Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mourning with my iPhone

My iPhone has been a faithful companion during this year of saying kaddish. It has helped me find a minyan when I travelled. (see post The calendar feature has helped me find out exactly when my Kaddish saying will end. (October 10, the day after Simchat Torah.) But mostly it's helped me pass the time when I felt bored during services. When I'm not leading services, I've gotten into the habit of taking out my phone during the repetition of the Amidah or if the Rabbi's D'var Torah doesn't interest me. I check my email and "to do  list" send messages to others about things that pop into my mind, look up things on the Internet, check my Facebook page or note topics that I'd like to blog about. (I first wrote about this at

I feel a bit guilty about this. I'm supposed to be paying attention and answering "amen" after each blessing. I'm also supposed to give my full attention to the rabbi as an element of "k'vod ha'rav," giving honor to the Rabbi as an authority.

Still, I spend a lot of time in shul to pray and say kaddish. Each day I spend more or less about an hour and fifteen minutes. Shacharit, the morning prayer, usually last about 35 to 45 minutes, depending on whether the Torah is read (Mondays, Thursdays and special days such as Rosh Chodesh). The combined afternoon and evening services usually takes about 30 to 35 minutes. That's a lot of time to spend in one place. After home and work, there is no place I spend as much time in as shul. It's difficult for me not to have my mind wander on other things going on in my life.

I can justify my behavior on several scores. First, I'm not the only one doing it. (Okay, that's not a good reason, but still.) I see lots of people using their phones during shul. Some of them have downloaded the prayer service and are using it for that purpose. (I have as well, though I prefer to use a prayer book.) But I think most are "goofing off" like I am. Beeps and chimes and other tones are a fairly regular occurrence at shul these days. At concerts, plays and operas, they remind people to turn off their phones before the performance begins. No one tells shul-goers to do this before praying.

Second, I consider myself to be multi-tasking. I'm a busy person. Shul takes up a lot of my time. I have things I need to take care of. I can still answer "amen" and reply to an email. True, my kavanna (intention toward the prayers) may be low, but I'm not disrupting others and I'm still participating.

The one thing that does bother me is when other people's phones go off in the middle of the service. Sometimes the phone continues to ring four or five times. Usually people don't answer the phone. I try to remember to turn the sound on my phone off before the service. Sometimes I forget and then remember in the middle of davening (praying) in which case I take out my phone and turn off the sound.

Last week, however, my phone rang at the worst possible time--as I was saying kaddish. It was embarrassing. My son was calling about something. I've reminded my family members not to call during the early evening hours when I'm in shul. He forgot. I quickly turned off the phone.

Lately I've been thinking that I should study some Torah during the service instead of engaging in "bittul torah" (wasting time on unimportant non-Torah related matters). I've started learning some Mishnaot. But I still make sure I don't leave to shul without my phone.

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