Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Talmud, Water and Cell Phones

A few weeks ago, my Rabbi admonished/begged the congregation that we need to be more fervent and concentrating in our praying during the services. He's not wrong on that score. We all do our share of talking during the services, which we really shouldn't be doing (though it isn't nearly as extensive as certain other congregations with which I am acquainted). Every once in a while, we need to be reminded of Whom we stand before.

This evening, the talking during the davening was relatively restrained. The problem was that someone's cell phone went off. Not quite four years ago, I posted on this issue, noting that when the cell phone that distracts our concentration belongs to a rabbi then there's much rabbinical credibility to be lost.

[I note that there are a number of rabbis besides our main "pulpit rabbi" who join us on a somewhat regular basis for the afternoon/evening services. They do things like oversee kosher food preparation at the local old age home, or watch over the dead at one of the local funeral establishments, or, in one case, the "pulpit rabbi" from a congregation in a neighboring town (who happened to have been my son's 6th grade Religious Studies teacher at the Jewish day school) whose own congregation has trouble during the week with making Minyan (a minimum prayer quorum of 10 Jewish males over the age of 13).].

In any event, the cell phone one of these other rabbis went off during the davening, so what did this rabbi do? He kept on davening until he was finished, which took perhaps a minute or two. And the other guys in the Minyan (about 14 of us) were all distracted.

Afterward, I went up to our congregation's "pulpit rabbi" and asked him what happens in the following situation: Two men are traveling in the desert, away from civilization. One has a canteen of water, the other does not. The man with the canteen has enough water to make it to civilization, but if he shares his water with his companion, the neither will be able to reach civilization alive.

That hypothetical was answered almost 2,000 years ago by Rabbi Akiva, who ruled that it is better that only one man perish than to have both men die. Rabbi Akiva's ruling is recorded in the Talmud [Bava Metzia 62a]. In modern times, it comes up with some degree of frequency in discussions regarding health care rationing.

So, of course, my Rabbi quoted Rabbi Akiva's pronouncement to me (as though I had never heard of the Akiva's famous ruling). He wondered what my ulterior motive was, and didn't have to wait long to find out.

I then asked him, "Which is preferable, one man being distracted from prayer for a few seconds to turn off the cell phone which should have been turned off before he began davening in the first place, or fifteen men being distracted because the first guy does not turn off his cell phone?"

The Rabbi laughed. It would not surprise me if, after I left, he had a little private discussion with the other rabbi who wouldn't turn off his ringing cell phone.

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  • At 15 August, 2011 15:18, Blogger Aaron said…

    Very nicely done.

    Cell phones should certainly be turned off during services, or at least to vibrate.

    Not to mention all the kibbitzing that goes on during services...

  • At 16 August, 2011 03:01, Blogger Expatriate Owl said…

    At the conference I am now attending, the guy who is running the minyan tells everyone to switch the cell phones into silent mode before we begin. Thus far, no problems.


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