Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Electronic water meter: Can you turn on the faucet on Shabbos?

In an interesting letter in yesterday's Yated Neeman a writer brought up this issue. He claimed that in some places in Israel they have installed electronic water meters and therefore you can't use the water on Shabbos. He wanted to warn people who are planning a vacation to keep this in mind when picking a destination.

It would seem that the letter writer is right about the problems of using water on Shabbos if you have an electronic water meter. Every time you turn on the water you are directly causing the electronic water meter to record your use which falls under the general rubric of electricity.

There is no question that in the near future electronic water meters will be everywhere. What will the religious community do? Not use water? There is little to no chance chance of convincing the water company to not switch to electronic meters. As I have posted before (Using electronic devices on Shabbos), it will soon reach a point that we will not be able to do anything without causing some reaction in some sensor. We have already reached that point with hotels:
Electronic keys
Motion sensors which shut off the lights and air conditioning if there is no movement
Faucets that go on and off based on motion sensors
Toilets with sensors
Automatic doors
Security cameras

I for one don’t see how a frum person can stay in many (if not most) hotels in the US on Shabbos based on this. 

If we just continue saying that electricity/electronics is assur we will either not be able to do anything on Shabbos or have to become Amish.

The question is what will the reaction from the poskim be? RSZA opinion that there really is no issur seems to be very well reasoned and I believe is generally accepted. The question is will anyone have the courage to run with it and say that in the modern world where circumstances have changed we need to allow certain things (like electronic locks, refrigerator sensors etc.) The fact is that in the next 10 years the incandescent light bulb will go the way of the dodo which will remove the only issur doraysa related to electricity (except for the Chazon Ish which does not seem to be accepted). I know that there is a very fine line, it is clear that we don't want people using computers, tv's, mp3 players, cell phones, etc. on shabbos, on the other hand we are rapidly reaching a point where we will be unable to do anything on Shabbos in a modern home. The poskim need to come up with some kind of balance, given what is going on in the Jewish world I am not optimistic.


Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Well the solution to not using the national power grid is Israel was to equip buildings with private generators to allow the tenants to disconnect themselves from the grid just before Shabbos started.
I actually had lunch with a family whose building couldn't afford a generator so they had no electricity from erev Shabbos to motzei Shabbos. No cholent, no sitting and talking by the light of a lamp on Friday night, nothing.
You're looking for halachic leeway. I say that a psak will come out that a good Jewish home stores up several buckets of fresh water on Friday afternoons for use on Shabbos.

Avraham said...

electricity is not fire and it is not binyan. the chazon Ish was wrong.

Larry Lennhoff said...

I suspect a gradual liberalization of the law will come based on the categories of ones (compulsion) and a more liberal reading of pseik reisha de lo nichela (inevitable but undesired consequence).

The Sephardic rabbi in my town already has stated in public that motion sensor lights are not a concern on Shabbat and his congregants don't have to cross the street to avoid turning them on, even when they know the sensors are there.

In the case of the electric water meter it is the water company that cares about the measurement not you. This is different from drawing hot water from the faucet on Shabbat, since you do want new water to be added to the system, either because you want it heated for later use or because you need pressure in the tank in order for the water system to work.

Yehudah said...

I have no idea where the author read in RSZA's books that there is no issur of electricity on shabbat. He clearly hold it is assur, albeit not because of boneh like the chazon ish.

Adam Zur: Possibly after you learn 1/1,000,000th of what the chazon ish learnt, your comment might be worth reading. Odds are you've never opened up a sefer and read a psak on electricity.

Commenter Abbi said...

Probably the same way we use refrigerators on Shabbat. If you think about it, you really should't open the fridge at all on Shabbat because every time you do, you lower the temp and it makes the condenser kick on. But, I've never encountered any frum person who refuses to use a fridge- regular frum, not crazy generator people.

Either that or Tzomet will come up with some kind of gramma switch.

david a. said...

here's an interesting link:

bluke said...


Here is a direct quote from RSZA (Minchat Shlomo 74, 84:

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.

bluke said...

Commenter Abbi,

Actually there are people who put their fridge on a shabbos clock and only open it when the fridge is completely off. Everyone else relies on the fact that opening the door doesn't directly cause anything to happen right away.

Avraham said...

While it does look clear that an electric light that produces heat would be forbidden by the Torah at least according to the Rambam it is hard to see why Binyan would apply to electricity. We do find that putting together a bed or menorah in a way that it could not be taken apart except by an artisan would be forbidden because of binyan and tikun mana it is hard to see why electricity would be like that. The way the Chazon Ish understood the idea (closing a circuit) can perhaps be squeezed into the the gemara. But it is not general way that binyan or tikun mana were understood by the commentaries on the shulchan aruch.