What’s a Kosher Phone? Part 2

What’s a Kosher Phone? Part 2

One of my most popular posts on this blog is the one that explains what a kosher phone is. And anyone who follows my work or comes on my tour knows that I have a particular fascination with how the Hasidic community adopts technology, while also censoring it and adapting it for their own benefits.

It’s been fascinating to watch the community’s ability to improvise, change, and invent in order to deal with this most fundamental paradigm shift: the internet age. The community has been dealing with technology in several ways.

1. There has been an effort to reject technology by launching campaigns to re-frame technology as destructive, addictive, and harmful. Street posters warn against the harms of technology. There are also rules in schools against phones, or kids cards collections against smartphones, or a puzzle I own with lots of anti-smartphone cartoons.

2. Companies create modified technology like internet filters or kosher phones that allow people to use these gadgets without having access to, say, Google and Facebook and, heh heh, this blog. Some companies create filters. Some companies create internet-disabled gadgets. Some, like this one, act as a middle man to anyone who wants to send emails but doesn’t want to have internet.

In recent years, the kosher phone market has been visibly booming. In the past year, the first ever kosher phone store opened up in Williamsburg. Its window has a selection of flip phones, each with a kosher symbol on it. Since the coronavirus pandemic, the shop has been buzzing. Hasidic kids are doing classes over the phone, and every household now needs a half dozen cell phones. Since they do not want to embrace screens, or would only do so in a very limited way, kosher phones are becoming more popular, and the number of products is increasing.

There are different kinds of kosher phones. There are some that are smartphones with filters on. I have a Blackberry that I bought in the community and planned to filter, but the Blackberry is such a pain that I never had a problem with using it too much (I just spend too much time on the iPad!). My son, though, has a Samsung modified kosher phone. He can text, send voice messages, take pictures, and use Waze, but that’s about it as far as its use to him. The phone also comes with a bunch of built-in Jewish life features like prayers, a Jewish calendar, kosher email, and so on.

I also own the most extremely filtered kosher phone, which runs on 3G and is therefore now useless. I just keep it because I’m an obsessed collector. I wrote a bit about that phone in the earlier post, but since then, I bought an unfiltered version of the LG device on eBay. It was $20, much cheaper than the kosher version. And I was able to compare it side by side with the filtered version.

You can see that they disabled the messaging and renamed the fields as “shapes”:

They also disabled the entire game/web part and renamed the fields as “colors.” The “rings and tones” stayed, but pictures, games, mobile web, browse, and download are all censored out. Yes, this phone even filters out photos. It’s not that photos are problematic per se, but the phone intends to be as much a basic phone as possible.

They also redid the ringtone field:

When I still used this old LG flip as my phone, my son messed with the ring tones. I was in the Chase bank in Williamsburg when the phone rang. A few Hasidic men looked up and looked around in confusion as I answered. (This was payback for the many years that I spent hearing the ice cream truck outside the Hasidic office I worked for. I was always very confused, because the ice cream truck came so often, and it was in the middle of the winter. Then one day I realized it was my Hasidic workmate’s ringtone!) You can listen to it here:

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Of course, kosher phones are not the only phones people have. Many adults, especially those with jobs, have smartphones or tablets. There are now many special bubbles of internet for the Hasidim, like the men’s website Ivelt and Kave Shtibel, the women’s website immamother, and many many WhatsApp and telegram channels. But there remains a sharp divide between adults and children. Adults can squeeze access, but children remain very sheltered, although I am sure the shutdown has changed things in ways that we don’t yet know.

But internet or no internet, the majority of my readers continue to be from the community. Must be a fiture on those kosher phones that I don’t know about…

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