"Half-Shabbos" and Texting: What Is the Parent’s Role?

The New York Jewish Week wrote about the phenomenon known as “Half-Shabbos,” in which teens who are otherwise Sabbath observant use their cell phones to text their friends.

When I asked my kids if this is common in Israel, they said that they had first heard about it from me! They haven’t seen it here so far.

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According to the article:

Texting on Shabbat —œis probably more prominent [in the Modern Orthodox community], but it is by no means exclusively there,— Rabbi Goldmintz wrote. —œSomeone once suggested that it all got started when observant kids signed on after Shabbat and realized how much their non-observant friends had been communicating over Shabbat and they didn’t want to be left out ever again.—

Annette Green wrote on Facebook:

The strange thing about this article is the expectation that it is the school’s problem. Where are the parents? If you don’t want your child to text on Shabbat, you ask them to give you their phone before Shabbat. If they won’t, then you discuss the issue with them. I don’t expect a school to parent my kids, especially not on Shabbat!

I agree with Annette that the parents have to take responsibility for this, especially since it is not during school hours (unless it’s a school program). I’m not sure about asking the child to give up the phone straight off, because the child could assume the parent doesn’t trust him or her. I would prefer to find out whether the child was tempted, then ask whether it would help for you to hold on to the phone.

One commenter on the article prevents overnight guests from texting by asking everyone to put their phones into a “muktza basket,” for articles that may not be used on Shabbat. Texting guests chose not come for a return visit. I don’t use my phone on Shabbat, but I think the request would put me off.

Requiring a child to give up the phone might work in the short term, assuming the child doesn’t acquire another phone. Parents are responsible for education, but have little control over their children’s religious observance. Soon enough, they will be making their own choices.

Do you see this problem in your community? What is the best way to prevent it?

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Image: GoodNCrazy


  1. I don’t think my parents could have prevented me from doing something like texting when I was a teen.

  2. I feel like I don’t know any kids over the age of 9!

    But it is making me think twice about the (distant) idea of getting my daughter an E-book reader.

    Not the responsibility of the school, I think–they can teach about Shabbat, but the Shabbat experience has to come from home (or a home environment).

  3. I would prefer to find out whether the child was tempted, then ask whether it would help for you to hold on to the phone.
    Probably the best approach with teenagers; younger ones shouldn’t have cell phones anyway.
    I have shared a post by rabbi Fink on the topic in my modest weekly review.

  4. I don’t quite understand why everyone is talking about “how addictive technology is” or “why teens get bored on shabbos” and the idea of taking the cell away boggles my mind, as if that is really going to solve the longterm issues involved in this.

    Instead of saying, “oh let’s just take the cell phones” why don’t we talk about the real problem? If a teenager has a relationship with Hashem, if they are keeping mitzvot because it means something, there is no excuse for someone brought up frum, to ever knowingly break shabbos to text their friends. Texting on shabbos indicates a larger problem which needs to be addressed by individuals’ parents as well as the community. If your child is engaging in this activity, it is serious, it could very well not be “just a fase” and you need to evaluate what you are teaching them or what they are lacking because the blatant apathy about keeping mitzvot showed in that article, can for many, translate to OTD.

  5. aviva_hadas says

    Sorry if this sounds glib, but if these are your worries then you are doing pretty darn good (When compared to a larger segment of society).

    Also, in my MIL’s frum shul, they have a telephone for emergencies, but adults have been seen using it on Shabbat for non-emergencies, so maybe there is some underlying problem/message that isn’t being fully developed in this story. (Although one girl did say that she texted her mom letting her know where she was. It that not condoning/accepting/making the same violation?)

  6. Since my oldest is not quite three, I’m out of my league here. I was also thinking “why can’t the parents just take away the phone?” But after reading your comments I see that it is not so simple, and may cause more harm than good.

    How to curb it? Maybe find ways to engage the child on Shabbos, speak to them about why it’s a challenge, establish some non-texting times for during the week, and, of course, daven.

  7. While parents want their kids to grow up to be frum adults, this won’t always happen. I am not sure that texting on Shabbos is a form of rebelling against halacha; more likely these kids don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.

    One of the worst things is when a kid violates certain halachot or tzniut rules and gets labeled a “bad” or “rebellious” kid, even when that’s the furthest thing from the case. The labeling makes the kid wonder if he or she really is bad, and might lead to actual bad behavior.

    I don’t think we should label anyone, but particularly children, and specifically our OWN children, as “bad” because they are unwilling or unable to keep certain halachot.

    We can show them what we find meaningful about being observant, but ultimately they have to grow up and live their lives.

    • Observer says

      Generally these kids know perfectly well that this is against Halacha. If you are right, this means that they see nothing wrong with violating Halacha.

      • I don’t think most adults, much less kids, understand why this is against Halacha.

  8. My kids don’t text. (Oldest 2 are 12 and 14 and they and most of their friends don’t have their own cell phones.) And the high school my Don will attend next year prohibits SMS enabled cell phones.

    But I can’t imagine them even thinking that texting would be okay on Shabbos – they know the halacha.

    Maybe I just don’t understand the issue at all, as I’m not sure that I could bring myself to use the phone on Shabbos during a bonafide emergency, probably a side effect of being a BT.

    • I think its most likely a combination of lack of strong positive parental relationship, and a lack of desire to believe their parents belief system, or at least to abide by it. Or a lack of autonomy allowed to them. Or a feeling of being distrusted. There are lots of possibilities. They may not have adopted Judaism as their own; found their own reasons to follow it. I doubt they could go through Jewish day school and not know what the halacha is.

      If they can’t separate from their peers for one day of the week, it sounds to me like their family isn’t a very strong unit and they feel a need to seek closeness and intimacy elsewhere, among peers. Peer relationships are not as strong, or unconditional as family relationships should be, and so that isn’t the healthiest place to seek security and closeness. They don’t know that though. Parents should know that.

      Your children know the halacha, but I doubt that’s the driving factor for them following it. They probably have a very good relationship with their parents, and respect you enough to either have followed you in your beliefs or at least act that way while they live in your home. Although, there are probably some children who just ‘believe’ what they are taught, and don’t fight it or their parents.

    • Miriam – I’m not sure that I could bring myself to use the phone on Shabbos during a bonafide emergency

      If I am not mistaken, that halacha isn’t only that you may use the phone in an emergency, but rather that you must use it (i.e. do whatever necessary for the emergency).

      • Mark, perhaps I should qualify my statement.

        If, for example, someone is having a heart attack, chas v’shalom (for this and the other emergencies I describe), I wouldn’t hesitate to call 911. In case of fire, we’d grab everyone and leave and since we have a non-Jewish next-door neighbor, probably go straight to his house to ask him to call 911, but if he wasn’t home, then we’d go to the next closest neighbors, who happen to be Jewish and non-observant. If it were a neighbor’s house on fire, I might make the call myself and I might hand over the phone, but I’d make sure the call was made. Burglary or shoot-out (unlikely in our neighborhood, but you never know) or other crime in progress, call now. Burglary that has already happened, well, we’d probably wait to call.

        My issue is more with semi-emergencies, things that actually come up in my life, the type of thing that could technically wait or where the phone call itself is allowed but possibly unnecessary. To give an example — a woman (probably me) in labor. I tend to have long labors, and have waited out Shabbos before. Not necessarily, actually, probably not, a life and death situation, even if the baby were to be born at home. My midwife would like me to “check in” with her by phone during early labor — I will not do this on Shabbos. I’m also supposed to call if I think things are imminent and I’m heading for the hospital, and if I have a doula, I’m “allowed” to call her as well and ask her to meet me there or pick her up along the way. I’m not comfortable with that, and I don’t think the halacha “forces” me to do things that way. I can deliver perfectly well without my doula, and if I’m convinced that things are so imminent that it is necessary to travel to the hospital on Shabbos, then I’m not taking the time to call the answering service and wait for them to page my midwife and her to call me back — I’m going straight to the hospital, and they can call her. If things are too fast for her to get to the hospital on time, well, then, I’ll deal with whomever is the staff doctor available. If labor is proceeding REALLY fast and I don’t think I’ll make it to the hospital before delivering, well, then I make my husband call an ambulance, because I wouldn’t be in any condition to make that phone call anyway.

        A broken bone is also not an emergency that requires a phone call — the pediatrician would just send us to the ER and we don’t need pre-approval for emergency room visits with our insurance. Plus I’ve been told by a doctor that most broken bones can wait overnight anyway. Would I make a child in extreme pain with a probably broken bone wait — probably not. But I wouldn’t pick up the phone first — there’s no need.

        • What you describe is almost exactly how we handle shabbat and semi-emergencies. For example, our youngest had a mishap a few years ago on shabbat and required stitches. Rather than driving him to the emergency room, we simply walked over to a very nice neighbor who is an ER doctor and he stitched him up right in his house.

          For broken bones, if the bone hasn’t punctured the skin, you may be able to wait until motzai shabbat. But for bones that have punctured the skin, get to the emergency room right away!

  9. That should be my son, not my Don. Sorry for the typo.

  10. Also, not a parent of teenagers yet. But it seems to me that dealing directly with the texting and cell phones is not going to be productive. If teens are doing this in secret, keeping it from their parents, then that speaks to a lack of attachment and connection within a family. The solution is to treat the connection/attachment/relationship, while allowing children to continue to make their own choices. They may not choose the same as their parents, there is always that risk. But they are much more likely to respect the wishes of their parents while they live in their parents homes if they have a close and open relationship with their parents, where they feel heard, respected, and autonomous. Teenagers, despite how modern western culture would have us think of them (as children), are really much more adults than children. We should treat them as such, while being available for assisting in failures and foibles.

    Will my tune change when I have my own teenagers?

  11. I don’t think my kids text their friends on Shabbat. If they were, I’m sure they’d be careful to hide it from me, because they don’t definitely know that it is being mechalel Shabbat. Most of their friends re religious and they see them plenty over Shabbat so I don’t think they feel a need for it.

  12. Sorry, I’m very rushed: they definitely do know that texting on Shabbat is forbidden by halacha.

  13. This was an issue with many teens in my community during my high-school years. (10-11 years ago now!) One way it was dealt with by parents and community leaders was to set up a “girls discussion group” on Shabbat morning when the boys were in the youth minyan (boys only, but that’s another issue.) Issues such as shabbat observance, self esteem, tzniut etc, were discussed with relevant educators/”in-touch” parents, and it definitely decreased the shabbat texting, as well as other religious problems, but obviously didn’t stop it all together. Ten years on, most of those girls are leading halachically-observant lives.

  14. We discussed this at the shabbat table, and I’m relieved to say my kids were appalled.

  15. I agree with what you wrote and what many are saying in the comments
    I think that taking the phone away is like “putting a bandaid on cancer”
    texting on Shabbat for these kids/teens is just a symptom of other problems and those problems are what I think really need to be addressed
    I think that yes its absolutely the parents responsibility to deal with this (and anything else that is going on with their child) but the community and school could/should be discussing and handling it as well.

    Thanks for the interesting post and comments that followed I had read this article a few days ago and was happy to see /read what others thought about it too.

  16. From the perspective of a part-time teenage mentor in the Orthodox community:

    I mentor kids from different backgrounds; I first suspected this 2 years ago and decided against confrontation. How could a child who texts 16 hours a day stop for 25 hours?

    I asked a current mentee what she thinks of this article. She told me that of course she texts on Shabbos, but she doesn’t believe in Judaism anyway so she doesn’t count. I thanked her for being honest with me. (this is written with her permission.) For this particular teen, her desire to rebel, coupled with her extreme sense of integrity, meant that as long as she violates halacha, she will not consider herself Orthodox. For many teens, the world is black and white. If the parents are not serious about turning off the TV for Shabbos, then texting is just the next step. There is no gray area in the teenage world; the concept of half-Shabbos is like being semi-shomer negia – really, you’re not Shomer Negia, you just feel more guilty about it and only do it with people you really like.

    OK, this is not scientific, but characteristic of those from more RW-MO who would do this, in my limited experience:
    1. Parents who are not [fully] aware of their children’s use of technology, and don’t set appropriate limits on it. (most teens are ok with, let’s say, no texting between 2-4am. Most parents never think of setting such a rule, but it’s very important to have some limit.)
    2. Teens who experience Shabbos as “boring” (as stated in the article)
    3. Teens whose friends text (if 50% of your child’s classmates do it, don’t necessarily believe them that they don’t, but ask a professional before reacting)
    4. Teens with social problems AND impulse control issues (either one doesn’t really raise risk, but together they do.)
    5. Teens who view their parents / authority figures as compromising on Halachic matters.

  17. I was discussing this with a friend, and she pointed out that at least when she was in NCSY, some 20-25 years ago, half of the kids in MO schools and in NCSY weren’t coming from fully shomer-Shabbos homes in the first place. So that’s one partial explanation for how this could be affecting so many many children. Then there’s the slippery slope of if your peers in day school are doing it, maybe it’s not so bad, and it spreads to teens from shomer Shabbos homes as well, IF they don’t have a firm foundation from their parents.

    So our job as parents is to make it so our teens would never ever even consider doing such a thing as not fully observing Shabbos. I have a teen who is “addicted” to the computer, but the computer stays off for all of Shabbos and YomTov, (and most of erev Shabbos and erev YomTov) even if right after havdallah it’s back on — because that’s the way it works.

  18. Hi,

    1 The problems also revolve around the fact that technology is seen by kids as primarily a ‘ social medium’ and not a ‘ learning medium
    2 Attachments to peers and their culture as opposed to parents and people of different generations


    • I mentioned this to my Israeli kids, aged from 22 – 13. They were all astounded and said ‘It must only happen in America’. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but they are certainly not aware of it happening in their circles and feel no desire to do it. Interestingly, my 16 year old son asked if the kids that are so addicted to texting that they can’t stop have a ‘heter’ (halachic permission from a Rabbi).

  19. faith/emuna says

    as simplistic as this might sound, this problem is less likely to happen in israel for the very practical reason that ( i think) most religious families in israel have all the cellphones in the family on a shabbat plan. (not as a means to prevent the kids from using it) and it costs alot if you use it on shabbat (my son is a mifaked and needed to use his phone on shabbat and now needs to deal with the company removing the significant fine. ) (if you call an emergency # you dont pay a fine, but this was a number of another soldier)

    • I really don’t think that is the issue. I don’t know if such cellphone plans are so wide spread, and in any case, the kids that I know (mine and their friends) don’t even consider using their cell phones on Shabbat – it has nothing to do with the charges.