The codex is dead! Long live the codex! -or- Why Jews will never fully switch over to e-readers

Crossposted to New Voices and The Reform Shuckle
The Atlantic has this piece up this week about Shabbat observance issues surrounding e-readers like the Kindle. The article’s worth reading.

Three thoughts:
1. Acts of writing should not be at issue here. From the article:

E-readers are problematic not only because they are electronic but also because some rabbis consider turning pages on the device – which causes words to dissolve and then resurface – an act of writing, also forbidden on the Sabbath.

That’s completely absurd. Writing is forbidden because its an act of creation. God’s rest on the first Shabbat was a rest from the work of creating the world. We follow suit, by avoiding acts of creation. The equivalent of turning the page on a Kindle is just that–it’s the equivalent of turning a page! The electronic equivalent of writing is typing.
2. That doesn’t mean Jews who observe a high number of ritual prohibitions on Shabbat are going to start davening from an e-siddur. They’re still electronic!
3. Who cares? Codex technology came into being and we retained the scroll. Now e-readers have been invented and we’ll retain the codex (fancy word for book) too.

7 thoughts on “The codex is dead! Long live the codex! -or- Why Jews will never fully switch over to e-readers

  1. I don’t know who these supposed rabbis are that consider this to be writing, but most major poskim agreed (and have agreed since the printing press) that writing and printing are not the same thing. that machines (like printing presses) don’t have intention. therefore, one can type and delete יהוה because it’s just pixels, not writing. however, it could be that the difference between the scroll and the e-reader is that when one turns the scroll, the writing is still physically there, when one moves the screen on an e-reader, in essence once the pixels are gone they are gone until they are back, but they are not physically anywhere. again, I’d like to know who these rabbis are…

  2. David,
    Writing is not forbidden because it is creation. Writing is forbidden because writing two letters was used in construction of the mishkan. Writing also requires permanence.
    As Justin hints at above(although confuses the point too), the prohibition is in leaving a permanent record, not creating something new. Otherwise copying a book would be permitted while writing an original novel would be prohibited.
    The issue with ereaders that the article hints at is that eink is different from an LCD/CRT screen. On an LCD/CRT the screen is just projecting light that then gets tinted to the color you want. However, when the power goes out everything is gone and there is no record of what was displayed.
    With eink, the cells on the screen flip there and remain permanently in place. You turn the ereader off and the text is still there, you cut off the bottom of a kindle and the text is still there. Without further action the words on the screen will stay there until the end of time. Changing the page on an ereader is like printing the page on a printer.
    Now an iPad/Nook Color has none of those issues, so you can think about those like any other computer display.

  3. I shall not relate to the issue of whether the use of an e-reader is permissible on Shabbat. That is a complicated issue with many possible approaches.
    (By the way – erasing two letters is also prohibited – which may,or may not, take place with the e-reader. Or, one may hold that there are no letters at all. There is a series of digits which appear as letters).
    What you may need to learn is that you may, if you will, follow Halachic principles, meta-halachic principles, or non-halachic considerations (how you feel about an act on Shabbat rather than what tradition may require).
    But it is problematic to argue, as you seem to do, how something may fit into a halachic category without a better understanding of what the broader parameters of the halachic concept may be (e.g. what constitutes “creation” or “work”-melachah).

  4. And, in addition, down a slightly different road,or maybe just a different way to arrive at the halachah of the thing, I just read a scathing article about the carbon footprint of ereaders versus paper books in an old issue of Sierra magazine. Books, despite being associated with the destruction of trees, as long as you use them and reuse them (pass them on, etc…) are WAY less harmful to Home then ereaders.

  5. Sof may have read that ereaders are high-carbon but Alon Shalev thinks otherwise: http://leftcoastvoices.wordpress.com/2010/12/27/the-morning-after-2-seriously/ – he links to a number of critiques of the paper-book industry.
    The fact is, paper book printers are still working with technology from the 1980s, and could be working like Dell – printing on demand and keeping tiny inventories, but will still be pulping some – simply because of the intrinsic problems with printing technology (you have to run the presses for a while before everything is lined up – and all that paper is wasted).

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