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The Kosher Switch: A Response from the Tzomet Institute’s Rabbi Yisrael Rosen

September 22, 2011 by  
Filed under Halakha, New Posts

The rabbinic world and blogosophere (see, for example, here) has been abuzz about the propriety of the Kosher Switch, which its producers claim allows one to halakhically turn on and off lights on shabbat.  Attached here is the Hebrew response of Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, the prominent engineer who heads the Tzomet Institute, which includes (signed) clarifications of the positions of Rabbi Avigdor Nevenzahl and Rabbi Yehoshua Neuwirth.  It is was sent on Tzomet stationery to Rabbi David Mescheloff, and is reprinted here with permission.

Below is a rough English translation of the first page, which does not include some of the halakhic argumentation provided on the 2nd page of the original Hebrew.  For all scholarly and halakhic purposes, and purposes of citation, only the original Hebrew letter should be seen as the authoritative writing of Rabbi Rosen.

- Shlomo Brody

To Rabbi David Mescheloff, 21st of Elul 5771,09/20/11

Subject: Kosher Switch for Shabbat

In response to your request, I shall refer to the electric switch presented as the ‘Kosher Switch’, and to the website link you sent me, which explains the Halachic background, and even appends a long list of rabbis who have expressed a blessing or support.

The following is my position:

A. Truth be told, I was amazed how easy it is to receive endorsement letters from rabbis. It is apparent that one relies on the other, without taking personal responsibility, and with the fall of the foundation the entire house falls. I do not know what was explained to the rabbis that ‘signed’; however it is clear to any reasonable halachic man that there is no way to permit prohibitions of Shabbat (D’Oraita or D’Rabbanan), not even with Halachic tricks or acrobatics.

B. The whole proposed story relies on the leniency of ‘Gramma’, which no consensus rabbi would permit L’chatchila for domestic and personal use.  All ‘Gramma’ or similar halakhic arrangements carried out by the Zomet Institute or Technology Institute in Jerusalem were permitted solely for medical, security and similar needs.  Even if they added to the ‘Gramma’ additional apparatuses, and even if there is a one in a thousand chance that the action will not occur, I have received from my rabbis (R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and R. Shaul Yisraeli) that this does not change in any way the halakhic status of regular ‘Gramma’ (just like Gramma D’Gramma and other artificial arrangements).

C. Even if the method of operation is non-active from the point of view of the agent, i.e. because he merely removes the “preventing element,”  Rabbi S. Z. Auerbach and others wrote that this remains forbidden and is treated like it was done directly by the person, since the action occurs immediately after the human intervention/action.   Even if the result comes only after a delay caused by an additional factor, this is plain Gramma, which is still not permitted L’chatchila.

D. And here is the main part of my remarks: Yesterday I went to my teacher and rabbi HaGaon Rabbi Yehoshua Neuwirth, Shlita, and I asked him whether he permitted to use this switch to activate electricity on Shabbat for the purposes of Oneg Shabbat, etc… He was really shocked and said he never permitted that.  When I showed him the endorsement letter, he added in his handwriting: “Only for medicine and security” (see photo in attached Hebrew article).   Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl Shlita, who signed a similar letter, also told me yesterday that he does not recall ever signing anything like that, and expressed the opinion that there is no place for this and was puzzled about the whole thing.

I suppose that whoever managed to get the signatures of important rabbis ‘sold’ them an invention that is a kind of a complex Gramma used for the purpose of medicine or security, and succeeded in skipping this condition when they signed.

E. With regard to the the claim, written in their accompanying halachic responsum, that it is permitted to use this Gramma switch to minimize the prohibition of those who willfully the violate the Shabbat, we have never heard of such rabbis who permit this. I am sure that those who ‘agreed’ did not see this argument, and this is an argument that should not be stated.

With prayer L’Ktiva Vachatima Tova to all of Israel,

Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, Head of the Zomet Institute

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