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2 Liberal Orthodox Rabbis Warring over Flipping Fuse on Stormy Shabbat

A "Beit Hillel" rabbi reported his decision to turn on the electricity on a frozen Shabbat morning, only to be attacked by a "Tzohar" rabbi from his neck of the (snowy) woods.

It's Shabbat morning in snowy Efrat and the electricity has just gone out. Do you suffer through the rest of the day, or do you search for a creative halachic solution? (illustration image)

It's Shabbat morning in snowy Efrat and the electricity has just gone out. Do you suffer through the rest of the day, or do you search for a creative halachic solution? (illustration image)
Photo Credit: Gershon Elinson / FLASH90

Two National Religious rabbis, each a member of different National Religious organizations, have been pushing two radically different views of Shabbat laws following the weekend’s “storm of the century.”

Coordinator of the Beit Midrash (study hall) of the Beit Hillel organization Rabbi Yoni Rosenzweig, who lives in Efrat, in the Judean hills, reported in a personal column in Maariv that at 3 AM, Shabbat, he had woken up to discover that the electricity in his apartment was out.

“I sat down in the middle of the dark living room and was thinking: today is Shabbat. Pushing up the fuse and turning on heat sources in the house is a Torah level prohibition, but, on the other hand, it’s frightfully cold outside, and tomorrow is bound to be cold as well, how will we survive Shabbat without heat?” Rabbi Rosenzweig wrote.

Acknowledging that tens of thousands of Jews in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria had opted to avoid touching their electric systems on that Shabbat, Rabbi Rosenzweig insisted that to him, that choice seemed unreasonable.

“I said to myself: there must be a halachic solution,” the rabbi continued. In the end, he combined two halachic concepts: one – hakol cholim etzel tzina—everyone is considered sick when it’s very cold (Mishna Brura, laws of Shabbat, No. 253 – although the discussion there is regarding asking a gentile to heat the food on Shabbat, Y.Y.); and two – doing the prohibited labor with a change (meaning not the way it is normally done) combined with the concept of Grama (an event caused by another, indirect event) based on the fact that the electricity was not being produced directly as a result of flipping the fuse switch.

In the end, Rabbi Rosenzweig reported, “I lifted the switch with a change, and the heat returned to the apartment. I contemplated for a while if the act was really permitted, but I had no problem falling asleep. I felt that the duty of a posek—halachic ruler is to try and be permissive when it’s needed. We have plenty of ‘chumrot’—severe interpretations of the law, but in an emergency we must know how to go easy.”

Rabbi Rosenzweig’s neighbor in the Gush Etzion region, Rabbi Israel Rosen, of the Tzomet Institute, which, among other things, finds creative halachic solutions to Shabbat issues, and is not known for its strict rulings, published a response in the website Srugim, calling his decision “A Delusional Ruling to Anyone who Understands the Laws of Shabbat.”

Rabbi Rosen laid out a well founded objection to the heter—permission Rabbi Rosenzweig had given himself, starting with the argument that it appeared the children in the house—who are the vulnerable entity in such rulings—appear to have been sleeping comfortably under their covers, which should have at least justified pushing off the decision until morning.

He also suggested that the “indirect” argument is delusional, because there was only one, predictable outcome to flipping the switch on, makes no difference where the actual production takes place.

What I liked most about rabbi Rosen’s well reasoned attack was the fact that, after all had been said, he did not suggest Rabbi Rosenzweig was not within his rights as a halachic Jew to act as he did. What upset him was the fact that he chose to brag about it.

“I was mostly shocked by the atmosphere and the style,” Rabbi Rosen wrote. “It’s evident that the reporting rabbi wishes to aggrandize himself in front of the readers with his great arm that bends halacha with virtuosity.”

“It’s cheapening halacha, using it like playdough,” argued Rabbi Rosen, but, again, his greatest complaint was not the rabbi’s choice, but his turning of a choice that should have remained private into braggadocio.

“If he had ruled this way for his neighbors, I would have kept quiet,” Rabbi Rosen concluded. “But the entire entry emphasizes his own and his family’s interests.”

About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.


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13 Responses to “2 Liberal Orthodox Rabbis Warring over Flipping Fuse on Stormy Shabbat”

  1. Sara Bedein says:

    I had the exact same impression as Rav Rosen when I read the article on Ma'ariv's online website –

  2. Nachum Lamm says:

    R' Rosen is of Tzomet, not Tzohar.

  3. if he didn't live in Israel, he could have called a Shabbos goy

  4. Moshe Mann says:

    Excuse me "Rabbi" Kolakowski, but in your Satmar/Neturei Karta crowd, anyone who isn't sufficiently anti-Israel is called a Shabbos goy!

  5. Cathy Sherman says:

    couldn't this come under "saving a life"?

  6. Boris Moyse says:

    Why would you make the ridiculous claim that Rabbi Kolakowski is part of the "Satmar/Neturei Karta crowd"???

  7. Moshe Mann says:

    from http://roshpinaproject.com/tag/joseph-kolakowski/:

    "In September 2009, Kolakowski was fired as rabbi of Young Israel in Richmond, Virginia for his pronounced anti-Zionist views, prompting a sympathetic article from the anti-Zionist haredi group True Torah Jews."

    Does that answer your question?!

  8. Dan Silagi says:

    What Rabbi Rosenzweig did was a no-brainer. Shabbat isn't supposed to be a punishment. Shame on Rabbi Rosen for making a mountain out of this molehill.

  9. Good grief!!! No wonder so many Jews walk away from the Jewish religion. Look what Kind David did when his men were hungry. All these super religious men wonder what to do and none of them think of asking their God. Do they even know God? Seems like it is just endless rabbi made rules.

  10. Yori Yanover says:

    Thank you. Made the change. Actually makes his position stronger.

  11. Nachum Lamm says:

    True.

  12. Anonymous says:

    There were better solutions to the problem. However the greater issue is not that someone did the best they could in a particular situation, but here the Rabbi, rendered and 'boasted' of his 'unilateral halachic decision' that he immediately benefited from… That's just not right.

  13. I don't know who reported what to whom, but it sounds like Rabbi R may not have seen the original written by Rabbi Y. But for sure the editor who wrote the header of the news item did not accurately describe the response. i wish the involved rabbis would discuss this directly instead of through the media – and only afterwards – publish their messages. We need all the Ahavat Yisrael we can get, and knowing both rabbis, I know that neither sought anything but Kavod HaTorah!!!!!

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