Is a mitzva on the iPhone kosher?

New apps offer virtual lulavim, kippot and dreidels.

ImenorahOnIphone311 (photo credit: .)
(photo credit: .)
It’s the eve of Succot. You’re stranded in the airport on account of strange volcanic ash drifting through Europe’s skies. Bereft of lulav and etrog, as the sun descends, you take out your... iPhone?
According to Rabbi Hillel Weinberg, head of the Aish Hatorah yeshiva, the answer is no. But that hasn’t stopped iPhone developers in their quest to make an app for everything – including everything Jewish.
“It’s not kosher for the mitzva,” said Weinberg, “but it’s a nice thing to do so people know what we do on Succot.”
The Lulav Wizard application uses the iPhone’s built-in accelerometer to allow users to shake a virtual, 3D lulav and etrog, providing sound effects, step-by-step instructions, and of course the accompanying blessings in Hebrew and English. The app promises “good fun for the vilda chaya [unruly child] or altacocker [old man].”
Rabbi Shimon Hurowitz of Aish Hatorah explained that the mitzva was not valid this way, because “you have to have an actual lulav and etrog. If you wanted to eat and someone gave you a picture of a hamburger, it doesn’t mean you can eat it. It has to be real.”
Application developer Stuart Rubin agrees, saying “it was never intended to be a substitute for the mitzva. It was meant to be educational, an entrée for someone who had never shaken a lulav. A way to get more comfortable with doing it.”
Another interesting application is iKippa by Uri Keldar, built for “those moments where you need yarmulke and you don’t have one.”
iKippa encourages the user to “choose your yarmulke design and then flip your iPhone face up, for those rare times when you need to put it on your head.”
As long as it’s not Saturday, you should be okay.
Since any head covering can function as a kippa, Hurowitz said, in this case it might be permissible.
“You have to have something on your head. It may work because of the object [iPhone] you have on your head, but not because of the virtual kippa,” he explained.
Other entertaining iPhone applications include iGavolt, published by Rubin. This one puts a Jewish grandmother in your pocket, playing sound bites on command, like “Why don’t you call me anymore?” or “You look too skinny, eat some farfel.” Users can play grandma chuckle sounds, and even listen to a grandma rap.
For Hanukka, you can drag a virtual shamash and light the candles on an iMenorah. The app automatically populates the correct number of candles by the date, and sings the blessings after you’ve lit them. They will slowly burn down over the course of eight minutes.
After you’ve done the candles, you can download Super Dreidel. The app features traditional Hanukka music, and up to eight players can swipe the iPhone’s touch screen to spin a virtual dreidel. Users can play in Traditional, Vegas or Turbo mode.
On a serious note, there are many Jewish iPhone applications that offerconsiderable benefits to users. Jewish calendar apps, digital siddurim(prayer books), kosher cookbooks and synagogue-finders are allavailable for download from the iTunes store.
One of the most powerful Jewish iPhone applications is the iTalmud. Theapp, which developers credit as being in development for over 1,500years, displays the entire Talmud in digital form.
There are several different Talmud apps available for download, somecosting only a few dollars, but Maplewood Associates’ $19.99 iTalmudtakes the crown. It offers keyword search for the entire Talmud, Rashi,Tosafot, and other classic commentators, as well as a Daf Yomi (dailylearning) program with accompanying English audio lectures. AnEnglish-translated edition is available as well for $24.99.