Want To Keep Shab­bat?

There’s a Gad­get For That!

Forward Magazine - - FOREGROUND - By Rachel My­er­son Rachel My­er­son has writ­ten for Time Out, The Jerusalem Post, Times of Is­rael and Kveller.

In 2018, a Shab­bat-ob­ser­vant doc­tor can write a pre­scrip­tion us­ing a “ShabEt” pen that uses semiper­ma­nent ink. Se­cu­rity per­son­nel can rely on a hand­held metal de­tec­tor; dairy farm­ers can milk cows, and the dis­abled can ride to syn­a­gogue in elec­tric wheel­chairs.

They can do it all on Shab­bat, and all with­out trans­gress­ing Jewish law. This is largely thanks to com­pa­nies like Kosher In­no­va­tions and the Zomet In­sti­tute, which sell rab­bini­cally ap­proved solutions to in­di­vid­u­als who need to get around Jewish law, not trans­gress it.

To un­der­stand the logic be­hind these in­ge­nious and of­ten elab­o­rate loop­holes, let us start with the ba­sics:

The Tal­mud lists 39 types of la­bor that are pro­hib­ited on Shab­bat, known as the 39 melakhot. “Sort­ing,” writ­ing and light­ing a fire are all no-nos, and over time, schol­ars have fur­ther de­fined each type of la­bor for clar­ity and prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tion.

For in­stance, “sort­ing” ini­tially re­ferred to re­mov­ing any de­bris from grains, but it has been in­ter­preted as en­com­pass­ing any­thing from re­mov­ing the un­de­sired el­e­ments of a trail-mix (shred­ded co­conut, we’re look­ing at you) to pick­ing the bones from a small fish — just one of the rea­sons for gefilte fish’s cult sta­tus. As ever, there are a ton of by­laws: The trans­gres­sion of “sort­ing” ap­plies only to re­mov­ing the un­de­sir­able el­e­ments from a mix­ture. So, if you ate ev­ery­thing but left that nasty shred­ded co­conut be­hind rather than tak­ing out that co­conut, you’d be fine, ac­cord­ing to the rab­bis.

Loop­holes are not a mod­ern in­ven­tion; the eruv was de­vel­oped in tal­mu­dic times as a so­lu­tion to the melakha against trans­fer­ring ob­jects be­tween a pub­lic and pri­vate do­main, to en­able car­ry­ing on Shab­bat. But as tech­nol­ogy worms its way deeper into our lives, the de­mand for loop­holes in­creases: No one wants to spend the day of rest in shtetl-like con­di­tions. Or, you know, to not have a cup of cof­fee at Kid­dush.

Op­er­at­ing elec­tric­ity is cat­e­gor­i­cally banned on Shab­bat. It clashes with up to five melakhot, de­pend­ing on whom you ask, so most mod­ern loop­holes ad­dress it. The eas­i­est “hack” is to use a timer to con­trol things like light­ing and tem­per­a­ture or, in the case of the Zomet In­sti­tute, dairy farm­ing. Tech­ni­cally, a timer could also be used to watch, say, the Win­ter Olympics. A belly full of cholent seems tai­lor-made for sprawl­ing in front of the TV, right? Wrong! Many loop­holes fall at the fi­nal hur­dle — act­ing con­trary to the spirit of Shab­bat.

Not all timers are cre­ated equal,

Op­er­at­ing elec­tric­ity is cat­e­gor­i­cally banned on Shab­bat, so most loop­holes ad­dress the is­sue.

rang­ing from ba­sic plug-ins to in­te­grated fea­tures; many ovens and fridges now boast a ”Shab­bat Mode,” which dis­ables any elec­tri­cal ac­tiv­ity that would vi­o­late a law.

The Shab­bat el­e­va­tor is an­other in­creas­ingly com­mon ex­am­ple, sched­uled via a timer so as to elim­i­nate the need to push any but­tons man­u­ally. These beasts tend to stop at ev­ery floor or so, wait­ing for a couple of min­utes upon ar­rival to al­low peo­ple to squish in­side. The painfully slow process is best avoided un­less you are phys­i­cally un­able to take the stairs. (I rec­om­mend walk­ing — your thighs will thank you.)

The is­sue with timers is their in­flex­i­bil­ity. In terms of light­ing, this doesn’t bode well; come Fri­day night, bed­time tends to fall into the In­stant Pass-Out from food coma va­ri­ety, or the All-Nighter, cap­i­tal­iz­ing on rare read­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

The Kosher Lamp saves the day; its bulb stays on through­out Shab­bat, and a handy screen twists to cover the light source for to­tal dark­ness. In comes in a range of col­ors and styles, from on-trend mil­len­nial pink to elab­o­rate haimish en­graved sil­ver col­umns. If pur­chas­ing a lamp for one day of the week is too ex­trav­a­gant for you, con­sider opt­ing for its ri­val, the in­ge­niously named ShabBulb’ — some se­ri­ously great mar­ket­ing in the Shab­bat-tech in­dus­try — which func­tions sim­i­larly to the lamp, but with only an LED bulb that fits any old lamp.

ShabBulb wasn’t too shy to throw some se­ri­ous shade at its com­peti­tors when I reached out to the com­pany: “With the ad­vent of the ShabBulb, a prac­tic­ing Jew’s abil­ity to fully brighten or darken a room was re­al­ized with­out the need to sac­ri­fice their room dé­cor by us­ing a light-lim­it­ing Shab­bos lamp…. Be­ing a stan­dard light­bulb, the light dis­tri­bu­tion is wide and not con­cen­trated in one di­rec­tion.”

The com­pany’s con­fi­dence, how­ever, ap­pears to be mer­ited. The ShabBulb re­ceived rave re­views on the pop­u­lar Face­book groups “Jewish Women Talk About Any­thing” and “Frum Girl Prob­lems,” boast­ing close to 45,000 mem­bers be­tween them — an im­pres­sive feat, con­sid­er­ing mem­bers are no­to­ri­ously harsh crit­ics. “ShabBulb is soooooo much brighter than the Kosher Lamp,” one woman en­thused, met with much agree­ment.

For those who have fallen vic­tim to timer “mal­func­tions,” lead­ing to slurp­ing soup by can­dle­light when the lights turn off, or schvitz­ing through morn­ing prayers when the air con­di­tioner pow­ers down — the Kosher Switch may be a bet­ter op­tion. It claims to make Shab­bat des­e­cra­tion “im­pos­si­ble!” in ad­di­tion to sav­ing elec­tric­ity and help­ing users be “greener.” (If you aren’t sold yet, you will be af­ter these tes­ti­mo­ni­als: “This may save our peo­ple AND my mar­riage!” Brad D from New York says. “Is there a Jewish ver­sion of the No­bel Prize? You de­serve it!” says DB from Great Neck, New York. What are the chances that DB isn’t the mother of Kosher Switch’s cre­ator?)

It’s hard to see how the Kosher Switch avoids an­other loop­hole hur­dle, ma’aris ayin — the pro­hi­bi­tion against giv­ing on­look­ers the impression that you are per­form­ing a pro­hib­ited act, al­though this doesn’t seem to be an is­sue these days, what with all the fake crab Or­tho­dox Jews are nosh­ing on. Ap­par­ently, the Kosher Switch func­tions dif­fer­ently from a reg­u­lar one and is clearly marked with the brand’s logo, so so­cial faux pas are avoided.

Leave it to the Shab­bat tech in­no­va­tors to fig­ure out that one.


HALACHA HACKS: The ShabBulb, the Kosher Switch, and the Kosh­erLamp (right) claim to make it im­pos­si­ble to des­e­crate Shab­bat.

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