I have never been sufficiently religious to understand everything on this site without help from friends or family, but a question was asked by a non-Jewish friend that I was unable to answer, so I'm hoping some of you can help me, a conservative Jew, explain to non-Jews, what some of the views of orthodoxy are on the following question:

Suppose that I have a cell phone which is plugged in, turned on, and set so that the screen never goes off or locks. At the same time, I have a friend who also sets up his phone in the same way. We place a phone call before the Sabbath on Friday, which is set to speaker phone, so I don't have to lift the phone during the Sabbath. Can we leave the phone running for the duration of the Sabbath, so that we can have a conversation?

  • It seems that we are not interrupting the flow of electricity at any point in the process, as long as the phones do not die.

  • It doesn't seem that we are violating a prohibition against carrying.

  • It don't think that my cell phone is muktzeh, as it has been discussed in other questions on this site it can be used as a watch, and even so, I can use a simple stand to fix it, so that I do not have to touch it.

My goal is to give a good representation of these views, since my peers are almost completely ignorant of Sabbath prohibitions at all. Also, I appreciate any efforts to correctly tag this question. I'm not familiar with the variety of tags on this site.

  • 1
    Tags are great and question is good. I would be afraid of (1) variations in electricity as you speak, (2) something called uvdin d'chol which means an activity that looks like a weekday activity and is prohibited due to the special spirit of Shabbat
    – mbloch
    Jan 10 at 4:39
  • Yabiah omer OC 6:34
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Feb 14 at 16:05

Similar questions were asked numerous times, e.g. watching open TV or leaving CCTV circuits or Zoom app open on Seder Pesach, and they all overlook one major part of Jewish Halacha - Rabbinic decrees. Here's what the Talmud (Sanhedrin 46a) says about the severity of those:

And an incident occurred involving one who rode a horse on Shabbat during the days of the Greeks, and they brought him to court and stoned him, not because he deserved that punishment, but because the hour required it, [as riding a horse on Shabbat is forbidden only by rabbinic decree, and people had become lax in their observance of Shabbat and therefore it became necessary to impose the severe punishment for a relatively minor offense].

Shabbos-related Rabbinic decrees can be divided into two groups:

  1. Distancing from possible Biblical transgressions, for example playing with or even holding materials that could lead to inflammation.
  2. Preventing desecration of Shabbos day by performing weekday activities, like discussing business, reading newspapers, etc.

Naturally, many disregard the latter, but this became the major reason for avoiding electronics on Shabbos in the Orthodox communities. More and more Rabbis agree, that as fine 21st-century electronics replace early 20th-century electricity that was all about making heat or closing circuits, we ran out of #1 reasons, and all that's left is preventing Shabbos from turning into just another day.

Of course, there are cases of necessities that would override this reason, such as medical emergency but otherwise, this is prohibited.

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