KosherSwitch: Rabbi Braun’s Response
There are a number of modern innovations by technological companies that are designed to facilitate the observance of Shabbos in hospitals and other medical settings to avoid serious Torah transgressions. Some of these innovations are based on the principal of grama, whereby a prohibited melachah is not performed directly, but rather in an indirect manner, and therefore forbidden only mi’d’Rabbanan (Rabbinically), a prohibition which often does not apply in a medical setting. In many instances these innovations might bypass the issue of grama too; they are based on the concept of meni’as hameni’ah, (preventing the prevention)—not actively doing something, but merely preventing a device from acting as a preventer. The device is designed to do the melacha by default but there are “brakes” preventing the device from doing the desired task. Instead of the user simply removing the ”brakes” (which can be a serious violation of Shabbos), he simply inserts a new set of “brakes”—which do not involve the use of electricity—preventing the original “brakes” from operating as a preventer. Alternatively, these innovations are sometimes based on the principle of hamshachas matzav (extending the “status quo”): instead of opening or closing an electrical circuit they simply retain the “status quo” of the device for a longer amount of time than originally scheduled. In other words, here we almost have the flip side, with the user inserting “brakes” to prevent the device from turning off by default.
There are some individuals, perhaps well-intentioned, who are marketing such innovations to the general public. Unfortunately, in many cases their use is an outright desecration of Shabbos. The concept of zilzul Shabbos (denigrating Shabbos) is not merely a minor meta-halachic concern, but a very serious halachic issue. Sometimes d’Oraysa (Biblical) or d’Rabbanan (Rabbinical) prohibitions may be involved. In fact, in some cases these innovations do not even fit the criteria of grama. The concept of grama is very complex, and is beyond the scope of this article. Since these innovations are new, before making use of any of these devices their modus operandi needs to be checked out and then a posek (an expert rav) should be consulted to ascertain that we are not being nichshal with chilul Shabbos, inadvertently violating Shabbos, chas v’shalom.