Question: In my dormitory there are automatic motion-sensitive fluorescent lights. If my only intention is to enter and exit my room and not to illuminate the hallway, would this pose any problem on Shabbat?
Shalom! This question touches on technical details of the Laws of Shabbat and invites an interesting consideration about how we deal with halakhic situations which are less in our own control. Your question has similar applications in hotels and other places where one might need to stay on Shabbat (and to a lesser degree in walking at night on Shabbat - there usually one can walk outside the area of a motion-triggered light). To address it, we need to consider the relationship between your act and the light going on, as well as the nature of the prohibition of fluorescent lights.
The work that is prohibited on Shabbat is classified as "melekhet mahshevet" (thoughtful/constructive work). Your walking by to cause the light to go on hardly seems like that kind of work. In fact, it (the causing the light to go on) can be classified as a davar she-eino mitkaven (an act/consequence which one did not intend, precisely as you wrote in your question). It is an inevitable consequence, however, called in halakhah a psik reisha (from the illustration of inevitability of cutting of a chicken's head and its subsequent death!), which makes it more severe, and halakhically mitigates your claim that you don't have the intention to illuminate the hallway. But then we have a final component - your relationship to this outcome: is it good for you, not good for you, or are you indifferent? (Note, before we move to the application to your question, the beautiful "swinging pendulum" of these categories - we are lenient when you have no intention for this outcome, stricter again when it is unavoidable, and then ultimately dependent on how you benefit from that outcome. I think of these as logical and wise evolutions of the Laws of Shabbat.) If it is good for you, this is a category which is hard to permit in Orthodox halakhah. If it is neutral or not good for you, it is easier to permit (especially with the addition of other factors - see below). It's hard to say the lighting is not good for you - it helps you navigate the hallways. In cases like this, though, Orthodox authorities have written that if there is some light already so you could see your way to your room without it, you can be considered more indifferent to the new light, and this is more easily permissible. If there is no other light and you really couldn't see without this light, the only permission I am aware of (The 39 Melochos, Rabbi Dovid Ribiat, p. 1215) is the suggestion to shut your eyes just as you enter the hallway, so you do not benefit at the time that you cause the lights to go on. Once they are own, you can proceed. As silly as this may sound, it has the spirit of helping distance yourself from this act and certainly doing it in an uncommon way - part of the way we deal with non-ideal Shabbat situations.
How about the fluorescent light? Whereas an incandescent light works by heating a metal filament, and is (widely considered) a Biblical prohibition, a fluorescent light is simply electricity exciting the neon gas in the tube, not any specific Biblical prohibition and widely considered to be a Rabbinic prohibition (unless there is a 'starter', which most fluorescent lights don't have - see details on the Tzomet webpage here). This combines with the unintentionality of your action and not needing the outcome, to get to a permissive response.
So: for fluorescent lights, if there is some light already in the hall, you may walk the halls. If there is very little or no light, then using the eyes-shut method is advisable. I am guessing this is a rare scenario: I imagine if you are on an active hall, the lights are often on anyway and you might be able to get in or out while they are already on from someone else's motion.
Finally, this is a fascinating instance where you feel at the mercy of a system beyond your control, but you may wish to seek accommodation from your dormitory. It can be a beautiful teaching moment and a chance to exercise your right to ask for recognition of your religious practice. If some arrangement could be made to disable the motion sensors on your hall (even just yours) on Friday and Yom Tov nights (in the daytime the halls are presumably naturally lit sufficiently already), while it would expend a little more energy, it would alleviate the halakhic challenges here.
I hope that within these minutiae of halakhah, you are able to find meaning and think about the impact of our actions, and in this case to consider the ways we do and don't have agency in the institutions we participate in. Shabbat shalom!
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Question: Is it right for a Jewish Orthodox organization, outside of Israel, to demand that a non-Jewish organization accommodate their religious requirements? Should a boys' basketball team forcefully request a non-Jewish state-sponsored basketball league to change the playing schedule to accommodate their need not to play on Shabbat?
A timely question! It bears similarity to a recent story of the Beren Academy in Houston, Texas, a Jewish day school which made it to the basketball semifinals in the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools league. The game was scheduled for Shabbat, and while the team was prepared to forfeit rather than play on Shabbat, a lawsuit filed by some parents, together with widespread pressure and support for this team from around the country, compelled TAPPS to reschedule the semifinals and finals to make it possible for the team to play not on Shabbat. See coverage of the whole story here: http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/highschool-prep-rally/orthodox-jewish-school-beren-academy-play-state-semis-124507168.html. As opposed to your question, TAPPS is not a state-sponsored organization, and it was not the team per se (but rather some parents) who made this request. It is especially noteworthy that many teams have religious attachments in other faiths, and part of the argument made by the ADL in its letter, and by others, was simply that TAPPS should be as sensitive to the religious practices of its Jewish players as it is to its Christian players.
To your question, then: It's hard to say from a halakhic perspective whether it is right or wrong for an Orthodox organization to make this demand of a non-Jewish organization. The principle of dina di-malkhuta dina, that the law of the land is the law, demands (in most cases) following laws as they are legislated, but it does not preclude advocating for laws to be changed. Why should a Jewish organization not request the right to participate in the activities of the country in a way that accommodates its religious needs? This is especially true considering the sources, Biblical (Jeremiah 29:7 - "seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”) and on (Pirkei Avot 3:2 - "Rabbi Chanina the deputy [High] Priest said, pray for the welfare of the monarchy, for if not for its fear, a person would swallow his fellow alive."), which advocate praying for the welfare of the lands in which we live and supporting and participating in government!
From a Jewish values perspective, turning the question on its head, we recognize that as Jews we are enjoined throughout the Bible to be sensitive to the stranger among us. This is a value when Jews are in power in their own land, and perhaps it points to advocating for that same treatment of us as "strangers" in another land. It seems to me there is nothing wrong with making this request strongly - it shows a commitment to Jewish law, and a desire to fully participate in American life. Advocating forcefully for that opportunity compromises neither. Of course, Orthodoxy demands prioritizing the former over the latter when they are not reconcilable (as the Beren students were committed to all along, to their credit).
The broader question of the impact of our treatment under government, and how much we seek equality, and its costs, is treated wonderfully in an article by Marc Stern entitled, "Egalitarianism and Halakha: An Introduction", which appears in the Orthodox Forum Volume from the 2001 Conference entitled "Formulating Responses in an Egalitarian Age". The article frames these questions beautifully in terms of the cost-benefit analysis internally to the Jewish community in regards to making these demands, and is a worthwhile read in light of this question.
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Question: I would like to address with my 8th grade class the recent articles and reports that workers at iPad factories in China are mistreated. What is our obligation as Jews? Should we boycott? Protest? Write letters? How should we seek justice? I could use some specific quotes from sources that will assist me in pointing them to how we should consider this issue as Jews. Thanks.
Judaism has exhibited serious sensitivity to the treatment of Jewish and non-Jewish workers from Biblical (Leviticus 13:19 and Deuteronomy 24:14-15, the latter of which seems to include non-Jewish employees of Jewish employers) through Rabbinic (Mishnah Bava Metzia 7:1 - a nuanced approach) and into modern times (R’ Ovadyah Yosef’s Yechaveh Daat 4:58 - on unions and strikes). Our tradition recognizes that wage workers do not have the upper hand in their working environments, and their employers must be vigilant in paying them on time and assuring them basic rights. Jewish tradition also demands that workers display good faith in their work and devote their working hours to diligently working for their employer.
One of our first obligations as Jews is to do our due diligence in understanding the facts of any case. To the best of our capability, functioning here as activists, not judges, we should attempt to read reliable reports about the treatment of these workers and not jump to conclusions.
In the realm of obligation, I am hard-pressed to suggest what is formally incumbent upon us to do in this case, even if we find injustice - here we are responding to a situation of non-Jews employing non-Jews. However, that should not stop us from taking some action. In the realm of meritorious and valuable action, I think it is a wonderful educational opportunity to study the texts of worker treatment with your students and decide together (or each individually) what action you choose to take. Composing a letter to Apple, or personal decisions regarding purchase of Apple products, can be appropriate (albeit very different) ways to express our Jewish values. However, I must stress that almost every product has a complex history, and students may want to articulate why they are choosing this issue and this company among others.
Among the Jewish laws whose application may not include this case, but whose general values are relevant for study with your students (some were mentioned above), are:
“Do not stand idly by your neighbor’s blood” (Leviticus 19:16)
“Do not defraud or rob your neighbor. Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.” (Leviticus 19:13)
“Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns. Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin.” (Deuteronomy 24:14-15)
“When workers are performing activities with produce that grows from the earth, but the work required for it has not been completed, and their actions bring the work to its completion, the employer is commanded to allow them to eat from the produce with which they are working. This applies whether they are working with produce that has been harvested or produce that is still attached to the ground…” (Maimonides Laws of Hiring 12:1 via chabad.org - these latter chapters of the Laws of Hiring are a wonderful resource)
I highly recommend Chapter 5 of Rabbi Jill Jacobs’ recent book, “There Shall Be No Needy”, for a wonderful collection of sources and analysis on this topic. There you will find translations and discussions of many of the sources cited here. Good luck!
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