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Elgan: Which religion has the best cell phone?

Now you can find a phone with services that help you express your faith

April 17, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Religious devotees around the world enjoy expressing their faith with customized cell phones, which may play religious ring tones; carry scriptures; or provide guidance, content filtering and other services specific to each religion. These phones are customized and marketed directly to religious communities in various parts of the world.

Which of the world's most popular religions, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Judaism (listed in order of size), has the world's greatest cell phone?

While researching this article, I was unable to find a single Christian, Hindu or Sikh cell phone. I'm not saying they're not out there somewhere, just that I'm "agnostic" on the point. I just don't know.

That there is no Christian cell phone may surprise you. In fact, Christians lead the world in cell phone accessories and software, including cell phone stickers and cases, ring tones and Bible-related content specific to phones. So it's easy for Christians to assemble their own faith-based cell phones from widely available "parts." But, to the best of my knowledge, nobody is selling a prepackaged "Christian cell phone" designed to be marketed to Christians.

Also note that, although Apple Inc.'s iPhone is sometimes referred to as the "Jesus phone," it's not a Christian cell phone per se, and thus can't be included in this little contest of mine.

That leaves us with the top three contenders: Islam, Buddhism and Judaism. So here they are, listed in reverse order: The top three religious cell phones.

No. 3: The Jewish cell phone

A few years ago, an ultra-Orthodox rabbi approached Abrasha Burstyn, the CEO of Mirs Communications Ltd., an Israeli subsidiary of Motorola Inc., with a proposed cell phone concept. The result is a phone that fulfills what the rabbi saw as a need to block objectionable content from the eyes and ears of other ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel, which by some accounts represent about 7% of the Israeli population.

The phone is inaccurately referred to in the Israeli press as the "kosher phone." A gadget can't actually be kosher, but it does come with the approval of what is, essentially, a censorship board called the Rabbinical Committee for Communications.

While most religious cell phones start out as regular cell phones, and are augmented with additional religious "stuff," the so-called kosher phone has less, not more. It has been stripped of functionality and simply makes and receives calls. It can't send or receive text messages or access the Internet. There's no camera. And more than 10,000 phone numbers for dating services and sex hotlines have been blocked.

Here's the best part. The phone offers steeply discounted per-minute charges when calling another kosher phone. But it will cost you a whopping $2.44 a minute for calls placed on the Sabbath. To the best of my knowledge, Mirs is the only wireless carrier in the world that uses its pricing structure to punish deviation from one of the Ten Commandments.

The carrier has decided, interestingly, that there is demand for phones with a similar lack of functionality among non-Orthodox but conservative Israeli Jews and Muslims within Israel and beyond.



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