Saturday, August 05, 2017

Planet Earth: 1; Hilchot Shabbat: 0

It was a typical summer-Sabbath dilemma--we knew that it wouldn't be hot enough for us to need the air conditioner on Friday night, but that it would be hot enough on Shabbat afternoon.

The problem was that I could no longer justify using the traditional Shabbat work-around.

This planet is currently facing the most serious ecological disaster of my lifetime, namely, global climate change.  How could we waste precious resources by running our air conditioners for 25 hours straight, rather than turning them on and off as needed? Even the energy-saving setting on an air conditioner uses electricity, as do the numerous timers that we've always used.

And so, for the first time in over 30 years, I unplugged the hot-tray after dinner on Shabbat.

The only appliance that we left plugged in for the entire 25 hours was the urn, which we used in order to avoid violating the prohibition against cooking on Shabbat.

Not cooking on the Sabbath continues to make sense to me.

Leaving an air conditioner on for 25 hours just to avoid pressing a button does not.

We will continue to turn off our television and our computers before Shabbat to protect the health of both the earth and ourselves--our eyes need a break from the constant glare, our minds from the frequent intrusion of often-bad news, and our souls from the "glass mechitzah" that tempts us to forego in-person conversations.  And we'll continue to restrict the use of our phones to emergency calls only.

But we'll no longer flip out about flipping on a light switch on Shabbat.  Given a choice between respecting rabbinic regulations or protecting HaShem's creation, we'll choose to protect HaShem's creation.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017 update:
A more traditional approach can be heard in Rabbi Ethan Tucker's "electronic responsa" regarding electricity here.


Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

One alternative to either turning the A/C on and off when you want or keeping it on the whole time is to use an A/C rated appliance timer (aka Shabbes Clock). Here's one example from Amazon.

I recall you said you think even the energy cost of a timer is unnecessary, I suggest this is based on feeling rather than a rational assessment of how much damage you are doing to the earth by using the timer.

We've used a timer to shut crock pots off for a long time and I assume you can do the same with a hot plate. You can arrange to have it turn on just before Shabbat, turn off either just after Friday night meal or just after Saturday lunch. If you decide once it is turned off to adjust the pegs or other non-electrical timing components to extend when the off time until after Shabbat, you have sources to rely on, even though they are not widely accepted.

Sun Aug 06, 11:38:00 PM 2017  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Larry, it's good to hear from you.

I'll try to get back to you this evening or tomorrow evening, as this post is a bit too controversial for me to allow it to be seen at the office for long enough to read.

Tue Aug 08, 01:58:00 PM 2017  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Larry (and whoever else is still reading this blog), this is a full-disclosure statement: The more I think about my decision and this post, the more I realize how much I've been influenced by my favorite Physics PhD, aka our son--he's been insisting quite adamantly for years, from his viewpoint as a scientist, that electricity is absolutely *NOT* a form of fire.

Let me see whether I can still remember how to create a link in a comment: I'd hoping to send you to a particular post from my third month as a blogger.

Tue Aug 08, 11:45:00 PM 2017  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Success! And now for the reason why I sent you there:

Adam Ragil said...
Why, then, does the prohibition against giving women aliyot persist?

1 - Because Judaism does not shed prohibitions and limitations once they have been aquired and accepted. That isn't always good or always bad. It just is.

Tue Aug 08, 11:47:00 PM 2017  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

The rabbis had a problem with the consumption of meat and fish together: Information available to them at the time seemed to indicate that meat-fish combinations were hazardous to one's health, so the rabbanim forbade us to eat meat and fish at the same time.

We now know that the rabbis' information was incorrect. Our southeast Asian friends have been eating meat and poultry cooked in fish sauce for centuries without a problem, and, in the west, Worcestershire sauce, which is often made with anchovies, has never killed anyone who slathered it on a steak. Yet we're still careful to clear the gefilte fish plates and forks off the table before serving the brisket so that no one will be able to eat more fish with or after the meat. Why?

The same applies to electricity, from my (and/or my son's) perspective: If the ruling against using electricity on Shabbat was a mistake to begin with, why perpetuate the mistake by continuing to observe the prohibition? There are other, far better reasons to avoid using communication technology on Shabbat, as I stated in my post. But I must respectfully state that, in my opinion, refusing to push a button on Shabbat doesn't seem to be the best way to mark oneself as observant.

I see no good reason *not* to "shed prohibitions and limitations" once they're been proven incorrect, have outlived their usefulness, and/or have become downright offensive.

Wed Aug 09, 12:14:00 AM 2017  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Larry, your suggestion to use an A/C-rate appliance timer is certainly an excellent one. But it doesn't address this nightmare scenario: Our son is convinced that it will one day become illegal to waste electricity. Imagine a remote device turning off any light or appliance not needed for health, safety, or national security that's been left on for more than 12 hours. Imagine that, in order to turn the light or appliance back on, one would have to flip a switch--and would be fined for doing so. Would the rabbis be willing to go to court to defend our right to pollute the planet? One household may not waste that much electricity on Shabbat, as you stated, but thousands worldwide? How can this *not* be an issue of halachah vs planetary health?

Wed Aug 09, 08:18:00 AM 2017  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Larry, you might appreciate this, er, electronic responsa regarding electricity from Rabbi Ethan Tucker, who was ordained by the Israeli Rabbinate but is now what some would call a halachic egalitarian: Hear here.

Wed Aug 09, 06:33:00 PM 2017  
Blogger Richardf8 said...

I would love to read Ethan Tucker on this; I wonder if he will ever post transcripts.


Being a scientist does not make one immune to fabulism, and the notion of it becoming illegal to waste electricity strikes me as fabulist. The plain simple fact is this - electrical generation can happen in so many different ways that, including solar and wind, that I expect it is probably the most effective way to deliver energy.

Also, the electricity-as-fire theory does not fly with me any more than with your son. For me, the controversy is whether by closing the switch, you are "completing" something on Shabbat. I knit on Shaabbat, but do not cast off, because I do care about that. My resolution is that by closing the switch, you are merely making use of an already completed design.

So, Larry's suggestion of timers - utterly practical for the foreseeable future. But not for the AC, I would argue, if your concern is the limiting of fossil fuel usage. The timer will turn the AC on when told to, regardless of the need. And I'm sorry, moving pegs on a timer and just turning on (or off) the AC yourself have the same intent and effect. I thought the timer worked on the principle that you could give a servant instructions for Shabbat ahead of Shabbat, but not during Shabbat. Changing the timer's settings on Shabbat seems to undermine that.

All in all I think your desision is best. Chazal made their rulings according to the best science of their day. In too many cases, rather than using the best science of our day, contemporary orthodoxy seeks to rule according to the science of Chazal's day.

Wed Aug 09, 11:55:00 PM 2017  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Richardf8, my son's reaction to the question of whether completing a circuit is a form of building (as discussed in the linked podcast) is that completing a circuit is no more or less a form of building that is turning a faucet on or off, or even opening or closing a door.

Sometimes I think that the rabbis of old and of today were/are so eager to apply ancient laws to contemporary circumstances that they found/find so-called equivalencies where equivalences didn't/don't exist. Treating pressing a button as equivalent to carving lumber into boards or weaving yarn into curtains to create the Ohel Moed/Tent of Meeting in the Wilderness strikes me as quite an exaggeration.

Thu Aug 10, 04:37:00 PM 2017  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Oops--I meant "my son's reaction to the question of whether completing a circuit is a form of building (as discussed in the linked podcast) is that completing a circuit is no more or less a form of building *than* is turning a faucet on or off, or even opening or closing a door.."

Fri Aug 11, 12:43:00 PM 2017  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

I agree that in most cases the prohibition of fire does not apply to electricity on Shabbat. There are other reasons for banning particular uses of electricity. For example, Rambam says heating metal until it glows is itself a forbidden melacha. So using an old style incandescent bulb (which had a tungsten filament) would be prohibited, even if turning a fan on or off might not be.

I've wondered if the Rabbis of the generation that first had to make rulings on Shabbat had been exposed to a more water based explanation (current through a wire is like water through a pipe) whether we would have gotten different rulings. I'm not sure - I think those rabbis were concerned that freely allowing the use of electricity on Shabbat would change the character of the day. Indeed, as I understand it, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach considered a lot of electricity use as banned purely by minhag (custom). This did not mean he permitted it, but rather that when dealing with cases where there was an emergency he would permit its use for a more minor emergency than others poskim would.

Have you considered the possibility of using electricity with a shinui (in an abnormal manner)? This is something the rabbis did when they saw a case where violating a rabbinic prohibition was permitted, but not a biblical one. So if you flipped a light switch using your elbow, or with a pencil, that would reduce the level of the violation.

You should certainly be taking your concerns into account when you purchase new appliances. I have a couple of wall air conditioners that have an energy saver mode where if the thermostat indicates the room need not be cooled the fan is not run. Combine that with a timer and you have done a good job of reducing your electricity use.

I'll deal with meat and fish in the next installment.

Wed Sep 06, 07:00:00 PM 2017  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

Meat and fish is a very interesting case in terms of deciding exactly what your approach to mesorah and halacha should be. The reasons given for barring their mixture seem very likely to be wrong, they are a purely human invention not given directly by Hashem, and I think if we did not have the custom today we would almost certainly not develop it.

One of the emotional satisfactions that some people get from Jewish practice is the sense of being a link in a long chain of being. Knowing that I pray many of the same prayers my great-grandparents did and remembering what my grandfather did during the seder and doing many of the same things is a source of emotional satisfaction. Judaism does change, Judaism should change, but IMO it should do so slowly when possible. Rabbi Micha Berger says that we keep obsolete customs as a means of validating the mesorah, the chain of tradition. If we don't throw away a custom as unimportant as barring meat and fish, we can feel more assured that other parts of our mesorah are also accurately transmitted.

I think that taking an approach to halacha where every custom has to positively justify itself is reckless and risks damage to the mesorah and to our faith. Barring meat and fish mixtures is not a big deal - IMO no one's life is significantly negatively impacted by skipping that. The exclusion of women from the minyan is an entirely different matter. I may not support it in an Orthodox context, but I would not say it is an established custom and no one is hurt by it. People are.

As you know I am not literate in Hebrew, so I can pass this story along as part of my oral learning but I can't actually find a reference for you. Supposedly Rabbi Moshe Feinstein wrote a responsum about meat and fish in which he said that it was an established custom that did no harm, and thus it should not be put aside. On the other hand, he wrote another responsum regarding a man who had been injured in a car accident. The injury the man had suffered is one which the Talmud would say he was required to divorce, because he was no longer fertile. In actual fact the man could still contribute to conceiving children. Rabbi Feinstein ruled that while in the times of the Talmud such an injury would have rendered the man infertile, we can see today that this is not the case. Forcing him to divorce his wife because of an assumption that was not true was not acceptable. This was not trivial. (I would say that the weight of darchei noam (the Torah's paths are pleasant) and the great weight given for couples to be married outweighed the simple ruling. I don't recall being told how much explanation for his ruling Rabbi Feinstein gave. I see a big difference between giving up some South Asian dishes and giving up on one's marriage. I think Rabbi Feinstein made the right ruling.

Wed Sep 06, 07:17:00 PM 2017  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Larry, sorry I've fallen behind on reading comments. Thank you for your Sept. 6 contributions.

"I think those rabbis were concerned that freely allowing the use of electricity on Shabbat would change the character of the day." Frankly, that makes more sense than any other explanation of which I'm aware. Whatever may be true of electricity scientifically, its use did replace the lighting of fire.

I'm glad to know that the rabbis showed some flexibility when they could and when it seemed the way to preserve darchei noam.

Thu Sep 14, 02:08:00 PM 2017  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"Have you considered the possibility of using electricity with a shinui (in an abnormal manner)? This is something the rabbis did when they saw a case where violating a rabbinic prohibition was permitted, but not a biblical one. So if you flipped a light switch using your elbow, . . . that would reduce the level of the violation."

Excellent idea! I'll put my elbows to good use.

Thu Sep 14, 03:18:00 PM 2017  

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