May 25, 2011

Interesting Psak From Rav Elyashiv: Automatic Electricity Creates A Shabbos Problem

The Electric Company has been encouraging the creation of solarium fields as a way of both saving money from the cost of electricity, and as a way of making money by creating energy and selling it back to the electric company.

solar panel sun farm
The City of Bnei Braq decided to build a solar field, and issued a tender to that end. They received the approval of Rav Chaim Kanievsky, as they were concerned that some of the electricity produced would be distributed among people who desecrate the Shabbos. Rav Kanievsky said that there is no definitive assumption that the electricity created would be used by mechalelei shabbos, and therefore it is ok.

In recent days experts went to Rav Elyashiv claiming that after an in-depth analysis of how the system works, with the electric company changing and improving the system, and have found that the electric company has now transfers the new electricity automatically, putting it back into use immediately. The immediate turnaround increases the chances of the electricity that would be created by the City of Bnei Braq to be used by people desecrating the Shabbos.

Rav Elyashiv paskened that because of the serious concern of chilul shabbos, it is prohibited to create such a solarium. Rav Elyashiv's psak was then taken to Rav Kanievsky, who listened to the new information, had it confirmed, and signed on to Rav Elyashiv's psak. (source: Kikar)

Rav Yisrael Rosen, head of Machon Tzomet, responded to the news by expressing his doubts as to the accuracy of the report, saying that there is no reason to be concerned, as the whole purpose of the solarium is to have everything automated. Being concerned about this is similar to the rain falling and watering fields on Shabbos. Nobody is involved in any aspect of the production or transfer of the electricity, not a Jew nor a non-Jew, and therefore it is fine.

And Rav Rosen added, if the concern is that a person might use such electricity on Shabbos, a person selling pens would have a problem as the buyer might use the pen on Shabbos, a person buying anything might use it on Shabbos, so how can anybody religious sell anything that might end up being used by someone else on Shabbos?

Another possibility as to the source for the issur might be that Bnei Braq would be profiting from something created on Shabbos. Rav Rosen adds that if that is the problem it is no worse than the generators used in Bnei Braq on Shabbos, as those cost money to operate, and the operator is then profiting from the electricity sold on Shabbos.

Rav Rosen continues, saying that there seems to be no reason to prohibit, and in fact such solariums should be encouraged and expanded as they prevent chilul shabbos by taking the issue out of the hands of people and automating the entire system.

A possibility I thought of is that this psak only refers to Bnei Braq specifically and not to solariums in general. perhaps Rav Elyashiv thought that a city like Bnei Braq that is completely machmir and makpid like the Chazon Ish to not allow electricity on Shabbos and only use generators would suddenyl be creating electricity and selling it to mechalelei shabbos. Maybe it was simply a matter of the oxymoron of Bnei Braq being so machmir and on the very same issue selling to mechalelei shabbos. Whereas elsewhere perhaps it would not be th same problem and maybe solariums would be allowed.

I would like to see Rav Rosen try to go to Rav Elyashiv to discuss the issues with him and come to the bottom of this. We have a psak that is unclear, with pretty decent objections raised. Did he say it as is? Did he say it differently?


  1. This is an interesting psak.

    I would think that even Rav Elyashiv and Rav Chaim Kanievsky would agree that the electric company has to generate and provide electricity on Shabbos. If nothing else, it must be there for the benefit of newborns, the sick, and the elderly who need all kinds of medical equipment at home.

    They know as well that in order to do that, the electric cimpany must supply every grid, as it cannnot just direct the electricity to specific homes.

    Their issue is that they want the process automated to the greatest extent possible. Given that it's not automated to that extent, they feel that those who ar enot sick should avoid using it.

    Most certainly, Rav Elyashiv would not be in favor of the electric company shutting down for Shabbos. Nor would he be in favor of their ceasing electricity production over Shabbos.

    Perhaps someone told him that this system will lead to MORE chillul Shabbos?

  2. Just wondering - is there any tzad to say that electricity generated by a solar pannel might be considered "Chama" or "Toldos Chama"? I admit that this could be more similar to a flame that's been caused by the sun, which has the Halacha of Aish, but if some arguement could be made that this is Toldos Chama, at least it's only a Derabanan, and not a Deoraisa - making the fact that Mechalelei Shabbos are using such electricity a positive, not a negative.

  3. Fee-fi-foe-fum
    I smell the blood of an Askan

    Running Shabbat generators is BIG BUCKS and the solar farm would (1) lower the price of Shabbes electricity and (2) put many an Askan out of a lucrative business.

    If I were an owner of a Shabbes generator I would also move heaven and earth to revert the Psak of a Gadol; even if it means lying to another Gadol.

  4. In recent days experts went to Rav Elyashiv claiming that after an in-depth analysis of how the system works... the electric company has now transfers the new electricity automatically, putting it back into use immediately

    This is new information? This is how electricity always works. It must be put to use immediately. It seems that the new information related to something else entirely, perhaps what Danny Schoemann related to.

  5. I think you mean "solar fields", not "solarium fields". A solarium is a sunroom. (You may remember that George Costanza's fictional house in the Hampton's had two.)

  6. Michael MirskyMay 26, 2011 8:53 PM

    I am an electrical engineer working for the power company here in Toronto so I know how this all works.

    Yes, usually solar generation (in fact all generators) provide electricity to the general grid where it is instantly shared and used by all(other than some small potential for hydro storage - not relevant for Israel).

    Rafi might have put his finger on the issue. I understand it, Bnei Brak, Telshe Stone and other such towns arrange things so that they electrically cut off from the main grid on Shabbat and use their own automatically operating (expensive diesel powered) generation instead.

    So, if this solar generation is to feed into the same isolated grid on Shabbat, I don't see what the difference would be. But if the Israel Electric Company insists that these solar units feed into the general power grid, then I can see the concern Maran might have le-shitatam.

  7. Who is allowed to speak to Rav Elyashiv.Does he really get the proper information.There is Rav Halperin of the Machon Technology and Rav Rosen of Tzomet.How does he not get their input?
    This is Rav Elashiv's responsibility.


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