Question: May one hold one’s cellular phone while praying?
Answer: The Gemara (Berachot 23b) states: “Our Sages taught: One should not hold Tefillin in one’s hands or a Sefer Torah in one’s arms while praying the Amida prayer.” The reason for this is because one’s concentration will be disturbed by holding these objects, for one must take care that they do not fall. The Gemara continues: “Shmuel said: A knife, money, a bowl, or a loaf of bread retain the same law as the above.” This means that when our Sages forbade holding Tefillin or a Sefer Torah while praying, this does not only apply to these objects; rather, it is forbidden to hold other objects as well, such as a loaf of bread or a bowl, while praying, for a person holding such objects and must guard them from falling will be distracted from praying.
The Rishonim disagree whether or not it is permissible to hold objects about which one does not care if they fall while praying. For instance, if one is traveling and is holding an umbrella, may one stand and recite the Amida prayer while holding the umbrella?
According to Rashi, only objects one is afraid will fall from one’s hands, such as Tefillin, a knife, or a loaf of bread, may not be held while praying. However, one may hold objects which one does not care if they fall. On the other hand, Rabbeinu Yonah quotes some authorities who rule that one may not hold any object while praying and when Shmuel specified a knife, money, a bowl, or a loaf of bread, these were only meant as examples. From the words of the Bet Yosef as well as Maran’s wording in Shulchan Aruch (Chapter 96) it seems that the Halacha follows Rashi’s opinion and it is only forbidden to hold objects one is afraid will fall in one’s hands while praying. However, holding other objects which one does not care if they fall, such as an umbrella, is permissible.
Regarding a cellular phone, besides for the fact that one is concerned that the phone will fall from one’s hand so that it does not break, there is another issue involved in holding a phone while praying which is that doing so causes more distraction to one’s prayer than almost anything else, especially when the phone is on and is still able to receive calls which will completely throw off the concentration of the individual praying. This also constitutes a lack of respect to one’s prayer. Thus, clearly, one may not hold one’s cellular phone while praying and one should turn it off and place it in one’s pocket or somewhere else unless one can put the phone on airplane mode, in which case there is room for leniency to hold it while praying (obviously, when the phone is filtered).
One may hold a Siddur in one’s hand while praying since this is being done for the purpose of praying (Shulchan Aruch, Chapter 96, Section 2). It seems that if one does not have any Siddur with which to pray and wishes to pray using an application in the cellular phone that provides a Siddur, one may do so and hold the phone while praying.