Food vs Time: A Jewish Perspective

They say that Jews are obsessed by food – almost every Jewish event is connected with food. Even Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year where we fast for 25 hours, is preceded by a meal

However, in many ways, perhaps we are more obsessed with time. The Jewish calendar is based it the lunar cycle, but the halakhic day is based on cycle of the sun. From time that Shabbat commences and the dates of the Jewish festivals, to what time we can pray, or even eat diary (ah yes food again), all connected to time and the list goes on.

Some of the most expensive watches on the market will include a Jewish day and month complication (that’s the fancy word for the the “extras” you get on a watch). For most of us the day and date will be more than enough but an expensive time piece taking up valuable real estate on your wrist (and a sizable chunk of your bank account) will include more exotic complications such as the phase of moon. Oh and when I say expensive, I’m talking millions of dollars. Here is a nice pocket watch which includes a Jewish calendar which will set you back around $5m: The Vacheron Constantin Reference 57260 pocket watch.

Of course Apple when venturing into the watch market included all of these complications. Sunrise, sunset (no, this isn’t a cue to burst into song, but feel free), lunar calendar, Jewish month the works – it’s all there (well nearly but we’ll get to that). Well of course it is. Apple has had the Jewish calendar on iPhone for ages, so to add it to the watch was easy.
But as a religious Jew, sunrise on its own is of limited value. It didn’t take long for Rusty Brick to come out with an Apple Watch complication to their siddur which gave you more interesting complications such as Daf Yomi and this week’s parasha. What’s even more unique is tapping on the complication will bring up a menu with more options including finding a local minyan (including directions) and even davening including Nikud (and yes I have used it for Mincha). If you have used the app and find it very slow, be rest assured that in WatchOS 3 which should be released some time in September it is very fast.

However my favourite Jewish complication right now is Hayom by Chabad. Although tapping on the complication isn’t useful like Rusty Brick’s offering, what I do love about this complication is that the Jewish date actually changes at sunset. If you like you can also set the complication to tell you the various important davening times such as netz, plag etc.

So now we have established that there are some really interesting complications and apps for the Apple Watch, what about all those bands? My biggest challenge was getting the basic sport band on and off. Great if you want to go for a run, not so great for putting on tefillin in the morning.

I solved this problem last summer by purchasing the leather loop band. It’s really the only upmarket band that goes nicely with the low-end Sport watch that I purchased. This band is designed very cleverly and is perfect for the quick wrist change necessary for morning prayers (especially if you haven’t had your morning caffeine yet).

For those of you that like to daven at netz (crack of dawn) – yes I do get up that early but actually I go for a swim before prayers, then wearing the watch at night allows me to set a silent alarm which taps my wrist when time to get up which my wife really appreciates. Since the current Apple Watch is not waterproof, I take out my  garmin watch for my swim, which is just as well because the battery is normally down to about 15% after 23 hours so I need the opportunity to charge my watch. Just for the record, when I was running, I much preferred my Apple Watch since I was able to control my entertainment on my iPhone from my wrist and when necessary quick reply to any time-sensitive texts without slowing down. Of course if you ever saw me run then you would realise that I run so slowly that it would be hard to go any slower.

Talking of quick replies, Apple is introducing smart replies which are pretty cool. However what I really appreciated that although my watch is set to English,  when somebody texts me in Hebrew, the smart reply feature gives me options in Hebrew.

The main comment that I get from people is what do I do on Shabbat. It’s a funny comment really. Obviously the watch is completely muktze but it would be nice to have a Shabbat mode that would show zmanim and other seasonal options such as sefirat haomer or tzidkatecha. Even a Shabbat alarm clock would be nice.

However, I suppose I should be first try and convince Apple that the Jewish day starts at sunset…

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Is the Apple Watch Edition muktzeh?

My grandmother once explained to me that a gold watch wasn’t muktzeh because if it stopped, you would still continue to wear it on Shabbat since it was jewelry. I’m not sure that was what Tim Cook had in mind when they revealed the Apple Watch Edition.

Many thoughtful articles have been written on Apple Watch and a fare share of not-so-thoughtful ones. At any rate, I think it’s fairly safe to say that Apple are going to be selling this device by the boatload and the real question everyone is asking is how it’s going to change our everyday lives.

Some time ago, I asked a charedi colleague of mine why texting was forbidden in certain streams of ultra-orthodoxy. In fact, you can buy cellphone packages where you can’t receive or send a text message (very annoying when I rely so much on canned replies with SMS when somebody calls me). He explained that the fear was that when somebody could be doing something better with their time, instead they would be texting. Bitul Torah. I have to admit that I have this problem too sometimes, but with me it’s when watching TV rather than learning in the Bet Midrash, and my wife kindly tells me when I should pay attention to the screen (ie the big one) when something important happens in the TV programme that we are watching (I guess that’s why I have an iPhone…)

One thing that I did notice of course, is the habit that I have that when finishing the Amida in shul during the week, I whip out my iPhone to check if I’ve missed anything whilst waiting for the shaliach tzibbur to start the Repetition. On days I feel particularly holy, I will sit closer to the front of shul to prevent me from doing so – no, it’s not my closeness to the aron kodesh that helps, but rather the lack of phone reception.

But it got me thinking. Imagine now, whilst waiting for the Rabbi to finish davening (heck somebody in shul has to have a bit of kavana) we all start looking at our smart watches? I admit the ability for the gabbai to subtly force touch the shaliach tzibbur via his Apple Watch rather than a loud “bakhavod” is nice, but looking at our watches has a different social cue – Nu! / I’m bored / Can I get out of here? At least when looking at a smart phone person can think the best of somebody and can assume that they are reading the parshat hashavua. But a watch? Not sure how easy it’s going to be to pull “Yes I’m davening from my siddur app on my Apple Watch.”

Although I have to say that I still have a dream of putting out a really smart siddur. Of course the problem is that there aren’t enough Jews in the world that would daven from an app that would make it a financial viability, although perhaps I should do an Indiegogo campaign like a local Rabbi is doing for his book – heck he’s raised over $6K so far, but I digress…

It makes me wonder what are the actually truly useful aspects of a smart siddur? Perhaps a Watch app could be interesting and more importantly, more useful. For example simply reminding you to add Yaaleh Veyavo when you get to the Amida. That doesn’t need a full siddur app, but a nice reminder on your watch… Particularly useful for those of us who don’t quite make it to shul and daven at home. Imagine the watch recognising that we took three steps forward and start to schockle away and there was a discrete tap on the wrist to remind you to say the required addition.

There are of course more obvious use-cases such as looking at your watch to see how much time you have left to say keriat shema which actually is more convenient than using iKaluach on your iPhone.

Apple very kindly incorporated the Jewish calendar into iOS 8 but I would really love to see not only the correct Jewish date appearing on my Apple Watch face (which I assume will be built-in) but also the Hebrew date actually changing at shkia rather than at midnight (although apparently many people don’t realise that the Jewish date changes at nightfall so perhaps Apple doesn’t know about this).

Perhaps this will be the killer feature of the Apple Watch so we would finally have a good way of remembering to send the kids to school wearing white shirts on Rosh Chodesh.

 

 

Wearable tech: my new watch

When my father passed away recently I inherited his gold watch. Like most watches, it tells the time. The design is timeless and despite the fact that my father received this for his wedding the watch looks great on my wrist.

Looking at the watch I was admiring how thin the watch was and it occurred to me that there was no battery inside. A wind-up watch. Remember those? I was thinking what features watches have that we take for granted and I realised that the biggest innovation was the battery. Yes watches today might have the date (well even then they had those) or a stopwatch but I think that we look at watches differently; we don’t think of what features a watch has, but rather as being individual pieces of jewelry, perhaps in the case of men, the last bit of jewelry that we are “allowed” to wear (with the possible exception of cuff links.)

siemens-s551Those of you who know me, know that I love technology. I remember bringing a Siemens S55 phone from the UK because not only was it colour, but it had Bluetooth (it also had a clip-on camera with flash!). Bluetooth headsets were expensive and were, well, pretty rubbish. I have had a quite a few Bluetooth headsets over the years and I always gave up pretty quickly for two reasons 1) the sound quality was awful and 2) it was always cumbersome to switch the call from the phone to the headset and vice versa.

voyager-legend_bRecently I decided to try again and this time it was in the form of the Plantronics Voyager Legend. It’s not the scope of this blog post to give it a review but let’s suffice to say that if you are looking for a Bluetooth headset that just works then this is the one to buy. The sound quality is superb and it has built-in intelligence that it knows when it’s on your head or when it’s sitting on your desk making picking up the call very easy. If it is on my desk and somebody calls I have two choices: pickup my mobile phone and not use the headset, or if I want I can simply put the headset over my ear and it answers automatically. Want to switch in the middle of the call? Simply put the headset on. Want to pass the phone to somebody to use without your headset? Simply remove the headset from your head and give them the phone. The call transfers automatically to the phone. You are already wearing the headset and somebody calls? It whispers the name of the person (even if you have an iPhone), and say “answer” or “ignore” – very useful if you have your hands full and you can’t raise your hand to press the button on your headset. Go and buy one!

My business partner has a pebble watch. It made me think. I know how my headset has been so incredibly useful. Would a pebble watch be useful? I’m in a meeting and my watch vibrates to let me know something. Hmm. Is that more subtle than my phone vibrating? Can I look at that notification more discreetly than looking at my phone? Another use-case scenario is sports. I run.
Garmin Forerunner 910XT

Well you know what? I have a Garmin Forerunner 910XT. It has a built-in GPS, doesn’t need to connect to my phone. It also tells me absolutely everything I need to know about my run and even counts how many laps I’ve swam in the pool. Yes, I have to change watch before I go for a run, but I don’t know about you, but I also change my clothes before running too!

I guess my only case-use for a pebble watch is when I’m cleaning the house and rather than taking out my phone every time a notification comes in, I could simply look at my wrist to see the notification, but since I try to avoid cleaning the house…

Truth be told, for a person that is out and about all day, be it a realtor or a doctor doing rounds at a hospital, a pebble watch is probably very useful, but for me, I spend most of my work day in front of a computer so will my next gadget be a smart watch? Not unless you are buying me one 🙂

I suppose the ultimate wearable tech is google glass. I’m not so interested in glass per se, but rather the technology that is coming out of the project.

One such technology is a smart contact lens. No, we are not talking about google glass tech on a contact lens à la Continuum, but rather a way for diabetics to track their glucose without having to take a blood sample. This kind of wearable tech is very exciting.

In the meantime, I will enjoy my father’s gold watch when I wear it on special occasions and admire it’s timeless beauty and sentimentality. For the rest of the time I will continue to wear the watch that I received from my wife and in-laws when I got married which has it’s own individuality and special meaning.