Sunday, 27 November 2011

Shabbat and The Telephone

A few weeks ago I commented to The Husband about the increasing irritation of our landline telephone. I had noticed that with the exception of one or two calls a day, (thanks Mom!) the telephone only rang with calls from banks offering new credit card rates, newspapers trying to increase their circulation, or duct cleaners. Yes we have registered our phone number on the f*#@ingly useless "Do Not Call" list and yes we have call display that shows most of these solicitors coming through as 800 numbers. The latest scam for the duct cleaning business is to use area codes from out of country so as to dupe us into thinking that the call might have some importance. At first we were polite, told them that we were registered on the DNC list and to kindly remove our number. Last week when the poor schmuck on the other end of the line began his pitch, I yelled loudly into the phone "ARE YOU F*#@ING KIDDING ME???" "DON'T YOU PEOPLE EVER LEARN??" And then I politely hung up. My point is that our landline has fast become the spam provider of our communications system.

We have discussed ridding ourselves of the nuisance. I know many people who refuse to use landlines. Both of my sons rely solely on their cellphones. The Husband and I just can't seem to cut the cord, though. We worry about emergency response and power outages that tie up cell service. In the great Northeastern blackout of 2003, the only phones that functioned effectively were those that were connected directly into the phone jacks and didn't require electrical power or batteries. We still keep one around for emergencies, but my realization of a few weeks ago is still relevant. Between our cells, texting, and email we barely use our landline. Until yesterday.

Shabbat is usually my quiet day. Following our morning at shul we attempt to keep the day as peaceful and unobtrusive as possible. A Shabbos nap is my hoped for activity, but it doesn't always work and there are Shabbatot where real life does intrude on the m'nucha. (rest) A series of unforeseen events all collided with one another yesterday and had my telephone in constant service for almost four consecutive hours. I don't think that I have spent four hours on the phone during the entire month of November. Every time I took a call, another went directly to voice mail. Every time that I thought that a situation was under control, the next dam burst. It was a frenzy that rendered Shabbat totally useless.

Last evening after a fun Muppet movie experience, we went for a light bite with some friends. Somehow we got onto the subject of Shomer Shabbos-the ritual keeping of Shabbat laws. Far be it from me to tell anybody how they should practice and observe, but during yesterday's craziness it became clear to me as to why many feel the need to draw a rigid line in the sand for Shabbat observance. While I cannot subscribe to many of the outright  dismissals of logical modern conveniences such as electricity use, phones, cars etc.. I can absolutely understand the need to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of the outside world for a full day. Shabbat should be about study, rest, and joy. It shouldn't be about fighting crowds in the mall, haircuts, carpooling kids, banking, or frenzied telephone calls. Look. I am not naive. I realize that our modern lives are squeezed for time. Many work full-time with spouses or partners who do the same. We need those non-working days to keep the house in order or the family fed. But I urge you all to try and unplug for one day a week. Maybe one day a month? The results are cathartic and therapeutic and, frankly necessary to our well-being as a society.

If nothing else, yesterday's lunacy has put talk of disconnecting the landline on hold for a while. (pun absolutely and apologetically intended!) But it has revived an old debate of what to do with the phone on Shabbat and the determination of which calls are necessary to receive and which can wait. I admit I am still struggling with this one. I would be happy to hear what you all have to say.


  1. The modern world is CRAZY! When we lost power for 5 days this summer I felt so much calmer especially at night - we sat on the front porch and read a little until twilight was gone and then the day was over. I enjoyed your post!

  2. Ann,
    Thank you so much for your comment. I am still struggling with shutting things down on a periodical basis, but I am definitely working on it.