Lighting Shabbat and Yom Tov candles in the sukkah is a mitzvah. Yet, it can also be a fire hazard, warns Rabbi Menachem Perl, former chief rabbi of Israel’s Fire Department and currently the director of the Zomet Institute for Halachah and Technology.
The Jewish Press: Is lighting candles in the sukkah necessary?
Rabbi Perl: According to halacha, it is preferable to light Shabbat and Yom Tov candles where the meal will be eaten. But since the sukkah is not a hermetic environment, lighting candles there is complicated.
Sometimes everyone is davening in the beit knesset or getting ready in the house, and the sukkah is left vacant with the candles burning. If it is located in a parking lot or the backyard, a cat can sneak in and knock over the candles.
Some people make the blessing over the candles in the sukkah and then bring the candles into the house to avoid the danger of fire. This is a non-kosher practice, however.
Should women perhaps light candles inside an “aquarium” like some do on Chanukah?
Israel’s former chief rabbi, Rav Mordechai Eliahu, of blessed memory, stated that this is a proper thing to do. Another option is to light electric, halachically-approved, battery-powered candles with a lighting filament, like the ones Zomet produces. Most poskim have stated that it is permissible to make a blessing over electric candles on Shabbat, especially if no regular candles are available.
Wherever there is a danger of fire from wind, rain, or any other cause, this is the best way to light.
The Zomet Institute is famous for its Shabbat devices. What recent developments can you tell us about?
Two weeks ago, our engineers introduced a Shabbat-proof system for the automatic, electric-eye entrance doors of the Tel HaShomer Medical Center at the request of the hospital’s Rabbi Yoav Oknin. Now, everyone who enters the hospital can do so without the danger of desecrating Shabbat.
In the new system we installed, the doors open automatically every three minutes. A special “traffic light” above the door flashes green to indicate that passage is permissible, since the electric eye is off during this interval.
We also installed the Shabbat open-door system in different hospital departments and delivered a mobile Shabbat cart for meal deliveries.
What other Shabbat inventions does Zomet have for hospitals?
Our inspections reveal that the water heating mechanisms in many hospitals are very problematic. But often the management is reluctant to spend the money that a trustworthy Shabbat system costs.
Are any of your products available in America?
The Shabbat cart we designed for Amigo Mobility International is available. Our battery-powered sukkah candles will get there next year. We are working on various Shabbat-security devices for synagogues, including hand metal detectors.
The Zomet Center in Alon Shvut has an exhibition explaining to the public the halachic challenges of observing Shabbat in modern times along with solutions. Is there a chance that a similar exhibition will find its way to New York?
If someone would like to fund such an endeavor, why not?