Tractate Textin & “Keeping Half-Shabbos”

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Vol. XXVI, No. 1 Special Purim Edition March 8, 2012 – Special to the Kustanowitz Kronikle

FAIR LAWN, March 7 – The Orthodox Jewish world was shaken today by the announcement that a Talmud volume discovered last month in the City of David archaeological dig in Jerusalem seems to provide justification for the use of cell phones to send text messages on Shabbat.

The practice, used by Orthodox teens and popularly known as “keeping half-Shabbos” was widely reported in Jewish newspapers last summer.

The Talmud scrolls, titled Tractate Textin, describe in intricate detail the way that God communicated with the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) in the Temple.

The high priest wore a breastplate on a special garment called an ephod. The breastplate contained twelve colored stones. Linguists now are suggesting that ephod, iPod, and iPad are essentially the same word, allowing for the evolution of language over the millennia. The twelve stones, called Urim v’Tumim, may be the first iPad and iPhone apps on a device about the same size as the iPad.

When the people of Israel inquired of God concerning an important issue, the high priest asked God the question. God answered through the twelve stones. For example, when they wanted to know whether they should go out to war, the high priest asked God and God answered through the breastplate by making the stones glow in a sequence. This is the earliest known form of texting, and there are no specific prohibitions in the Torah nor halachic opinions in Talmud Textin that bar such communication on the Sabbath.

A careful reading of Tractate Textin suggests that the Urim and Tumim were also used by the priests for activities that were not spelled out in the Torah. For example, there is a reference to Tziporim Koasot, or Angry Birds, presumably birds that were supposed to be sacrificed on the altar but were replaced by pigs when the Greek-Syrian army
desecrated the Temple during the Hashmonean period.

Other excerpts from Textin reveal that while the Kohen wasn’t looking, some Levites borrowed the Urim and Tumim to play ephod games and amuse themselves with other apps.
Permitted use of the Kindle and Nook was derived by scholars of Gematria, the study of numeric word equivalents. When spelled in Hebrew letters, Kindle has a numeric value of 194 and Nook has a value of 156, which are the same numeric values as the Hebrew words tzedek and Ohel Moed. If the Kindle represents tzedek, or righteousness, its use should be permitted at all times.

With the values of Nook and Ohel Moed (the tabernacle where the Ark of the Covenant rested and from where God spoke to Moses) being equivalent, the Nook gains a special holiness that merits its use on Shabbat.

Even though e-readers such as the Kindle, Nook, and iPad may be used on Shabbat, the latest model of the Kindle, the Kindle Fire, is specifically forbidden in the Torah (Exodus 35:3) which says “You shall not Kindle Fire throughout all your habitations upon the Sabbath day.”

Scholars believe that the Urim and Tumim that the Kohen Gadol wore on his ephod garment and used to communicate with God were the prototypes for today’s touch screen texting cell phones and iPads.


The newly approved use of cell phones and e-readers on Shabbat has created a surge of development of new applications for these devices. Here is a sampling of some of the best new Shabbat apps.

Kiddush Buddy: Uses GPS to find all kiddushes in nearby shuls and reports which are hot, which are cold and how far they are from the cell phone owner.

Kid Finder: Works with implanted chip to locate your child and sound alarm if he/she leaves the synagogue building.

Service Length Predictor:
Gives realtime estimate of when the service will end. Takes into account traffic delays such as unusually long lulav lines on Sukkot.

Snooze Alert:
Recognizes snoring and slumping of cell phone owner during sermon and produces a gentle vibration to wake him from his slumber.

Conversation Connector:
Identifies current conversations in shul (sports, finance, loshon hara) and directs user to seats corresponding to topics of interest.

Pledge Counter:
For use by shul gabbai to enter pledges made by congregants when they are called to the Torah during services.

Sermon Timer:
User presses Start when sermon begins. iPhone vibrates gently when end of sermon is detected by using voice recognition and silence algorithms.

Page Finder:
Continuously samples ten seconds of Chazzan’s singing and displays current page in siddur. Versions available for ArtScroll, Koren, and Shilo siddurim.

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