Monday, December 17, 2007

Question & Answer With Dixie Yid - Derech Eretz In The Cyber Age

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

If a person is where his thoughts are, in this cyber age have cellular phones and wireless communication devices prevented us from being where we are and living in the present?

Dixie Yid answers:

There are two ways that people can relate to one another. It can be "panim b'panim" or "achor b'achor," "face to face," or "back to back." As my rebbe explains, that means people can actually relate directly to each other (face to face) or they can be as far apart as two people standing back to back. When two people are standing back to back, they are further apart that they are from anybody else in the entire world. The entire circumference of the world separates them. Whereas when people are directly engaged with each other in a conversation, or the like, it is an actual connection between two people in a real way.

There's the famous vort on the pasuk where Hashem tells Moshe Rebbeinu in Shmos 24:12, "עֲלֵה אֵלַי הָהָרָה--וֶהְיֵה-שָׁם." "Ascend Har Sinai and be there." Is it possible to be on Har Sinai but not be there? This implies, like A Simple Jew said, that one is where his thoughts are. If you are one place, and your mind is somewhere else, then you aren't really where your physical body is. The main thing is where your thoughts and attention are. (One can see this illustrated in this video).

So clearly, when one acts in a way that shows other people that he is not really present with them while he is talking with them, this is a major insult and an affront to their tzelem Elokim. When I'm talking to you, and I leave my bluetooth earpiece in my ear from my last conversation, it sends a message to you that basically says, "I may be talking to you now, but at any moment, I may get a phone call from someone else who I would rather talk to, so I have to stay ready with this phone in my ear." It also means that people don't always know when you are talking to them. You could begin talking to someone, but they don't pay any attention to you because they just assume you are on the phone with someone using your bluetooth.

If this is true with other people, then kal vachomer, how much the more so, it is true between us and Hashem. If you have your earpiece from your phone in your ear, while you're davening to Hashem, you're essentially telling the Master of the Universe, "Hope you don't mind, but I am expecting a very imporant phone call. Sorry!" Similarly, when people get on their Crackberries, I mean Blackberries, and check their e-mail, the latest sports scores, or do some Google search, it is telling the Ribbono Shel Olam, "I don't really want to be here right now, so I am thinking about and doing everything that I can besides davening."

A Simple Jew and I put together a few ideas for "Cyber-Derech Eretz" that you can find here. May Hashem help us truly be with the ones we are with, whether they are other people or Hashem Himself!

- If visiting another person's house, do not use your cellular phone or wireless communication device.

- Put your cellular phone or wireless communication device on vibrate.

- Don't wear a earpiece unless it is an absolute necessity. Remove earpiece at the end of the call.

- Don't use the cellular phone camera unless it is an absolute necessity

- Take of your sunglasses when speaking to another person.

- Do not leave your hands free device, still connected to the phone, hanging off of you, in plain sight.

- Take off your glove when shaking someone's hand.

- When you're talking to someone, and receive a call, even on vibrate, don't check the caller ID.


At December 17, 2007 at 7:22:00 AM EST, Blogger yitz said...

technically, the glove guideline seems irrelevant to the topic at hand.

i really liked the idea of not using your cellphone in someone else's house.

re: checking your caller-id, there are times when it might be better to check the caller id rather than worry about who might be calling.. and be visibly distracted for a longer period of time.

I also personally sometimes resent the 'common sense' idea that the person who is standing before you deserves more attention than the person trying to call you. What if the person in front of me happened to catch me at an inconvenient moment and my wife is calling me?

I'd always prefer to talk to her over anyone else..I'd prefer to be in her presence also, but that's not always possible.

Sometimes, (near the beginning or end of tefillah generally) I will answer my cellphone (if it's on, and if i notice it vibrate) if my wife is calling, because I actually think it's rude of me to ignore those closest to me,(immediate family, rav/rebbe, very close friends) while i want HaShem's immediate and direct attention.

Similarly there is a ma'aseh about the Mittler Rebbe ignoring his son's cries while in the depths of meditation and the Alter Rebbe scolding him for it. (i couldn't find it on the web, though it might be from Hayom Yom) Obviously its not a perfect parallel, but i think it illustrates that the issue is complicated.

At December 17, 2007 at 8:05:00 AM EST, Blogger DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

I included the glove example more as an aspect of derech eretz that is neglected in modern times, the more general "cyber age," even though it's not related to technology.

I would disagree with you about answering your wife's call at the beginning of davening, even though it's "okay" to interrupt then. It just doesn't seem right. It would also be an issue of derech eretz to think about not calling people when we know they're davening, I would think.

Thank you for the very thoughtful comment!

-Dixie Yid

At December 17, 2007 at 8:19:00 AM EST, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Great Q & A. The story about the Alter Rebbe and his son is a nice tie in.
Derech Eretz doesn't tend to be somewhat fluid within Torah boundries!
As I've learned to use my cell phone less, I tend to see how much more everyone else uses theirs! :)

At December 17, 2007 at 12:57:00 PM EST, Blogger Alice said...

Can I add to the list?
When at the cashier, don't talk on the phone while being rung up. The cashier is a human who deserves your attention for a moment- just as you deserve his or her attention.

I have witnessed many times the cashier nicely greeting a customer who is 'multi-tasking' and the customer totally ignores them. Sooo mean.

At December 17, 2007 at 1:01:00 PM EST, Blogger Alice said...

If you are expecting a call and a busy-body is in your face, you can always say, "I'm just giving you a heads up that I may need to take a call in a moment. Please don't be offended." Just a thought. I agree there are moments especially for parents, where you must attend to the cell.

I would also say that call waiting can be a menace as well.

Geez. I'm such a ludite grump!

At December 17, 2007 at 3:43:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The grey-bearded guy in the background (middle, facing left) looks a lot like the Lubavitcher Rebbe, don't you think?

At December 17, 2007 at 7:02:00 PM EST, Blogger DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...


True, sometimes it's hard to see something objectively until you can extricate yourself from it.


Good example. People forget that cashiers, waiters, waitresses, and the like are people too. I agree that treating them like they are less than human by completely ignoring them is a bad mida.

Although, many of my readers are from Yankee land, and as I understand it, in New York, cashiers are pretty equally as adept at ignoring their customers as their customers are at ignoring them!

Space Cadet,

You know... you're right.

-Dixie Yid

At December 17, 2007 at 7:34:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

FYI: Very useful resource

שלחן ערוך אורח חיים
שלחן ערוך יורה דעה
שלחן ערוך אבן העזר
שלחן ערוך חושן משפט

Designed to finish Shulchon Oruch (Mechaber/Ram"o) within a year for bekiyus.

At December 18, 2007 at 2:26:00 PM EST, Blogger yitz said...

I don't know if I'm relieved or distressed to find that what goes on here in Israel also goes on in the "old country". I find the ubiqutiousness of cellphones most annoying. Let's face it, people, unless we're an emergency-room-type doctor, do we REALLY need to be available at the press of a [send] button? In the middle of davening?
You have a sick child at home -- so maybe you should daven @ home so as to be around that much sooner? I just don't get it!!!


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