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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The use of electricity on Shabbos

This is meant to be a quick and not comprehensive post about the reasons (or non-reasons) for prohibiting electricity on Shabbos. Note, this only applies to non-incandescent appliances.

Various poskim offer the following reasons why electricity should be prohibited

1. Molid (Beit Yitzchak 2:31)- Turning on an appliance is analogous to creating something new which is prohibited on Shabbat.
2. Boneh (Chazon Ish Orach Chaim 50:9) - Completion of a circuit is prohibited because it is a form of building.
3. Makeh B'Patish (Chazon Ish Orach Chaim 50:9)- Turning on an appliance completes it.
4. Sparks (Chazon Ish Orach Chaim 50:9) - Completion of a circuit creates sparks and therefore is prohibited because it creates a flame.
5. Increased fuel consumption (Chashmal Leor Halacha 2:6) - The use of electrical appliances leads to an increase in fuel consumption at the power station, which is prohibited.
6. Heating of metal (Chazon Ish, Orach Chaim 50:9) - Heating of a metal transistor or wire, even when no visible light is emitted, is prohibited because of cooking or burning.

These were rejected by RSZA for the following reasons:

1. Only a limited number of actions were prohibited by Chazal because of molid, and therefore we may not extrapolate from these limited examples that creating anything else new (like electrical current) is rabbinically prohibited.

2. Closing a circuit is analogous to closing a door (which is permitted) because it is meant to be opened and closed.

3. Since the appliance is made to be turned on and off it cannot be makeh b'patish

4. This is not factually true anymore

5. This is at most grama and in fact is many times not true.

6. This is not factually true anymore

Based on the above RSZA (Minchat Shlomo 74, 84), writes the following:

In my opinion there is no prohibition [to use electricity] on Shabbat or Yom Tov... There is no prohibition of ma'keh bepatish or molid... (However, I am afraid that the masses will err and turn on incandescent lights on Shabbat, and thus I do not permit electricity absent great need...) ... This matter requires further analysis.
...
However, the key point in my opinion is that there is no prohibition to use electricity on Shabbat unless the electricity causes a prohibited act like cooking or starting a flame.


He states unequivocally that since the minhag is to prohibit the use of electricity, and this minhag received near unanimous approval from the poskim absent great need we should accept this tradition.

My point in my previous post was that soon we will reach a point where it will be very hard to refrain from using electricity in some form given the ubiquity of electronics and sensors everywhere and this minhag may need to be revisited.

10 Comments:

At 1:09 AM, Anonymous Manny said...

For a very detailed treatment of this subject, refer to Journal of Halacha & Contemporary Society, Spring 1991: The Use of Electricity on Shabbat and Yom Tov. Rabbi Michael Broyde & Rabbi Howard Jachter

Wait, I just found the whole thing on-line. Cool!

http://daat.co.il/daat//english/journal/broyde_1.htm

 
At 3:29 AM, Anonymous RLsmith said...

Can we get back to incandescent lights? The Broyde and Jachter paper gives views as to why they cannot be turned on during Shabbat. However, they are not really either cooking or starting a flame so why are they prohibited?

 
At 9:39 AM, Blogger bluke said...

Heating up metal until it glows (which is how an incadescent light bulb works) is considered to be bishul.

 
At 7:45 PM, Anonymous A Jew Who Once Learned said...

It appears that the "gedolim" (I'll explain the quotation marks later) who were the poskim at the time electricity was introduced to the public and put into use, had no knowledge of how it is actually produced (especially in the "real world"), distributed, and works. Because of their ignorance of elementary science, they assered the use of electricity on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

As Bluke points out, except for incandescent lighting, there is really no reason for the issur. [Let's leave aside the use of electricity for non-shabbosdic purposes, which may be Rabbinically ossur for other, valid, reasons.]

The cause of the erroneous psak was the violation of the rules laid down by Chazal that dayanim are not permitted to take testimony through interpreters nor from "experts," as they themselves are supposed to be knowledgeable.

The denigration of "Torah and Chochma" (or, as we call it today, Torah Umadda) is one of the major causes of many problems in the O and UO world. (Another major problem is the refusal to tolerate dissent, but that's another story.)

The Quotation marks around "Gedolim;" Almost all, if not actually all, of today's "Gedolim" are ineligible to sit on a Sanhedrin because of their lack of knowledge outside the dalet amos of strict halacha. They fail to see that Torah Umadda is lechatechila.

No wonder we have no prospect of bringing Moshiach early.

 
At 3:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two points:
1) I flatly reject the previous poster's intimation that the Gedolim (no quotation marks!) who ruled on electricity did not understand it. This is demonstrably false: the first rulings came out of Western Europe, not the stereotypical shtetl, and were rendered by sages familiar with technological advances.

2) Turning the blogmeister's observation on its head - if electronic devices are becoming unavoidable, think how the character of Shabbat would be changed by rolling back the prohibition on electricity.

The obvious comparison is to the halachic prohibition of riding a horse on the flimsiest of grounds - a seemingly 'groundless' ruling which in fact preserved the unique character of the Sabbath day.

So for electricity: Precisely because of its ubiquity - and its connection to both distracting entertainment and forbidden melacha - it may be necessary to preserve the ban on widespread use of electricity, to give ourselves room to think and rest on the Sabbath. (So much for "labor-saving" devices!)

 
At 7:21 PM, Blogger bluke said...

I don't believe that very many people really understood electricity when it first started, including the poskim. It is clear from reading some of the teshuvos that they didn't understand how it worked.

As for your second point, you are right, I agree that allowing all electrical appliances would be terrible, but not allowing anything will be bad as well. We need to find some happy medium.

 
At 7:34 AM, Anonymous A Jew Who Once Learned said...

Anonymous wrote:

"The obvious comparison is to the halachic prohibition of riding a horse..."

To me, a better comparison is the prohibition on engaging in business on Shabbos. Until the prohibition, Jews would open their places of business and, careful not to do any melacha, carry on their weekday operations.

My only caveat is that it is very difficult to see in advance the unintended consequences (and there ALWAYS are unintended consequences) of gezeiros to preserve shabbos.

Of course, in this case, we are talking about known consequences, as the ban has been in effect for quite a time. The other side of Anonymous's coin is Oneg Shabbos--how we forgo so much of it by prohibiting what is really muttor. Tzorich Iyun.

 
At 3:00 PM, Blogger Megavolt said...

I do not understand points 4 and 6 as "not factually true anymore". I believe this statement is false. All switches (with very few exceptions - if any) cause a spark when they disconnect. Sometimes the spark is so tiny that it is barely noticed, but it's never-the-less there.
Not only incandescent bulbs have filaments that heat up. So do fluorescent bulbs. The filaments are needed to light up the gas.
Is there something I'm missing?

 
At 11:35 PM, Blogger CULT 45 said...

You must understand the difference between a spark caused by electric current ( a huge sum of electrons jumping from a one pole to another) and a fire spark which is in most cases an object made up of the tip of match or a small wooden object etc (a sum of atoms during a chemical reaction jumping from one object to another. There is a huge deference between a chemical reaction (like lighting a fire combining different types of atoms and having fire (example Carvon buring resulting on co2) and a physical reaction like closing of a current and having electricity flow. This is a common misunderstanding of the 2. Unless you understand how each work, you can not understand why electricity is not fire.

 
At 11:36 PM, Blogger CULT 45 said...

You must understand the difference between a spark caused by electric current ( a huge sum of electrons jumping from a one pole to another) and a fire spark which is in most cases an object made up of the tip of match or a small wooden object etc (a sum of atoms during a chemical reaction jumping from one object to another. There is a huge deference between a chemical reaction (like lighting a fire combining different types of atoms and having fire (example Carvon buring resulting on co2) and a physical reaction like closing of a current and having electricity flow. This is a common misunderstanding of the 2. Unless you understand how each work, you can not understand why electricity is not fire.

 

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