Op-Ed: Steve Jobs & The Frum World


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Yesterday, I got home from school a little earlier than usual. I sat down at my desk and opened my laptop. I was going to check the news on several sites that I read, and then I was to get back to working on my apps. I logged on to Cnet, and there was a banner on top of screen. “Apple Founder, Steve Jobs dead. Story to follow.” [sic] My chipper mood quickly faded away. I didn’t write any code that night. I spent the time following the technology world as they mourned the passing of someone who has been compared to Edison and Einstein. Steve Jobs, designer, inventor and innovator has died.

As a developer of several apps (including YWN Radio for iPhone and iPad), I suppose I have a greater feeling of connection to Steve than many other frum people. I spent a lot of time working with things he was directly involved in building. Much of the way I think about my profession has been influenced by him. That said, I think that his passing matters and should matter to every frum Jew. For those that say that this is not something for frum people to be concerned with, allow me explain why I think that is wrong.

Technology is a very tricky subject in hashkafa, because of all of its power. I’m not going to use any clichés here, as they’ve been exhausted.  To put it simply: as frum Jews, technology avails things we must avoid. That Steve Jobs devoted his life to progressing great technology is not a reason to call him “a rasha”, and neither is his personal life. There are several reasons that I feel that this assertion is true.

First of all, human nature is to view others through the lens of self. I imagine that many people may have asked themselves at one point or another if he was Jewish. It’s a perfectly natural question for a yid to ask, but the answer is that he wasn’t. From his perspective, he had no obligation to any Torah values. This man literally was a tinok shenishba. (Granted, his biological parents weren’t necessarily Jewish either, but that’s not the point here. The point is that his family situation contributed to the development of his outlook, which is how he ended up where he did.)

From a more general perspective, I feel that as we approach the Yom HaDin, it is imperative that we remember that we are all being judged by Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Judging others will surely put us in a bad light, r”l.

Once on the topic of teshuva, I am reminded of the directive from chazal to do teshuva every day, because it might be your last. Not to equate Steve Jobs with chazal, lehavdil, but there is a striking similarity between that memra and a commencement address that Mr. Jobs gave at Stanford University in 2005. In that speech, he mentioned his first bout with cancer, and how he learned to live with idea that we don’t know how long our life will be. He essentially quoted that chazal, without realizing it.

Steve Jobs’ innovations have enabled many people to do many great things for the frum world. To name a few of the more recent ones: YWN Radio for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. Siddur, by RustyBrick, as well as several of my own apps, are potentially tremendous resources from frum Jews around the world. I am really excited about some of the things that I’m working on specifically for the frum community. Those projects which I’m working on revolve around yiddishkeit and the work of Steve Jobs and co.

I feel that Hashem sent a tremendously talented individual to help bolster the frum community. That person is now gone. Even one of the wealthiest and most poweful people in the world goes when HaKadosh Baruch Hu decides that their time is up.  Someone, with whom I was discussing Steve’s death, related the following to me:   When a relative of his died of cancer, he had thought that it was because they couldn’t afford advanced medicine or some ‘magical research’ that would cure them. Wealthy people, he thought, didn’t have that problem. He now realizes that this is not the case. It’s a tremendous lesson that we are being taught right before the gmar din. We need to recognized that and move forward with that in mind.

I reached out to several other frum developers and asked them to share their feelings on Steve’s passing. Alan Rosenbaum of Davka Corperation told me about Steve, that “his work has directly impacted the products and directions that we have taken in our software development, dating from the days of the Apple II in the 1980’s to the iPhones and iPads of today.” Barry Schwartz of RustyBrick, publisher of many Jewish iOS apps, had this to say: “RustyBrick is sadden by the loss of Steve Jobs, his vision for Apple has lead us to build software that aids the Jewish community in observance and education of orthodox Jewish customs. […] Jobs has played a significant role in how many Jews observe their day to day religion.”

Wishing everyone a g’mar chasima tova.

Moshe Berman is a Frum App Developer.


NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of YWN.



  1. I got home from school a little earlier than usual. I sat down at my desk and opened my laptop.

    WHAT?! You opened your laptop instead of a sefer??!!!!

  2. Jobs was a disgraceful human being. (Technically he was human.) His many sins include violations of arayos, something non-Jews are prohibited from. And we need not judge a nochri in a favorable light, especially one such as this.

  3. I think people are far too swayed by the media and these sort of events, and when our emotions get carried away, we forget the plans of the one above, and we try and make everyone into a Lamed Vavnik, and perhaps our feelings are full of piety on Erev Yom Kippur.
    I’m not putting myself forward as the big baal mussar or Rosh Yeshiva, to say how much aveirah has been caused by the Iphone etc. No doubt as the user mentions, much good has come from the Iphone and long may it continue to shed its light and other technologies in the process,
    But to paraphrase from the BBC (coz everything is heilig tonight it seems)
    “Unlike his contemporary, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Steve Jobs showed little inclination to use his personal wealth for philanthropic purposes.

    And, strangely for a self-professed Buddhist, he did not embrace environmental concerns, with Apple coming under fire from Greenpeace for its reluctance to produce easily recyclable products.

    Steve Jobs was a one off; a man who had total belief in his own abilities and a shortage of patience for anyone who failed to agree with him.”

    In short.. Nimrod was great, Nebuchadnezzar was mighty, Even Ahasuerus the poor stable boy (maybe also adopted at birth) are they your heroes?

  4. I too was sad. He looked like a very decent and humble man who pretty much changed the world for the better. Why do u sound like we have to apologize for feeling that way?

  5. I dont understand that point of this post.

    Steve Jobs was a talented individual, no doubt. However his biological father was an Syrian Muslim and he himself was not a man of great character. He denied paternity while his child and the mother of that child were on welfare and he robbed his partner of money that Wozniak was supposed to get for doing a Job with Atari and finishing better than planned. He was officially an adherent of Bhuddism.

    The original manifestation of his cancer may have been beatable if he would have listened to doctors instead of insisting that he was smarter and was going to fight it with a change of diet instead of aggressive chemo as his doctors advised. To me that reeks of gaava, haughtiness. The waste of a liver when it was already late stage cancer when it could have saved an individual who stood a better chance simply because he had the money to pay for it is troublesome.

    True that his products have helped many in yiddish goals however we can’t lose sight of the fact that perhaps the only reason he existed was for that goal and not the other way around. What I mean by that is that Steve Jobs was Steve Jobs to help Yiddishkeit. Not that Steve Jobs and Apple also happened to have helped Yiddishkeit. The difference is that if it wasnt him it would have been someone else.

    Besides, how much time has been wasted with the advent and mainstream adaptation of “Smart Phones” and how many not muttar things have been done as a result of the ease of use that Apple created. In fact the major financial success of Apple products, (The IPhone) is quite possibly assur according to every Rabbinical Authority.

    Think for a second…noted anti semite, Henry Ford may have revolutionized the assembly line thereby allowing so many people to have and benefit from cars but that doesnt make him a man of great Character and a model for us religious Jews to look up to.

    Gmar Chasima Tova.

  6. Buddhism is real avoda zora that nochrim are prohibited at pain of death. Having violated the sheva mitzvos, Jobs kicked the bucket very young.

  7. To commenter #1 – heh, you kept your word. To the rest of you, my point is this:

    You are all saying that we need not judge Steve favorably for his life. I say that we need not judge. Please reread with that perspective in mind.

  8. “He essentially quoted that chazal, without realizing it.” Teshuva every day or any day is a process of connecting to our life source, our life’s focus, and our lives after we awake from our dream world called olam ha’zeh. Living ones life to the fullest for we don’t know how much time we have here is not teshuvah. Greed, yes. Jealous, yes. Selfish, yes. Teshuvah? Not quite.

  9. We can learn something good from every one, including the ants and burglars. We can learn diligence and perseverance from Steve Jobs; we don’t have to learn to be m’challel shabbos etc from him anymore than from an ant or a burglar.

    We all use computers in our lives. We must learn to control it from mis-use.

    Gmar Tov.

  10. I was contemplating Steve’s life and his accomplishments today and a thought struck me. Look how much this man accomplished and how much society has benefited from his actions!

    Non-the-less, when he goes up to Shamiyim, what will be waiting for him? You don’t get rewarded for being a great inventor or innovator. He will not be דן on his inventions, but rather his actions…”Were you honest in business? …How did you treat your wife and kids? Etc.”.

    Let say he comes out with flying colors and his rewards are waiting for him to partake w/o any punishment necessary.

    Non-the-less, his reward is NOTHING in comparison to the rewards that each and every one of us has what to look forward to! He was a Goy, which means he only had the potential of 7 mitzvas. We are Yidden and have the potential of 613 mitzvas that contain literally millions of פרטים. Each פרט brings it’s own reward. אשריכם ישראל!!!

    גמר כתימה טובה!!!

  11. #12, Softwords – Well said. Nonetheless, remember who is being דן everyone – not a bunch of YWN Readership.

    Gmar Chasima Tova

  12. How about simply: it’s erev yom kippur. Our fate for the upcoming year has either been decided or is pending. We have about 36 hours until it is sealed and the case closed. Think about Steve Jobs and realize that we are standing before Hashem with nothing, begging for our lives. A man with all the money and power cannot purchase an extra moment in this world, yet we have a few hours to plead with Hashem and ask for mercy and life in the next year.

    We have no idea what our future holds. It would be a pity to leave any stone unturned in pleading our case for ourselves and our families and all our nation whose situation is ever perilous. Gmar chatima tova

  13. A few points:

    1. The Talmud states that in the End of Days, the nations of the world will say to Hashem that everything they did, they did so that Israel could learn Torah. (And Hashem will answer that they did it for their own selfish purposes. Yes, Jobs’ technology helped Yidden daven, etc., but this was an incidental result – and not his intention.)

    2. The mitzvah to judge one’s fellow favorably applies to Yidden, not to idolaters. This op-ed (deliberately?) omits that Jobs fathered a child out of wedlock and was a practicing Buddhist, thereby violating at least one or two of the Sheva Mitzvos ben Noah. (I don’t know if you consider Buddhism to be avodah zora or not.) I know that Moshe is trying to be sensitive to Jobs’ situation and family life, and that’s appreciated, but it is deceptive to omit facts that not everyone might be aware of.

    3. If Jobs WERE a Yid, then he would get a mitzvah every time someone used his products to do a mitzvah (davening from a ipad, e.g.) – even after his death.

    4. I read the following on another blog and wanted to share it: The “pancreatic cancer gene, BRCA and its variants, [is] disproportionately common in Jews. So, you have to wonder whether or not Jobs–even on his biological Arab father’s side–had some of the Jewish genes in his past. It’s well known that throughout Middle Eastern history, Jews were forcibly converted to Islam. And, often, we find that people who have high incidence of pancreatic and breast cancer have some Jewish blood in their background. … I wouldn’t be surprised if way back when . . . the Al-Mohad Muslims–who forcibly converted hundreds of thousands of Jews to Islam–forced a conversion of some of Steve Jobs’ biological ancestors. We’ll never know.”

    #12 We obviously cannot do 613 mitzvos right now, until the Bais Hamikdosh is rebuilt (may it be speedily in our days).

    Can someone please translate, or at least summarize, the image with Hebrew text for me?

    May all Israel be sealed in the Book of Life for a good and sweet year, and may we merit the coming of our righteous Moshiach speedily in our days!

  14. Obviously, Jobs was no tzaddik and had many character flaws. However, to be m’lamed zchus on this man on erev Yom Kippur, I will say this: One thing I do appreciate about Steve Jobs … his refusal to allow pornography to be distributed through ITunes, the app store for all his devices. He caught a lot of flack over that from the perverse liberals, but he stood his ground and never relented. Now that he has passed away, I hope that whoever takes his place stands firm on that conviction of his.

    G’mar Chasima Tova

  15. mik5:

    You make some valid points, especially regarding his ancestry possibly being Jewish. As far as the sheva mitzvos are concerned – you are applying the lens of self to this situation. He wasn’t raised Jewish. Therefore it’s unfair to judge him based on your own beliefs. In today’s world, that’s a fairly reasonable stance. My primary intent in writing this article was to make the point that these assertions of evil or righteousness are *not* ours to make. I didn’t get in to details about his family on purpose – it’s nobody’s business. I actually did fail to mention his religion, but again, I feel that it’s totally irrelevant. Don’t judge others, lest you be judged. It’s the important lesson, hours before Yom Kippur.

    Oh, since you asked, I took a look at it. (Didn’t bother before.) The hebrew sign is actually yiddish and hebrew. It’s a parody of a common sign made when a recognizable figure passes on. The large title says “Naflah Ateres Rosheinu”, which means “Our crown has fallen”. The bottom left corner lists the mourners, including “Apple”, “Next”, “Disney” and the rest of the world.

    Thanks for taking the time to respond in a critical yet sensible manner. Have a gmar chasm tova.