Sunday, October 28, 2007

Innovations that simplify observance

Cue the "Inspector Gadget" music. ("Go, Gadget, go!")

Here's a shot of the "Kosher Lamp" (from Kosher Innovations), that we recently picked up at Manhattan Judaica (Midtown on W. 45th St. between 5th and 6th Avenues). It's an inordinately clever contraption based on a low-tech principle: Don't turn the light on or off on Shabbat (an act forbidden by Jewish lawone is not permitted to start or put out a fire on the Sabbath, as a general rule, unless it's a life or death situation), just hide it!

The Kosher Lamp consists of two basic parts:

1) a "base" that includes the wire and a compact-fluorescent light bulb inside a tubular structure with an oval opening in the front, and

2) a "top" (with a small hole in it to help with heat dissipation) that's inserted into the base (and rests on the tubular part thereof), to which is attached a tubular piece with an oval translucent-plastic lampshade section.

To reduce the light or "turn it off" completely, all one does is to turn the top so that the lampshade section is turned away from the oval opening in the base, thus hiding the light.

Here's some advice for users of the Kosher Lamp:

1) Note that, since the Kosher Lamp uses a compact fluorescent light bulb only (probably because it burns at a cooler temperature and is, thereof, safer to leave lit for 25 hours straight), the light tends to give off a lot of glare. If possible, place the lamp on a surface that is parallel to, and at the foot of, the bed(s), so that your spouse, sibling(s), or roommate(s) won't jump 10 feet when you "turn the light on." :)

2) This may seem counterintuitive, but, if you wish to use the Kosher Lamp as a night light, turn the "top" toward you. Since the tubular section of the "bottom" is nearly half an inch thick, the edge of the opening will deflect the light, preventing it from hitting you smack in the eyes while you're trying to sleep.

We also purchased a new urn from Manhattan Judaica to replace the coffee pot that nearly went out in a blaze of glory during Sukkot. My rabbi says he thinks it's permissible for me to take some hot water from the urn, pour it into the bathroom sink, and rinse (bathe with liquid soap?) a few body parts, but he readily admits to not being an expert on hilchot Shabbat (the laws of Sabbath). Here's a question for my more learnèd readers: Is rinsing (or bathing with liquid soap) in pre-heated water on Shabbat really allowed?

We're still in the market for a new hot tray--one of the two being sold at Manhattan Judaica is even smaller than the one we have now, which is already too small, but the other one is huge, and would take up most of our kitchen table. If anyone knows a good place (accessible by subway) to buy a hot tray, please let me know.

Whoa, check out this "Shomer Shabbat alarm clock" on the Kosher Innovations website:

  • Shabbat Mode- All alarms shut off by themselves after one minute! Once set, no need to touch your KosherClock on Shabbos! NO PROBLEM WITH MUKTZAH.
  • 5 Beep Alarms- on Shabbos wake up for shacharis, enjoy a snooze, don't miss your chavrusa and be on time for mincha.
I've been trying for the longest time to figure out how to wake up on Shabbat morning without using a regular alarm clock and without resorting to one of those old wind-up monstrosities that tick so loudly they keep me awake all night. So this is the next Shabbat contraption on my shopping list!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shalom Aleichem!

Very interesting blog. At first glance you remind me much of my dearest friend (like a sister, really) and her husband. They are among the only observant Conservative Jews I know. She davens in a Conservative congregation, but has usually had to turn to Orthodox rabbis when she wants halachic guidance. I think she has always had to walk a bit of an ideological and emotional tightrope to keep her integrity.

Although offering halachic answers to unknown people over the internet isn't the best way to do things, you asked about washing on Shabbat using water from the urn. The simple answer is yes, one may do so. I would suggest (though this is not absolutely necessary) that you wipe out the bathroom sink before pouring the hot water in. The answer to your question, BTW, is pretty simply learned in Shulhan Aruch Orah Haim shin caf vav, or in Sh'mirat Shabbat K'hilchata perek yud dalet.

Why won't your rabbi answer such a question (or shouldn't I go there)? The first responsibility of a rav is to instruct his community in matters of halachah. If he doesn't know something off hand, and the questioner sincerely wants to know; he should (normally) go look up and clarify the answer, and come back and teach his congregant. Especially in something basic (though often involved) such as hilchot Shabbat, which people need to know well and use every week. Did he just not have time to do this?

Maybe you should go back and encourage your rav to...well, be the rav. ;-) He might actually appreciate it.

Mon Oct 29, 12:21:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Tzipporah said...

Shira - What's the (potential) problem with washing with pre-heated water? I thought all the Shabbos violations had to do with heating the water, not the washing itself.

As for waking up on time for services - want to borrow my son? ;-}

6am every day. EVERY day.

Mon Oct 29, 01:26:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Tzipporah, I'm not sure. It seems to me that I read somewhere that there's some kind of "marit ayin" (roughly, "it looks bad") or lifner iver ("in front of a blind person . . .") problem with washing with pre-heated water. [The full quote is "Lifnei iver lo titen michshol/in front of a blind person, do not leave a stumbling block"--this quote from, I think, Leviticus, Parshat Kedoshim is often interpreted to mean that one shouldn't mislead someone who may not know better.)

" . . . want to borrow my son? ;-} Been there, done that. :) Now I have to put up with a 24-year-old grumbling about his dummy mummy's relative computer illiteracy, instead. But at least he doesn't wake me up in the middle of the night, anymore. :)

Mordechai, aleichem shalom! If I knew enough Hebrew to be able to find anything in Shulhan Aruch Orah Haim shin caf vav, or in Sh'mirat Shabbat K'hilchata perek yud dalet, I wouldn't have to ask a rabbi! (Welcome to the home of one of the Jewish blogosphere's resident "am horatzim"/amei haaretz/Jewishly-illiterate persons.) Maybe I shouldn't have taken an off-the-cuff answer from the rabbi. As you said, "Maybe you should go back and encourage your rav to...well, be the rav. ;-) " Thanks for the advice. Next time I see him, I'll ask him whether's he's had time to look it up.

Mon Oct 29, 05:58:00 PM 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shalom Shira and Tzipporah,

The original prohibition to washing oneself on Shabbat is a rabbinic decree so that one will not heat water on Shabbat.

If the water is heated and available, such as in the urn we use for hot water for tea and the like, the water may be used to wash parts of oneself, but not the entire body. If one is ill, or unusually distressed by not washing, then one might wash the entire body.

I think washing in the sink with a bit of warm water from the urn is pretty common, especially in winter. My wife does it, though I'm fine with cold water and Dr. Bonner's Peppermint (liquid) soap.

Mon Oct 29, 07:03:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

when i was in college, we had a much simpler (and cheaper) solution to the "kosher lamp" — take your regular lamp, and put it in the closet.

when you want light, open the closet door.

when you don't want light, close the closet door.


Tue Oct 30, 05:15:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


make sure that nothing is touching the lamp, so that the heat doesn't become dangerous!

Tue Oct 30, 05:15:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Mordechai, thanks for the information. Our bathroom is pretty chilly in the winter, so it'll be nice to use a little pre-heated water.

Steg, this is a New York City apartment, or, as our son so delicately describes it, a "tuna can." :) How many people in NYC apartments have closets big enough to accommodate a lamp? :)

Thanks for the safety reminder. I made sure to leave some room around the lamp.

Tue Oct 30, 06:22:00 PM 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the heter to wash parts of one's body in pre-heated water on Shabbos, is the same as applies to heating water to do so on yom tov, which is why some do take showers on yom tov, but only wash part at a time.

Wed Oct 31, 09:43:00 AM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Ah, so there is a heter. (Um, "permission" [to take a more lenient approach within halachah/Jewish law]? I've seen the word "heter" many times, but I've never seen it translated.)

On Yom Tov, I rinse from head to toe in the shower--it's practically impossible not to do so, once one gets into the shower--but wash only some parts with liquid soap. On Shabbat, I'd just stand at the sink and wash some parts with liquid soap. Are both my Yom Tov procedure and my (future) Shabbat procedure mutar (permissible)?

Wed Oct 31, 05:56:00 PM 2007  
Blogger mother in israel said...

In Washington Heights we had huge closets. Here in Israel--none.

Fri Nov 02, 01:04:00 AM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Fri Nov 02, 12:51:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I've heard about that build-your-own-closets business in Israeli housing. Who came up with that dumb idea?

Wait a minute--there are huge closets in Washington Heights? Does anyone know of any vacancies? We're moving. :) :) :)

Fri Nov 02, 12:53:00 PM 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shalom Shira!

Okay, I'll stick my neck out a bit again. ;-) (Where's your rabbi? Did you try my suggestion with him?)

I'm not clear what you meant by your "future Shabbat procedure". Do you mean what I suggested in the first comment, or something different. What I suggested for you previously is certainly acceptable. I would instruct my own hevra the same way; and my wife does the same washing on Shabbat. I use cold water, myself.

Re: Washing on Yom Tov. Washing the entire body on Yom Tov is prohibited in the Shulhan Aruch. This has created some interesting discussion in our time. The prohibition was based on the premise that what Hashem's Torah permits on Yom Tov is that which most people would equally find necessary (such as the cooking explicitly allowed in the Torah). Washing one's entire body wasn't so common, even during the week; so heating water for that purpose wouldn't be 'shaveh l'chol nefesh'/equally necessary or desired by all.

There has been quite a bit of discussion in our time about this issue, since nowadays nearly everyone in a 'developed' country has their own bathroom and shower, and showers or bathes everyday or nearly so. The halacha doesn't change; but the operative definition of 'shaveh l'chol nefesh' may...

The common position among those halachic authorities inclined to allow this seems that if one endures significant discomfort by not washing on Yom Tov (due to being accustomed to bathing/showering daily), then it is permissable. There is a summary here, for instance:

NOTE that this is only meant to allow using the hot water to wash the entire body. It does *not* allow using a washcloth, etc. One should either wash with water only, or use a liquid soap. One may dry oneself in a normal manner, but should not especially squeeze out their hair, etc.

Time to go read your modesty post...


Sun Nov 04, 01:20:00 AM 2007  
Blogger Batya said...

1- If your rabbi can't answer such questions, get a new rabbi.
2- Modern fridges are major problems. we used to just unscrew the bulb before the first Shabbat, and we were safe from chillul Shabbat forever. Now it's more complicated, and the special light/fan cover pops off if both freezer and fridge doors open simultaneously, which renders it all forbiden on shabbat/chag.

Mon Nov 05, 12:24:00 AM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Mordechai, when it gets cold enough that washing in cold water becomes thoroughly unpleasant, I plan to fill a teapot with hot water from the urn and dump it into a basin in the bathroom. (Sadly, the sink "leaks" without an added rubber "stopper" over the non-functioning built-in stopper, and I suspect that adding that extra stopper might be construed as "building," a forbidden activity on Shabbat.) I won't use a washcloth, and I'll use only liquid soap.

Mordechai, you said, "The first responsibility of a rav is to instruct his community in matters of halachah." And Batya, you said, "If your rabbi can't answer such questions, get a new rabbi." (Believe me, if our congregation could *afford* a new rabbi, we'd *have* one!) You're both right--I should pester him a bit more for answers to my questions of halachah, which he tends to answer standing on one foot, though, as a self-described Talmud scholar, he shouldn't have any trouble researching the answers. I sometimes wonder whether he always remembers that he's a congregational rabbi by choice, and not just an ivory-tower "lerner" (if that's the correct word).

Batya, thanks for the warning. I'm going to have to be more careful the next time we're in the market for a refrigerator and/or stove. I hear tell that one can purchase appliances that have a so-called "Sabbath" (really Yom Tov) operating mode.

Mon Nov 05, 04:43:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Mordechai and Batya, thanks for noodging me to keep after my rabbi for an answer: I sent him an e-mail. Sometimes I think he forgets that the next word in the second blessing before the Sh'ma, after "lilmod, to study," is "u-l'lamed, to teach." My personal impression is that, given his druthers, he'd sit in a bet midrash (study house) all day and never bother with us lower-level mortals. He seems far better suited to being a Talmud scholar than to being a congregational rabbi.

Wed Nov 07, 10:42:00 AM 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, try this one (but please don't say it came from me):

The Rambam's definition of the mitzvah of talmud torah is to 'learn and teach the wisdom of the torah'. As I heard from my teacher of blessed memory, Rav Uzi Kalcheim, that means if one learns but doesn't teach others, they aren't doing the mitzvah as Hashem commanded at Sinai. Tell him that you *need* him as your rav to teach you.

I'd also like to be in the beit midrash undisturbed. But then people come up with questions in learning or practical halachah...what's a fellow to do? If I hide at home they call or email...


Wed Nov 07, 07:45:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"As I heard from my teacher of blessed memory, Rav Uzi Kalcheim, that means if one learns but doesn't teach others, they aren't doing the mitzvah as Hashem commanded at Sinai." Mordechai, I'll keep that interpretation in mind. I'm happy to say that the rabbi has responded to my e-mail. He tells me he's looking for further info.

Thu Nov 08, 05:50:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Sheyna said...

Like the lamp. Like the book selections even more.


Thanks for that bit of advertising!

Such a lamp would, I'm afraid, not last long in our house. Children under 7 y.o. would have entirely too much fun "turning" it on/off/on/off/on/off/on...

Sun Dec 16, 05:21:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Sheyna, I'm always happy to put in a plug for your "Destined to Choose."

It's been a long time since we've had to worry about child-proofing. I hadn't even thought about all the fun that kids would have with that lamp. That's another thing that Orthodox kids would have to be taught not to play with on Shabbat, I suppose.

Sun Dec 16, 09:43:00 PM 2007  

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