By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
This is a story that has not yet been told.
Many years ago, Rav Yechiel Michel Stern Shlita one of the leading Poskim and Rabbonim in Yerushalayim, was approached by a woman who was severely handicapped regarding a very delicate question. Rav Stern realized that it was necessary to design and build a mikvah that contained a hydraulic lift – the first of its kind.
Immediately, Rav Stern went to work on a halachically acceptable design. A meeting was called of the four greatest Poskim in the world – Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l, Rav Elyashiv zt”l, Rav Vosner zt”l. At the meeting these three giants of psak called Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l in the United States and they discussed the very serious halachic obstacles to the initial design. The obstacle was the requirement of hevyasam al yedei taharah discussed in a Rosh in Hilchos Mikvaos (Siman 12) based on a Gemorah in Zvachim (25b).
Three of the Poskim were willing to accept a somewhat tenuous leniency in regard to the matter, by virtue of the great need at stake. One of the Poskim, however, had very serious reservations. The other three Poskim agreed – the matter was so serious that unless they had unanimous agreement – they could not proceed further.
The project was derailed for a short time, until a new design was created that was able to circumvent the issue. When the second design was presented all four Poskim accepted the matter readily. This is the history behind the hydraulic Mikvaos that are now available across the world.
The point of the matter is that when there is an issue that affects all of Klal Yisroel, it must be handled delicately and by the leading Torah scholars.
This issue is particularly relevant regarding something we had discussed called Kosherswitch – a technological device that has been advertized as something that will “enhance” the Shabbos of the general public.
The problem is that leading Poskim have taken the exact opposite position – it’s use is at best restricted to a hospital or nursing home setting. It should never be used in a home setting by individuals who are not suffering from serious illness. Indeed, many of the leading Rabbis who were touted as advocates of the technology have released statements that their advocacy of the item was limited to certain situations and that their views have been misrepresented.
Other Poskim have taken a much stronger stance. Rav Yisroel Belsky actually called the device “a Rube Goldberg” contraption .. and stated, “This concept has no place in halacha.” He felt that “following this fallacious reasoning all thirty-nine malachos and their subcategories could easily be performed on Shabbos.
HOW IT ALLEGEDLY WORKS
The way the KosherSwitch works is by moving a plastic item, unattached to anything electrical, that prevents an internally emitted light pulse from hitting the other side. When the light pulse hits the other side – the switch turns the light on. The emission of the pulse and the reception of the pulse are allegedly subjected to random degrees of uncertainty.
In our original posting on the Kosherswitch the discussion of innapropriateness in the Youtube video came up. An ostensibly religious man, was searching for a Shabbos goy (a woman in this case) and had inadvertently crosses a moral line. Rabbi Belsky did one better.
He writes that the entire tone of the advertisement gave the impression that the restrictions of Shabbos are negatives when in fact it is these restrictions that make Shabbos the wonderful, sweet and majestic day that it is.
It was a point made by no other Rav and is profoundly correct.
Other Poskim have signed letters against the product, with the realization that its dangers are the social equivalent of opening up the entire ouevre of pharmacological products and developments to the world. Enhance your life with Ambiance with no prescription, and perhaps set up your own morphine drip too. Thus Dayan Yechelzkel Roth issued strong letter. Rav Dovid Feinstein, Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky, Rav Falk, and Rav Shlomo Miller also issued rulings.
The entire episode is quite sad, because here we had a very talented engineer that may have developed a product that could have been very useful in medical settings. He is described by those who know him as an extraordinary fine fellow who meant well. So what happened? How could something have ended up so disasterously? The miscommunications, combined with the notion that people hear what they want to hear, combined with the idea that people do not check out things as well as they should, has developed into a situation of Chillul Hashem and accusations flying left and right.
It is sad but this person must have spent much time and money promoting this idea. There were Rabbis that were perhaps misled and some that perhaps had back-tracked a bit.
SO WHAT TO DO?
Perhaps there are a few lessons in this entire fiasco. Firstly, we should all do whatever we can to help further and enhance our kavod and Oneg Shabbos in proper ways. There is so much truth to the oft-cited expression, “More than the Jew has kept Shabbos, Shabbos has kept the Jew.” Let’s make sure that no meal goes by without an inspiring Dvar Torah on the Parsha and without participation in Zmiros.
Another place we can start is through learning Seforim that discuss the beauty of Shabbos. The Nesivos Shalom by the Slonimer Rebbe zatzal has remarkably inspiring pieces that have affected the Shabbosim of both kids that were OTD kids as well as married Lakewood yungerleit. The works of Rav Shimshon Pincus have had similar effects. If we can do this instead of tummeling about these issues, then we can most certainly enhance our Shabbosim.
By Rabbi Yair Hoffman