Moses (er...Steve Jobs) introducing the iPad

Late Apple founder Steve Jobs has often been likened to a hi-tech prophet, sensing consumer need before the public had any idea that they desperately desired a portable music player or a tablet computer. Now, Britain’s Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has accused Jobs of playing Moses for the modern day, “coming down the mountain with two tablets, iPad 1 and iPad 2,” and laying down the foundations for a “consumer society.”

The result, Sacks says, is not positive this time. “We have a culture of iPod, iPhone, iTunes. It’s all i, i, i, nowadays. (But) when you’re an individualist, egocentric culture and you only care about ‘i’, you don’t do terribly well.”

Now, Israel is certainly as i-Crazy as anywhere else in the world. I may be even more so. As a Mac-addict since nearly the beginning (I bought my first boxy Mac SE in 1998) and as part of a family that owns two iPhones, an iPod Touch, three iPods in various states of disrepair, and a growing brood of Macintosh computers (we only have one working Windows machine left), I don’t take particularly kindly to Sachs telling me my buying practices constitute values that “aren’t ones you can live by for terribly long,” and that western society has built “the most efficient mechanism ever devised for the creation and distribution of unhappiness.”

Thanks, Jonathan, for bumming out my day, not to mention disrespecting the genius of Steve Jobs who undoubtedly had many more similarly debased tricks up his digital sleeve before his painfully premature passing.

Now to be fair, Sachs isn’t entirely off base. I fully agree that an overly consumer-focused society goes too far into making one pine away for what you don’t have, rather than being grateful for what you do. This is not a trivial problem by any means, and it’s certainly been an important subtext to both the recent Occupy Wall Street protests in the U.S. and our own social justice demonstrations this summer.

And Sachs solution – “the world of faith, which the Jews call the world of Shabbat, where you can’t shop and you can’t spend and so you spend your time with things that matter, with family” – is right on, whether you’re religious or not. In our house, when the Sabbath comes, we urge our family to do their best to unplug; to turn off the electronic devices, for at least those 25 hours a week.

We’re not always successful, but Sachs has got that one right, and it’s been a critical factor to our family’s cohesiveness. But that was no reason to go and dis Steve. And no matter what you say, Lord Sachs, I’m still buying that iPhone 4S, whenever Israel actually lets it into the country that is (see my previous post here).

One more point: Rabbi Sacks’ office has subsequently tried to tone down their boss’s comments, saying that, “The chief rabbi meant no criticism of either Steve Jobs personally or the contribution Apple has made to the development of technology in the 21st century.” He was simply “pointing out the potential dangers of consumerism when taken too far.”

And, the statement added, the Rabbi “uses an iPhone and an iPad on a daily basis.”