The technological advancements on even the simplest appliances create a world of convenience for users – and a host of complexities for Shabbos and Tom Tov. I spoke to Rabbi Tzvi Ortner, Rabbi of Chevra Linath Hazedek in Kensington and Director of the OU Technology Department, to learn more about kosher-for-Shabbos appliances.
Rabbi Ortner works with a myriad of companies, most notably General Electric (GE), to develop kosher-for-Shabbos appliances to service the Orthodox community.
The Shabbos Keeper is one of OU Technology’s biggest successes.
Manufactured by GE in conjunction with ZmanTechnologies, the Shabbos Keeper is a small device that enables appliances to operate at the highest level possible vis-à-vis temperature while simultaneously making the necessary internal changes to the appliance to ensure that users keep Shabbos al pi halacha.
The Shabbos Keeper started with just a few refrigerator models. Four years later, 95 percent of GE refrigerators work with the Shabbos Keeper. The user simply plugs it in, and voila! – the refrigerator automatically enters Shabbos and Yom Tov mode, enabling users to open and close the refrigerator doors without activating sensors, lights or other electrical components.
About a year and a half ago, the Shabbos Keeper expanded to ovens. In newer models, opening and closing an oven door typically actuates temperature-controlled heating elements. The Shabbos Keeper uses an algorithm to ensure the act of opening and closing the oven door on Shabbos won’t simultaneously trigger temperature-based sensors, while maintaining the oven’s internal temperature and keeping the food warm without the user being mechalel Shabbos.
On Yom Tov, when cooking is allowed, the Shabbos Keeper has an additional oven setting. Around meal times, the oven automatically increases the temperature without any user input. This setting enables the user to cook for the Yom Tov meal, as permitted by Jewish law.
Of course, the process of developing products like the Shabbos Keeper is complex. It requires close coordination and constant contact between numerous internal and external teams, such as the various GE departments building the device, rabbis from within and outside the OU, and Zman Technologies, a company partnering with Rabbi Ortner to build advanced technical solutions to accommodate religious Jews.
Once a prototype is created, it is put to a field test. Units are placed in various homes to ascertain whether the product conforms to the highest standard from a halachic and technical perspective before being put to market.
Rabbi Ortner began working on kosher-for-Shabbos appliances 10 years ago. At the time, AJ Madison CEO Michael Gross approached him regarding the challenge Orthodox Jews will soon be facing vis-à-vis appliances and Shabbos. Michael Gross connected Rabbi Ortner to Kevin Nolan, then CTO, and current CEO of GE.
According to Rabbi Ortner, Kevin Nolan is heavily invested in understanding and providing for the needs of his customers, and his good will helped move the project forward. Today GE is one of OU Technology Department’s biggest partners. GE works closely with Zman Technologies to develop products to integrate the highest level of Shabbos observance into common electrical appliances.
At the onset, Rabbi Ortner analyzed appliances and provided halachic solutions in a semi-private capacity, in consultation with the OU, and specifically Rabbi Belsky, a”h. Rabbi Ortner recounts how, in one meeting, Rabbi Belsky explained that, although his appliances are broken, he can’t purchase new ones, as he can’t use them on Shabbos.
Rabbi Ortner noted Rabbi Belsky’s passion for the importance of creating halachic solutions to ensure newer model appliances can be used on Shabbos and Yom Tov. Unfortunately, Rabbi Belsky passed away before the project took off. About five years ago, the OU opened a division specifically dedicated to technology – the OU Technology Department – as part of Rabbi Belsky’s legacy.
Rabbi Ortner assured me that OU Technology will not compromise on Shabbos. At times, there may be some disagreement between Rabbonim when dealing with complex halachos. In those cases, OU Technology always goes with the strict opinion.
OU Technology is looking towards the future. They are currently developing Shabbos solutions for appliances such as dishwashers, water heaters and air conditioners. They are also looking to expand to other manufacturers to enable consumers to have more choice in brands, models, styles and colors.
Before completing my interview with Rabbi Ortner, I asked him what he would like The Jewish Press readership to be aware of with regard to Shabbos appliances.
He cautioned users shopping for new appliances to do their homework before making a purchase and, when necessary, to speak to a knowledgeable rabbi or the OU Technology Department before choosing an appliance. While consumers should choose the models and brands that work best for them, awareness regarding Shabbos is important.
We look forward to bringing you more updates as additional products launch.