Shabbat Phone

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A medical scenario: It is Friday night. Dr. Shabtai sits down to eat the Shabbat meal with his family, and suddenly, the phone rings! Should he run to answer the phone? Clearly, a mortal threat takes precedence over the prohibitions of Shabbat, even when there may be a doubt about the nature of the danger. But experience has shown that most phone calls are not true emergencies – one patient has forgotten where to buy medicine, another one wants to check when he has an appointment, the doctor who will replace Dr. Shabtai on call (a nonobservant Jew) wants to tell him that he will be a few minutes late, and so on. If this is really typical, shouldn’t we do everything we can to decrease the Shabbat desecration?

 A security scenario: It is Shabbat afternoon. The rotation of the guard has been delayed because a military briefing is taking longer than planned. The soldiers on duty are anxious – their replacements are more than five minutes late. The obvious solution is an angry phone call to the command post. But what if the duty soldier is a Hesder student who has explicitly asked not to be contacted by phone for matters that are not directly connected with military operations? What can be done? Will it always be necessary for a nonobservant soldier to be on duty at the command post? How can the Shabbat desecration be reduced?

 The Zomet Institute has met this important challenge by developing the Shabbat Phone, which works on the principle of gramma (indirect operation). None of the actions of the phone – dialing a number, lifting or hanging up the receiver – takes place immediately. A special mechanism regularly polls the phone, and only when it detects a change does it cause the desired action to occur.  The person using the Shabbat Phone only acts in an indirect way, and this is permitted on Shabbat for essential activities, even if they do not involve a mortal threat.

Twelve Shabbat phones were ordered six months ago for religious personnel among the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s aides, including the national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, and several Mossad and Shin Bet workers.

The halachic approval was only given for essential workers and important needs like health, security, public services, water and electricity and so on,” says Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, the head of Zomet Institute, and this did not mean everyone could now enjoy social calls at weekends.

The Zomet Institute is a non-profit, public research institute dedicated to seamlessly merge Halachic Judaism with Modern Life. For close to 30 years our staff of 25 Rabbis, researchers, and engineers has devised practical and pragmatic Halachic solutions for institutions, businesses and private citizens. Zomet’s engineers have developed and implemented technologies that enable products such as metal detectors, security vehicles, elevators, electric wheelchairs, and coffee machines to be used on Shabbat.
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