Israel's "Kosher" Smartphones Block Rape Crisis Hotline And Mental Health Emergency Numbers

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In September, Israeli companies began selling the first smartphones to be certified “kosher” by Israel’s ultra-Orthodox rabbis. Before that, Israel’s haredi — that is, ultra-Orthodox — Jews were not permitted to use phones that accessed the internet, with its easy access to porn and other taboo, secular content.

Now, the Jewish news service Ynet has discovered, in addition to blocking access to most of the internet, the kosher phones also block basic emergency services such as rape crisis and mental health hotlines. And even the strictly observant Jews in Israel’s haredi community are angry about it.

"Blocking such a crucial service should lead to a huge public protest," one haredi, whose name was withheld, told Ynet. "It's unthinkable that I would be restricted, as a citizen, from turning to whoever I want to at a time of distress."

A group known as the Rabbinical Committee For Communications decides what is and isn’t kosher for kosher phones. The committee submits a list of forbidden numbers to Israel’s smartphone companies, who then make sure that their phones cannot access those numbers.

Among them are the emergency services for, among others, victims of sexual assault.

"The mobile providers' hands are tied,” a source inside one of the smartphone makers told Ynet. “As long as the Communications Ministry allows the committee to block these numbers, we are committed to the terms set by the committee. Otherwise they will cancel our kosher program."

So what are kosher smartphones allowed to access. The list of sites is not long, but includes those dedicated to such activities as online banking, GPS, and of course, religious texts.

The phones can also send and receive text messages and e-mail. Previously, kosher phones were voice-only.

Israel’s knesset, or parliament, had earlier passed a law that all cellular phones must be able to access emergency numbers at no charge to the customer. The country’s communications ministry says it is now investigating whether it is legal for kosher phones to block the numbers.

But, the ministry noted in a statement, “joining the 'kosher' services is an independent choice made by the consumer.”

SOURCES: Jewish Daily Forward (2), YNet