Unplugging for Shabbat – What Does that Look Like for You?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about unplugging for Shabbat – and wondering what that would mean for many Reform and Conservative Jews.  Most of us drive on Saturday, answer the phone, write, and turn lights on and off.  So what would it look like for us to “power down” over Shabbat?

Robert Long’s article “The Backyard Clothesline” in the June 2012 issue of Our State Magazine prompted me to think about lives with less technology.  Long lovingly explores the value of hanging clothes outside.

Through his vignettes, I could smell the sweetness of sheets that had dried by flapping in the breeze.  Or hear the simple, urgent call from my mother:  “It’s raining!”  This, we knew, was the alarm to rescue dry clothes.  Then, in my early days as a mother, I remembered hanging my baby’s colorful onesies (though we didn’t know that word then) and T-shirts in the backyard.  I actually enjoyed coming up with balanced or artistic ways to hang my husband’s large shirts, our little girl’s Winnie the Pooh pajamas, and our symphony of socks and underwear.

Are there experiences in our Jewish lives, too, that we’ve abandoned because of technology?  This past Shabbat – one that ended just as Shavuot began — was an experiment for me.  I actually turned OFF my computer.  I announced on Facebook that I was going to try to go electronics free for a few days.

But then the weekend started.  I wanted to read a novel on my iPad.  Well, I said, that’s easier on my eyes, so OK.  Then my daughter called, on my cell phone, to ask if we wanted to Skype.  “You bet!  Let me just turn my computer back on,” I said.  After all, Skyping is as close as you can get to hugging distant loved ones.  And that certainly seems right for Shabbat.

Yet, since I had my cell phone on, could I use it only as a phone – and refrain from checking email?  Here’s the sad truth.  I made it about one day.  With much difficulty.

One simple (silly?) tradition I have is drinking from my Chagall mug only between Friday sundown and Saturday sundown.

What are your solutions, your ideas, your compromises to tame technology in a way that is realistic for your life – and that helps you embrace the spirit and peace of Shabbat?


  1. says

    As a Reform Jew, I aim to observe the spirit of the Law even when I am not observing the letter of the Law. I avoid the computer. I don’t use Facebook, Twitter, or any other SM site. I will, however, text because it is only my family and close friends who text me. And I will talk on the phone. I love to read…and I love reading on my iPad. But I purposefully refrain from reading anything on the iPad on Shabbat/holidays. Which means that I have to prepare ahead of time.

    These are my parameters and it is how I create and protect the sanctity of Shabbat. No longer can my Shabbat be breached by others without my permission.

    (BTW, some weeks are better than others. Sometimes the temptation is powerful. Also, I have made exceptions when there is a safety issue such as the hurricane last summer.)

    • Ellen says

      Thank you for your wonderful response, which shows clear intention and commitment to finding an approach that works for you. (I had forgotten that, years ago, I had established a “no laundry on Shabbat” rule for myself. That one’s been easy to keep!)

      And I will work on the no-iPad. Even though it is easier on my eyes, it leads to quick definition checks and other Internet searching, all of which diminishes the sense of separating Shabbat from the rest of the week.

      Shabbat Shalom, Rebecca!

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