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I have to admit that my phone is far smarter than me, and I am not "with it". So, I was surprised when a neighbor who is sending his kid to Israel told me that her kid needs a special "kosher" smart phone for use in his yeshiva.

When my kids went to yeshiva, the rule seemed simple. They weren't allowed to bring the phone into class. If they used it, it was confiscated and the school reported that they misbehaved. Sounds simple, I guess.

Apparently, something happened in the past ten years, roughly, and yeshivot are requiring a "kosher" phone. What is that about? Does it mean no web access at all; accessing specific web sites? No games? No apps at all, it's only for calls?

What makes this "kosher"? Is there a rav or Va'ad Harabanim certifying these phones? Are there different certifications? Who decides on the kashrut? Are there yeshivot or people that don't trust the kashrut of another smart phone? Are there specific brands or manufacturers that make such kosher phones? Do these cost more than other phones?

Sorry that I'm seemingly overloading the questions. This is not a Purim type question. I'm really puzzled by all this.


Al explained what occurs in Israel. I'm curious what occurs in U.S. and other countries, as well.

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    In my experience, "kosher phone" usually means a phone that is not a smartphone. There are a variety of levels of locking down a smartphone from internet access depending on what you're looking for. AFAIK there's no certifying agency for these things as the level of locked-down-ness is easily verified. – Daniel Sep 12 at 20:53
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    A kosher phone has to be the right species, must be properly schected by a trained phone shochet, the forbidden chipsets must be tribbored out, and it must be salted and soaked for the appropriate amount of time. Simple, really – Josh K Sep 12 at 23:33
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    @JoshK You're celebrating Purim a bit too early, methinks. Also, you're way off. The phone does not need to be "shechted" (what an awful Yeshivish word!!!) But it needs both fins and scales. – DanF Sep 13 at 2:59
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    A person I know in Bnei Brak has Whatsapp (the texting app most commonly used in Israel) but without pictures - even the faces of your friends have their profile pics removed. Of course in other communities this is considered heresy and nothing but a "soap bar phone" is accepted – mbloch Sep 13 at 3:17
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A good question, let me outline the situation in Israel:

20 years ago everyone used the same 2G Nokias, Sonys, etc. Some 15 years ago, with the latest developments in phone technology, namely SMS, cameras and Internet access a bold decision was made by religious (and political) leaders to make a clear distinction between "us "and they" - as expressed in phones.

The decree included two parts: 1. Phone must be from a certified source only (bought through Haredi channels from Haredi suppliers and dealers) 2. A phone must use a distinctive Kosher line starting with special digits (like 05272- or 05276- for Cellcom and 05484- for Partner). A deal was made that Kosher SIM cards (with Kosher numbers) were locked that they can be only used in Kosher phones.

While the first part was logical and supportive, the second was strictly "illegal" as about the same time the Knesset approved two laws of cellphones that, strangely, didn't apply to Kosher phones (I'm not into politics, so I don't know exactly how they did it): 1. all cellphones on the market must be sold unlocked allowing the clients free and painless switch between cell companies and 2. a person owns the number and keeps it when switching companies.

To enforce the order, all Haredi educational institutions from k-gardens to high Yeshivos were/are obligated to reject kids whose parents own non-Kosher phones (clearly seen by the phone numbers). Warning signs were put in all shuls and around the neighborhoods prohibiting entering with a smartphone (strangely the word iPhone (as the pioneer) was used almost exclusively for all smartphones, similarly to the Hebrew "פלאפון" used for all mobile phones, despite being the name of the first mobile provider) see examples here.

enter image description here

The bright side of the deal was that Haredis became a major consumer group which allowed a steep reduction of the prices of Kosher cell plans (with no data of course), usually half of a regular plan (20NIS vs 50NIS). So within a year, all Haredi world switched to those Kosher phones and plans (me included).

The problem began a year or two later when the same [poitical and economical] leaders felt the urgent need to switch to smartphones. That was unbearable, no Rabbi would allow that publicly, so the era of double-life begun - working Haredis bought two phones - one for work and one for their kid's school. The main problem, however, was the fact that smartphones had no filtering or protection whatsoever.

Initially, people were ashamed of being seen with a non-Kosher smartphone in public, but eventually, it became a norm, so another solution was needed and it came very fast - a couple of Haredi companies started to offer special Koshered smartphones also (each for its community):

  1. A regular Android phone (usually Samsung or LG) is rooted, disabling most of its internet functionality and Google services, especially Google Play (installing new apps) and sold for almost twice its price.

  2. A dedicated Kosher app store is maintained by the company allowing the phone to use its apps exclusively. A closed forum of people decides on what apps are allowed to be used (that wreaks havoc, as SMSs are forbidden in Kosher 2G phones and WhatsApp is Kosher in Kosher smartphones).

    The list of permitted apps differs between the companies, but usually includes the dialer, SMS, maps, Waze, WhatsApp, camera, banking, medicine, municipal services, e-siddurs and Jewish databases, tools and utils, etc. Many apps are banned just because of their use of [improper] ads. Internet browsers are disallowed.

    Everyone can apply for additional apps and usually, it's approved within weeks.

  3. The phone uses the company's VPN to stream all the internet communication thru its services on top of a regular non-Kosher cellular line (with an unKosher number). That is offered as a monthly service for a separate price (usually 50-60NIS a month on top of the regular 20-50NIS plan for 30-100GB of data).

Currently, there are 5 main providers of Kosher smartphones plus Internet Rimon that offers Kosher VPN service for any smartphone (targeting mainly the Kipot Srugot community).

As externally and by number, the new Kosher smartphones are indistinguishable from their undipped siblings besides the Kosher wallpaper, and as the result of numerous problems with Internet access, many wise guys simply buy a regular unlocked Android phone (one that is offered as a Kosher too), put a Kosher wallpaper, use underground services for engraving Kosher stamp on its back and using Rimon VPN כלפי שמיא.

Finally, back to 2G phones, as they eventually vanished from our markets, the Haredis continue to supply them from the third world countries - either old Samsungs and Nokias or branded Chinese phones (see here).

  • See also here how it all started: ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-3650344,00.html – Al Berko Sep 13 at 8:53
  • It's a really detailed answer. I'd only add that most charedim that I saw in Bnei Brak simply used "not-so-smart" phones, and, as you say, usually only those had smartphones, who had a normal job. – Kazi bácsi Sep 13 at 11:49
  • Detailed, but very interesting facts. Thanks. – DanF Sep 13 at 15:22
  • Re: "strangely they only knew of iPhone, and used that word exclusively for all smartphones": Well, it says "the impure iPhone and its like" (emphasis mine), which suggests that they did know of other smartphones, but didn't have a precise word for the concept. (And likewise for the other images found by your image search, except for a joke image where a "No entry for iPhone owners" sign has been photoshopped onto a Samsung store.) – ruakh Sep 14 at 7:39
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    @Alexander I'm such a local. I had a couple of those phones and was pretty happy. THis was completely predictable: As it becomes easier and easier to be a Jew in Israel the Rabbis are obsessed with finding new ways of making Kiddush Hashem by detaching the Haredi people from the secular majority. – Al Berko Sep 15 at 0:00
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For Israel and the USA:

TAG certifies individual phones in the USA with a holographic sticker. Israel has a vaad that prints their hechsher directly on the phone (as is appropriate to their stricter standards, they don’t have a website). In short, a Kosher phone is one with limited technology and a hechsher attesting to that.

In Israel, Kosher phone plans are cheaper than regular plans, often significantly. The USA doesn’t have special Kosher plans.

Some Kosher phones, particularly in Israel, have call only capabilities: no texting, no camera, no internet. Along the spectrum you will find Kosher phones with limited apps. In general, a Kosher phone does not have a working internet browser. As usual, to each their own standards.

Source: direct experience

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    Sounds great! A phone that's actually a phone and phone only, what a concept. – Gary Sep 13 at 2:09
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    @Gary Now this is the real Maxwell "Smart" phone! – DanF Sep 13 at 3:01

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