Tuesday, April 28, 2015

When Mass Hysteria Attacks

A number of people have asked me to weigh in on the KosherSwitch controversy. I'm not going to, for a number of reasons. One is that it seems to me that right now there is a situation of mass hysteria.

Mass hysteria is a fascinating phenomenon, which is much more powerful than most people realize. It can create real physical symptoms. One extraordinary case was the 1983 West Bank fainting epidemic. Nearly a thousand Palestinian schoolgirls and IDF female soldiers were hospitalized for fainting and nausea believed to have been brought on by poisoning. But it was ultimately determined to have been psychosomatic. The Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic of 1962 likewise affected around a thousand people, causing not only uncontrollable laughter but also respiratory problems, attacks of crying, and rashes.

Mass hysteria can also lead otherwise reasonable people to believe or state extraordinary things. An amazing story is with the 1954 Seattle windshield pitting epidemic. Many thousands of people reported seeing pits and bubbles suddenly appear in their car windshields. It was attributed to everything from cosmic rays to gremlins. Then all of a sudden, the entire thing ended, and it was realized that people had simply become hyper-sensitive to the pitting that affects all cars. Much more serious was the Satanic Ritual Abuse panic which swept the world during the 1980s. It was widely believed that there were vast numbers of people involved in this and that a conspiracy had infiltrated the highest levels of society. Eventually it was determined that there was never any satanic ritual abuse and that the whole matter had been a product of mass hysteria. As far as I can ascertain (which isn't very far), it appears that a similar phenomenon occurred in Nachlaot a few years ago, where a small number of cases of pedophilia were exaggerated to a conspiracy theory involving a massive ring of missionary-led pedophiles and a police cover-up.

My personal fascination with mass hysteria relates to how it occurred with the notorious banning of my books ten years ago. It's not only my personal role that leads me to recall that period as being one of obsession and hysteria - one blog had a headline stating "All Slifkin, All The Time!" It was disturbing to watch otherwise reasonable people fall over themselves in their rush to avoid getting into trouble. One website which had published perfectly innocent essays of mine about drawing inspiration from nature rushed to announce to their subscribers that all the essays had been removed. (They later regretted this and apologized to me privately, though not publicly.) A rabbinic mentor of mine who was so convinced in the truth of evolution that he had actually helped convince me to accept it suddenly urged me to be "mevatel my daas" and follow Rav Shlomo Miller no matter what he says. And people who had no connection to the topic were yelling their condemnations of the rationalist approach and their fealty to the charedi Gedolim. People were terrified of being "tainted."

Aside from all this being very upsetting, I just couldn't figure out what was going on. Then someone drew parallels to the witch-hunts of Salem and the commie-hunts of McCarthyism (see the essay Slifkin, Salem and the Senator), and I started to learn about mass hysteria. It shed much light on events.

I think that the same might be happening now with the KosherSwitch. There are breathless magazine headlines and claims that the creator is chayyav misah! In such an atmosphere it is impossible to conduct a sober analysis or be able to trust anyone's pronouncements. Maybe in a year, when things have calmed down, it will be possible to address the issue.

67 comments:

  1. The pedophile scandal in sanhedriya has all of these symptoms.

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  2. I personally don''t see mass hysteria with the Kosher Switch issue, but in general, a favorite quote of mine from R. Alfred Cohen's article on “Daat Torah” (Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Spring 2003):

    "It strikes me that this is indicative of one of the major problems in the Jewish community – there is precious little objective examination of principles, but rather defensive polemic to protect a particular position. The unwillingness to consider other points of view and the lack of preparedness to counter objections with facts is an unhealthy feature of our polarized Jewish society. This turns a sober, serious inquiry about the deeper requirements of Jewish hashkafa into dogmatic argumentation, which in the long run weakens, rather than strengthens, belief."

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  3. I think there is a difference between mass hysteria and group mentality. Mass hysteria has physiological symptoms. Group mentality is the natural desire to want to be part of the group and not stand out (or not to risk being exiled from the group).
    I fail to see what any of this discussion has to do with the kosher switch. There have been many reasoned halakhic arguments. I must have missed the headline that the inventor is chayav misah. But that is the exception, rather than the rule.
    The issue is whether something which has the potential to radically change the way in which Judaism is practiced needs the consensus of a large number of poskim (and I suppose one can quibble about who is and who isn't a posek - but I haven't seen much of that), or whether it is sufficient to show a valid reasoning which agrees with (at least one - possibly more) halakhic opinions.
    It seems to me that the inventor of the kosher switch has shown that there exists valid reasoning to support his halakhic invention. However he has failed to show that this change in halakhic practice has been supported by a large number of poskim (in fact he has almost none, from any camp).
    In a sense it is similar to the time clock, which has now became standard in most Orthodox homes. There was some dispute between the poskim at the time (e.g. Rav Moshe only permitted it for lights and heat and nothing else), but it was discussed by the poskim of that time, and was accepted.
    Once there is acceptance by the poskim the kosher switch will be fine. Until that time, it seems odd to begin manufacturing and selling it based on lots of publicity and dodgy claims of support from Rabbis who have either denied supporting it altogether, or who claim to have been misled.
    I suppose the issue boils down to whether convenience and the internet can create a de-facto minhag which ultimately the poskim will be forced to accept.
    I'm just glad that the internet was not around in the 50s when the debates about the permissibility of using electricity were raging.

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    1. HaRav Belsky was the one who said that there is a chiyuv misa but I don't believe he was talking about the inventor, rather one who uses the switch (presumably to cause an incandescent bulb to go on).

      His letter can be found here: http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/headlines-breaking-stories/303911/harav-yisroel-belsky-writes-letter-slamming-kosher-switch.html

      And here is the direct quote
      "This concept has no place in halacha. If the Sanhedrin here empowered, that act would be punishable by misas bes din."

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  4. I wonder if even in a year objective discussion will be possible. After all, the KosherSwitch issue came to the fore four years ago, and now it's just deja vu. There is certainly too much emotion involved for a fully objective halachic analysis. But then, emotion is a factor in practical halacha.

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  5. !.I'd suggest R'Sedly review the current issue of the Harvard Business Review (when it's online perhaps) concerning the dangers of single projections of the future.

    I'd go with the "news cycle" analogy - everything (bugs in fish, water, r' n Kaplan) gets its 15 minutes of fame.

    KT
    Joel Rich

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  6. No, I'm sorry, I just don't see these as being similar. Mass hysteria is a fear of things that simply don't exist. Attacks on you or (very differently) the Kosher Switch are very wrong, but for entirely different reasons. Those who attacked you weren't imagining things apart from some ill-defined potential "danger." Those who attack the Kosher Switch (or, rather, the few who have actual arguments) think it's assur.

    I should mildly point out that there's a world of difference between the Salem witch trials (clearly mass hysteria) and McCarthyism. There were, in fact, lots of active Communists in the US government who were working to undermine the country. McCarthy went nuts at the end, but he (and, more importantly, Nixon) were not making things up out of whole cloth.

    As to the Kosher Switch itself, I'm not qualified to offer a halakhic opinion. But I really, really don't get what the whole point is. Orthodox Jews have been managing very well without having to turn on the lights on Shabbat. Why is this at all needed?

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    1. as they had managed well without eruvin, timers and slow cookers

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    2. No, they hadn't. Eruvin are over a thousand years old and allow us to carry on Shabbat. Slow cookers have existed, in one form or another, for thousands of years and allow us to have hot food. Electric lights are barely more than a century old and we've had timers for virtually all that time. This switch, on the other hand, is a solution in search of a problem. I'm conservative enough to leave well enough alone.

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  7. I second Nachum's point. This is a tempest in a teacup. We have timers that plug into walls, timers that replace light switches, electronic timers, analog timers, digital timers. What the heck do we need a Kosher Switch for?
    More instructive are the responses to the suggestion that it might be kosher. A simple "Uh, no Peg" (to quote the immortal Al Bundy) would be sufficient but it's not hysteria but competitive urge that's driving the increasingly strident response. "What, that Gadol only condemned him to hell? I'll condemn him, his family, his Rosh Yeshivah and his bank manager just to keep up!"

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  8. Nachum, I really don't understand your argument "Orthodox Jews have been managing very well without having to turn on the lights on Shabbat. Why is this at all needed"
    Umm if I'm gonna follow your thinking then you can ask why you use electricity at all jew managed very well without it for a long time, why use timers we managed a very long time without it?
    Actually kosherswitch is needed for many reasons even if I personally wont use it.

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    1. I imagine most Orthodox Jews didn't start using electric lights until about a hundred years ago. Timers aren't that much younger than that. We managed.

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  9. Nachum - Orthodox Jews managed very well for MILLENNIA without electricity, vaccinations, BOOKS, indoor plumbing, etc etc etc. Why did they need any of it?

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    1. I really don't see what your analogy is. No one is suggesting that we go without any of those things, so your list is frankly a bit nonsensical. I'm merely suggesting that, electric lights having been invented, we've found a way to make use of them on Shabbat, so there's no need for this device, which may well damage the spirit if not the law of Shabbat.

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  10. See this book for other historical examples of otherwise reasonable people (ostensibly) behave truly bizarrely
    http://www.amazon.com/Extraordinary-Popular-Delusions-Madness-Crowds/dp/051788433X

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  11. I think the furor would have been less if these switches had not been marketed with fictitious rabbinic endorsements.

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  12. Mass Hysteria may also explain the large following Shabbetai Zvi was able to amass. Jews all over the world suddenly began receiving prophesy which told them that SZ was the true messiah. Were they all liars? I assume they actually believed they received these prophesies, and perhaps it can all be chalked up to "mass hysteria"...
    -RBS Jew

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  13. i think all the more so we need to have a rational debate on this. This is a halakhic issue, and now that the switch is going into production, it will not go away. Even as I am against it, I can recognize the there are great scholars I respect, R Eliyahu Ben-Haim foremost, who might think otherwise. They deserve the dignity of having their arguments answered in a calm, halakhic manner. Rather than being ignored, so that the poor inventor can be dragged to gehennom and back.

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  14. I will also add that the switch has met the funding goal and is going into production. This crisis will only get worse.

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    1. Why is everything a crisis? Jews using a switch that is permissible under extenuating circumstances but likely not permissible in the general case due to confusion, ignorance, or misleading marketing is not a crisis.

      Not every serious halachic issue that confronts us is a "crisis".

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    2. Who said permissible in extenuating circumstances? I can see always permissible or always forbidden as options that may not get explored due to all the shouting.

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  15. May take more than a year. Rav YY Weinberg waited 25 years before publishing his work on stunning animals before shechita.

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  16. I haven't seen anyone asking the bigger question of if the Kosher Switch is acceptable where does it take us? Really, turning lights on/off on Shabbat isn't changing the "feel" of Shabbat for me. However, what's the practical extensions of this technology that may follow? It seems to me that the same technique can be implemented into a universal remote control so I can turn on/off my TV adjust the channels and volume, etc. If we're okay with the Kosher Switch, are we okay with a box with 20 mini Kosher Switches for other electronics? If your gut reaction to TV on Shabbat is "no", then you have to ask yourself why not? If the technique is l'chatchila permissible, then is there any basis you would draw a line for technologies we might feel go to far in overturning what we know as Shabbat?

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    1. Peope who use the is it in the spirit of shabbos copout are disingenuous or arent critical of the things that they do every shabbos that are not "shabbosdik". Like reading newspapers ,using timers, using refrigeraters, electric blechs , water faucets(the way we get our water is very similar to the way electricity works) we should collect water before shabbos),sunbathing , is talking in shul shabisdik?? Let's not even get in to women applying makeup on shabbos!

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  17. The issue is not mass hysteria about the 'Kosher Switch' - I fail to see the masses being or becoming hysterical about such a matter. The issue is a deliberate campaign to suppress the innovation by trying to create an exaggerated, hysterical reaction. I don't know the details of the switch and how it differs from the Shabbat mode operation of many modern ovens. Even the latter, which was approved, if not originated, by Rav Heineman of the Star K, elicited vociferous condemnation by some circles in Israel as supposed 'chilul shabbat'. I am told that the askanim who provoke such matters prevented him from speaking about it to Rav Elyashiv. Halachic matters need to be decided by reasoned argument from precedent, not by issuing exaggerated proclamations.

    Y. Aharon

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    1. Agree, but as I argue in my other comment, there is a big difference between the switch and the ovens. The "controversial" feature of the Sabbath mode ovens is to allow the oven to be adjusted on Yom Tov just like we have always been allowed to do on Yom Tov. Arbitrary use of the switch is different. It has always been a custom/mitzvah to set up lights before Shabbos so that no change on Shabbos need be made.

      So I can calmly and unhysterically predict that we will no more use a kosher switch (ab initio) than we use a tv or radio left on before Shabbos (except in emergencies).

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    2. I am not knowledgeable about the workings and halachic implications of the Shabbat mode oven operation, much less the new 'kosher' light switch. However, my recollection from reading an article on the subject by Rav Heinemann was that the Shabbat mode controversy had to do with adjustments made on Shabbat that worked via a Grama mechanism. He argued that it was not different in principle from opening a refrigerator on Shabbat or leaving an air-conditioned room. My own very limited experience with such a Shabbat mode oven had to do with disabling the 12 hour automatic shut down before Yomtov so as to avoid the Rabbinic nolad issue with lighting a fire on Yomtov.

      The reaction to the 'kosher' switch, in my opinion has to be based on halachic rather than emotional objections. Why, for example, would there be a problem with violating the Shabbat spirit if parents of little children install such a device in the childrens' bedrooms? A concerned parent would like to look in on their sleeping children to see if anything is amiss. The issue, it seems to me, is akin to timers on shabbat. We don't forbid light/AC timers because people might use them to turn on and off all kinds of electrical appliances.

      Y. Aharon

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    3. However, my recollection from reading an article on the subject by Rav Heinemann was that the Shabbat mode controversy had to do with adjustments made on Shabbat that worked via a Grama mechanism.

      I think that you've hit on a common misconception which derives from the name "Shabbos mode". What he allowed was a mechanism to adjust the oven on *Yom Tov*, something that would always have been allowed with a "classic" oven. But he had to overcome the issue that our general custom is not to do anything with electricity.

      In contrast, if the switch was allowed universally, you could basically use it to do any Melacha on Shabbos driven by electrical power and operated by the switch. So you could cook by placing your food on an element, then switching on the element. In fact, upon further reflection, the switch has little to do with electricity on Shabbos. Even if the use of electricity on it's own was no issue, the switch is still problematic.

      The reaction to the 'kosher' switch, in my opinion has to be based on halachic rather than emotional objections.

      I agree with this wholeheartedly, and I think agree that people should R-E-L-A-X :).

      Why, for example, would there be a problem with violating the Shabbat spirit if parents of little children install such a device in the childrens' bedrooms? A concerned parent would like to look in on their sleeping children to see if anything is amiss.

      1) Do you think that Shabbos Candles are part Shabbos? What are you doing with Shabbos candles? You are setting up lights before Shabbos so that everything is set up on Shabbos. Once you allow the switch, all that goes out the window.

      Here is how I would address your situation:

      A) Set up the lights properly before shabbos. Turn on the the hallway light and use the door. Buy a "shabbos lamp". etc. That is the traditional method and it works just as well in modern times as in ancient times. In fact better given the relative safety and effectiveness of modern indoor lighting.

      B) But let's say that you an extreme circumstance where some bulbs went out an now your kids will be scared and waking them up will cause a huge disruption (there is a baby that won't fall back asleep and everyone will be crying; not get back to sleep etc). In those extreme circumstances, then again, why do you need a special switch? If you think it is really a D'chak and the light is LED and electricity is essentially permitted, then knock the light on with your elbow and be done with it (as suggested by David below). The switch changes the D'chak into an everyday occurrence. [I'm not a Rabbi, please don't follow this "advice" in reality].

      2) If it was an incandescent bulb, then what you just did, according to most Poskim, is halachically equivalent to lighting a fire. We don't allow lighting a candle to check on sleeping children.




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    4. David, you are correct about Rav Heinemann'a position on the Shabbat mode ovens. He mentions a dispute between the Mechaber and the Rema on when a grama action is permitted on Shabbat. The Mechaber views grama as a matir, while the Rema allows it only in case of monetary loss. On Yomtov, even the Rema would maintain that grama makes the action permissible - according to Rav Heinemann. This, then, becomes the primary basis for the use of the Shabbat mode oven mechanism on Yomtov.

      I only offered an example where the use of the 'kosher' switch would not violate the spirit of Shabbat. Normally, there are alternatives to the switch - as you suggested. But scenarios could be envisaged where the alternatives might not be practical. In any case, if the switch had proper halachic justification and was used only for such purposes, why would it be different than the conditions under which one could adjust a thermostat on Shabbat (turn it up when the heating unit is on, turn it down when it is off and vice-versa for an A/C unit) according to some poskim. My objection is to making this switch into a paradigm for a massive change in Shabbat observance. The frum world doesn't use timers to turn on radios and TVs on Shabbat (even if they have a TV) despite the very wide-spread use of timers to control lighting and air-conditioning. Why would this switch be any different?

      Y. Aharon

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    5. On Yomtov, even the Rema would maintain that grama makes the action permissible - according to Rav Heinemann. This, then, becomes the primary basis for the use of the Shabbat mode oven mechanism on Yomtov.

      But understand that the "Grama" here is being used to do something that would otherwise be Mutar on Yom Tov if not for the electrical aspects (and maybe also for the "extinguishing"). For example, they specifically turn on off the visual temperature indicators, probably to avoid "writing". The switch is a switch and could be used to power anything on Shabbat. Rabbi Heineman's heter would not work for those situations, I believe.

      In any case, if the switch had proper halachic justification and was used only for such purposes, why would it be different than the conditions under which one could adjust a thermostat on Shabbat (turn it up when the heating unit is on, turn it down when it is off and vice-versa for an A/C unit) according to some poskim.

      I don't disagree, but that is a big "If". Look at their website and you don't see those qualifications. And I do think that the nature of the switch would more likely lead to problems halachically: if you have a "kosher switch" attached to an outlet are people really going to understand that they can switch it on only depending on what is actually plugged in? And then only in some circumstances? Certainly the marketers don't make that distinction.

      It is different from the A/C because A/C is only a problem with electricity. Turning up and down the A/C and heat when the thermostat is in the proper state is different because you are delaying the next "Melacha" (change), not causing it to happen when it would not happen otherwise. You are preventing something from happening, not making it happen. (This is a somewhat weak analysis, but I think that it captures the issue correctly).

      And it is clear that one generally doesn't touch the thermostat. There is nothing like that for the switch.

      My objection is to making this switch into a paradigm for a massive change in Shabbat observance. The frum world doesn't use timers to turn on radios and TVs on Shabbat (even if they have a TV) despite the very wide-spread use of timers to control lighting and air-conditioning. Why would this switch be any different?

      My assumption is that those that put in the effort to keep Shabbos are not going to go for this anyhow. But if the switch was used for any purpose ab initio, then it would be a pretty big change.

      Timers involve something that is fundamentally Mutar (setting Melacha before Shabbos). The switch enables you do something that is fundamentally Assur (and probably still Assur with the switch).

      I think that the main thing that you made me realize is the problem with the switch does not have fundamentally to do with electricity. The fundamental problem is that it purports to allow what was formerly a complete Melacha to be done, as long is the controller is an electric switch. That is much bigger than electricity on Shabbos.

      But again, I agree with both you and R. Slifkin that people should not emulate Mike the headless chicken.



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  18. It is quite clear that electricity in itself is not really assur and we don't use it due to minhag and protecting the spirit of shabbat. The kosher switch defeats the whole purpose of this. As long as you don't have an incandescent light, you may as well just flick the regular switch.

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  19. Here is something that I wrote about the "kosher app" that I think also applies to "Kosher Switch" (except I didn't look into kosherswitch to see whether or not there are any poskim how support it):

    The app developers argue that only the Chazon Ish actually prohibits use of electricity as a Melacha (where no problem of "burning" exists). The other Poskim consider this to be prohibited Derabanan or even not assur, So assuming they can get around the problems of writing (and any issue of "burning") they app should be fine. Setting aside whether their methods of working around the remaining problem have legs (and they have no Poskim to publicly support them) there is a more fundamental issue here: their own argument is the very proof they that are wrong.

    In one sense they are 100% right: we don't practice in accordance with Chazon Ish. Yet we still avoid leaving on the TV to watch the big football game on Shabbos (even with a headset or closed-captioning to avoid Hashmaas Kol) or using the telephone for social purposes or doing many other things that might be permitted by a strict technical definition of Melacha. The reason is obvious: if you allow these things, then you lose Shabbos. This is not any novel theory of mine, but I'd like to show a couple of interesting examples of this process in action:

    Rav Moshe Feinstein is well known to have prohibited the use of a microphone in shul on Shabbos. Part of his reasoning is as follows (http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14677&st=&pgnum=169):

    והשתמשות בכחות העלעקטרייש חשש איסור דאורייתא אף בלא הבערה

    Use of electrical power on Shabbos involves a concern for a Torah prohibition even with there is no "burning" involved.


    Ah, so Rav Moshe obviously holds like the Chazon Ish. But hold your horses! He also wrote the following within a month of the time that he wrote the sentences above (http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14677&st=&pgnum=170):

    חשש מלאכה בהשתמשות בכחות העלעקטרי אף בלא הבערה נמי אינו איסורו ברור אף לא ספק ברור

    The concern for use of electricity when there is no "burning" is not that of a clear prohibition and not even a clear doubt [of a prohibition]


    How is this possible? They answer seems obvious: in the second case, Rav Moshe was discussing the user of a hearing aid. In that case, stringency is not appropriate because it would have the effect of ruining Shabbos for the wearer, not preserving it. Rav Moshe's general prohibition on using timers, while permitting them for lights, must be interpreted in a similar vein.
    (cont. next comment)

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    1. In fact the Chazon Ish himself may have held like Rav Moshe. See the following fascinating quotation from Dr. Zvi Aryeh Yehudah in who in his youth learned with the Hazon Ish in Dr. Benjamin Brown’s “The Hazon Ish: Halakhist, Believer and Leader of the Haredi Revolution” that was excerpted here (http://onthisandonthat.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/hazon-ish-and-r-shlomo-goren.html).

      I remember once [...] when Rav Goren published an article in "Sinai" on electricity [arguing that it was only a prohibited Rabinically] [..] This angered the Chazon Ish [...] I asked him: "What is in the article that angers you so? Isn't he correct? What do you want from him?". He answered "There is a great fallacy here. The world is mistaken. The world thinks that the prohibition of electricity on Shabbos has a firm basis, so that they need to search out proofs to permit it. This is incorrect! The prohibition is not well-founded at all and we need to find sources to put the prohibition on a firm basis." [...] I asked him why. He responded: "Imagine: Today when all modern technology runs on electricity, if we permit electricity on Shabbos, will we still have Shabbos?!."

      Rabbi Eliyahu Fink http://finkorswim.com/2014/10/01/the-shabbos-app-yes-it-is-real/ makes the following counter-argument:

      So far, the objections to the app carry a familiar tune. In essence, the problem with the Shabbos App is that even if it is halachically acceptable, it will ruin the spirit of Shabbat. [...] However, Rabbi Heinemann addressed this concern when similar objections were raised against his Sabbath Mode ovens. His response was that if something is permissible then it can’t ruin the spirit of Shabbat. There’s no such thing.

      I couldn't find this argument in the published teshuva that I found online (http://star-k.org/pdf/oventeshuva.pdf), so I may be missing something. However, this argument is not sensible for to me for the following reason: Enabling cooking in an oven on Yom Tov is fully within the spirit of Yom Tov! We always baked and cooked on Yom Tov and adjusted the oven to meet our needs. The issue here is that with modern oven designs, we can no longer easily do what we've traditionally done on Yom Tov. So that if we find a way to technically permit, it can't possibly violate the spirit of Yom Tov, just as using a hearing aid on Shabbos can't violate the spirit of Shabbos.

      (BTW, what does this have to do with "Rationalist Judaism"? The answer to my mind is that the religion is fundamentally conservative in nature. As R. Slifkin has written before, just there is not spontaneous generation doesn't mean that killing lice on Shabbos is prohibited or that worms found in fish are not to be eaten. While we distinguish ourselves from the Chasam Sofer's dictum that all that is new is prohibited from the Torah, one of the key elements that allows us to innovate in science and technology and "philosophy" is that we are conservative when it comes to changing the practice.)

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  20. This is just the first peek at an inevitable major halachic dilemma.

    A few years ago I was hosted by a prominent DL rosh yeshiva responsible for producing a sizable fraction of that movement's poskim. We got onto the topic of e-readers and other technologies. I asked him if his organization had halachic futurists pre-thinking about halachic quandaries inevitable due to technological (and social) change. He told not only that they did, but that, shockingly, in his opinion mainstream orthodoxy would have to at some point revisit the minority opinions permitting increased electricity use on Shabbat or it would have to go full Amish and completely remove itself from urban society.

    Already things like crossing the street on the way home from shul to avoid private motion activated lights seems quaint as one is probably equivalently activating thousands of CCD sensors due to video surveillance (and ubiquitous cell phone recording) walking through any urban area. Traffic lights with camera-based pedestrian detection are already in use and will probably be unavoidable because of their optimization potential, even in areas where currently Jews have lobbied for Shabbat modes on button-based crossing signals. It seems obvious that within a few years all public street lighting will be sensor-based for environmental reasons anyways.

    Ironically, environmentalist/energy saving pressures will probably significantly directly conflict with Shabbat observance. Already buildings and appliances are becoming very complex from a Shabbat perspective. It is no longer sufficient to merely unscrew a light bulb in all but the cheapest refrigerators because of the myriad of sensors focused on maximizing energy efficiency. Will environmental regulators continue to allow overrides that disable these energy saving features? Many hotels and public spaces (and offices) are already impossible to navigate on Shabbat because of inescapable automation features, including occupant-sensing HVAC systems.

    (It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see a world where for security and/or to support things like autonomous cars, everyone will have to have some sort of active embedded device at all times. Even before then, health insurers (and single-payer governments) will likely move towards mandatory health tracking devices as a condition of affordable coverage. It will certainly become impossible to avoid interaction with and direct effects on the technology of others (including non-observant Jews) utilizing wearable and embedded devices like Google Glass. A slightly more dystopian -- but not unrealistic -- near future would have such devices required for micro-payments to access things like parks, bridges and other public spaces.

    Perhaps in Israel the halachic community will have a big enough influence to mitigate most of these problems, but one can certainly envision major problems in the diaspora.

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    1. The concern is real, but the responses outlined are too black and white. The fact that thermostat controlled ovens, refrigerators, and HVAC are permitted (even with the utility run by Jews) shows that there are lots of ways to finesse the problem without outright allowing electricity to be used. Many of the examples that you mention could (and probably already are) simply allowed without changing the fact that you can't turn on a light. It is not your problem if someone else has a security camera on you. And someone else saving money by reducing hvac when you leave the room is likewise a likely non-issue already addressed.

      The only case that I know of (dangerous qualification :) that presents a direct issue today are the electronic locks on hotel rooms. So you end up staying a at seedier cheaper hotel or you tip the front desk and have them open the door for you, or else you rely on a heter to do it with a Shinui in a Sha'as HaDchak. Once you get inside, you don't still flip on the lights...

      BTW, you can today fix any refrigerator problem (I think) by disabling the mechanism that senses the state of the door. Apparently this will reduce the life of your appliance, and it might not really be necessary halachically, so use that method at your own risk.

      If we're worried about dystopian nanny-state futures, I think that Shechitah and Milah are the highest risk areas.

      Delete
  21. The Kosher Switch
    Will it enrich
    Shabbat, or make it poorer?
    All new ideas
    Must find their place
    But first all cause some furor.
    Reaction to the fear of change
    Can often very widely range
    Across a vast and endless span
    The widest that is known to man.
    We need to give some time and space.
    To think things out and then to plan
    How best to implement this gadget
    To build Shabbat and not destroy
    That said, do not just swing the hatchet
    (But don’t rule out the Shabbos goy.)

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  22. There's a huge controversy about a "Kosher Switch" ?????

    It hasn't reached the non-Orthodox community on the west coast of Canada, yet! Now I'll have to do some research . . .

    . Charles Cohen/ Richmond, BC

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    1. Thank you for volunteering. Everyone must do his or her part to fan the flames of hysteria :).

      Delete
  23. Forget the switch, how about something on Shabbos everyone can use - the umbrella? The arguments against it are tenuous at best, and there are big names that concede it is inherently permitted. (An umbrella is not a tent, in case you weren't aware.) The only reason we don't use it is because of "meta halachic: factors like fear of the slippery slop, fear of change, etc. So all we need is a few bad men to start using it, and the dam walls will break. Open Orthodoxy, instead of the tired old woman's issues nonsense, how about promoting something we can all use - the umbrella.

    INVERSTMENT TIP FOR WELL-CONNECTED GUY WITH BUSINESS INSTINCTS - Build "The Shabbos Umbrella." All you have to do is take some umbrella, make some minor inconsequential change so you can distinguish it from other umbrellas, pay some rabbi to give his imprimatur, and then advertise like crazy in Yated, Hamodiah, and Mishpacha. Believe me, the sheep will be snapping it up within a week.

    (FURTHER TIP: make them black.)

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    1. Check out the first photo here: http://www.ezralandau.com/#!candid

      Delete
    2. Reminds me of the old Gary Larson cartoon showing the mass of indistinguishable penguins, and one of them singing "I've just gotta be me."

      I'm telling you, by the way, this ideas a gold mine. Will be the best selling frum item since the Kosher Lamp. Maybe I'll do it myself.....

      Delete
  24. Is it possible that some concerns are too expansive and others not sufficiently broad?

    Whatever the issue with electricity use on Shabbat (esh, binyan, uvda d'chol) , there are other melachot that may apply as well. One commenter here suggested that it would be permissible to use the switch to turn a hotplate on and cook; but wouldn't that violate the issur of bishul - totally independent of any electricity related issue? The same would apply to starting the TV or radio; the concern there would be mashmi'a kol. Likewise, there may be a temporary ma'arat 'ayin issue with uses that don't involve other issurim, but have a publicly visible outcome - much the way the use of timers did before they grew so widely used and accepted.

    More than merely the use of electricity needs to be considered for this question. Retaining certain restrictions could serve to preserve the Shabbat atmosphere even in the face of "Kosher Switch" use.

    Eruv hatzerot is an ancient solution to the issur of hotza'ah. Nonetheless, almost every time an eruv is proposed in an Orthodox, and particularly Haredi, neighborhood, someone will object that the children will grow up ignorant of the issur and the eruv that addresses it. This is a valid concern. I am reminded of a story I heard from my mother. After the war, she found herself in a DP camp with Jews from all over Europe. The Red Cross did not establish an eruv around the camp. Once, she noticed one of the other observant girls carrying. My mother reminded her of the prohibition; she answered "Oh, we didn't have that minhag in my town." When an eruv was instituted in my childhood neighborhood, some of the Rabbanim objected on that basis. The solution was to create indicators of the eruv's status, including in-Shul announcements, and to occasionally bring it "off-line" - as a reminder. Perhaps a similar approach is feasible here?

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    1. In all fairness, the DP camp probably didn't need an eruv. I imagine it had a fence around it and was essentially "owned" by the Red Cross or whoever.

      Delete
    2. One commenter here suggested that it would be permissible to use the switch to turn a hotplate on and cook; but wouldn't that violate the issur of bishul - totally independent of any electricity related issue?

      That was a reductio ad absurdum argument. I didn't say that it would actually be OK, but that if the switch was really "OK", then you could effectively do Bishul. Therefore the switch is not OK, regardless of your views on electricity. Which is I think that R. Belsky was getting at.

      So I agree 100% with your argument.

      Delete
    3. If you say electricity is a doraita and that the switch does anything, what is the difference between allowing electricity and allowing electricity and bishul?

      Delete
    4. My point (and I think that of JT) is that even if you take the view of Rav Shlomo Zalman that use of electrical power by itself is not Assur M'Ikkar Hadin (and certainly not Biblical Prohibition), this doesn't mean that the Kosher switch is OK. There are lots of potential Melachos involved.

      I don't think its worth exploring the side that electricity is a Biblical prohibition, since the practice does't seem to a align with that Shita and even the Chazon Ish was taking the position perhaps for polemics only (see above). However, if you insist, I could see someone arguing that the switch is at least a Shinui in completing a circuit, while not be a Shinui at all for the think that the circuit is connected to.

      [I'm not a Rabbi, don't follow anything I say]

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    5. "Eruv hatzerot is an ancient solution to the issur of hotza'ah"

      No it isn't!

      Delete
  25. The whole issue of electricity on Shabbat is one of the most obvious examples of how, in the absence of a Sanhedrin, our legal system becomes progressively more dysfunctional and less effective as a means to positively direct the Jewish people in its national and spiritual goals. The fact that we have just about managed to patch up this rickety edifice for 2,000 years with various makeshifts is no excuse not to set abut actually fixing it, nor reason to think that we can continue to do so indefinitely without losing the remaining 20% of the Jewish people who still try to abide by this system (at least half of whom have had to adopt a largely pagan philosophy in order to maintain such an adherence, whilst much of the other half lead, at best, schizophrenic double lives and often honour halacha as much in the breach as the observance.)

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    1. I think you're exaggerating a wee bit. Not being able to turn on a light is not a huge issue. And if kids feel like they can't live without texting, they have a bigger problem.

      Delete
    2. I am not arguing that use of any light switch should be permitted, I am arguing that a Sanhedrin should issue an intelligible set of rulings that do not commit us to arguing over whether something that is nothing like building is still like building is you use a switch with a complicated laser mechanism.

      In short we need a living, breathing Torah, for a living breathing people.

      Delete
  26. Not correct about satanic and ritual abuse. It certainly does exist.

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    1. Yisrael, do you care to try to back up that assertion with some facts?

      Delete
  27. Having now read the material and watched the video on the Kosherswitch website, I have more insight into the issue. The claim is made that this switch is not even a Grama action since you're only moving a piece of plastic to possibly unblock a light path (when turning it 'on'). The switch is set up so that a green light would indicate permissibility to move the switch position. It indicates that the system is not about to flash its internal light that would trigger the completion of a circuit and operate the actual light or other device. There is a delay before the internal light pulse is generated and provision such that the light pulse may not actually be generated (it would then require several tries before the switch actually works. The claim is made that this operation is less direct than the Shabbat mode oven operation which initiates electrical signaling even if not visible. Of course, the latter device is intended for use only on Yomtov. Nonetheless, it occasioned controversy with many of the leading poskim such as Rabbis Elyashiv, Wosner, Sternbuch, Karelitz, Belsky, Miller and others being adamantly opposed. Regarding the switch, it is hard for me to see a real distinction between use of the switch and adjusting a thermostat on Shabbat if the heating/A/C unit is in the appropriate state. However, it is not for me to render an opinion on the permissibility of this switch on Shabbat for normal use. Having said that, I can certainly see it being used on Shabbat in shomer Shabbat hospitals and nursing homes where proper patient care is vital. These switches aren't cheap (they appear to list at $60, but discounts are available), but that should not be a prime consideration in those settings. I can also see this switch used for Yomtov instead of having a bunch of lights on for a 3 day Shabbat-Yomtov scenario (or a coffee pot). I don't see them being widely used for trivial matters such as watching a world series game or playoffs. The use of exaggerated expressions such as the innovator being 'chayav misa,' or describing the device as a 'Rube Goldberg' is a good example of polemics and hardly a good example of halachic analysis - to be charitable.

    Y. Aharon

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    1. Dear Y. Aharon,

      A major distinction between adjusting a thermostat and the kosher switch, is that by the thermostat, one is prolonging the current state, whereas by the kosherswitch, one is shortening the current state. But I haven't read all the material yet. Nevertheless, I am bothered by the "Chayav Misa" claims, as disabled people have been using the shabbos wheelchairs for years, now, and if truly deoraisa, could be a problem for them, as well.

      Delete
    2. Barry, nice to hear from you. You're correct that such a distinction exists. However, the 'kosher' switch proponents argue that the element of uncertainty that their microprocessor alogrithm introduces gives it a special status. I really should not have introduced the idea of thermostat adjustment. I was thinking of the old fashioned thermostats based on bimetallic contacts. Modern thermostats or A/C settings involve digital readouts that change 'instantly' as the settings are changed. That may constitute a rabbinic form of writing.

      Y. Aharon

      Delete
  28. Two comments:

    1) As someone pointed out, if you hold that completing a circuit by flipping a switch is boneh, because it allows electricity to flow, why is turning on a faucet not considered boneh, because it allows water to flow?

    2) To take things to an extreme, our bodies rely on electricity for nerve conduction which is involved in everything we do, such as movement, sensing, and even thinking. These must go on even during shabbos.

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  29. I wouldn't call it mass hysteria per se. The parallel that it brings to mind, for me, is the anti-vax phenomenon. It's all about the internet challenging authority, where people who have a h.s. education or a year or two in yeshiva find themselves inundated with issues of "gramma", "not in the spirit of Shabbos" and "suitable for hospitals" . They are not qualified to make those judgments, yet they resent being told that.

    ReplyDelete
  30. I'm certainly not qualified to Pasken, but I think that lot of what is being posted here is wrong.

    As someone pointed out, if you hold that completing a circuit by flipping a switch is boneh, because it allows electricity to flow, why is turning on a faucet not considered boneh, because it allows water to flow?

    You ask a good question, but it is irrelevant to the issue. Read my comments above: we don't generally use electricity on Shabbos despite the fact that it is not Boneh.

    More importantly, the problem with the switch is you could use it to drive any Melacha that doesn't require supervision once started. So you could set up your raw food on a hot plate and then turn it on with the switch and cook your food. Or you could turn on your coffee grinder and grind your coffee beans. Even if electricity is only avoided by custom (which I believe is actually the case), there is potential problem here.

    It's all about the internet challenging authority, where people who have a h.s. education or a year or two in yeshiva find themselves inundated with issues of "gramma", "not in the spirit of Shabbos" and "suitable for hospitals"

    Read their material. They maintain it is suitable for all purposes. So you can now do any Melacha which can be plugged in. I don't resent people who believe otherwise, but it seems to me that there are clear issues here.

    The use of exaggerated expressions such as the innovator being 'chayav misa,' or describing the device as a 'Rube Goldberg' is a good example of polemics and hardly a good example of halachic analysis - to be charitable.

    You can certainly disagree with R. Belsky, and his letter is obviously not a full Teshuva, but his statement has a pretty clear meaning. The fact that you have bunch of odd things going on inside the box is irrelevant to the fact that you flip a switch and a short time later, your coffee is ground as you intended and that this is prohibited. In fact, if you read their own literature, they quote the Encylopedia Talumudit which lists the precisely "rube goldberg" argument in a different form (see the second half of the second paragraph on page six of this doc: http://www.kosherswitch.com/live/doc/Responsa/KosherSwitch%20Responsa%20(Detailed).pdf).

    The "Chayav Misa" indicates that there is a biblical prohibition, not that he has announced a fatwa that the creators should be struck down.

    Nevertheless, I am bothered by the "Chayav Misa" claims, as disabled people have been using the shabbos wheelchairs for years, now, and if truly deoraisa, could be a problem for them, as well.

    Using a shabbos wheelchair is completely different. There likely no melachah involved, and even a regular electric wheelchair can be analogized to a hearing aid and possibly permitted. The big issue here is that you can do lots of stuff that are definitely a Melacha and the promoters don't claim any limitations. You an cook raw food, grind coffee, etc.

    I can certainly see it being used on Shabbat in shomer Shabbat hospitals and nursing homes where proper patient care is vital.

    If the switch isn't relevant, maybe they should skip the switch, do what they can with a Shinui where appropriate and go on doing what needs to be done instead of spending a lot of money on switch with a delay in it.

    ReplyDelete
  31. David, I am not advocating a wholesale use of this device on Shabbat - or any non-essential use. Nor have I noted a suggested use of the device on the kosherswitch website to control a hot plate, oven, or other electrical device to cook food or prepare coffee on Shabbat. They do suggest a use to shut off a hot plate when it is no longer needed. Parenthetically, such a use would have avoided the Flatbush tragedy. Cooking on Shabbat has its own stringencies which the kosherswitch would not obviate. If you dispute the claim by the kosherswitch people that it does not even constitute a grama device, it remains at least such a device. As such, it should remove the torah prohibition against performing melacha on Shabbat. Therefore, the language of 'chayav misa' is inappropriate and could be considered a form of bullying. It's one thing to argue against a general use of the switch on Shabbat, it's another to inveigh against it with intemperate and exaggerated language.

    Y. Aharon

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  32. David, I am not advocating a wholesale use of this device on Shabbat - or any non-essential use.

    But they emphasize that they think it is good to use ab initio in any home.

    or have I noted a suggested use of the device on the kosherswitch website to control a hot plate, oven, or other electrical device to cook food or prepare coffee on Shabbat.

    You are correct, but is is implied by the heter.

    If you dispute the claim by the kosherswitch people that it does not even constitute a grama device, it remains at least such a device. As such, it should remove the torah prohibition against performing melacha on Shabbat.

    I don't believe that this is clearly true. All the explicit cases in the Talmud which involve permitted grama on Shabbat are cases where the result is a side effect, perhaps closely related, not directly intended. The one case where there is a "grama" which is intended (winnowing) the Talmud says that you are "Chayav", meaning it is a Biblical prohibition. I believe that is the basis for R. Belsky.

    Therefore, the language of 'chayav misa' is inappropriate and could be considered a form of bullying. It's one thing to argue against a general use of the switch on Shabbat, it's another to inveigh against it with intemperate and exaggerated language.

    I don't think it is bullying; I think that it is a dramatic presentation of his position. Again look at the context; he doesn't say that anyone is Chayav Misa. He says that the swtich doesn't help to reduce the status of the violation from one that is Chayav Misa. I have no authority, but I tend to agree.

    OTOH, I think that use of electricity in general for people who need it (e.g. electric weelchairs) should be treated very leniently (and don't listen to me; I am not a Rabbi). I'm mentioning this only because there seems to be a notion that only a crazy right winger luddite could oppose this innovation. I don't see that it is any good because the points made in their halachic justification seem very unconvincing.

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  33. David, I, too, have no authority to decide any halachic question for the public. I was only addressing the issue of the polemics that have been introduced into this area. A halachic question should be decided dispassionately on the basis of authoritative sources - not by making accusations and 'the sky is falling' type arguments. I fail to see the distinction between stating that the inventor is guilty of a capital crime and that the act which the invention seeks to permit makes the actor so guilty. The arguments presented by this rav are polemical in nature and not halachic discourse. Rav Heinemann, in contrast, in his teshuva permitting the use of the Shabbat-mode oven operation and adjustments on Yomtov marshals his sources. Grama, as he illustrates, can involve the intent for the melacha to be done (extinguishing a fire by placing earthenware pots with water in its path) as long as there is a delay before that intended action occurs. The Mechaber of the Shulchan Aruch permits grama actions on Shabbat ab initio. Only the Rema, based on one Rishon, restricts it to the case of (serious) loss. Even then the prohibition is strictly rabbinical according to Rav Heinemann's analysis and restricted to Shabbat (not Yomtov). That well-reasoned responsum also generated much heat (pun unintended) in some rabbinic circles with little light. Again, I am not advocating a wholesale use of the kosherswitch or even its non-essential use on Shabbat. I just argue for proper analysis rather than polemics. The latter appears aimed at killing this would-be innovation before sufficient orders can be accumulated to justify a production run.

    Y. Aharon

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  34. I fail to see the distinction between stating that the inventor is guilty of a capital crime and that the act which the invention seeks to permit makes the actor so guilty.

    The Mishnah is full of arguments where one side says Chayav and one side says Patur and the Chayav is Chayav Misah They are not thereby arguing that their opponents are Chayav Misah.

    The purpose of mentioning the Chayav Misah is to the explain the severity of the potential violation.

    The arguments presented by this rav are polemical in nature and not halachic discourse.

    If you are referring to R. Belsky's letter, then it is neither polemics nor a full Teshuva. It is his conclusion with the very basics of the reasoning which he has a right to publicize and you have a right to ignore. As I mentioned, if you read the Kosherswitch responsa, you will find exactly what he referring to with this Rube Goldberg comment.

    Rav Heinemann, in contrast, in his teshuva permitting the use of the Shabbat-mode oven operation and adjustments on Yomtov marshals his sources. Grama, as he illustrates, can involve the intent for the melacha to be done (extinguishing a fire by placing earthenware pots with water in its path) as long as there is a delay before that intended action occurs.

    This is an oversimplification, IMO. If you look at the Gemara, you will see that that basic reason that this is allowed is that protecting something from burning is not considered "extinguishing". So that even according to those who say that Gram Kibui is prohibited, you are allowed to put up a wall of vessels filled with water that won't break (e.g. metallic vessels). The question of Gram Kibui: if the vessel is full of water and will break so that you are not only blocking the spread of the fire, but also causing the fire to be actively extinsuished as a side effect, is that prohibited? So that, as Rav Heinemann mentions using a snow or ice wall may be prohibited. It is true Chafetz Chaim says that you are allowed to "desire" the vessels to break and actually extinguish, but this is a subjective intention; the action objectively considered is to be prevent the spread of the fire and the extinguishing remains a side effect.

    Also, the thing that lingers in the background of the Yom Tov oven is that fundamentally, there is really no problem to just turn the thing up directly. The Grama aspect is basically to avoid the possible issues with electricity which are not clear problems on Shabbos, let alone on Yom Tov. This is completely different from using a switch to effectively permit doing a definite Melachah on Shabbos. Besides the clear "shabbos spirit" issue which is very real if in fact people start doing Tochain and other Melachos on Shabbos.

    So I agree on no polemics, I disagree that Rav Belsky's letter is a polemic, and I lean to towards thinking the switch is a bad idea, which you disagree. I will admit that I am too inexpert to convince myself that you must be wrong.

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  35. David, I have reviewed the relevant Gemara's in T.B. Shabbat 120 a,b and 47b and disagree with your Brisker type distinction between intent and status of the action. Intent plays a key role in determining the permissibility of an act in Shabbat (milechet machshevet osra torah). The intent of the person placing clay pots filled with water in the path of the fire is to cause its extinguishment - otherwise he could have used more heat resistant pots. The Gemara in those 2 citations doesn't follow the view of R' Yosi who forbids placing clay pots in the path of the fire. They hold that Gram Kibui is permissible on Shabbat. Other examples that they give show the clear intent to have the fire extinguished. The saving grace is that either the extinguishment occurs at a later point in time or that it is uncertain. Those 2 elements; time delay and uncertain effect appear to characterize a Grama act that is distinguishable from direct action. If so, then the 'kosher switch' may be simply a Grama switch with no special permissibility for use on Shabbat. In that sense, Rav Belsky's view has justification - but not his language.

    Y. Aharon

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  36. 1) What do you make of this last Rashi on 47b and the last explanation of Tosafos. They indicate that a direct, but delayed action for Kibui where just set out water is a problem.

    2) As you say, the Gemara only mentions milechet machshevet osra torah, not later time or uncertain. Likewise uncertainly is only listed as an issue when you have not intention; if you have intention, even if the result is not "p'sik raisah" is prohibited.

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  37. David, you appear to be arguing that the intended effect makes the action prohibited even if there is a delay in the action or its uncertainty. That is certainly not my understanding of the Gemarot in Shabbat (120a,b and 47b). For example in 120a, the Gemara brings the case of a sefer torah whose edge has caught fire on Shabbat, You are allowed to unroll it, which may extinguish the fire. The person clearly intends to have the fire extinguished, but the action is permitted since the result is uncertain. In fact, the Gemara in 120b gives the reason for the leniency in Gram Kibui. The verse cited is, "lo ta'seh kal melacha (on Shabbat)". It explains, the torah forbids the action, not a causation (G'rama). If intent were the key then it should have stated that the leniency is due to lack of intent. The most reasonable approach, it seems to me, is to posit that indirect action is not only biblically permitted, but may even be rabbiinically permitted. The key is a delay in the effect of the action and/or its uncertainty - not a question of intent. As I read the cases brought in 120a,b, even having both of the above elements still makes it a Grama action (not like the argument advanced for the 'kosher' switch). For example, placing a new clay pot filled with water in the path of an advancing fire, doesn't guarantee that the pot will crack from the heat and spill its water on the fire (for example a small fire may not generate sufficient heat to crack the pot). It is just a very likely scenario. Yet, this is a case where the Rema would permit such indirect action only to avoid loss. Other cases such as putting a vessel with water to extinguish the 'sparks' given off by an oil lamp (47b) or a block of ice in the path of a flame (47b, Tosafot: s.v. Mipnei) is a more direct action since the extinguishment is certain and therefore forbidden. The language of Rashi makes it seem that a biblical prohibition is involved, but the Tosafot discount such an interpretation.

    Y. Aharon

    ReplyDelete

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