New York – A new light switch that has been under development for several years and claims to be approved for Shabbos use is one step closer to being available to the public, but whether or not the device is actually halachically acceptable has become the subject of debate over the last several days.
A crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo raised $50,000 for production of the UL certified switches, which developers say skirts any issues of chilul Shabbos by randomizing electrical impulses generated by the switch, within four days. A video explaining the purpose and workings of the device garnered more than 90,000 views on YouTube over the same time period.
“The response has been above and beyond our greatest expectations,” Menachem Kalati, inventor of the KosherSwitch, told VIN News. “We feel that this will bring a lot of good to the community.”
Below video Menachem Kalati, inventor of the KosherSwitch,explains how it works.
Kalati, who left a successful information technologies business to bring his dream of a Shabbos-friendly light switch to life, said that he has invested ten years of his life in the device.
“The inspiration here was the frustration involved with managing timers to control lights on Shabbat and the possible prohibitions that would be involved in asking gentiles or children to perform melacha and also to promote the enjoyment of Shabbat,” explained Oren Bezalely of KosherSwitch.
Bezalely acknowledged that the KosherSwitch concept might take some getting used to.
“Obviously in previous generations Shabbat was experienced differently,” said Bezalely. “The Rambam did not enjoy Shabbat the same way we do now and we have used technology to enhance the oneg Shabbat.”
KosherSwitch’s Indiegogo page claims the device has been widely approved for general Shabbos usage saying, “Many poskim and Orthodox rabbis have ruled that the KosherSwitch is not even considered grama (indirect causation), involves no melacha (forbidden/creative act), and is therefore permitted for consumer use.”
The company’s site lists approvals and well wishes from of 30 rabbonim in Jerusalem, Ashdod, Bnei Brak, Los Angeles, Great Neck, Kew Gardens Hills, Kew Gardens, Manhattan, Minnesota, Monsey and Brooklyn. Kalati noted that some of rabbis listed offered blessings, others gave endorsements for general use and other approvals were granted only for specific situations.
But since the debut of the Indiegogo campaign, several of those listed as having endorsed KosherSwitch have come out forcefully distancing themselves from the device and its developer.
A letter dated this past Friday from Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Harfenes accuses developers of losing all credibility by listing a 2010 letter from him as an approbation.
In that letter Dayan Harfenes says that he joins with Rabbi Yechezkel Roth in approving KosherSwitch “only for the needs of the sick and those who care for them” and clearly states that the device is not permitted for use under any other circumstances.
Listing his statement as an unqualified approbation on the KosherSwitch is a blatant lie, explained Dayan Harfenes in Friday’s letter.
“I want to publicize that those who are saying in my name that I permit the use of that which is called ‘KosherSwitch’ are doing so in falsehood,” wrote Dayan Harfenes. “I wrote only that there is reason to be lenient for cholim … As I see that those who are behind this device are publicizing my name to say that it is permitted under any circumstances, without specifying that it is only permitted for use for the sick, as written in the letter I wrote for them … they have completely lost all of their credibility in this matter.”
Further continuing, Dayan Harfenes expressly prohibits KosherSwitch from using his name in conjunction with the product.
“I am withdrawing all support from this and I forbid them to publicize my name in any way with his matter. I lend my support to all of those who have taken upon themselves to publicize this matter.”
Another of the endorsements, that of Rabbi Yehoshua Neuwirth, author of Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa, has also become the subject of considerable controversy. Rabbi Neuwirth added his approval at the bottom of one written by Rabbi Pinchas Zabihi in October, 2007, with the words, “I too agree to this invention and Hashem Yisborach will bless him in the zechus of shemiras Shabbos k’hilchasa”
A 2011 letter published by The Zomet Institute in Gush Etzion, which offers halachic solutions for home, medical, agricultural, institutional and security purposes, raises questions about Rabbi Neuwirth’s endorsement of KosherSwitch.
“Yesterday I went to Rabbi Neuwirth shlita, and I asked him if he had permitted the use of a switch to use lights on Shabbos for the purpose of oneg Shabbos,” wrote Rabbi Yisroel Rosen, a Zomet engineer. “He was literally shocked and said that he had never permitted this and when I showed him the approbation he had written he added by hand ‘only for medical and security use.’”
In the same letter, Rabbi Rosen also called into question the KosherSwitch endorsement given by Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl.
“He told me yesterday that he didn’t remember that he had ever signed on a letter like this and he gave his opinion that there is no place for something like this and he was surprised by the entire issue.”
In fact, KosherSwitch’s endorsement page notes that both Rabbi Neuwirth and Rabbi Nebenzahl have made changes to their original endorsements, after allegedly being “coerced” by “zealous individuals” to “revoke and/or revise” their earlier written approvals.
An article released by Rabbi Rosen last week once again reiterates his position that Rabbi Neuwirth never agreed to endorse the switch for general usage. While KosherSwitch says that the device doesn’t fall under the halachic classification of ‘grama,’ indirect causation, which is forbidden on Shabbos, Rabbi Rosen disputes that position saying that KosherSwitch would indeed fall under the Shulchan Aruch’s definition of ‘grama.’
“No Orthodox rabbi, Ashkenazi or Sephardi, has permitted this ‘Gramma’ method for pure pleasure,” wrote Rabbi Rosen.
Rabbi Rosen’s article also includes a letter written by Rabbi Neuwirth to KosherSwitch dated January, 2012, bearing the words, “Regarding what you wrote in my name to permit a type of grama – ‘ kosher grama.’ To permit the use of electricity, l’chatchila, on Shabbos cannot be, and at no time did it enter my mind to permit this, only for the needs of the sick and for security. Please publicize this so that no incorrect action will be taken because of me. May you merit that Jews should keep Shabbos according to the Jewish religion and Jewish law.”
Both the KosherSwitch website and Bezlalely slammed Zomet and Rabbi Rosen, describing the letters as unfounded slanderous accusations leveled by another player in the kosher technology business.
“When we approached Rabbi Neuwrith he made no qualifications and he signed on Dayan Zabichi’s letter clearly saying it was l’chatchila,” said Bezalely. “He said this was okay under any circumstances and there were no misunderstandings and no qualifications. That this mysteriously came up is extremely suspicious, especially from a company in competition with us. If he did retract the letter, under what conditions did he do so? Who was manipulating him? Was he not sane when he spoke to us? It is a horrendous accusation that is being made against us.”
Kalati further noted that Rabbi Neuwirth’s approval of KosherSwitch was clearly a thought out process, that took place over two lengthy visits to the respected rabbinic authority.
“At the first meeting he sat with me for an hour or more and at the second meeting he told me that he would go ahead and sign, looking through our binder of endorsements for a specific page before finally signing on Rabbi Zabichi’s page,” said Kalati. “If he thought the device was just for a choleh, why would he even need to think it over? There would be no chidush here as Zomet already has things for this purpose. He spent not minutes but hours with us going through the device. He really got the full experience and then to go and claim that he didn’t know who we were and what it was for is really quite unimpressive.”
Below video: Rabbi Mordechai Hecht reviews KosherSwitch
After reviewing the KosherSwitch materials, noted contemporary Halachic author Rabbi Yair Hoffman offered his opinion that KosherSwitch does not necessarily meet some of the required parameters that would make it halachically acceptable for Shabbos usage: ensuring that there is a time delay between when the light switch is flipped and when the light goes on, turning on the light in a way that is different than during the week and performing an action that may or may not yield a desired result.
While the built in randomization may ensure that there is a time delay from the time the switch is activated until the lights go on, there is no doubt that, mathematically, the lights will eventually go on, which may not satisfy the third criteria according to Rabbi Hoffman.
Rabbi Hoffman also expressed concern that there is little difference between the way the switch would be used on Shabbos and during the rest of the week.
“They are of the opinion that if there is a side switch which says ‘Sabbath mode/Weekday mode’ that that is considered not using the switch in the normal way on Shabbos , but from the perspective of the person flipping the switch that controls the lights you are doing the same action all week long and I am not convinced that that would be considered a different way of doing things.”
From a chinuch perspective, having children becoming accustomed to turning on lights on Shabbos is problematic, according to Rabbi Hoffman.
“You are going to be teaching your kids that they can turn a light on and they will be in places where there is no KosherSwitch which can create problems,” said Rabbi Hoffman.
Kalati expressed surprise that both Rabbi Rosen and Rabbi Hoffman would question the halachic status of KosherSwitch, given approvals given by respected rabbonim, including Rabbi Noach Oelbaum, who Kalati claims endorsed the product wholeheartedly.
“Each rabbi we spoke to said ‘Wow,’ when we showed them the switch,” said Kalati. “Rav Oelbaum, he is a gadol. So how could Rabbi Hoffman and Rabbi Rosen completely ignore and disregard this? We have a gadol saying that this is not a grama, why are they disregarding that?”
In a video posted on KosherSwitch’s website, Rabbi Oelbaum praises Kalati and actually appears to be offering a qualified endorsement of the device, saying that while technically using the switch would not be classified as melacha, each person should speak to their own rov to decide if KosherSwitch usage is within the spirit of Shabbos.
Mrs. Helen Oelbaum, however, said that her husband never gave his stamp of approval to KosherSwitch.
“He did not endorse it and they misrepresented what he said,” said Mrs. Oelbaum.
A statement released by Rabbi Moshe Oelbaum leaves no doubt as to his father’s stance on KosherSwitch.
“I regret that my father’s position on KosherSwitch was misrepresented by stating that he endorses it l’maaseh. His position is that there is serious concern of zilzul Shabbos. Before it is used one should ask a shaila from his rav.”
Mrs. Oelbaum further explained that she asked Kalati to remove her husband’s picture and that his name be removed from the list of KosherSwitch endorsements, but as of this writing, Rabbi Oelbaum’s name is still listed third on the site Endorsements/Blessings page, after Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg z’l and Rabbi Neuwirth.
Adding insult to injury, said Mrs. Oelbaum, is a snippet of the YouTube video promoting KosherSwitch that shows an obviously Orthodox Jewish man dressed in Shabbos clothing hinting to a female passerby that he needed her to turn off the lights in his bedroom which had inadvertently been left on and making what could be construed as suggestive facial gestures. While the ten second exchange was clearly intended to demonstrate the difficulties of amira l’akum, suggesting to a non-Jew that help is required with a Shabbos related issue, the scripted dialogue has raised more than a few eyebrows. “It is disgusting and in very poor taste,” observed Mrs. Oelbaum.
Rabbi Hoffman echoed Mrs. Oelbaum’s sentiments, also noting that it was inappropriate to have prominent halachic figures in a video featuring innuendo.
Below video Rabbi Eliyahu BenHaim reviews KosherSwitch
Kalati said that he had approached Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, rabbinic administrator of the Star-K which offers kashrus certification on appliances, about his device several years ago.
“I asked for an audience to go meet with him and I explained it briefly on the phone,” recalled Kalati. “I tried to compel him to let me show it to him since it is hard to explain on the phone. He asked me to tell him about the switch and unfortunately, he dismissed it quickly.”
Kosher Switch’s site has a full page devoted to explaining the halachic differences between the Star-K’s Sabbath Mode and KosherSwitch, neither of which is universally accepted by all poskim. The site includes several documents showing the halachic discussions regarding Sabbath Mode and explains that while some forbid use of Sabbath Mode since it still involves direct interaction with a computer, KosherSwitch is free of these problems.
“The stark contrast between KosherSwitch and the Star-K is that with KosherSwitch you are not really doing anything, not interacting with any electricity,” said Kalati.
Kalati made it clear that he personally can make no halachic claims about KosherSwitch and encouraged the public to speak to their rabbis regarding it’s usage.
“We are not halachic authorities here, but the rabbis are telling us that this is not grama and that this is permissible on Shabbat,” said Kalati. “We don’t want anyone to use the product if their rabbinic authority doesn’t endorse that. Every community is different and there are many uses here that can avoid chilul Shabbat. We feel that this can do a lot of good for the community and hopefully the ugly part can be put aside and we can focus on the halachic angles, the unity of the Jewish people and enhancing the observance of Shabbat.”
Below video Rabbi Aryeh Sokoloff reviews KosherSwitch