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There was a dangerous situation in my community on Shabbat and I knew (from the amount my house phone was ringing and my cell phone was buzzing) that people I knew across the world would be concerned about my safety. I made the decision to use my smartphone to communicate as briefly as I could -- a one-word tweet and a slightly longer blog post -- to alleviate people's concern.

After the fact, I am wondering whether I violated a rabbinic or biblical prohibition. There are a couple factors:

  • This answer describes various opinions on using electricity -- some say biblical, some say rabbinic, some say minhag. That question is about electricity in general, and not all factors apply to a smartphone (no heating or incandescent light, for instance).

  • Quite aside from the issue of electricity, there is the issue of writing. The characters I typed on the screen were not permanent. The answer to this question about typing suggests that non-permanent writing isn't d'oraita but doesn't say whether it's d'rabanan and doesn't address making a permanent message (sending the tweet, saving the blog post or document, etc). It's not clear to me if writing has to be physical to qualify as melacha.

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    Baruch Dayan HaEmet. I'm glad you're ok, Monica. – ezra Oct 28 '18 at 3:59
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    Possible duplicate of Typing on Shabbos – Josh K Oct 28 '18 at 4:01
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    My heart goes out to your community. I can't speak to the Shabbat violations as I am not frum. Though when I had an emergency on YK a few years ago and called the Rabbi at 3am, it was answered on the first ring. My prayers for Pittsburgh and all the people affected by this tragedy. – Cyn Oct 28 '18 at 5:39
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    This seems nearly identical torahmusings.com/2011/07/texting-on-shabbos – Double AA Oct 28 '18 at 14:41
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    @AlBerko it's not personal advice -- or, at least, I hope to never need to apply an answer! I'm asking after the fact what level of transgression was involved; I take it as a given that I violated halacha because my life was not (at the time) at risk. – Monica Cellio Oct 28 '18 at 18:16
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There is a famous dispute amongst the major previous generation poskim with regards to Electricity use on Shabbos. All the Orthodox Poskim agree that there is a violation taking place, but the question, as you ask it, is whether it's a Melacha DiOraysa or DiRabanan. Rav Moshe Feinstein, the major Ashkenazi Poseik in America of the previous generation, held that the Isur was an Isur DiRabanan. In contrast, the Chazon Ish, HaRav Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz, of Bnai Brak, held that it was a Milacha DiOraysa to use electricity on Shabbos.

However, since you were using a buzzing and beeping smartphone, the case may have been different. There is a Kula with regards to Milacha on Shabbos called "Grama", causation. This means that you didn't do something, but rather caused a pre-existing Muktza thing to be increased. However, this Kula can only be used in a true Shaas HaDchak. For example, at the Kosel HaMaaravi, there is a constant danger of bombs or gun attacks Rachmana Litzlan. Normal metal detectors buzz when a sufficient amount of metal passes through. This is completing a circuit, which is an issue that may fall into Boneh, building, or Make BiPatish, completing a job. The way around this is metal detectors that have a permanent electrical current running through them, which is displayed by a dial. When someone tries to walk through the detector with a sufficient amount of metal, the dial turns, and security can successfully apprehend the attacker (see the website of the developer, the Tzomet Institute, for more information {http://www.zomet.org.il/eng/?CategoryID=249&ArticleID=100}).

I would argue that the same is true with a smartphone that is already active. As long as you don't push any buttons, it would only be an issue of Grama, as far as I know. However, I recommend asking a Poseik or a Rabbi for a true Psak Halacha to this question. To end off, I would like to share a vignette my 9th grade science teacher, who also happened to be a member of Hatzala, shared with me: as part of his training, he had to take a course in the Halachos of Pikuach Nefesh Doche Shabos, the concept of life-saving overriding the prohibitions of Shabos. On the first day of the course, the instructor asked my teacher: if you were called into a situation in which you had to make an incision into a body, what would you do? My teacher answered by starting to give a whole Drasha as to what he would do: he would do it with his less dominant hand (LiAchar Yad), etc. When he finished, the instructor said: No, you idiot, Pikuach Nefesh! Do whatever you need to! I venture to say that the same concept applies here: if you are truly in doubt about saving a life or getting help in doing so, do what you need to do! Ask the question later, because more often than not, in these types of situations, there isn't enough time to ask the question.

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