Religious rights NGO blasts haredi rabbi for iPhone ruling

Bnei Brak rabbinical court head: It’s no mitzva to return "non-kosher" smartphones that people have left behind.

Haredim in Ramat Beit Shemesh protest internet usage 370 (photo credit: Sam Sokol)
Haredim in Ramat Beit Shemesh protest internet usage 370
(photo credit: Sam Sokol)
Haredim who find smartphones are not under a halachic obligation to return the devices to their owners, according Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, the head of a haredi rabbinical court in Bnei Brak.
In a recent halachic decision, cited by Israeli news website Ynet, Karelitz stated that since such advanced devices are “not kosher,” the biblical duty of returning a lost object does not apply.
It was reported that Karelitz’s ruling came after a woman in a Bnei Brak bakery refused to return a lost smartphone to its owner, sparking a debate among haredim as to the proper course of action to take in such circumstances.
While increasing numbers of haredim do own smartphones, the rabbinic leadership of the community has expressed its opposition to the Internet-connected devices.
So-called kosher phones are de rigueur among the ultra- Orthodox. Kosher phones cannot access email or the Web and do not accept text messages.
One ultra-Orthodox rabbi who spoke with The Jerusalem Post explained that many in his community carry two phones – a kosher model whose number they can give out to their children’s schools, and a smartphone for personal use.
Posters and banners with caustic language excoriating smartphone owners can be seen hanging from windows in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods around the country.
“Here we do not expel the Divine presence, God forbid. Here there is no computer or any device that can receive the Internet or movies,” declares the text on one banner produced by a group calling itself the Committee for the Purification of Telecommunications.
Another called on haredim to pray for the children of men who own smartphones.
Withholding property from its owner is illegal, said Rabbi Uri Regev, an attorney and the founder of religious liberties NGO Hiddush, citing Israel’s 1973 Hashavat Aveida [returning lost property] law.
The ruling “really brings to light a larger issue of the conflict between Halacha and the rule of law,” he told the Post.
“How sad it is that in ancient times, our sages felt compelled to abrogate the Halacha when it came into conflict with moral principles, and now – rabbis feel the need to create new ways in which Jewish law and morality will collide,” Regev lamented.
MK Rabbi Dov Lipman, who himself comes from the ultra-Orthodox world, responded to Karelitz’s ruling by stating that “technology is here. It is all around us. The best thing we can do is to educate about the dangers of the Internet and smartphones and to teach our youth how to make proper use of these technologies instead of abusing them. This will empower them to remain bnei Torah while also supporting their families and making a positive impact on society due to their involvement in the non-haredi world.”