By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

Recently, a Facebook post humorously contrasted “security cameras” from the 1960s to contemporary security cameras. There is another contrast, however, that can be made as well. The contemporary security cameras (pictured) also have a number of halachic hurdles to overcome. The 1960s “security cameras” (pictured in accompanying meme) do not, at least in terms of hilchos Shabbos.

In many locations, security cameras are essential. What follows is a discussion of the possible underlying issues involved. Of course, each person should consult with his or her rav or posek as to the exact guidelines of whether it is permitted to install such a device and whether it is permitted to walk past one.

The Two Main Issues

There are essentially two main issues when one decides to install a security camera that will be functioning over Shabbos, and when one walks by a security camera on Shabbos.

• Causing extra electricity to be used by the people walking before the camera.


Many good security cameras, for example the Wyze Cam Pan, Ring Spotlight Cam, and Google Nest Cam IQ, come with a motion-detection feature which causes extra electricity to be used when one walks by. If you are unsure if your model does this, you can use the Kill a Watt gadget to determine this. Long ago, a friend of mine conducted experiments recording different colors and reported that the brightness of the subject also caused variations in the amount of electricity that was used. Some camera systems also record sound and that causes an increase in electric activity as well.

There are three opinions as to how electricity is viewed in halachah:

• Group A poskim hold that electricity involves a biblical prohibition of one sort or another.

• Group B poskim hold that electricity involves only a rabbinic prohibition of molid.

• Group C poskim hold that electricity involves a prohibition of uvdah d’chol.

It is important to know the different levels of prohibition involved in order to determine what exactly may be permitted for what particular reason. For example, the security cameras placed in the Old City within a certain perimeter around the Kosel were permitted by Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, because of the very high threat level involved.

Another concept that we must be aware of is the notion of grama, an indirect cause.

1. Direct action—generally a biblical prohibition.

2. Grama—generally a rabbinic violation.

3. Semi-grama—also known as not considered a grama and thus fully permitted.

Grama means a “causation force” rather than a “direct force.” The laws of grama on Shabbos are derived from the Talmudic passages of grama in damages and in murder. Not that “causation force” is permitted, necessarily; at times it is forbidden by rabbinic decree. The Shulchan Aruch and Rema (O.C. 334:22) rule that a grama is forbidden on Shabbos except in cases of loss or great need.

Group A Poskim

The first posek to hold that electricity involves a Torah prohibition is the author of the Mishpetei Uziel, Ben Tzion Meir Chai Uziel, zt’l (1880–1953). He writes (Mishpetai Uziel Volume I in the Hashmatos, siman 2) that the use of electricity involves the Torah prohibition of makeh b’patish. Contrary to what we all learned in elementary school, according to the Rambam, this melachah is violated at any stage of the preparation of the vessel. Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer in his Even HaAzel (Shabbos 10:17) understands the prohibition of makeh b’patish as a general category that involves anything that is done to make a kli perform. Rav Asher Weiss, shlita, expounded on this same halachic view when he spoke at the White Shul in Far Rockaway a number of years ago.

The more famous Group A opinion is that of Rav Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz, zt’l (1878–1953), the Chazon Ish (O.C. 50:9). He writes (both in his commentary and in his subsequent letters to Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt’l) that electricity is a violation of boneh, building, for two reasons:

1. Connecting the two formerly disconnected wires involves the creation of a circuit and one complete unit. This is no different than taking formerly disconnected parts of a vessel and connecting them, which the majority of Rishonim holds is a Torah prohibition.

2. Allowing for the flow of electrons through a circuit is a violation of “nesinas tzurah l’hi’gashem,” placing shape into physical form. This is like awakening the wires from “death to life,” which is a violation of boneh according to the view of the Ramban.

The shutting off of the circuit also involves the prohibition of soser, breaking.

The way motion-detection cameras work is with the opening and closing of secondary side circuits, which would be a violation of a Torah prohibition according to the Group A poskim. The difference between the two views may be as to whether the shutting off of the secondary circuitry would involve a prohibition according to the Mishpetei Uziel and Rav Asher Weiss, as there is no “opposite” melachah for makeh b’patish. (Although it is possible that the shutting off is a form of makeh b’patish, too.)

There are also some prominent poskim who have taken the view that since, according to the Yerushalmi in Shabbos (7:2), there are a total of 1,521 varying Torah prohibitions on Shabbos (called tolados), it is veritably impossible that such a far-reaching concept of electricity is not a violation of one of them. [If we add to this the original 39 melachos, we get 1,560.] We thus have three different opinions as to what exactly is the Torah prohibition involved in the use of electricity.

The utilization of the extra use of the electricity often involves an indirect action known as a “grama.” That may make the violation significantly less rigorous according to the Group A poskim. According to this view, we would need to further understand the parameters of a grama.

The most famous view disagreeing with the Group A poskim is that of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt’l (1910–1995) in his Minchas Shlomo (Vol. I #9). What prompted his analysis of the issues was the fact that, at the time, hearing aid batteries needed to be changed more often than they do nowadays, and his own mother had times when the battery died on Shabbos. The action involved in changing it allowed the electricity issue to be heard.

Group B Poskim

The second view of electricity being a rabbinic violation of molid was first espoused by Rav Yitzchok Yehudah Shmelkes (1828–1906) in his Bais Yitzchak (Y.D. Vol. II #31). His argument is that just as there is a rabbinic prohibition of introducing a nice fragrance into clothing, likewise, there is a prohibition of inserting electricity into a circuit. We find the idea of molid in three other places in Shas: molid aish—fire (see Taz O.C. 502:1); molid mayim—water from snow (Shabbos 51b, according to Rashi); and molid kol—sound (Eiruvin 104a according to the Vilna Gaon and Rabbeinu Chananel). This seems to be a debate between the Rema and the Mechaber as to how to understand it exactly (see Shulchan Aruch O.C. simanim 338 and 339).

Group C Poskim

The notion of uvdah d’chol is considered to be less of a violation than an out-and-out rabbinic prohibition and is, at times, permitted by poskim when there is a strong dvar mitzvah involved. This is only when it stands alone, however. Uvdah d’chol is not permitted for a dvar mitzvah when there is any srach melachah involved.

This is the clear ruling of the Pri Megadim in his Aishel Avraham 306:16. One could possibly argue that this Pri Megadim is only for Ashkenazim (although we do not find any Sefardic authority who argues). There is a clear proof from the Gemara in Shabbos 143b proving the Pri Megadim. The Gemara there states: u’bilvad shelo yisfog.Yisfog is an example of uvdah d’chol and it is not permitted for the tzorech mitzvah of the classic example of saving the three meals for Shabbos.


The second issue is that these security cameras may involve a prohibition of writing. Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, had addressed a similar issue in regard to closed circuit television in a letter dated February 7, 1982, to Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, a’h (1941–2017), the former director of the Tzomet Institute written by Rav Moshe’s grandson, Rabbi M. Tendler. [Three days later, Rav Feinstein affirmed that this was, in fact, his opinion.] His ruling is that since the writing is not of a permanent nature, it is just an issur d’rabbanan at best. He further stated that one who passes by is only performing a psik reisha that he does not care about; it would be permitted to pass by. This letter is reprinted in Techumim Vol. XIV p. 433.

Rabbi Rosen posed the question again to Rabbi Yehoshua Neuwirth, zt’l (1927–2013), author of the Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasa, on December 5, 1990, and informed him of Rav Feinstein’s ruling. He questioned whether it is, indeed, to be considered a psik reisha that one does not care about. Rav Neuwirth responded: (the date in the letter is incorrect) (1) Who is he to question Rav Feinstein, especially since it is true that it is not a permanent writing; and (2) who ever said that this is considered writing? (3) He discussed the issue with Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach who said that there is no concern and that it is not writing. And (4) he expressed that it may use extra electricity.

He did not address the issue as to whether it is a psik reisha that one cares about.

Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, and others held that digital writing is definitely a forbidden act. This can be seen from the letter signed below. Rav Hershel Schachter, shlita, in a conversation with this author, also held that digital writing certainly can be considered a d’rabbanan for writing.

{IMG Rav Elyashiv psak

Other Halachic Issues

There are also a number of other halachic issues that need to be taken into account. First, we know that there is a debate in regard to a psik reisha that one does not care about regarding a d’rabbanan. The Aruch holds that it is permitted, while Tosfos (Shabbos 103a) holds that it is forbidden.

Second, we need to know what is a grama or a semi-grama and where the definitional differences lie. What are the halachic factors that would make something that is causative a semi-grama rather than a grama?

There are three main approaches in the poskim:

1. Some poskim hold that if there is a delay in time between the person’s action and the result then it would be considered a semi-grama.

2. Other poskim hold that if the secondary action will not perforce occur, then the causative action is not even considered a grama. If it is not definite that the secondary result will happen, it would be considered a semi-grama, not a grama.

3. Yet, other poskim hold that if it is not the normal way in which this causative action is performed, then it is considered a semi-grama.

Thirdly, we can also ask whether mere walking in front of a light or a camera is forbidden. Rav Vosner in his Shevet HaLevi (Volume IX #69) rules that it is just walking, and cannot be forbidden.

There is also the issue of a concern for pikuach nefesh. This may depend on where one lives as well. A number of issues were raised in this article; hopefully, it will lead people to a greater understanding of what is involved. Each person, however, should ask his or her rav as to what is halachically advisable in a specific situation.

The author can be reached at Read more of Rabbi Hoffman’s articles at

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