Dei'ah Vedibur - Information &

A Window into the Chareidi World

18 Iyar, 5779 - May 23, 2019 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










Produced and housed by











Yesodos Ne'emanim
Yesodos Ne'emanim

Banish Cell Phones from the Beis Medrash

by Rav Aharon Chaim Nashri

This article was first published in 2001, when cell phones were not as common as today. But it presents very careful arguments explaining how cell phones in the beis medrash are harmful to growth in learning.

"Omar Abaye . . . Omar Rovo . . . says the gemora . . . "

The time: 7:00 p.m., 8:00 p.m. — perhaps 10:00 p.m.

The place: Bnei Brak, Yerushalayim, Tiveria, Haifa, London, Antwerp, Montreal, Boro Park, Skokie, North Hollywood — anywhere Jews are gathered.

The occasion: A Daf Hayomi shiur.

Ah, that fabulous idea first proclaimed before the gathered masses by HaRav Meir Shapira of Lublin, before thousands of Jewish leaders of the generation, that dream he described in his speech: "The same daf, at the same time, everywhere around the world . . . Two Jews who speak a common language and meet on an ocean liner, one from Eretz Yisroel and the other from chutz la'aretz, both have something in common to talk about: the daf from Daf Hayomi!"

And indeed, this lofty vision has been realized. Ashreinu. Everywhere around the world tens of thousands of Jews gather together at a set time every evening, day in and day out without exception — erev Pesach, chol hamoed, Yom Kippur, nights when there are weddings to attend and nights when anxieties weigh heavily — always, at the same time, and at the same place.

True, this is a fantastic sight to behold. "Omar Abaye . . . Omar Rovo . . . " the voice echoes in the beis medrash.

The maggid shiur is already ready. Finally everyone is seated, leaning over their gemoras, listening carefully to every word that comes from his mouth as they try to hear, comprehend and assimilate the words of the Talmud with love.

It's now fifteen minutes into the shiur.

This is the high point. The milsa debedichusa has already been said. The routine disruptions involved in finding the seforim, opening to the right daf and the right place on the omud, finding a chair and sitting down, are finally behind them.

It's still too early for any of the weary participants to begin to drift off. This is the great hour.

The maggid shiur devotes all of his energy to the task at hand. Asking kashas, presenting maskonos. One participant asks a question and another suggests a solution to a problem. One builds, and another takes apart. Everyone is immersed in the waters of Torah as if dipping in a mikva — not a single inch of flesh remains out of the water.

Everyone is stooped over in absorbed concentration. The trebled pleasure of HaKodosh Boruch Hu, His Torah and Yisroel is palpable. To feel it requires almost no effort whatsoever . . .

But then it happens. In one cruel instant it all dissipates. Cut off in one fell swoop! Everyone starts to squirm and glance around. Eyes come up off the page and begin wandering around the room in search of the melody. The tune sounds idiotic at best, perhaps even wicked. The pants pocket of one of the participants begins to trill — or even worse, the sound may be coming from the pocket of one of the jackets on the other side of the room.

Not in the Beis Medrash!

And this tune — taken from a vast selection of options offered by the malefactor, which was sitting off on its own the whole time, seething with anger — this tune now attracts 20, 30, 40 pairs of eyes . . . meanwhile the same number of hands start tapping, wandering, exploring the cracks and contours of the table.

Now no one is devoting his complete attention to the maggid shiur and concentrating solely on the sugya at hand. Everyone — without exception — is distracted to some extent.

The unfortunate agent of this great evil quickly rises from mishtei hayayin and leaves ginas bisan haMelech. He is truly to be pitied, for he has unwittingly cut down this moment of ateres tiferes Yisroel with his bare hands.

If some of our readers have yet to identify the culprit, it is a very small idol, a miniaturized pesel updated to suit the needs of our modern generation. Although only one of a great number of advances, it is of great importance in our age. Peh lohem velo yedabeiru, yet this idol talks anytime and all the time!

It seems the time has come to speak candidly: cell phones in the beis medrash and during shiurim are a plague and a pestilence, bal yeiro'eh ubal yimotzei! Today there is no question that this is one of the great successes the Evil One can inscribe on his list of recent achievements, for Rabbi Cell-phone has become one of the leading advocates in our generation for bitul Torah.

Perhaps it would be best not to discuss such matters publicly, for it could cause us to avert our gaze in shame at the sight of these people and their precious accessories, those pocket-size devices of disgrace, and if we must speak openly, perhaps what has been said thus far will suffice. But since clearly this insufferable use of cell phones has not intentionally become a sweeping heter within this esteemed tzibbur, whose members set aside a portion of their limited free time, leaving their homes and their personal affairs in order to come to the beis medrash to edify themselves through concentrated study, we must at least say a few words to clarify the severity of this stumbling block, iboy'is eimo kro, iboy'is eimo sevora.

Besides the tremendous disruption directly caused by the strident sound of this demon in disguise — both for the gadget owners and for the other participants who stop learning and whose thoughts are scattered until they are left groping in the dark, and the maggid shiur has to herd the flock together once again, to gather together the lost and wandering, remove all of the obstacles, repeat what was said before the phone was whisked out of the suit pocket and caused its rude interruption, to reestablish the connection between what was said before and what remained to be said during the rest of the shiur — besides all of these factors, most of the distraction is the result of the damage done by this seemingly innocent disruption: detracting from kevi'us itim leTorah.

This pressing question that drives him to the Daf Hayomi shiur to begin with, this question that pierces to the heart of every Jew of faith — "Kovato itim leTorah?" — this question cannot be answered positively, for this is certainly not a viable form of kevi'us eis leTorah.

It would be more accurate to say that this is a set time for incoming calls (for then, at least, outgoing calls are not made during shiurim). Conversations are carried out in resounding voices, mouths aimed into the peh-lohem-velo- yedabeiru devices. The hour of the shiur has become a time set for all of the crucial matters discussed during the course of the phone call, as well as kevi'us eis leTorah perhaps, but certainly this time has not been set aside for Torah alone.

In fact, this phenomenon contradicts the words of the Chazon Ish zt'l in his famous letter, where he writes, " . . . to learn for an hour and to stop for an hour is a means of maintaining nothingness. One [who learns uninterruptedly] sows seeds and waters them to make them grow . . . whereas one who engages in Torah for short intervals gathers wind . . . "

What would he say about someone who learns for only one hour, during which he stops for five minutes, returns to the gemora, and then stops again?

One may ask, "What is the great loss in a short break to take a phone call? After all, I was engaged in Torah for the entire hour, half of it before the call, and half of it after the call. And anyway, I was not very focused on the conversation, as if it hardly ever took place . . . I stayed after the shiur to make up the time, so why make such a fuss over a few short minutes?"

It seems quite unlikely that when someone stands up and leaves the group, that in an instant the impression left by the conversation flits from his memory as if it never existed. Let's not fool ourselves. If indeed we were in the company of men of such mental fortitude, perhaps there would be no need to find fault. But greater men from past generations pointed out the error in such thinking, which they explain through the following parable:

It takes ten minutes to boil a kettle of water on a stovetop. But if the kettle is removed from the burner five minutes after the stove is lit, and is placed back on the fire fifteen minutes later for another five minutes, the water will not reach the boiling point. Why? After all, the kettle was on the fire for ten minutes. The Chazon Ish would say that although the water was heated for ten minutes, it was not left on the fire for ten consecutive minutes!

Rabbi Akiva! Rabbi Akiva the great tanna who left home for twelve years with his wife's consent, finally returned home and, standing at the threshold of his home after twelve years of total separation, just a turn of the knob away, fully aware of his wife Rochel's mesirus nefesh, hears his wife's conversation with a rosho who taunts her about her husband's conduct toward her, and she says, "If he came home I would send him for another twelve years."

Standing there on the other side of the door Rabbi Akiva says, "If she has given me permission, then I'll go back again" (Nedorim 50a) and indeed he turned on his heels without stepping inside for a moment and returned for another twelve years.

"Why didn't he go inside for a moment," asked HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz, his voice resounding. "for just a brief moment to say hello? If he was already standing at the door, why didn't he go in for just one moment?"

"Because," declares the Sha'arei Chaim, "twelve years and another twelve years is not twenty-four years!"

If this is said about twelve consecutive years and another twelve consecutive years, certainly half an hour and another half an hour can never equal one hour. The voices of Chazal can be heard through the pen of the Chazon Ish in the above letter when he writes, "Real learning is continuous and uninterrupted. Continuous learning is the secret of kedushoh." We must drive this message into our consciousness and fully comprehend it: real learning is continuous and uninterrupted!

Furthermore, the Vilna Gaon, in his commentary on the verse, "Yekoroh hi mipeninim," asks how Torah, which HaKodosh Boruch Hu delights in every day, can be compared to pearls, which are relatively ephemeral. (This is also probably why in maseches Horios Chazal learn that Torah is valued more highly than the Cohen Godol, who enters the Holy of Holies, but nevertheless ein mikro yotzei mipeshuto.) It is well known, writes the Gaon, that almost everything in the world doubles in value when it doubles in quantity. If a pound of a certain kind of fruit is sold for $2, two pounds will cost $4, and the same principle applies in most cases.

Not in Shiurim and the Beis Medrash

Pearls, however, are an exception to the rule. If a small pearl worth $100 is doubled in size, its price can jump up to $400 or more. Shlomo Hamelech o'h said the same is true of Torah. One minute of study brings a large reward, but two minutes of study is more than one minute multiplied by two, and does not even increase four or five times like pearls, rather "yekoroh hi mipeninim." Doubling the quantity increases the value tremendously.

Certainly everyone would like to know how to achieve this darga of Torah study without interruptions of any kind. Within the confines of this article it would be impossible to provide a full explanation on how to achieve this level, but perhaps it would be illuminating to quote Rabboseinu z'l, who showed us the way, saying, "He who wants to live should obliterate himself."

HaRav Soloveitchik zt'l explained that Chazal meant to say that the way to acquire Torah is only by removing oneself entirely from the distractions of the world around us, and according to the Chazon Ish in his well-known letter, the verse "Zos haTorah, odom ki yomus bo'ohel" refers to the death of the common life on the way to reaching a more profound life, a life of greater truth.

The Chofetz Chaim zt'l illustrated this concept through a heartwarming incident recorded in his sefer, Shemiras Haloshon (Part III, Chapter 4): "I heard a story about an entrepreneur, a man of means who abandoned the vanities of this world to study Torah night and day. His wife and children and his extended family banded together to persuade him to return to his previous existence, but he remained completely indifferent to their efforts and eventually they gave up. People who knew him since he had been an important businessman asked him how he managed to ignore the pleas of his close family.

"He replied: `I contemplated Chazal's dictum that Torah only takes root in "mi shemeimis atzmo olehoh," meaning as if he were already dead and gone. One should see himself as if all of his affairs were taken care of, his days were spent and he was brought before the King, the King of Kings, HaKodosh Boruch Hu, to weigh all of the matters that took up his time and accomplished nothing, and was found chayov bedino shel ma'aloh. He then would cry out, "Woe is me for my evil deeds!" If at that point he were given a chance to return to earth and do teshuva, certainly he would not hesitate for a single moment, and would not take any interest in domestic affairs. If one were to think in these terms and realize that according to his avonos he should have died long ago, and if after his death HaKodosh Boruch Hu did a great kindness by giving him permission to return and do teshuva, certainly he would not hesitate for even a brief moment. If HaKodosh Boruch Hu prolongs his days on earth to afford him the opportunity to do teshuva during his lifetime, certainly he should make every effort to urge himself on to do teshuva for his avonos, and to learn Torah constantly, and at the very least, to have a fixed time for Torah, and not to pay any attention to those who try to disrupt his study.'"

No matter how well known these ideas may be, and no matter how many times we were taught them and raised on them, and no matter how great our battles against our yetzer hora, everyone according to his own madreigoh, here is where the big question steps in: Who gave anyone permission to import more nisyonos? Who is willing to take responsibility for bitul Torah on a daily basis — which, as we explained above, actually detracts from the essence of Torah learning — for dozens of other people trying to learn, in addition to his own bitul Torah?

Can this be called "chomed Torah?" Is someone like this considered to be striving to learn Torah when he arrives with a mini-idol clipped to his belt or stashed in his pocket, as if announcing, "Rabbosai, an uninterrupted shiur tonight is highly unlikely!"

And would it come as any surprise if his learning is burdensome to the point of being disliked?

Every day we say in our tefilloh: ve'al tevi'einu lidei nisoyon, and we truly do hope not to have to face any nisyonos that might disturb us and prevent us from studying Torah. Yet any bar da'as will readily admit that his arrival at the beis medrash to attend the shiur with this nefarious gadget in his pocket is placing a nisoyon before himself that is really more than a nisoyon, for experience shows that on a regular basis, when the cheery melody begins to play, he immediately thrusts his hand into the pocket to retrieve his cherished telephone device, and begins a personal conversation either inside or outside of the beis medrash. How can he not be ashamed to daven every morning to be spared from nisyonos when he hands himself a nisoyon on that same day?

The Or Yisroel from Salant demonstrated that the individual's main avodoh is to increase his yiras Shomayim and to decrease his nisyonos, i.e., to increase yiras Shomayim by picturing Who he will one day have to stand before to account for himself and for lost mitzvos and deeds punishable by Gehennom, and to reduce nisyonos by fleeing from them and by winning the great battle with yetzer hora.

Everyone in our generation — in which darkness covers the earth — who has the privilege of participating in regular shiurei Torah and fixing daily times for Torah study, must reduce the nisoyon he must face, particularly this formidable nisoyon, which disturbs everyone in the beis medrash, and prevents continuous learning and removes the element of kevi'us itim leTorah, by leaving the cell phone at home or in the car as many of his peers already do. Furthermore he should resolve to devote this time exclusively to the gemora lying before him, as if the outside world were dead during this hour.

It should also be clear that neither are those who really are busy taking care of various mitzvos exempt from setting fixed times for Torah. And if these people do set a time to learn, it should be reserved for Torah and nothing else.

Leaving the cell phone on during the shiur and relying on the pretense that someone may need to call urgently right at that time is definitely the counsel of the yetzer hora. Rav Chaim of Volozhin zt'l warned against such faulty reasoning, writing, "This is Satan, the yetzer hora, who is the Angel of Death. It blinds the eyes of Yisroel, showing them what it chooses and hiding from them what it chooses." This is not the place to expand on the subject, but insightful readers will always be wary of similar situations.

Perhaps it would be best to conclude with the comforting words of the Chofetz Chaim zt'l in his sefer, Ahavas Chesed: "I heard that a certain gaon said that one should imagine three things: That he has only one day to live; That he has only one chapter of mishnayos or one daf of gemora, whatever he is studying at the time; And that Yisroel is one, and that HaKodosh Boruch Hu commands us to keep the Torah, on which the world depends . . .

"In my opinion, all three of these concepts are hinted at in the Torah in parshas Krias Shema: `Ve'ohavto es Hashem Elokecho bechol levovecho, uvechol nafshecho uvechol me'odecho,' but what can you do until you reach that point? `Vehoyu hadevorim ho'eileh' refers to the small amount you are learning at present. `Asher Onochi metzavecho' means you should think to yourself that nothing exists beside HaKodosh Boruch Hu and yourself. `Hayom' means there is only today. `Al levovecho' means that these three concepts should remain in a man's heart at all times."

Anyone who seriously contemplates all of the above will take these essential truths to heart as halochoh lema'aseh, and will have the merit to establish a true kevi'us itim leTorah with all of its ramifications, based on the true meaning contained in this sublime concept, and will enjoy all of the blessings promised to those who engage in and support Torah study: "ayin lo ro'aso Elokim zulosecho, ya'aseh lemechakei lo," Omen.


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.