In the February issue of Emunat Itecha, a quarterly on halakhic issues concerning mitzvot applicable only in Israel (hatluyot baaretz), an article appeared that was found in the computer belonging to Rabbi Eitan Henkin Hy"d, murdered on Hanukkah along with his wife in a terrorist shooting attack in Samaria as they drove with their four children in the car.
Emunat Itecha is a well established periodical, published by the Institute for Torah and Eretz Yisrael, and includes both theoretical Torah research and practical halakhic discussions that apply to the Land of Israel.
In the editorial that opens the current magazine, the writers explain that issue 105 contains Rabbi Eitam's responses to an article by Rabbis Dror Fiksler and Eli Reif on the use of sensors on Shabbat. At the end of the responses, the editors added the two rabbis' comments on it. They write:
"Rabbi Eitam's father, Rabbi Herzl Yehuda Henkin Shlita (may the Almighty grant him and the family comfort with all the mourners of Zion) sent us what became Rabbi Eitam's last written responsum. May his words serve to enhance the ascent of his pure soul in the heavens, as our Sages wrote: The lips of a Torah scholar whose Torah Thoughts were uttered in this world and are studied after his demise, move silently [as his thoughts are repeated]."
The article that Rabbi Eitam Hy"d responded to dealt with the parameters involving permission to approach an automatically opening door and other objects similarly operated by sensors on Shabbat. The two rabbis to whom Rabbi Eitam is responding in his first and second opinion, claim that there is no connection between a person's action (for example, walking down the street) and the result in this case (the activated sensor causing lights to go on). In their view, the act itself is not one of the 39 types of work forbidden on Shabbat (nor is it derived from them) and no act has been performed on the activated object itself, so this is not in the category of a "psik reisha" (a halakhic principle that describes an act that makes another one inevitable, the first not allowed if the second is forbidden), even though the end result does give the person satisfaction.
Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, who is a respected halakhic decisor on issues of Shabbat and technology wrote, in his response, that nowadays, man is so surrounded by sensors that they are to be considered tools and the person activating a sensor is to be seen as the one performing the action, comparable to someone shooting an arrow at a target.
Rabbi Eitam in a long and well documented article, attacked the two basic premises leading to the lenient decision (heter) of the two rabbis, saying that the sensors are not autonomous in themselves and cannot be seen as the activators of the electrical reaction. The activation of the electrical response is a result of a person's actions. Moreover, when the Rambam (Maimonides) defines a "psik reisha" he does not require checking of the causal factor between the two actions and any circumstance where one action necessarily brings about the second is defined as a "psik reisha".
Rabbi Eitam defines three possibilities:
1. Someone who approaches a door which then opens because of a sensor - forbidden
2. Someone who is walking down the street and as he walks lights go on -most decisors forbid this although a few allow it.
3. Someone who is walking down the street thereby causing a camera to begin photographing, but does not have any connection with that fact - is permitted to do so.
In his article, Rabbi Henkin Hy"d expresses the feeling that the two rabbis' answer to his dissenting opinion did not really address his points of conflict with them. He further analyzes the Rambam's use of the term "just walking along" (holech lefi tumo) as an act that is allowed even if while walking someone crushes a snake or scorpion. This is only in the case where it is not inevitable that he will end up doing a forbidden act (that is stepping on a living creature) and therefore the walk is permissible. But if the forbidden result is unavoidable, as in the case of the sensor, it is not in the category of "just walking along" and is forbidden.
"I must say that to me the rabbis' responses to the points they decided to answer [in my first response], is not convincing," wrote Rabbi Eitam. "They hardly responded to many of my points and that includes my main point that the act here is intentional and not a 'psik reisha'"; the rabbis also repeat things that were in the original article without adding anything to them. For example the phrase 'in our generation, there is a complete disconnect between a person's actions [regarding sensors] and their results, a greater one than there is in the case of a thermostat which previous rabbis allowed.' The claim of a greater disconnect between act and consequence is not clear to me, however the reason the rabbis of previous generations granted permission to open a refrigerator is that the system activated by a thermostat does not react immediately but gradually and indirectly - that cannot be said of an electric eye and the like."
Rabbi Henkin goes on to conduct an in depth analysis of the issue, ending with: "In conclusion, the rabbis went all out in their response and expressed it in practical halakhic terms, may they be forgiven, against decisions that were accepted for decades and are in 'Shmirat Shabbat Kehilkhata' ( a definitive work of halakha for Shabbat) and other halakhic works in all of Israel. Except for the Gaon Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz, there has not been one great decisor who proposed leniency on the issue. The practical question has been around for decades and we are witness to the fact that it was not dealt with leniently. Even in the words of those who wish to depend on Rabbi Rabinowitz, they know the issue has been clearly forbidden [by most decisors] and I only wanted to show that there if there is only the one opinion that permits it - it needs much more study (vetsarich iyun gadol).
The Hebrew version of this article is by Yedidya Ben Or and appeared on Arutz Sheva's Hebrew site. The above is an expanded translation.