Religion Magazine

Interesting Psak: iPhone Owner as Witness to a Wedding

By Gldmeier @gldmeier
Bechadrei is reporting on an interesting psak from Rav Shteinman.
Truth is, the psak is not really new, though it might be new from Rav Shteinman as a source for it. What is interesting about it is not the psak itself but how he explained it. To me it raises the possibility of an interesting discussion, or questions.
Rav Shteinman was asked about the validity of using someone who owns an iPhone for witnessing a wedding.
Supposedly, his answer was, that there are two different types of prohibitions one can violate that might invalidate him from being a witness; a prohibition that has the punishment of malkus, lashes, attached to it, and a prohibition that does not have lashes as a punishment.
A prohibition with lashes would invalidate the person from being a witness at a "d'oraisa" level, while a prohibition without lashes would invalidate him but only at a rabbinic level..
Rav Shteinman said that having an iPhone does not qualify one for lashes, so it only invalidates the bearer at a rabbinic level from being a witness.
Rav Shteinman also supposedly said two other points, and that is what I find most interesting.
1. while it is common for the rabbi officiating at a wedding to tell the witnesses to do tshuva right then in order to ensure they are kosher witnesses (in case they had done anything wrong in the past that might invalidate them), Rav Shteinman said they often do not actually do tshuva. Using such witnesses is a problem.
2. He commented on the expense of the iPhone, when they told him how much it costs. He compared it to an esrog and said in wonderment that it costs more than an esrog, and also expressed his surprise or anguish that people would pay so much money in order to sin! It is expensive to sin, but people will pay the price for that ability!
Regarding #1, it brings into question the entire practice of telling the witnesses to do tshuva. If they aren't doing it anyway, and we know that (or presume it), what's the point? And if we know they don't do tshuva anyway, how can we allow them to witness the wedding?
I guess in a situation where we, or he himself, are not actually aware of any specific violation that would invalidate, it is a "just in case" situation, so we can proceed even without tshuva. If he owns an iPhone, or if we know specifically about a different violation, it is no longer "just in case" and we would require actual tshuva.
Regarding #2, it is an interesting way to put it. The difference is that the esrog is for just a week, and for only a short amount of time each day during that week, while the iPhone you pay a lot of money for because you want it to be enough quality that it will last you a year or two or three, and survive your nearly constant usage for many hours of each day during that time. Many things cost a lot of money, more than an esrog, and there are reasons why they cost a lot (supply and demand, the costs of development and marketing, etc) and why people will pay those prices.
Also, most people are not buying the iPhone in order to sin. They are buying it in order to use as a communication device, and the sinning is inadvertent (if you say the iPhone itself is a sin, or else in the way he uses it afterwards). So saying for an averia someone will pay x while for a mitzva he will only pay y, is like comparing apples and oranges, or iphones and esrogs.
Regarding the actual psak, the interesting point is how he explains it as an issur with no lashes, thus it only invalidates him at a rabbinic level. I'd like to hear how it is determined that this is an issur at all, and how it is one with no lashes. Do rabbis today have the ability to create a new "issur drabanan"? Are they defining an ancient issur derabanan to include the iphone as a form of application of an existing issur?
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