Help: the Prayer Book is Too Heavy for Me!

Image: A Reform prayer book. Photo by Linda Burnett.

A reader asked:

Please, PLEASE post about whether us disabled people who can follow along more easily via electronic devices than by hoisting heavy (for some of us) books is OK. Since reading your posts on this subject, I’ve been feeling like I have been a nasty, red carbuncle in the congregation when I’ve shown up to worship alongside my loved one who has an upcoming bat mitzvah, and I’ve actually held back from going at all. I don’t want to be a blot on my loved one’s special day when that day comes!

Congratulations on the upcoming bat mitzvah service!

There’s no problem with using a tablet or smartphone app on a weekday. It would be rude to check email or follow the stock market in services, but of course it is fine to use a prayer book app or a  Tanakh/Chumash app.

Shabbat is different. For a “Shomer shabbes” Jew, using such a thing in synagogue on Shabbat would be deeply offensive. Your options break down by movement:

Reform: There are several good apps available for a Chumash (Torah portions and readings from the prophets.) If anyone questions your use of the tablet, just explain that it’s due to a disability and that should be the end of it. (As for the siddur, I’ve been informed that there’s a problem with the app, but I’m going to research that and update asap.) There is also a small, lightweight “Traveler’s Edition” of Mishkan Tefilah available.

Some congregations project the pages of the siddur and other service materials on the front wall or a screen. If the synagogue offers that sort of arrangement, you’re in luck!

Conservative and Modern Orthodox: They are unlikely to be open to the use of electronics on Shabbat, but if you call ahead and speak with the rabbi, it may well be that they have alternative accommodations to offer. One of my teachers, Rabbi Dr. Rachel Adler, reminded me that there are pocket-sized siddurim (prayer books) easily available, and perhaps getting your own lightweight copy is an answer. Certainly you can ask to use one at the synagogue, if you don’t own one.

Renewal and Reconstructionist: Call ahead and ask; the answer will differ from place to place.

When I made the original post (More Etiquette for Bar & Bat Mitzvah Guests) I was thinking of the people who come to a bar mitzvah and pull out the phone out of habit and begin checking email. That’s very offensive, and would be so on any day of the week. Using a tablet to follow the service is in the same category with using an electric wheelchair, and is OK on a weekday anywhere, and on Shabbat in some synagogues but not others.

In synagogues where using a tablet or smartphone isn’t an option on Shabbat, and there’s no lightweight option available, I’d arrange to sit next to an able bodied person who is willing to share, to hold their book where you can see it. You will then have the added bonus of a knowledgeable page turner, which can be quite helpful. Since one cannot know who is able by looking at them,  I’d phone ahead (WELL ahead)  to the synagogue and ask if they might be able to find a volunteer.

Another option: if you are not familiar with the service, you may find the prayer book more frustration than help, anyway. Give yourself the option of simply sitting and listening. If someone presses a prayer book on you, just say, “No, thank you.” There are many ways to be in a Jewish service – for more about that, see New to Jewish Prayer? 9 Tips for Beginners.

I hope that you are able to find arrangements that work for you, so that you can enjoy the occasion.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

11 thoughts on “Help: the Prayer Book is Too Heavy for Me!”

  1. Looks like the app is being retired, to be replaced with a Kindle edition that can be read via the Kindle app on most devices. I wonder whether this will still include the audio?

      1. Thanks, Rav Ruth! I forgot to mention in my original comment that my mom was someone who couldn’t handle heavy books. She’d always order the paperback catalog from museum exhibits, especially the ones that she couldn’t get to because she wasn’t well enough, and then have my dad cut/tear them into manageable-weight chunks. So I have a ton of sympathy for those who can’t manage a heavy prayer book.

        1. It’s a huge problem. Some congregations own “Shabbat only” copies. For the Reform movement there are also travel editions, which are quite a bit smaller and lighter. Personally I’d like to see more places adopting the projection option, but that requires infrastructure and staff time.

  2. I have gone back and forth with CCAR via email for *years* asking–and getting repeated unfulfilled promises–of when MT would be available in a full edition (with Shabbat) as an app across all major mobile platforms (iOS iPhone, iOS iPad, and Android.) I don’t think any Reform congregation should have a problem at all about someone using a siddur app, since we don’t as a movement consider halacha binding. Unfortunately, as a movement we can’t get it together in terms of technology so it’s a moot point. Which is not acceptable and kind of embarrassing given that it’s 2016.

  3. our congregation has printed its own lightweight Shabbat Siddur based on the MT -very handy. when I see videos of Orthodox services, some of the congregations have a book ledge on the back of the seats, seems handy also, tho impractical for sanctuaries with stackable seating.

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