Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

10 Tammuz 5763 - July 10, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Cell Phones in the Home: Dangerous Infiltrators

by R. Chadshai

Shifra was infused with a love of Torah. She always proclaimed that her only ambition was to marry a talmid chochom who never left the tents of Torah. When she eventually married, she agreed to bear the burden of parnossoh to allow her husband to learn without worries, and she found a job.

But Shifra was a worrier by nature. She told her husband she was willing to forego many things, but not a cell phone. In fact she wanted a his-and-her pair of cell phones. Seeing it was a real necessity for Shifra, her husband grudgingly agreed and bought a pair.

The next day, as he sat in his kollel, Shifra sat in her office. He opened his gemora and she opened her cellular. He began his learning, humming a melody, and his cell phone suddenly emitted a melody of its own. It was Shifra on the line. She began to tell him she was worried about her mother, who hadn't been feeling well that morning and now she wasn't answering her home phone and didn't have a cell phone . . . He allayed her fears and then tried to delve back into the sugyo, but soon he heard another ring. It was Shifra again. This time she wanted to know if he could buy some vegetables on the way home.

"You know I wouldn't be asking without a good reason. We have guests coming over for dinner. That young couple, Yoel and Peninoh, called to accept our invitation." Again he apologized to his chavrusa, but half an hour later there was another ring...


"Hello, Shifra. I understand you're having guests over tonight," says her neighbor Shoshanoh, walking up to her after they left the bus using different doors.

"B-but how do you know?" asks Shifra, flustered.

"I understand you're short on vegetables, too. I have plenty at home. Feel free to come up and take what you need. I overheard your telephone conversation. I didn't mean to, but you were talking out loud and you could be heard across the bus. By the way, how's your mother feeling?"

Shifra is dumbfounded. "They say some people know everything about you," she thinks to herself. "I always thought that was an exaggeration, but now I see it's entirely true. Who knows what else she's heard or whether other pairs of ears have heard every word as well?


Shifra puts the kids to sleep early so that she can host her guests without disruption. Finally the table is set with an impressive array of scrumptious fare. The guests wash their hands and sit down at the table for a festive meal. The atmosphere is fabulous and it promises to be a very pleasant evening. As the first course is served, Yoel's cell phone rings in the background. His conversation with Shifra's husband is cut short as he reaches for the phone. Soon he is drawn into an extended conversation. Meanwhile the host's cell phone rings as well, and soon he is busy talking too.

Shifra tries to save the situation by talking with Peninoh to make her feel at ease, but before she can get a word in, Peninoh's cell phone begins to chime as well. Now the festivities have reached their peak. Each of the diners is absorbed in a different conversation. One strolls toward the window, another leans against the door and a third steps out onto the balcony (where reception is better). One conversation ends and the next begins and the evening intended to bring them closer merely distances them further.


Today Shifra promised her children a prize. Since they went to sleep early last night before the guests came, she would take them out to the playground. The children get ready eagerly, for it is much more fun when Ima comes with them, rather than going alone or with a baby- sitter.

The children begin to play happily and as Shifra sits down on the bench, as you may surmise, out comes the cell phone to call up a friend. The call takes longer than expected. The children, periodically approaching Shifra with a request or complaint, notice that although she's here on the bench, their mother is not really here with them, but somewhere else -- far, far away.

They pull at her skirt, but she responds with gesticulations that demonstrate the phone conversation is her foremost priority at the moment. To her friend on the other end of the line she is chipper and courteous, while to them she casts angry looks and makes threatening hand gestures indicating she is not to be disturbed. Had this been a brief and pressing call, perhaps they would have understood. But children are graced with keen sensors and they can detect immediately that their mother is involved in nothing more than a casual conversation.

On the way back home the children act disappointed and Shifra cannot understand the reason behind this display of ingratitude. After all, she put everything aside to come with them--yet they're not satisfied.


Shifra's husband sensed how fatigued she was and a decision was made to send her to a "mothers' camp" for some fresh air. It was a considerable financial outlay for an avreich, but any price is worth paying for the sake of the recuperation of a mother who works so hard all year long. Shifra gets ready to leave and then parts from her children emotionally.

While still on the bus, as she tries to enjoy the scenery and to doze off, the familiar sound of the cell phone rings in her ears. At first she hoped it was someone else's phone, but the insistent ring told no lies. It was her ten-year-old, her oldest daughter, asking what to serve that day for lunch. Although her mother had prepared a detailed list, apparently she much preferred to hear her mother's voice.

That was merely a taste of what was to come. From that point on the cell phone lay idle only for occasional intermissions. The children would call to update her on everything that took place, who was quarreling with whom, who spilled the chocolate milk, as well as inquiries such as who should throw out the trash and who was first in line for the shower.

The children couldn't understand why their mother returned so exhausted, not realizing how hard it can be to run the house by remote control.


Shifra calls her husband to tell him the gemach called to let him know he could come by to pick up the loan. "Why are you sighing?" she asks.

"I'll tell you when I get home," he says. Shifra waits anxiously for evening and she puts the children to sleep early so she can speak with her husband undisturbed.

"I've been keeping it from you for a long time, but you should know our financial situation is really bad," he says, dropping his gaze to the floor. "Lately I've been wondering what I should do next."

"Just not--don't tell me you're going to go look for a job," Shifra murmurs, fearfully.

"I'm at a loss. Not only is it hard to make ends meet, but we've been accumulating debts, too."

"How can that be? You know I don't make any demands. I didn't buy something new to wear to the wedding last month. We don't have couches in the living room. I don't have a remodeled kitchen, not even a microwave . . . " she says and continues to enumerate everything she had given up for the sake of building a Torah home.

"I am aware of all your sacrifices and I appreciate them a great deal. I've been thinking about this a lot and I've come to the conclusion there is someone who has made his way in and am very worried over what he is doing to us. Every cent you save he steals and puts in his own pocket."

"A thief has been nosing around our apartment and we didn't know about it?" she asks in amazement.

"I wish he had only been stealing our money. The problem is that his chutzpah has gotten out of hand. He has been interfering with our children's chinuch, robbing them of the attention they deserve, making them spoiled and harming their ability to cope with problems. And as if that weren't enough, he has been introducing estrangement and alienation, getting involved in our connections with other people in a potentially harmful way and has even been letting other people know what takes place within our own walls."

"I'm totally shocked," mutters Shifra.

"And the list of his crimes goes on. He steals our time without us noticing, sabotages our peace and quiet, prevents us from relaxing and worst of all, disturbs the peace of mind and concentration I need to learn a page of gemora!"

"That I won't stand for under any circumstances!" declares Shifra, leaping up from her seat. This is too much for her. Torah learning, for which she is prepared to sacrifice whatever it takes, cannot be disrupted!

"Nu, haven't you figured out who this dastardly thief is?"


The next day a pair of cell phones are offered for sale. Shifra decided to get rid of them before it was too late. All at one peace settles on her home once again. The children are calmer, her husband can learn in peace -- without interruptions and the anxiety of running up debts.


While this account may be exaggerated, it is rooted in reality. Today the cell phone has made its way into almost every family (only one at best) and our intention is not to turn back the clock. It is indeed beneficial -- when one knows how to use it properly, in the right time and place.

But the damage this little device is liable to cause cannot be ignored. Buying a cell phone can be like buying an overlord, but not if the appropriate restrictions are imposed on it. There are places where it must be turned off and there are ages at which access should be almost completely denied (even under subscription programs intended for the chareidi sector). In short, one must ensure this little golem does not get the best of you.

Taking the Cell Phones out of the Kollelim

by Chaim Arbelli

A few months ago, at the end of Nisan, more than 50 roshei kollelim from Bnei Brak, Elad and Kiryat Sefer gathered to consult gedolei Yisroel on the issue of cell phones in the kollelim. As a result gedolei Yisroel issued a new, fundamental takonoh: No cell phones can be brought inside the beis medrash while turned on. Now the takonoh is being brought to the kollelim.

A distinction must be made between the campaign being waged against the kilkulim caused by some cell phones in calling inappropriate places, and the takonos now being formulated to control their use in kollelim. This article addresses the latter issue.

Chazal say, "Im poga becho menuval zeh, moshcheihu lebeis hamedrash ["If this villain comes upon you, drag him into the beis medrash"] (Sukkah 52b). This means when the yetzer hora strikes, it is not enough to learn Torah at home, but rather it must be dragged into the beis medrash. Why? Because the beis medrash, a mokom Torah, has segulos of its own.

And this is precisely what happens today: the villain is brought into the beis medrash.

Apparently people have interpreted this exactly the opposite, assuming "drag him into the beis medrash" means one should learn together with him bechavrusa. Yet they fail to realize this villain is the street, and when the street is brought into the beis medrash, the segulos of mokom Torah are lost.

Stepping into a hall of Torah should mean a complete severance from the profane and planting oneself in the house of Hashem. Only a place cut off from the rest of the world can be called a place of Torah. According to the holy Zohar, he who speaks of the profane in the beis medrash dishonors the Shechinoh (Parshas Terumoh). Botei medrash contain a bit of the kedushoh of Beis Hamikdosh (kemikdosh me'at) and their sanctity derives from within.

The letter written by gedolei Yisroel opens with the words, "Recently the fences have been breached and the number of people who use this device has increased, while failing to discern the boundaries of places of Torah." The cell phone blurs the border between inside and outside.

Recently we spoke with Rav Yisroel Marmoresh, a dayan in the beis din of HaRav Nissim Karelitz and the menahel ruchani of Kollel Breslev in Bnei Brak, on the dangers and disturbances when the border separating the outside world is blurred because of a ring that shouldn't be heard.


Rav Marmoresh: In our generation people are not as focused as in the past on one issue. Advanced communications has created a situation in which one can be involved with any place or thing in the world. The reality is that people periodically escape to various other places. They get updated on the news via the newspaper and then they essentially step out of themselves, out of their inner world.

This soul scattering is one of the reasons our generation is weaker inside than previous generations. This escape from one thing to the next, without continuity, makes individuals less consistent and less grounded. The need to be connected, updated, in touch, makes one present in every location, but not with himself. Things have reached the point where people feel a need to update their wife and children on an hourly basis.

Yated Ne'eman: How are women to cope with the new takonos? Are they too restrictive?

Rav Marmoresh: Chazal say women are rewarded for waiting for their husbands to come home from the beis medrash. Today sometimes the situation is reversed: the husband waits for a ring from home. Under this state of affairs we are robbing the woman of her reward! I think it's a shame to take away their reward and their partnership in Torah. The takonos will merely bring us back to the situation of a few years ago.

Y.N.: What if there is a genuine need to maintain contact with home?

Rav Marmoresh: This situation is mentioned clearly in the letter by the rabbonim, which reads, " . . . with the exception of he who has a family member urgently in need of him (e.g. medical necessity)." But even in such cases there are limits: Cell phone use must have the rosh kollel's consent and be outside the beis medrash in an unobtrusive place.

Some pointed out that the very act of carrying a working cell phone in one's pocket already represents a certain severance from the beis medrash. Such an individual has a migo that he can receive a phone call, a migo that he can contact the outside world . . . The big question is: What has changed over the last few years? Why is it now impossible to manage with what was fine until recently?

Y.N.: Since this is the situation today, has thought gone into possible solutions?

Rav Marmoresh: Definitely. One solution is the public phone, which was always good enough, and for some reason no longer satisfies people. Gedolei Yisroel do not overlook the fact that our generation is different. If an avreich has an urgent need, he should let his rosh kollel know. The very act of having to report to him will make him realize this is an irregularity.

There are a few kollelim where one avreich (or the rosh kollel) volunteers to carry a cell phone, and when there is an urgent message he passes it on. The reality is that an urgent message comes about once a week . . . When this idea was brought before gedolei Yisroel they asked, "And who would volunteer to be the Shabbos goy?"

Y.N.: Do the takonos apply to roshei kollelim as well?

Rav Marmoresh: Without a doubt the call was intended for roshei kollelim first and foremost.

Y.N.: And if the kollel's benefactor calls?

Rav Marmoresh: Roshei kollelim do have to attend to their material needs, but it's safe to assume every rosh kollel can find a way to manage.

Y.N.: The way the Menahel Ruchani of Kollel Breslev found a way?

Rav Marmoresh: Boruch Hashem I don't have a cell phone. I think anyone who tries to live for two weeks without a cell phone will feel much more pure, and much more tranquil.

At our kollel we instituted the takonos before they were made by the rabbonim. About a week later several avreichim came up to me, thanking me for the new atmosphere.

Y.N.: What will make the takonos succeed in the long term?

Rav Marmoresh: This is not an external, abstract takonoh. When every rosh kollel is signed on the takonoh it will obligate the avreichim at that kollel. At one of the prominent kollelim in Bnei Brak, for instance, today it is already forbidden to bring in even a turned off cell phone, and this is one of the conditions of acceptance. Already, just one month after the takonoh was instituted, we see various Torah halls competing with one another to implement it.


Everyone understands the gravity of the matter of talking on a cell phone inside the beis knesses or beis medrash, but not everyone notices that it is disruptive even when done in the area of the beis medrash, i.e. in the stairwell or in the immediate vicinity.

A cell phone conversation also creates a disturbance for people nearby. The ring severs the train of thought of everyone present. Right away people's brains check "who's talking to whom?" It is human nature to connect to what one sees or hears, and when someone talks on a cell phone he drags in everybody nearby. Even if a person sitting near the speaker does not sever himself from his learning completely, some of his thought processes do get cut off. One of the ways Torah is acquired is through uninterrupted learning. Only this type of learning has the brochoh and the ma'alos of amalei Torah.


Y.N.: The yetzer hora has thousands of different routes available to it. Why the focus on the cell phone route?

Rav Marmoresh: This is true. But the cell phone has something the others lack. One who knows that Toraso umnuso tries hard to maintain his learning times. He is well aware of the various disturbances and he makes an effort to fight them. But he is unaware of the influence the cell phone has. He thinks he is just talking for thirty seconds into the receiver and he has no idea of the extent to which this tears down the walls sheltering him from the outside world.

I, too, think there is no end to the technological innovations that will affect the cell phone of the future. We must create an unambiguous awareness before it is too late: cell phones in the beis medrash represent a total contradiction to the concept of a mokom Torah. Otherwise, in the future we may find ourselves not between the four walls of the beis medrash, but out in the streets.

What is a Mokom Torah?

Rav Yisroel Marmoresh recalls that when a state of emergency was declared in the US, the roshei yeshivos from one of the leading yeshivas there asked HaRav Chaim Kanievsky what steps should be taken. They received the following response:

A mokom Torah is not in need of protection.

But when the great gaon heard that cell phones were in use there he took back his previous advice.

The Attitude of HaRav Shach zt"l

At a gathering of roshei kollelim, Rav M.T. Bergman recalled that when HaRav Shach zt'l was asked whether to have a public phone installed at his kollel (by then there were already 100 avreichim), Maran asked, "What for?"

When Rav Bergman explained that sometimes there are cases of pikuach nefesh, Maran replied that if one is among Jews the case of pikuach nefesh will work itself out and that there are many ways to manage.

Letter to Roshei Kollelim

BS'D, Sivan 5763

Sholom Uvrocho,

At the end of the month of Nisan this year, dozens of roshei kollelim gathered in Bnei Brak at the initiative of maranan verabonon, who led the meeting, in order to establish regulations on the use of cellular phones in kollelim in order to fortify the halls of Torah and preserve appropriate standards.

Following the meeting, maranan verabonon issued a letter addressed to all of the kollelim, which we hereby bring to your attention.

This matter can only be conveyed to those who truly understand the gravity of the stumbling-block and the great responsibility involved in maintaining a mokom Torah. He who upholds the regulations fulfills the verse, "Boruch asher yokim es divrei haTorah hazos."

With our blessings, respectfully yours,

Shelucho Derabbonon


Tikkun Godol Regarding the Use of Cellular Telephones in the Halls of Torah and Tefilloh

Recently the walls have been breached, and the number of users of this device who fail to recognize the borders of the mokom Torah have multiplied. Instead of this space being cut off from worldly vanities as a separate and special place for Torah and tefilloh, secular affairs are brought into the heichalei Torah, with all of the concomitant chatting and lightheadedness. The sounds from these devices distract and disjoint the learning of others nearby as well.

Even those who step outside to speak about pressing matters sever themselves from the place of their sustenance, thereby creating a distraction that is one of the biggest causes of losses in Torah learning.

Although the proper and correct policy would be to totally refrain from bringing these devices into heichalei hakollelim--which is the path leading to perfection in esek haTorah--since not all places are alike and not all necessities are identical, roshei kollelim gathered at our behest and, in order to prevent the use of these devices improperly, the following limits and restraints have been established:

A. No (operative) cellular phone devices may be brought into the heichal hakollel, with the exception of situations that are at least bordering on pikuach nefesh, and then with the consent of the rosh kollel.

B. This device may not be used [at all] during the sedorim, with the exception of one whose household members are urgently in need of him (e.g. extraordinary medical necessity), and even this shall only be outside the beis medrash in a discreet place and with the consent of the rosh kollel.

This shall serve as a tikkun godol to maintain the watch over the protective walls of heichalei haTorah.

For the honor of Torah and those who toil in it,

Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman

Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz

Nissim Karelitz

I join in this.

Yosef Sholom Eliashiv


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