Friday, March 17, 2006

Electricity on Shabbos

For a long time, I've considered the issue of electricity on Shabbos (and Yom Tov) to be a prime example of a case where Orthodox poskim have made some bad decisions, and nobody's willing to do anything about it because "the poskim have 'always' held this way." Never mind that 'always' means around one century, or that the poskim haven't always held this way.

People want to believe that if the entire Klal Yisrael does something, there must be a good reason, right?

I recently came across an interesting article by Rabbis Michael Broyde & Howard Jachter published in 1991 in the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society. The crux of the article is that Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (not exactly a lightweight in Torah circles) methodically dismissed all of the claims that allegedly ban electricity on Shabbos, but came to the following conclusion:
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 [Rabbi Auerbach] 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.
Many years later, Rabbi Abadi, whose children run kashrut.org holds that with regard to electricity, "Adayin Tzoruch Iyun" (i.e. it requires further analysis).

I find it hard to believe that in all this time we don't have sufficient information about electricity to come to a conclusion on it.

Another interesting point in the article directly contradicts the notion that all Rabbis have always opposed electricity on Yom Tov. The following is a quote from Rabbi Ovadia Yosef:
Since there are those who permit the lighting of electric lights on Yom Tov, one should not strongly rebuke people who turn on lights on Yom Tov - specifically since many congregations in the Diaspora have this tradition with the approbation of their rabbis. Nonetheless, it is proper to explain to such people in a mild voice that most rabbinic authorities are strict about this matter, and the law follows the majority.
As I have said before, fascinating.

5 Comments:

Blogger Jewish Exile said...

I personally think it's a mikre muvhak of minhag yisrael tora hu. What I mean is that it's a really good thing they came to this conclusion, and perhaps there is some "national intuition" that helped us come to it. Let us think to ourselves what life would be like on shabbat with electricity: first of all, the chashah of RSZA is not at all far off; people would certainly not see much difference between incandecsent, flourescent, and LED's. In chazal's time, it is almost certain that there would have been a gezeira at least on all lights, if not on all electricity. Imagine the television that would be watched on shabbat! And don't say that people would refrain because of "ruach shabbat," since that doesn't carry enough weight in many circles.

Bekitzur, I think that chazal would have make many gezeirot surrounding electricity, and the fact that the rabbinic establishment today does not have the widespread acceptance or the willingness to make such takanot could have led to very bad results. The fact that instead, somewhat bogus reasoning was used to assur electricity is not the worst thing in the world, and I would even view it as positive.

5:27 PM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...

are we missing electricity, what with all the shabbos clocks.
imagine all those home automation people going out of business.
A yid needs a parnassa.
On the other hand think of all the kosher light bulbs that could be sold.

but based on what ive read
I think one should feel comfortable in private to turn off an alarm clock.

7:56 PM  
Blogger Yeshiva Bochur said...

Jewish Exile: It is actually currently muttar to watch television on Shabbos (say, on a Shabbos clock), but nobody seems to do so due to "Ruach Shabbos."

Additionally, people seem perfectly capable of discerning the very fine details of many other Halachas (exactly how do you squeeze lemons into a drink on Shabbos, what exactly constitutes a R'shus Hayachid and when do you need an Eruv, etc.). Somehow I suspect that if people were told that incandescent bulbs were assur, they'd either replace the bulbs in their house with non-incandescent ones, or find a way to differentiate (I suspect they would do the former).

It's nice to invent all sorts of reasons why it's a *good* thing that they banned electricity, but the fact is that Halacha does not allow us to add things to the Torah that are not actually assur.

9:28 PM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...

yb
"but the fact is that Halacha does not allow us to add things to the Torah that are not actually assur.
"

Um...isnt that what chazal did with all their gezeiros and syug?

i think you mean, OUR generation is not allowed to do the very thing chazal did.

5:44 AM  
Blogger Yeshiva Bochur said...

Happywithhislot: There's a difference between a G'zera that is done to protect us from violating a law and "somewhat bogus reasoning was used to assur electricity [and] is not the worst thing in the world."

The Torah does not allow us to use "somewhat bogus reasoning" to make things assur. In fact, the entire lesson of Adam and Chava and the whole touching of the tree business was to teach us not to add issurim to the Torah without a darn good reason.

Also, we are not permitted to do what Chazal may have done a long time ago. There is no one today to actually make a takanah—no Sanhedrin, no generally accepted rabbinic court, no one. So no—we can't do what they did before. We have no right to force Jews in Toledo who are trying very hard to be good Jews to follow rules we created with "somewhat bogus reasoning" because of "national intuition."

7:58 PM  

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