For 30 years, Machon Zomet (Zomet Institute) has been working to make modern technology compatible with Jewish law, especially on the Sabbath.
The institution’s staff, comprised of 25 rabbis, researchers and engineers have devised practical and pragmatic halakhic solutions for institutions, businesses and private citizens. Its engineers have developed and implemented technologies that enable products such as metal detectors, security jeeps, elevators, electric wheelchairs, and coffee machines to be used on the Sabbath in certain cases through specific techniques.
“I think in a lot of ways it’s become easier to be religious and observant with modern technology,” said Rabbi Dan Marans, Executive Director of the Zomet Institute. “It used to be that when someone became old, all week long they’d sit around the house not being able to leave, and also on the Sabbath. Now, modern technology has allowed people mobility so they can go around as they please during the week, and with changes we’ve been able to make, they can also use the same electric scooters or electric wheelchairs on Shabbat.”
Rabbi Marans explained that electric scooters or wheelchairs can be used by those who need them on the Sabbath by modulating existing currents, so that nothing is turned on and no circuits are closed. This enables those who need it to use these machines on the Sabbath while not using electricity, which is forbidden on the Sabbath. Halakha allows this Sabbath use under special conditions, for reasons of infirmity, illness and security.
Rabbi Marans stressed that “people who want to use this type of equipment have to ask their local Orthodox rabbi if it’s permitted for them. It’s not a blanket halakhic permit, not just something that someone can use for fun. It’s something that someone who can’t walk more than a couple of meters can use in order to go to synagogue and enjoy Shabbat, with a rabbi’s permission.”
The Zomet Institute will receive recognition at next week’s Jerusalem Conference, when Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, head of the institute, will be awarded the Jerusalem Prize during the conference. The prize notes Zomet as being “a leading institution in theconstruction of a Jewish state according to Israel’s Torah” and outlines some of Rabbi Rosen’s accomplishments as the head of the institute.
“I think that what gave the impetus to find solutions that merge Torah and science halakhically is a Jewish state,” said Rabbi Marans. “If we want to have an independent, functioning Jewish state , we can’t rely on non-Jews for necessities on the Sabbath. We want to be an entirely independent Jewish state, and that means we need Jewish security and Jewish doctors. On top of that, it’s our home and we want to run it ourselves.”