Twenty years ago when we would explain to our Shabbat guests why we don’t use electrical devices on Shabbat – cars, ovens and even phones – their expressions attempted to hide shock with sympathetic “Oh you poor primitive people” eyebrows. Their lukewarm comments couldn’t cover up their disdain: “It’s so nice that you still observe the ancient traditions of our People.”

Today the condescending looks of sympathy have been replaced with longing eyes of envy.

Guests discover how once a week for 24 hours our family puts away their smartphones and devices and spends the day together talking! Sharing! Eating leisurely multi-course meals! Playing board games with the family! Snuggling into bed early! Reading books!

What a throwback.

Women are especially moved when they hear this. Their faces express a deep yearning, a remote hope that somehow, one day they’ll have their husbands’ undivided, phone-less attention. And that one day they too will spend time with their kids without constant glances to their devices, concentrating on sharing the mundane events of their child’s day.

Today religious Jews are no longer the only people wary of the negative side effects of smartphones. Countless articles and studies document the rise in loneliness, the loss of attention span, and the vast wasted time. In a NY Times article (Feb. 25, 2019) “Ditching Those Bad Phone Habits”, Kevin Roose listed some of the many progressive solutions being offered today in the budding “Digital Wellness” industry. One of them being touted is the “’Light Phone’, a device with an extremely limited feature set meant to wean people off time-sucking apps.” Sound familiar? Admittedly it does have a better ring than our “Kosher Phone” which has similar limited access and functionality.

And to those who find themselves (like Mr. Roose) incapable of reading books, watching full-length movies or having long uninterrupted conversations, Mr. Roose praised the benefits of the “digital Sabbath”: spending 24 hours with no technology at all.

Mr. Roose decided to try that one and after much dread, he threw himself in. He was amazed by the results. “I basked in 19th-century leisure, feeling my nerves softening and my attention span stretching back out. I read books. I did crossword puzzles…. I looked at the stars. I also felt twinges of anger – at myself for missing out on this feeling of restorative boredom for so many years; at the engineers in Silicon Valley who spend their days profitably exploiting our cognitive weaknesses; at the entire phone-industrial complex that has convinced us that a six-inch glass and steel rectangle is the ideal conduit for worldly experiences.”

I was recently in New York and regularly travelled the subways. No longer does one see commuters with books. All heads are buried in their smart phones. Well, everyone except Orthodox Jews and drunks.

Judaism has never advocated divorcing oneself from technology and it’s no surprise that much of the world’s most used, cutting edge technology has emerged from Israel. But we approach it with great caution, carefully measuring its benefits vs. dangers to our greatest treasures: our spouses, our children, our friends and our relationship with our inner selves.

To me, the most compelling lesson that Mr. Roose shared was one that surprised him but is one of the main reasons Jews have safeguarded our love of Shabbat and our carefulness with technology. “A few weeks ago the world on my phone seemed more compelling than the offline world – more colorful, faster-moving and with a bigger scope of rewards... But now, the physical world excites me, too – the one that has room for boredom, idle hands and space for thinking. I look people in the eye and listen when they talk. I ride the elevator empty-handed. And when I get sucked into my phone, I notice and self-correct. For the first time in a long time, I’m starting to feel like a human again.”

Every seven days we do a hard reset and for 24 hours we disconnect in order to connect to what really counts in our lives. Shabbat is an ancient tool that we need like never before.

Shabbat Shalom, Mr. Roose.