Expressway: Our new digital access to the divine
Rather than flipping through pages, she opened an app for the Mishkan T'filah, the prayer book used within the Reform movement. I was transfixed as she showed us different passages and how easy it was to find them with a pull-down menu. The rabbi invited congregants to join her and download the Mishkan and bring their iPad to services.
By the end of the demonstration, I found myself contemplating technology rather than the importance of worship. My first thought was, "Am I a dinosaur?"
With the use of technology, religion and the way we pray are on the threshold of modernization that can only be equated to Gutenberg mass-producing the Bible.
There is a passage in the Mishkan where we pray, "Let me learn to pause, if only for this day. Let me find peace on this day. Let me enter into a quiet world this day. On this day, Shabbat, abide."
I go to temple to recharge my spiritual battery. Why should the prayer book have to be recharged too? Does using an electronic device contradict the common request to turn off our cellphones? Would I switch to airplane mode, and would checking social media and secretly playing Temple Run (which seems appropriate) be too tempting?
There are also questions of tradition. For example, when the Torah is walked around the congregation, called Hakafah, those using the prayer book touch the Torah and then kiss the prayer book. Since the iPad contains other books, which can be contradictory to the prayers, would we have to create a prayer to bless our iPads?
The V'ahavta prayer instructs us to teach the commandments "with all your soul, and with all your might" to our children. Games, activities and tutorials on an iPad can indeed make that goal easier to accomplish. The same passage instructs us to recite the commandments "when you are away." Having the whole prayer book on a tablet does make it easy to pray on the go.
With guidance from my teenage son, I spent a half hour at the Apple store at Roosevelt Field discovering the versatility of the electronic tablet -- its ability to show books, music, videos at the touch of a finger. However, there is no way for me to fully evaluate the pros and cons, because given the economy, buying an iPad for each of the four members of my family is not an option.
Perhaps the thought of not being one of the "haves" is clouding my opinion. The 10th commandment tells us not to covet anything that is your neighbor's. In temple we should be equal. Not having an iPad could set some people apart. The focus in temple should not be on material goods, but who we are and can be.
Just as my computer has replaced my manual typewriter and I am slowly becoming smarter than my cellphone, I hope to have the opportunity to embrace the use of an iPad. That way, I can text, "I hope they have something to eat after the service," rather than get caught whispering it to my wife.
Reader Howard Lev lives in East Meadow.