(photo credit: Courtesy)
Normally, it's things like bagels, hot dogs and pizza that come in kosher and non-kosher varieties. But soon an entirely different kosher commodity will be provided to Israelis whether they like it or not, at no additional charge.
Kosher electricity is coming to the Holy Land, perhaps not at the speed of light, but soon. By the middle of 2007, according to projections, Israel Electric will supply kosher power to every settlement - Jewish or gentile, secular or religious - from Kiryat Shmona in the North to Eilat in the South. Central to the proposed solution: hiring 150 "Shabbos goys" to work at power stations.
Does that mean the electricity Israelis have been using for generations is treif? It depends who you ask. According to Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz (1878-1953), known as the Hazon Ish, there is no justification for the desecration of Shabbat that takes place every week to keep the power coming.
Other rabbis argue that supplying electricity on Shabbat is like slaughtering a cow for a sick person who needs meat, which is permitted according to Halacha. Just like you have to ritually slaughter the entire cow even if you only need one steak, so too you cannot supply electricity solely to the sick people in hospitals and at home. You need to supply electricity on a national level.
After you've already slaughtered the cow or supplied the electricity for the sick, the healthy can partake of the meat (raw) or the energy.
Nevertheless, tens of thousands of people agree with the Hazon Ish, refusing to use electric company power on Shabbat. Instead, they rely on their own generators, and can be sure that no Jew is violating Shabbat to keep them running. In Bnei Brak, Beit Shemesh, certain neighborhoods of Jerusalem and a dozen other haredi communities, the gentle hum of a muffled generator is an integral part of the Shabbat experience.
Electric company officials say the phenomenon of pirate suppliers has gotten out of hand.
"These generators are normally set up by nonprofit organizations with the best of intentions but with a minimal understanding of safety issues," said Yigal Ben-Aryeh, vice president in charge of customer service for the 2.3 million households served by Israel Electric.
"We have already had several accidents in which young haredi children have received electric shocks," he said. "Thankfully, no one has been killed yet. But everyone, including the rabbis, agrees that a solution needs to be found before something does happen."
A combination of factors has led to the spread of pirate generators, increasing the risk of electric shocks and the need for a solution. The haredi population is growing rapidly. At the same time, haredi communities are becoming more homogeneous in their practices. The most stringent halachic opinions have become the common denominator, accepted by the general haredi public because they always carry the most prestige.
As a result, many haredi communities that are not necessarily followers of Karelitz have adopted his opinion.
Rabbi Levi Yitzhak Halperin, head of the Institute for Science and Halacha in Jerusalem, has been charged with finding a way to supply to the entire nation with kosher power. He heads a team of rabbis and electric company technicians that is investigating the issue.
Halperin declined to discuss the intricacies of the halachic solutions, but invited The Jerusalem Post to his institute for a crash course in kosher electricity.
Dan Weinstock, director of electricity administration in the National Infrastructures Ministry, said Halperin had the backing of all the major streams of haredi Judaism.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Rabbi Ya'acov Aryeh Alter, the Gerer rebbe, representing Sephardi, Lithuanian and Hassidic Jewry, respectively, have entrusted Halperin with finding a solution. Only the ultra-Orthodox and anti-Zionist Eda Haredit might not accept any solution Halperin offers.
Weinstock, a self-defined secular Jew, said kosher electricity would be a godsend.
"First of all, we plan on hiring 150 non-Jews, thus fulfilling a quota for the employment of minorities in state companies," he said.
"Second, we will be eliminating those dangerous generators and the unnecessary noise and pollution they cause.
"Third, haredim will be able to use more electricity at a lower cost on Shabbat. Right now, they are restricted to five or ten amps because those generators are weak and they pay as much as $100 a month just for Shabbat.
"Lastly, any expenses that the electric company incurs to switch to kosher electricity will be offset by the rise in demand. No longer will we have tens of thousands of haredim refraining from using Israel Electric electricity for 26 hours a week, every week," Weinstock said.