December 16, 2008
'Certified Sabbath Mode'
In our family we tend not to throw away stuff that can still be used but recently had to reluctantly conclude that our electric stove, which came with our house when we bought it twenty years ago and looked pretty old even then, needed to go to that Great Range in the sky. The filaments in both ovens had burned out and two of the four stove top burners had also stopped working, turning this huge apparatus into little more than a hotplate.
When shopping for a replacement we noticed that the phrase 'Certified Sabbath Mode' was often advertised as a selling point. The fact sheet did not say what this meant but I was intrigued and immediately went to Google where I found a very long and detailed explanation (with footnotes and citations) provided by Rabbi Avrohom Mushell.
There were several technical terms in Hebrew that I did not understand but as far as I could gather the basic problem faced by highly observant Jews is how to obtain hot food on a Jewish holiday ('Yom Tov') because originating a flame is considered to fall under the list of prohibitions on such days and that rules out lighting a stove.
As Rabbi Mushell explains:
Turning on an electric stovetop to warm food will initiate the flow of electricity to the burner. The halachic authorities have determined that electricity used as heat or light is considered fire. Therefore by turning on the burner one is creating a new fire. … Turning the dial on your electric stovetop may also initiate a light or icon on a control panel which would otherwise be off. This may be a transgression of kosev, writing, as well as molid. Even when the electric burner was left on from before Yom Tov, if one wishes to adjust the temperature of the burner there is also reason for concern. This is because, as a rule, one does not know if there is electric current running to the element at the time they wish to make the adjustment. Even when there is an indicator light showing that a burner is on, this may not be an indication that electricity is flowing to the burner at that moment. Rather it is indicating that the element is set to maintain the desired setting which it will maintain by going on and off at pre-determined intervals. As a result when one adjusts the temperature upward on Yom Tov they may be initiating the flow of electricity at a time that it was otherwise not flowing. As mentioned earlier, this would be prohibited because of molid.
So what to do?
To circumvent this prohibition, an electrician can install an indicator light which is attached to the actual flow of electricity to the burner. This will indicate when there is current flowing to the burner. When there is electricity flowing, one may raise the temperature in order to enhance cooking.
But that is not all, as the Rabbi warns us. Turning the stove off is also risky:
Lowering the heat setting on an electric stovetop on Yom Tov is also not without its halachic perils. We know that extinguishing a burning log is the melacha of kibui. Lowering the heat setting of a stove on Yom Tov may be associated with the melacha of kibui. Therefore, this can only be done when it is for the benefit of the food, so that it will remain warm but not burn. One may not turn the burner off completely. However, if there is an indicator light showing when power is flowing to the burner, one must be careful to lower the burner only when the indicator light is off. Once the indicator light is off, one may also turn the burner off completely.
But stoves with the Certified Sabbath Mode feature have taken care of this problem in an ingenious way that avoids having to keep track of whether a current is actually flowing or not at the time when one adjusts the controls.
Sabbath mode ovens are designed to bypass many of the practical and halachic problems posed by the modern oven…. Some Sabbath Mode ovens are designed to work with a random delay. This feature allows one to raise the temperature on Yom Tov at any time, regardless of when power is flowing to the oven. This is because when one adjusts the dial or keypad, it is not directly causing the temperature to change. These "instructions" are being left for the computer to read at random intervals. The computer will then follow the "instruction" to raise the temperature. Therefore, this action is only causing a grama, an indirect action, which in turn will cause the temperature to be raised.
A cynic might say that priests have conveniently found a way to allow people to have their creature comforts while pretending to adhere to religious commandments. Whatever, it is clear that the simple, timeless, universal, and harmless act of cooking food has, thanks to priests, come to be believed by some religious people to be riddled with dangers that only those same priests can protect them from. The Rabbi even has an FAQ section to deal with such subtleties as: Can I set the timed bake feature on Yom Tov? May one turn off their stove or oven to conserve energy on Yom Tov? Can I open and close a standard oven door at any time on Yom Tov? Must I wait until I see the glow plug glowing to open the door to my gas oven on Yom Tov?
To me, this is a compelling demonstration of the power of all organized religions to get people to worry about the most trivial things, to spend enormous time and effort to try to interpret and follow arbitrary rules written down by unknown people millennia ago and collected together in books like the Bible and Koran.
And it furthers a self-serving goal for all religious institutions. Once their priests have got people worrying about whether this or that minor action is going to make their god angry and imperil their souls, those people are less likely to ask themselves really dangerous questions such as: Why would I worship a god who cares so much about such petty issues? And even if I do believe in a god, why would I think that priests and other religious authorities know any better than I do about what god wants?
POST SCRIPT: Penn and Teller explain why the Bible should not be taken at all seriously