Blackberries in Shul

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Too often, I hear condemners of gadget addiction, rabbis and laymen alike, placing special blame on people who take out their Blackberries prior to praying in synagogue. With all due respect, these condemnations are misplaced. It is true that many people are addicted to their smartphones and other internet devices. However, those who remove their Blackberries from their holsters or cases and place them on a table do so for a very practical and praiseworthy reason.

A common setting for Blackberries is to vibrate for incoming e-mail only when in holster. In this way, if you are already using your Blackberry it will not vibrate in your hands and disturb your work. Those people who do not want to be disturbed during prayer can either turn off their Blackberry completely, adjust their device’s setting or simply take it out of its holster. Placing your Blackberry on the table is not a sign of addiction to e-mail. It is, rather, a sign of wishing to pray undisturbed by vibrations signaling incoming e-mail.

Those who smugly condemn the Blackberry removers as internet addicts are not only wrong. They are guilty of failing to judge others generously. Ironically, they condemn the very people they should be praising and mislabel a desire to pray without interruption as the exact opposite.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.


  1. I see. And it’s assur to stick it in your talit/t’fillin bag, right 🙂

  2. anyone with any common sense completely turns off their cell phone/blackberry/whatever before they enter the door of the shul. an exception might be for physicians on call who might be called to rush out to treat an emergency case.

  3. Carlos: why? When I can switch it to silent, or disarm the ringer as Gil describes, why would I subject myself to not logging missed calls and having to remember to initiate the 20-second reboot process later? I only turn my phone off when I’m having apparent memory issues, or when I badly need to conserve battery. (iPhone)

  4. So turn the sound *and* vibrate off. It’s not a big deal. Doctors and EMTS can turn it to vibrate.

    Personally, I wonder who is getting calls at 6:00 AM, but whatever.

    Gil, I think you’re being a bit over-generous here. Judging l’kaf zechut is nice, but not if it prevents us from giving constructive mussar.

  5. Gil,

    There are many different reasons for taking out a Blackberry or smartphone during davening. 1 is for what you said. Another is to use it as a siddur or a compass for East/J’slm (depending upon where u’r at). However, at minchah, I see many people taking out their phones to use it to read e-mail or an article of some type, or even just playing a game (I’ve seen people play chess and tetris during Chazarat HaShatz).

    But in truth, this is no different than regular behavior etiquette. During staff meetings, over 1/2 the people are playing or reading on their smartphones. Even just walking around or on the bus, many people are reading or playing on their smartphones. While I find this to be disrespectful behavior, this has become the norm and we’re training ourselves and ingraining it to be so. So why should G-d be treated any differently during davening?

  6. mine has a silent setting(doesnt even vibrate) which i use during davening (hat tip-r’ l rothwacks-teansck) but I put it on the table face down or in another pocket so I don’t forget to rearm it after davening.

  7. The point is that changing the setting takes more effort than simply taking it out and putting it down. I never see people davening from a Blackberry — just an iPhone or Droid. And I never see someone checking e-mail or playing a game during the silent Amidah. Frankly, I just let mine buzz in my pocket so I don’t look addicted to my Blackberry but IMHO that’s worse than taking it out and putting it on the table.

  8. I would agree with your critique of people not being “Dan l’chaf zchus” if people simply took out their smart phones set them on the table and picked them up when davening ended. But more often than watching this phenomena, I watch people typing away throughout chazaras ha’shatz. Now please correct me if I am wrong, but none of the “davening appropriate” uses of smartphones (compass, siddur, no disturbance) requires constant typing throughout the 19 brachos of chazaras hashatz. While I agree that there are those that remove their blackberries with good intentions, I (from experience) believe you are naive to think this is how the majority of people are thinking…

  9. As Nachum mentioned I think you’re being overly generous. Though its true that one should not judge these types the metziyut is that what one does with their PDA during davening runs the entire gamut of possible PDA uses.

    I have seen

    1) email being checked during shemone esrei
    2) more time spent looking on one’s blackberry than looking in their siddur (and no, they ain’t davening from the BB as is evidenced by the fact that their siddur is open next to them). One person in my neighborhood is infamous for this
    3) those who feel that the above- mentioned “20 second reboot” is a fair price to pay for not being tempted to distract themselves during tefila
    4) people who leave their ringers on and allow their phone/pda to ring repeatedly because I assume they presume that turning it off would be some sort of hefsek.

    I would go as far as to say that the majority of those who have exposed communication devices during davening have them exposed for ease of access rather than to minimize distraction.

  10. the reason for silent vs, vibrate is the distraction issue.

    “those bases on balls come back to haunt you” – as does the concept that learning during chazarat ahshatz is ok 🙂


  11. If the objections to Blackberries are about activities during the REPETITION of the Amidah, then I must be hearing and seeing different lectures than you.

  12. yitz newton –fair enough, the point i was trying to make is that common sense dictates that one’s phone be 100% unobtrusive and 100% non-distracting to oneself and to others during davening. if there is some other way to do that than turning it on, fine. but having it on silent mode doesn’t achieve this if one is glancing at it to check incoming e mails. on silent mode, face down on the table and never picked up until the davener is ready to leave the shul, and it’s just like leaving your car keys on the table.

  13. If the Berditchever could praise Jews because they engage in smuggling, but don’t have chametz on Pesach, then we can praise Jews for bringing Blackberries to shul, but at least they are in shul.

  14. I daven from a BB for Mincha and Maariv. Too annoying for Shachris.

  15. While the BB has its pitfalls, its become a dumb target as Gil implies. Its a device that is a part of todays society

    By vilifying it, one discredits himself and the group he represents

  16. Everytime I see someone davening from a siddur text on his I-Phone, I ask him if he has the app with Shabbos davening.

  17. I recall previous discussions here about attire in shul. It seems to me that those who advocate one should be at least as careful to be attired for conversing with God as one would with the President, should also be careful in this regard and just stick the device in your empty tallit or t’fillin bag.

    It seems to be incongruous to wear a hat & jacket, for example, but leave the phone in open view on the table. [And, for completeness, the case of using the device as a siddur is a separate matter where there is no conflict I see].

  18. This reminds me of a post I wrote about the guy who left his phone on and refused to turn it off during davening in the YU Glueck Beis Medrish:

    Incidentally – if the blackberry/cell phone users who put their devices on the table to avoid being interrupted by vibrations during davening – what happens if they do get a call/message? I presume the thing buzzes all over the table, creating a good bit of noise and further distraction. Instead of only the phone’s owner being disturbed by a buzzing in his pocket, everyone at the table/in the nearby vicinity will be disturbed!

    Turning it off is best, and silent is a distant 2nd.

  19. Shades: No, if your Blackberry isn’t in its holster then it doesn’t vibrate. At least on the common setting that I have mine on.

  20. And the light doesn’t blink?

    [My last BB was of the thumbwheel variety which had a very persistent blinking light in silent mode].

  21. It seems to me that those who advocate one should be at least as careful to be attired for conversing with God as one would with the President, should also be careful in this regard and just stick the device in your empty tallit or t’fillin bag.

    For once I absolutely agree with one of your chiddushim 🙂

  22. This reminds me of a post I wrote about the guy who left his phone on and refused to turn it off during davening in the YU Glueck Beis Medrish

    Back in the day I sat next to a person in the main YU BM who not only left his phone on, but would answer his calls right then and there. Now he’s the world’s most famous neocon Orthodox Rabbi.

  23. IH, it is assur to place your Blackberry in your tefillin bag. (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 42:3, Mishnah Berurah s.k. 16) Your talit bag is mutar (s.k. 11).

  24. IH: Note that your proposed technique only works at shacharit, and only for people who wear a talit.

  25. You shouldn’t bring a blackberry into shule. It’s a goses, let alone touch one.

  26. The cell phone is todays avoda zara. One cannot be without it. A person is not allowed to be ‘meshubad’ to anything only to hashem.

  27. In Israel, if you turn your phone off, you will get an SMS when you turn it back on detailing every call you missed.

    I turn my off before going to Shul. (Besides, the reception in the Beit Midrash is terrible. By leaving the phone on, all you’ll do is drain the battery while the poor phone struggles to find a signal.)

  28. pretty defensive post you seem addicted but don’t want to admit it

  29. Just, to say, Gill is not being overly-generous. When I want to daven well I will always take my phone out and put it on the table. When it is in my pocket I get distracted by vibrations and without the conscious setting aside of my phne I get mentally distracted by it too. I – like almost everyone under the age of 30 – would never dream of turning my phone off as the 30 second wait is just totally unmanagable.

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