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It took me a long time to upgrade my technology, but I admit that lately, I have been using my smart phone during davening.

My rav doesn't object, but some of my friends told me that it's prohibited or not recommended. Though, when asked, they haven't been able to really explain why other than that "I heard this".

I'm open to reading some opinions from notable rabbis or poskim that explain why it's absolutely forbidden or permitted but not recommended, with an explanation of their reasoning. This assumes that it's fine to use a smart phone, altogether. Just not for davening from it. Are there any such opinions?

I can't quite see the problem, but, then again, my smart phone may be making me dumber than I think I am :-)

  • Perhaps it might be a matter of having gotten into the habit an forgetting not to use it on Shabbos or Yom Tov. Then again, does it make sounds or interfere with someone else's concentration on davening (for example if a call comes in during davening)? – sabbahillel Dec 8 '15 at 19:42
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    Haskafically I can see Rabbis objecting to cell phones during davening just like they objected to wearing a coat or rain boot covers during davening,since one wouldn't dress like that an important meeting,so to one can extend that to a cell phone since it would be inappropriate to look at ones cell phone during an important meeting even if one was looking something up that pertains to the meeting – sam Dec 9 '15 at 1:00
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    @sam But wouldn't it also be inappropriate to spend an entire conversation staring at a book? Wouldn't it also be inappropriate to spend an entire conversation swaying? – mevaqesh Sep 26 '16 at 23:42
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    Many people who use their phones to daven end up using their phones for other things as well during davening. For instance, they're waiting for the sh"tz anyway, so they decide to check their e-mail, etc. Obviously, such activity is neither conducive to kavannah nor appropriate behavior during prayer. This would be a very plausible reason to classify it as generally "not recommended", though I can't be certain that this was the reasoning of the specific anonymous 'psak' your friends told you about. – Jay Sep 27 '16 at 13:31
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    Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz gave a pretty good treatment of the topic recently. yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/869997/rabbi-aryeh-lebowitz/… – Shmuel Brown Jan 31 '17 at 18:36
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+100

Before discussing praying on a smart phone, there is the question of even having it enter the synagogue. Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, R. Yitzhak Yosef (the son of R. Ovadia Yosef), considers some problems related to the subject in his Yalkut Yosef (O"H 151:29):

מי שיש לו מכשיר טלפון נייד [פלאפון] צריך לכבותו קודם שיכנס לבית הכנסת, כדי שלא יצלצל באמצע התפלה, ויגרום לביטול כוונת המתפללים. [וגם לא ישאירו במצב של רטיטה, כיון שהדבר יפריע לו עצמו לכוין בתפלה]. ומן הראוי שהגבאים שומרי משמרת הקודש יעירו לנכנסים לבית הכנסת עם פלאפון פתוח, שיכבוהו עם כניסתם לבית הכנסת. [כן הוא בספר משנת יוסף חלק ב' (סימן כז). ואם מותר להתפלל עם פלאפון החגור במתניו, יש שכתבו שהדבר תלוי אם המנהג כיום לפני הנשיאים [המלך] עם פלאפון חגור במתניו, שאם אין נוהגים לעמוד כך בפני הנשיאים, אז גם בתפלת שמונה עשרה אין להתפלל כך. ובפרט שבבתי התפילה של הגויים אין מרשים להכנס לשם עם פלאפון תלוי במתניו].

Anyone who has a mobile phone must turn it off before entering the synagogue, so that it does not ring in the middle of the prayer, which would cause the worshipers to void their intention. [And they will also not leave in a state of trembling, since the thing itself will interfere in directing one's prayer]. It is fitting that the gabbaim, who guard the sanctity of the synagogue, alert those who enter the synagogue with an open cell phone, and have them closed at the entrance of the synagogue. As brought down in the book Mishnat Yosef 2:27. Regarding whether one is permitted to pray with a cell phone tied to his waistcoat, some say that this depends on whether the custom of today comports with standing before the presidents [like that of a king] with a cell phone wearing his waistcoat. In other words, if it is not the custom to stand like this before presidents, then so too one should not pray the amidah in this way. Particularly, in the prayer houses of the gentiles, it is not permitted to enter there with a cell phone hanging on his waist.

According to R. Yosef, some of the issues with having a smart phone in a synagogue involve:

  1. Disturbing the prayers of others
  2. Impeding one's kavvanah during prayer
  3. Complying with the decorum of standing before a king

From the language of the halakha, however, it seems R. Yosef is only thinking about wearing a cell phone to the synagogue, not praying from it. Additionally, R. Yosef's ruling also came in the early era of cell phones, before their current ubiquity and multi-functionality.

Directly answering the question of praying from a smart phone, R. Hillel Meirs writes:

לכתחילה אין להתפלל או לברך ברכת המזון מתוך פלאפון היות ואת עלולה לקבל באותו זמן שיחה שתסיח את דעתך מהתפילה, וכן אנשים עלולים לחשוד שאת מתעסקת בפלאפון בזמן התפילה. ומכל מקום אם אין לך סידור, ואת לא יודעת בעל פה את נוסח התפילה או ברכת המזון, בודאי שאת יכולה להתפלל או לברך מתוך הפלאפון. ויש להכניס את הפלאפון למצב טיסה כדי למנוע הסחות דעת (וע"ע בשו"ת אשר חנן חלק ג' סימן ז).

One should not, from the outset, pray or recite Birkat Hamazon from a cell phone because you might get a call at the same time that distracts you from prayer. People might also suspect that you are doing other things on the cell phone while praying. But if you do not have a siddur, and you do not know by heart the wording of the prayer or Birkat Hamazon, surely you can pray or bless from the cell phone. In that case, the cell phone should be put into Airplane Mode to avoid distractions.

This answer, in my opinion, shows more familiarity with smart phones than the first ruling. Even if the phone is on silent, the notification of a caller would unnecessarily distract someone in the middle of their prayer - such as by leaving the text of the siddur and seeing the caller displayed. This is why the rabbi suggests putting your phone on airplane mode, which would disable the phone from calls, texts, and other potential distractions.

Additionally, the rabbi raises the potential marit ayin situation of praying with a smart phone. Unlike a printed siddur, you can turn to other apps and messages with your phone, a option the rabbi seems to think might leave a negative impression with other congregants.

Finally, another contemporary authority, written by Dr. R. Avraham Lipshitz, goes over the halakhic sources that problematize praying with a smart phone. In addition to reasons already mentioned, he brings up the talmudic discussion of carrying important objects during prayer. This is another halakhic difference between a siddur and a smart phone, as he writes:

הגמרא אוסרת להחזיק ביד בעת התפילה חפצים שונים, שהחזקתם עלולה להטריד את דעת המתפלל בחששו לקדושתם של חפצים אלו או להפסד ממון אם חלילה יפלו. יש שאסרו בשל החשש להיסח הדעת אחיזתו של כל חפץ שהוא. בתנאים מסויימים ולשיטה מסויימת יחוייב המחזיק בחפצים כאלו לחזור ולהתפלל שוב. יוצא מכלל כל החפצים הוא הלולב, שאחיזתו הותרה בגמרא כיון שיש בכך מצוה. הוא הדין שמותר להחזיק סידור בזמן התפילה. הסידור האלקטרוני הוא חפץ יקר, שאם יפול ייגרם הפסד ממוני רב, ולכן חלוק הוא מהסדור הרגיל. ולכן אסור להתפלל מתוכו.

The Gemara forbids holding objects during prayer, which may be of concern to the person praying. The worshiper's concern about the sanctity of these objects or the loss of money if, heaven forbid, they fall. There are those who have forbidden, because of fear of distraction, holding any object. Under certain conditions and in a particular way, the holder of such objects will be required to return and pray again. An exception to these objects is the lulav, in which holding it was permitted in the Gemara because it is a mitzva. The same is true for holding a prayer book. The electronic siddur is in an expensive object, and if it falls there will be a great financial loss, and therefore there is a difference between holding a phone and a regular siddur. Therefore it is forbidden to pray from within a phone.

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    I'm curious how #1 is an issue when you can silence your phone. It's not a movie theater. Not sure how #2 is an issue, either - some people daven better off of smartphones rather than books. And I don't understand #3 - is it proper decorum to stare at a book before a king? – DonielF May 25 '17 at 11:38
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    This is an interesting answer. Although, @DonielF poses some interesting follow-up questions, that I can't outright ignore without digesting this a bit. I question the last sentence in the 1st citation, that Gentiles don't enter their prayer houses with cell phones hanging on their waists. Maybe in Israel, they are better "behaved" than in U.S.? With all respect to R. Yosef, how many churches has he entered during their prayer time to know this is true? – DanF May 25 '17 at 16:01
  • @DanF: I agree that that R. Yosef's ruling is less cogent, but I wanted to bring up his writing as he is a major posek. I've added more sources and explanations that I hope give more breadth to the subject. – Aryeh May 25 '17 at 18:38
  • Note the rules of how to look etc apply only during the Amida. For other parts that's not an issue – Double AA May 25 '17 at 18:42
  • Why should the Siddur's value be relevant? Is it similarly forbidden to pray out of a rare 12th century manuscript Siddur because it is valuable? – Double AA May 25 '17 at 19:09

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