MAILBAG: The Cell Phone Conundrum


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As an avid reader of this publication, the first feature I turn to is the letters. There I can get a sense of what is on the minds and hearts of my “people” as we traverse the rough and tough of daily life.

Many issues have been raised, vee efshar lefartam, gi rabhim haim (the are too numerous to delineate). However, one has yet to be mentioned.

Growing up, there AT&T had a slogan “Reach out and Touch Someone”; the phone was a medium that replaced the front porch, as the connector between neighbors and friends. As a therapist, I can attest to the fact that voicemail has shattered the social contract and interpersonal relationships. It is now standard practice “not to take the call”, and often the caller is slighted and insulted. When the call is returned a respectful 24-48 hours later, of course the return call is sent to voicemail.

Raboisai, this is sedom. Dovid Hamelech says in tehilim, yimotu kol moisday aretz , the pillars of society, the social constructs, will be destroyed. Our interpersonal relationships are disintegrating because of the new corrosive social norms.

Many of my clients cry out from loneliness. Social contact has been deemed passé. Now it’s text, email or voice mail. This is a social cancer that is destroying the core of our society. We don’t need RCCS to fight it, we need a collective return to social cohesiveness.

The first thing that Moshe did upon returning from Har Sinai, is Vayakhel Moshe es Kal Adas Bnai Yisrael; he united us into one nation.

For the physical and spiritual needs of our people, please, take the call. Someone is reaching out and needs to talk to you..

Alter F. Kelm

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


(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)


  1. I get the message that taking the call is menchlich, even a chesed. But it also places us in a spot where we might better not go.

    Some of today’s social media take things to the extreme. It is far from rare that people take photos of their plates of food before partaking of a meal, then posting them to share with the world. Likewise for countless other purely ordinary and mundane parts of life. These events are treated as if they are newsworthy, and are of interest to others. Some of that interest is not natural curiosity, but generated by the media. What’s for supper becomes a topic of much discussion, and is no longer relegated to the archive of occasional chatter. Every clothing purchase somehow becomes a family or community event. These cyber relationships are actually fictitious, and are given the status of real ones. If you greet someone at a simcha and they snub you and don’t respond, it can make sense to feel hurt. But not answering a phone?

    It is rare that my cell phone is with me when I am in shul. Why can someone simply assume that there is a legitimate reason for not answering the call? What form of shibud must I have to the device?

    Today’s devices have many features besides phones. Consider text, apps, flashlights, cameras, etc. Pictures in the media of major events quite often include others in the photos with their cameras up, either recording or clicking away. How many non-Shabbos events are well attended by bodies, but the minds are lost in playing with devices? So our social events are hardly social but should be, and social media which shouldn’t be has the lead score for social connections. That’s sad. I thought is was a joke until I met a couple that described this. Laying in bed before sleep, they text each other “Good night”. Does anyone remember when virtual meant “real”? Now it means “not real, but you will believe it is”.

    It’s far worse than not answering the phone. And when we always answer every call, we might be burying ourselves deeper in a “virtual” world of “virtual relationships”, “virtual truth”, “virtual values”, and “virtual existence”. This virtual world is not human, and the only reason that people are not frightened of it is because they are drunk on it. We are all in it.

    I doubt that bans and issurim will make a dent in this. I suggest the answer lies in the campaign to strengthen our connection to Torah and Mitzvos. If we are better connected to Ahavas Hashem and Yiras Hashem, the devices will have much less grip on us.

  2. You’re making a very poignant point, Alter, but there’ a Trojan Horse
    which should be dealt with because it
    may be part of the problem. Many times the caller who’s known to me may be calling from another number which I don’t recognize , and I won’t pick up.
    Yes, the frenzied landline robocall & telemarket nudnik pandemic has infested our cell phones.
    Its nonstop 12- hour intermittent abuse.
    That said, your complaint is unfortunately all too true.

  3. Welcome to the new sad, tech savvy generation where everything is me me and only me. No time for our own children during dinner or some priceless family time together. Everyone is glued to their phone screens-even while in shul talking to Hashem the king of kings ruler of the world-there is a famous line “when the phone was tied with a wire, humans were free” now today in the tech savvy generation were are glued to the phone from the minute shabbos ends running to see who called us and any emails we received etc….

    Very sad and depressing generation to be a part of….
    Put your phone’s down just for a few hours at night and instead spend some priceless family time with your children

  4. in the early days of the telephone they were as controversial as a smart phone
    and many Rabonim were against the old Ma Bell phone

  5. You have a point that people feel lonely. However; When people call you while you are busy with work, in Shul, with your kids, etc. You should NOT be picking up the phone, and the caller should expect that. That would be killing the real “social interactions” that a person should be having with his family, workmates, and people in Shul (aside from when one is davening that the phone should be on silent in any case because of Medusa’s Beis Medrash. In those cases you are right that it may be more menchlich to auto reply with a text that “I can’t talk now”, or “please call me later” or something similar.