Friday, March 31, 2006

Kosher Cell Phones to the USA?

TheStar: It sounds like the setup for a punch line: What do you get when you cross an ultra-Orthodox rabbi with a mobile phone? But the "kosher phone'' is real and its developers are serious about looking beyond the religious enclaves of Israel. Some Arab companies even have inquired about the phone's main feature: keeping out sex lines and other worldly temptations. "There's interest out there in a conservative phone,'' said Abrasha Burstyn, the chief executive officer at Mirs Communications Ltd., an Israeli subsidiary of Motorola Inc. and pioneer of the kosher mobile that debuted last year. The phones - carrying the seal of approval from Israel's rabbinical authorities - have been one of the most successful mergers of technology and centuries-old tradition in the ultra-Orthodox community, which is most widely recognized by the men's black garb based on the dress of 19th century European Jews. The kosher phone is stripped down to its original function: making and receiving calls. There's no text messaging, no Internet access, no video options, no camera. More than 10,000 numbers for phone sex, dating services and other offerings are blocked.....Talks are under way to introduce a kosher phone to Jewish communities in the United States and other nations possibly later this year....The kosher phone was ready last March, backed by an unusual sales force: 80 men and 10 women from Israel's ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods who went through a crash course in cell phones and door-to-door pitches. The classes were arranged to accommodate synagogue prayer schedules and Torah studies. "These people were figures in their community. They weren't nobodies. They started spreading the word in synagogues and wedding halls,'' said Matanel Shalom, chief of marketing at Sales & Direct Marketing Ltd., a Tel Aviv-based company hired to market the kosher phone. By summer, more than 20,000 kosher phones were sold. But it was just a foothold in an estimated market of at least 180,000 cell phone users among Israel's nearly 1 million ultra-Orthodox. Two of Israel's other three cell phone players have developed their own kosher phones. The options now come in a range of styles and colors - from staid black to enamel red. "If you think about it, the (ultra-Orthodox) religious community is not going to movies and other things. These days, the kind of phone you carry is part of who you are,'' said Shalom. "Some rabbis didn't like it, but that's the reality.''
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