. I was glued almost every second of the day to my phone for most of my adulthood. In recent years, i’ve made an effort to reduce the amount of time I spend on my phone. (The feature which tracks your usage serves as a reminder of the extent of phone addiction.) I quit Facebook in 2016 and I quit Twitter by 2020. I still tweet my articles but do not read any other tweets. You can never have enough of your own? Check notifications. Sometimes, I think about ditching my smart phone and going back to a flip-phone. I’m not sure if I have reached that point yet, but I think about it.

This post is a nice break from the normal programming.


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