Title: The Power of Shabbos
By Rabbi Chaim Jachter
Rarely a day goes by where questions regarding the interplay between halacha and technology don’t come up. Many challenges exist regarding the use of electricity and various electrical appliances on Shabbat and Yom Tov, be it in the home, hospital or elsewhere. Rabbi Chaim Jachter, Rabbi of Congregation Shaarei Orah in Teaneck, NJ, Rebbe at TABC, and world renowned gittin and eiruvin expert, authored The Power of Shabbos, a fantastic sefer where he compiles the numerous cutting-edge questions that arise, as well as gathering the varying views as to how to navigate these modern halachic minefields.
Rabbi Jachter sets the table in the first two chapters elucidating on the array of halachic background regarding the use of electricity and the differing opinions that have been penned over the last 150 years. Afterwards the sefer delves into the issues that evolve and the divergent approaches used to traverse them. Examples include things like refrigerators, baby monitors, sensors, security systems, smart homes, Alexa, the Ring doorbell and more. The third, and final, section discusses the use of electricity for positive mitzvot, such as: lighting candles on Shabbat, Yom Tov, Chanukah, and for havdalah.
The beauty of this sefer is that Rabbi Jachter wrote a brilliant masterpiece in a simple refined language that can be understood by a layman, but also incorporates the original source texts (in both Hebrew and English), and detailed footnotes for the most experienced poskim and rabbeim. The ability to write a sefer in simple English that can be appreciated and enjoyed by a wide audience attests to the author’s unique ability to interact with an array of people from high school students, community members, and leading poskim and dayanim across the globe. I found it incredibly helpful that Rabbi Jachter cites all of his sources so that one can examine them inside for further study.
Rabbi Jachter went to great lengths to confirm and put into writing the many, previously oral, piskei din and halachic rulings of Rabbi Herschel Schacter and Rabbi Mordechai Willig. This makes this work incredibly important for countless Jews across the world who view themselves as talmidim of these rabbeim but were previously unaware of their halachic views on these questions. The mainstream opinion presented is that of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach.
The sefer could have been further enhanced by including more information on the more extremist, both the stringent and lenient, views regarding the issue of electricity on Shabbat and Yom Tov. There was little reference to the lenient approach of Rabbi Nachum Eliezer Rabinovitch, and in the opposite extreme that of Mishmeres HaShabbos from Bnai Brak, run by Rav Bayfus who represents the piskei din of Rav Eliyashiv, Rav Kareliz, and Rav Chaim Kanievsky. Nor was there much discussion regarding the Moroccan opinion regarding the use of electricity on Yom Tov. Nonetheless, I greatly enjoyed the practical back and forth between Rav Rosen and Rav Halperin, which is mirrored by their work leading Machon Tzomet and Institute of Science & Halacha in Yerushalayim.
This sefer is a great overview of the practical challenges technology poses and a concise summary of the differing opinions for each of the issues presented. There was less discussion as to where Rabbi Jacther views the halachic world standing on these issues in twenty-five years from now, but rather the sefer proved to be a wonderful synopsis of the discussion so far. By bringing together the rulings of the towering Torah giants of the previous generations with the leading scholars alive today, Rabbi Jachter empowers the next generation to carry the torch of the Torah forward to properly address and assess these questions.
Rabbi Jachter at times leaves the world of “pure halacha” and calls on the reader to remember the depth and beauty of Shabbat and to tap into that. Rabbi Jachter poetically writes “The powerful imagery of the Sambatyon at rest on Shabbat lies behind the Jewish people’s collective intuition that powering electric devices is not fit for Shabbat. It is impossible to achieve a proper Shabbat atmosphere with our standard, weekday use of electricity on Shabbat. The suddenly calm waters of the tumultuous river demand we reflect on the vital importance of our obligation to uphold the spirit of Shabbat.”
Much of the excitement concerning technology and Torah is seeing how the Torah is able to include any and all changes in the world and how texts written by rabbis who could have never imagined anything remotely like modern technology are so relevant and important to this discussion. As Rabbi Jacther writes “we are witness to a real-world example of how the never-ending fount of Talmudic precedents can lead us successfully through the treacherous paths sometimes set by new technologies. Torah and Shabbat march onward…”