Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Torah & Technology - Tzomet Institute

NYTimes reports:[excerpt]

The rabbis, scientists and engineers of the Zomet Institute are trying to solve the problems that arise when technology and the Torah collide.

Working from their research facility in the West Bank settlement of Alon Shvut, they create electronic devices — from phones to alarm systems to motorized vehicles — that obey Orthodox Jewish laws about the Sabbath, when even turning an electric current on or off is forbidden.

“We’re trying to combine making a modern Jewish state with age-old Jewish law,” said Dan Marans, executive director of Zomet. That requires both a deep knowledge of Judaism’s legal code, or halacha, and a bit of ingenuity.

“Every day, God gives us things to take advantage of,” Mr. Marans said. “We just have to know how.”

For decades, research groups like Zomet enjoyed a near-monopoly on the kosher gadget industry. They sold most of their inventions to the Israeli government and military.

Now multinationals, Orthodox entrepreneurs and small businesses across the globe are creating rabbinically approved products.

The inventions, which help the world’s more than 1.5 million Orthodox Jews use the conveniences of modern life, are gaining in popularity as manufacturing in Asia keeps prices low and the Internet makes it easier to shop for niche products.

Rabbi Shmuel Veffer, president of Kosher Innovations, based in Toronto, is just one of the entrepreneurs who has benefited. In 2004, Mr. Veffer invented the Kosher Lamp, with a shade that can be twisted to block out the bulb’s light but that does not turn it off.

Mr. Veffer said he has sold “tens of thousands” of the lamps, including a more expensive model and a children’s version shaped like a teddy bear. All of the lamps are manufactured in China.

Kosher Innovations now sells a dozen products, including a lighting device to check produce for insects and a Sabbath-observant alarm clock, in nearly 400 stores from New York to London to Sydney. Mr. Veffer made sure to receive religious certification from prominent rabbinical authorities in each country where his products are sold.

“The Orthodox world is a closely knit community, so if you have something people like, very quickly word spreads like wildfire,” Mr. Veffer said.

But, “the kosher consumer has an influence in the marketplace that goes way beyond actual numbers,” said Dr. Avrom Pollak, president of Star-K, based in Baltimore, which certifies as kosher everything from major appliances to food, alcohol and some prescriptions.

For example, Dr. Pollak said, Orthodox Jewish households spend a lot more time, attention and money on their kitchens than other American consumers, which is why 14 major home appliance brands have sought kosher certification from Star-K.

Star-K also monitors some Chinese factories that make kosher products to insure they are complying with Jewish law.

While modern technology was intended to make the chores of daily life less difficult, the proliferation of automatic motors, sensors and lights into more household items has become a growing problem for the strictly observant.

For decades, Orthodox Jews trudged through their houses in a pre-Sabbath ritual of turning off home security systems, taping down the button that turns on the light inside the refrigerator when the door is opened, and lighting a flame to leave burning on the stove so food can be heated.

In the last 10 years, manufacturers like Whirlpool and Viking have put Sabbath mode settings on most of their ovens, refrigerators, and even wine cellars. General Electric introduced its Sabbath mode in 2000, and said the special setting is featured on more than 150 of its wall ovens, ranges and other cooking appliances.

These modes either turn off certain lights, fans and alarms, or use a Jewish legal concept known as “gramma,” or indirect action, to operate the appliance on holy days.

In refrigerators, for example, a built-in delay prevents the compressor from turning on immediately after the door is opened.[...]


  1. I saw a pesak from R. Miller against the Star-K ovens. Is he against the Zomat heterim (which some poskim are) or is there another problem?

  2. there is another problem. there are different criticisms of the heter. This is Rav Sternbuch's
    לאפרושי מאיסורא

    ראיתי דברי המתיר בתנור חשמלי ביום טוב בדרך גרמא שמותר ביום טוכ, ובשבת במקום פסידא. ולדעתי זה לא רק חשש איסור במלאכת שבת ויום טוב, אלא גורם לביטול מצות שבת ויום טוב ח"ו.

    רבני המזרחי כאן הקימו מרכז למדענים שיסדרו מלאכת שבת באופן שהיא גרמא שנעשה לאחר זמן, ובכל מכונה מסדרים באופן גרמא ומתירין לעת הצורך לשבת וכ"ש ביום טוב.

    החרדים כאן רואים בזה סכנה לקיום התורה ופתח לריפורמים, ומתנגדים בכל תוקף, ובפרט שמעיקר הדין יש לחשוש כאן שאסור מה"ת וכמו שיבואר.

    ראשית אנו חוששין שגרמא היינו כשאינו עוד בעולם בעשייה, אבל כשבעולם ומחוסר זמן שאני, ועוד אנו חוששין כיון שדרכו כך חשוב ודינו כזורה ורוח מסעייתו, שאפילו גרמא חייב מה"ת, ויש סברא שאם חשוב, היא גופא מלאכה, עיין רש"י ביצה כ"ז: ותוס' ב"ק ב.

    ושמחתי לראות שגם באמריקא הגדולים לוחמים נגד היתר זה, שהיא פתח היום ולדורות לעוד היתירים, ובזכות שמירת שבת ויום טוב הקב"ה ישמור אותנו מכל רוע ונקבל פני משיח צדקינו בקרוב.


please use either your real name or a pseudonym.