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iPhone With Jewish Apps Allowed In The Bathroom?

Published May 24, 2010
Bathroom
Image credit: royblumenthal

Jewish Life, or more specifically, life in accordance with Jewish Law in today’s technologically advanced era, has never been more exciting. Questions like: When does a Jewish astronaut observe the Sabbath in outer space where there are no days of the week? Or, during the High Holy Day of Yom Kippur, is one allowed to be administered nourishment via an IV tube when he’s fasting? Or even more bizarre, can a genetically cloned human count as a tenth man for a Minyan or Jewish Prayer quorum?

So when the following question came in to the RustyBrick office, I jumped on the opportunity to do some research in our 3000+ year old library of Jewish wisdom. The question was sent in by someone who has our most popular Jewish iPhone app, the Siddur. He wrote as follows:

 

Someone saw me using your Siddur at Mincha today and asked whether I can take my iPhone into the toilet even if the iPhone is switched off or is on without activating the Siddur. Do you have a halachic ruling on this issue? If so, please refer me to the sources.

 

Let me briefly elaborate on the Halachic (Jewish Law) issue. Holy Scriptures, such as a Torah scroll, Book of Prophets, and other holy writings have implicit holiness. This is primarily because these writings contain the name of G-d, and also because of other factors. Since this is so, there are many laws that pertain to how one must treat these books, one of which is, that it may not be brought into an unclean place, such as a bathroom. A Jewish Prayer Book, although not considered on the same level as a Torah Scroll, also contains the name of G-d, and therefore must not be brought into a restroom.

The question in our case involves determining the Halachic status of an electronic version of that book. There are many implications that are discussed in contemporary Halachic responsa. For our purposes I will focus on 2 main points:

(1) What is the Halachic status of the Siddur when the device is NOT displaying the text?
(2) Even when the text IS visible, is that different than a printed text in a book?

To answer the 2nd question first: Although a text displayed on a LED screen is not considered a Halachic text (i.e. one may not use such a text for a mezuzah- sorry iPad Torah) - it is not appropriate for one to have the text displayed in a restroom, for it may cause him to think about or say what he is reading, which is also prohibited in an unclean place.

Concerning the 1st issue, since the text on the iPhone is stored internally on flash memory drive, it’s not considered a Halachic writing at all. At best, is electronically charged ones and zeros which has no sacred status whatsoever. So, to answer our original question – You may bring your iPhone/iPod touch into a restroom, just be careful not to read any of the content while there.

For sources and further discussion, please feel free to contact us.

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Adam

Adam serves as our Rabbinical counsel for our software and apps. He is an ordained Rabbi by the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court, holds a B.A. in Psychology from Queens college & currently lives in Israel.

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