Why I Don’t Unplug on Shabbat
by Rabbi Elizabeth Wood
I understand that technology can be overwhelming. It’s still a new and different medium, and it is constantly changing. In order to stay on top of technology and social media, you have to practically make it your life – check email, update status, tweet, rinse and repeat. But technology can also be fun. It brought you this blog, it helps to keep you connected to friends and family who are far away, and it can help you discover and uncover all sorts of new things. For instance, technology taught me the following: I don’t like to “unplug” on Shabbat.
It all started during my first year as a rabbi. I took a pulpit halfway across the country from my family and friends. While I was enjoying my time there and meeting lots of new people, I was extremely lonely – but social media saved me. Through Facebook, Twitter, Gchat, and Skype, I was able to stay virtually connected to my support system, and I didn’t feel so alone, except for one day of the week – Shabbat. The day when I felt that I wanted my community around me the most, I was suddenly unplugged from them.
You see, for many people, Shabbat is the perfect time to “unplug” from technology. They might turn off their phones, shut their computers, or not turn on the TV. And while I respect everyone’s right to observe Shabbat in the way most meaningful for them, it just didn’t make sense for me. If I turned off technology then I lost my community entirely. And what’s more, turning off my technology wasn’t something that resonated with me as a desirable way to celebrate Shabbat. I like technology. It’s not a burden to me, and it’s not tiresome. If anything, it energizes me and makes me feel more connected to the world and the people around me.
I drive on Shabbat, I spend money on Shabbat, and I use electricity on Shabbat. Just as rabbi and theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel said, the purpose of Shabbat is to elevate time rather than things. To me, the holiness that I find in elevating Shabbat lies in the time rather than the activities I engage in. It doesn’t matter what I do on Shabbat, whether I use technology or not; it matters how I do it and that I’m making choices to enjoy myself and feel rested and refreshed, rather than burdened by work or stress.
If technology and social media are not your thing, don’t feel obligated to do them on Shabbat. Or, if you like to use Shabbat as a time to unplug from them, I certainly uplift your choices. But for me, it was a choice that didn’t make sense, and I didn’t want to feel pressured into doing something that many others around me were doing simply because it felt right for them.
The beauty of Reform Judaism is that we educate ourselves about our religion and then we make important decisions that make the most sense for us, personally, emotionally, and spiritually. The beauty of Shabbat is our ability to join together in community, celebrate a beautiful day given to us by God, and give thanks for the blessings in our lives.
When I was lonely and needed community the most, social media was a real blessing to me and my life. And for that, I give thanks… especially on Shabbat.
Rabbi Elizabeth Wood is the associate rabbi educator at The Reform Temple of Forest Hills in Forest Hills, N.Y.