Monday, April 19, 2010

Good weekend, bad aftermath

Shabbat debate: "Electricity is not fire!"

Thus spake the family candidate for a PhD in Physics, and protested that we're wreaking havoc on the environment by printing reading material before Shabbat and leaving lights on for 25 hours. We compromised by insisting on the bathroom and kitchen lights being left on and ignoring the other lights. I think we might be able to put the Shabbos lamp and one of the livingroom lights on timers.

"It's in the mail," so to speak: New computer on the way!

On Sunday morning, with our son's help, I purchased a new computer (to replace my current one, which is roughly six years old), a new monitor, and a new external hard drive. Yay, not to mention thanks a million!

Explaining a high-end camera to Ms. Low-Tech

Apertures, light-exposure settings, etc., I got a "tour" of my son's fancy camera (paid for by the university, for which he's the official Physics Lab photographer). Comparing a camera with interchangeable lenses to a "point-and-shoot" camera is like comparing a saxophone to a violin--sure, it has a lot more buttons/keys, but the camera /sax does the work for you, instead of you having to find the place on the strings all by yourself.

A high-tech camera's a lot heavier, too, which could be a problem for Ms. Carpal-Tunnel-Syndrome. (The promised photo is "in the mail," too--my son got so annoyed at my non-adjustable camera that he had me take the photo I wanted of him with his own camera, but he didn't have the equipment for uploading it with him.)

Current computer kaput

My computer failed to complete the reboot this morning, and I couldn't use the Norton Go-Back because the "freeze" occurred before the mouse and keyboard were working. :( The worse part is that my external drive may have died at the same time--the only files that my husband's been able to retrieve are our Quicken financial records. (Whew!) I sincerely hope that someone will be able to access my files, from the internal or external hard drive, or roughly 20 years worth of Office files (both personnel and business), photos, music and videos will be gone forever. :(

My ability to blog will probably be limited for at least a week.


Blogger Anonymous in Teaneck said...

Richard Feynman on whether electricity is fire:


Mon Apr 19, 09:19:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

The use of electricity on Shabbat and Yom Tov outlines some of the view of major Orthodox poskim on electricity.

Standing on one foot: Use of electricity is forbidden, almost certainly rabbinically instead of biblically. The exact melacha under which it is forbidden is a matter of dispute, but choosing one over another has very few halachic implications.

Tue Apr 20, 11:27:00 AM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Anon, Feynman has no appreciation of the halachic implications of scientific knowledge.

Larry, thanks! I'll read this when I'm not too busy at the office, and/or if my husband's old clunker, an 8-yr.-old laptop, continues to cooperate (more or less).

Tue Apr 20, 01:21:00 PM 2010  
Anonymous Miami Al said...

Larry, it has a huge implication though...

If the reasoning makes sense, even if it is just: the technology changed, but the underlying utilization is a behavior we have prohibited on Shabbat, so we don't "use it," but also don't "fear it," it seems like reasonable behavior.

If the reasoning is just wrong, or based on a 50-100 year old misunderstanding, it undermines credibility in the Halachic system.

Net-Net, incandescent are big no-nos, other electricity is a lower no-no. Hence refrigerator lightbulbs are a big concern, but the other things going on aren't a problem.

I tape my fridge because I like light during the week. Plenty of people I know just remove the light bulbs to avoid dealing with it, and the temperature LEDs going on and off are ignored, since we might not "use" the LEDs, the inadvertent triggering of an LED isn't as much as a problem...

Likewise, if you are at someone's house, and notice the "open door" LED on the alarm system goes on/off when you open the door, you aren't trapped there. While one couldn't flip a switch to turn on the LED light, a permitted action (opening the door) causing the LED to turn on/off isn't such a big deal.

Over simplification, but that is my standing on one foot summary.

Tue Apr 20, 02:19:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

My very poor understanding of the C teshuvot my teachers explained to me (I haven't read them myself) held that electricity was of itself neutral. One could use electricity to accomplish forbidden or permitted ends. If the ends were forbidden, the use of electricity to achieve those ends were forbidden.

Thus, it was forbidden to adjust an electric oven on Shabbat, because it violated the prohibitions on cooking (and possibly igniting and extinguishing?). OTOH, turning an electric fan on and off was completely premissable (barring odd cases such as when turning a fan on was likely to extinguish a candle or the like).

I would assume under this rule turning on incandescent lights would be problematic because heating something red hot was forbidden. But my C rabbi in Framingham allowed turning on incandescent lights, IIRC.

Orthodox Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach held that electricity was forbidden on shabbat as a custom that was adopted by all of Israel, which thus had the force of law. Under normal circumstances you couldn't tell the difference between someone who followed this psak or one of the more stringent ones. But in cases of emergency of various sorts, Rav Auerbach was much more willing to allow the use of electricity, because it was only forbidden by a minhag.

Tue Apr 20, 02:48:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Larry and Miami Al, I tend to get a bit cross-eyed reading rabbinic logic. :) I react similarly reading an instruction manual--my brain just doesn't work that way. Just sit me down at a computer, or hand me a fancy camera, and walk me through process.

That said, it seems to me that Miami Al pretty much summarized my impression, though possibly unintentionally: " . . . the technology changed, but the underlying utilization is a behavior we have prohibited on Shabbat, so we don't "use it," but also don't "fear it," My impression is that we don't turn on electrical appliances (such as lights) on Shabbat because it's used for the same things for which fire, the creating of which on Shabbat is prohibited, was used, namely, lighting, heating, and cooking. Does this mean that the prohibition is more a matter of custom than law? I should probably ask my son whether the use of an incandescent filament might constitute something resembling fire, which seems to be the rabbis' impression, according to Larry's link.

Tue Apr 20, 03:48:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

The rabbis forbade (or maybe stated as a biblical prohibition, I don't remember) heating a something to the point that it glows (in their time this was pretty much always metal). That's what an incandescent bulb does - modern incandescent bulbs even use tungsten wire for the filament so it is actually metal.

When I was C I proposed forbidding turning on light bulbs of any sort based on the idea that we are refraining from the sorts of activities Hashem did during the six days creation, and the first thing he did was say "let there be light". My rabbi was amused but not impressed.

Malka Esther originally was opposed to the user of timers. My counterargument (which did not convince her) was that just as Hashem created the world and then let it run naturally (i.e., the sun did not freeze in position the moment Shabbat came in etc.) so could we set things up during the week via timers and then let nature take its course. Her initial compromise was to allow this if we used the timers with the same settings during the week as well.

Tue Apr 20, 03:58:00 PM 2010  
Anonymous Miami Al said...


The biggest no-no with an incandescent light bulb isn't necessarily fire... the way it works:

The filament presents resistance, which is where the power dissipates, generating two effects:
1. Intended effect, the heated metal glows (this is a Halachic issue: heating a piece of metal until it glows, which Rambam considers cooking, since that was the process by which one cooked)
2. Unintended effect, heat is produced

For decades, the primary usage of electricity was incandescent light bulbs (part of the justification for DST), but they are on the way out. I only have a handful left, in the kids rooms for dimmers, but when they go out, they'll be replaced with dimmable CFLs which now come in R20 format at reasonable prices.

As a result, all electricity, within 15 years, will be "appliance" electricity.

But yeah, the intellectually honest issue with electricity on Shabbat/Yom Tov is Minhag Klal Yisrael (custom of all the Jewish people), which has the force of law, as opposed to Minhag Hakom (custom of a location), which theoretically remains in that location but people often take with them.

As a general rule: don't use electricity by turning things on/off, but don't worry about the actual usage of electricity... i.e. opening a door, letting cold air in and causing the heater to go on, or warm air causing the fridge/AC to turn on...

There isn't much of a basis for worrying about LEDs on alarm systems, etc. The argument of "completing the circuit," which replaced Aish/Fire as the justification taught to children, isn't terrible reasonable as that article points out, but is certainly a reason that people worry about it.

Something I wonder: motion sensors and CFL/LED lights...

The rule of thumb is that if you know a light is on a motion sensor, you should avoid it to avoid it turning on over Shabbat, but it's not a big deal if you don't know or accidentally turn it on. I wonder, if the light isn't an incandescent or halogen, if it really matters..

Tue Apr 20, 04:15:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

An important point about motion sensors. If you are in a bathroom that uses motion sensors to determine when to flush you are permitted based on kavod habrit to leave the stall anyway. This is similar to the talmudic decision that allows you to carry sharp stones to an outhouse even in the absence of an eruv.

I am personally machmir on this(strict to not take advantage of this ruling) when I am in a hotel and try if at all possible to go to my room's bathroom (which usually doesn't have motion sensors) once I realize the public bathrooms do have them.

Tue Apr 20, 04:30:00 PM 2010  

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