A Gentile’s Guide to Cheating the Shabbat
The Shabbat is a day of rest and contemplation. If you are observant and Jewish, this means you get one day a week to catch up on your spiritual reflection. If you are unclear on how to do so in this fast-paced modern world, fret not. The Talmud set down precise rules for what is and is not permissible on the Sabbath. These 39 categories of activity—called Melacha—cannot occur between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday. The trick is in obeying the spirit of rules established long before every conceivable modern convenience.
Take just two Melachas, 36 and 37. In the age of electricity, these bans on fire (kindling and extinguishing, respectively) have generated all sorts of thorny debates over interpretation. Does a light bulb violate the ban? How about a battery-operated hearing aid?
The variety of opinions is as wide as the range of options. While The Council of Torah Sages outlawed the Internet, The Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists offers podcasts. Let’s be honest, there is no seamless way to merge Halachic Judaism with modern life. But there are workarounds:
1. SHABBAT PHONE
It’s Saturday morning. The phone rings. You’re about to answer it when suddenly you remember: It’s the Sabbath. Your hand hovers in indecision over the receiver. Maybe a hurt child needs a blood transfusion. Perhaps a planet is hurtling towards the Earth’s atmosphere and someone is calling to beckon you to shelter. Or maybe it’s just your wife, asking if you taped last’s night’s Undercover Boss. But how will you know if you can’t answer the frigging phone?
The Zomet Institute—an Israeli research institute “dedicated to seamlessly merging Halachic Judaism with modern life”—has invented a Shabbat telephone. Instead of completing an electrical circuit, this nifty device barges in on an existing circuit, thus bypassing Melacha 38, the ban on completing.
This list summarizes the key reasons that spending a lot of time with ultra-orthodox Jews made me completely disenchanted with the religion. These are all completely real things that people invented to work around the archaic rules that they choose to believe. Say something like, “but then why do you still keep these rules, if you do all of these things to make them more convenient?” and they fly into a fury.