The IDF Rabbinate is hard at work on the development of a special touch screen that would make it possible to use vital computer systems without violating Sabbath, reports IDF magazine BaMachaneh (In the Camp).
Operational considerations mandate the use of computer systems like ‘Masua’ or ‘Sheder Cham 400’ during the Sabbath. These systems inform their operators of the location of IDF units during operations and battles. Other systems, like the IDF’s medical information system, named CPR, must also be used on Sabbath.
Add-on touchscreen, Sabbath keyboard, Sabbath mouse. (IDF website)
“The CPR system, for instance, serves medical personnel whenever a soldier walks into a clinic, and we cannot avoid using it on Sabbath,” explained Capt. Rabbi Ronen Aharon, Staff Officer for Halacha and Technology at the Rabbinate.
While Halacha (Jewish law) stipulates that the Sabbath can be violated for life-saving activity, the IDF Rabbinate has been searching for ways to cut down Sabbath violation to a minimum.
The Tzomet Institute's Sabbath mouse (Tzomet Institute website)
The IDF Rabbinate has developed two options for Sabbath-friendly screens. One is a specially designed touch screen and another is an add-on that is connected to a regular screen and turns it into a touch screen, for all intents and purposes. There is no decision yet as to which system will be put into use.
Another project, currently in its pilot phase, involves special Sabbath keyboards. Three prototype Sabbath keyboards have been put into experimental use in recent months, after being approved by the military’s Computer and Information Systems Center (MAMRAM) and Information Security Department. The Rabbinate is awaiting feedback from the soldiers who use them, in order to decide if they are preferable over the virtual keyboard/Sabbath mouse combination currently being used by the IDF.
The IDF is also examining the possibility of changing the incandescent bulbs in the IDF’s communications equipment with LEDs (light emitting diodes), since turning on an incandescent light involves the actual lighting of a fire, which is explicitly forbidden by the Torah. An LED is activated by an electrical current – an act forbidden by the Sages and not by the Torah, and thus more flexibly permitted in cases of dire necessity.
Rabbinate crews are also planning to install special electrical switches that will enable opening of electrical gates on Sabbaths in IDF bases that use them. The device is currently being tested at five entrances to IDF bases, including Yafo Gate at Tzerifin Base.
The Sabbath-friendly switch is one of the Rabbinate's earliest developments. It also saves the IDF money, because manufacturing it inside the IDF is cheaper than buying it outside the army.
The internal mechanics and electronics of the Sabbath mouse, which was developed by the Tzomet Institute for Halacha and Technology, employ the Talmudic concept of ‘grama,’ which allows an observant Jew to indirectly cause certain events to take place on Sabbath, without direct action on his part. The same concept makes it possible to re-adjust certain Sabbath timers during the Sabbath.