'Kosher phone' helps IDF minimize Shabbat desecration

Development points to growing influence of religious soldiers on the army.

shabbat phone (photo credit: courtesy)
shabbat phone
(photo credit: courtesy)
A recent decision by the IDF top brass to institute a "kosher telephone" that minimizes Shabbat desecration is yet another sign of the growing influence of religious soldiers on the army. In recent weeks the IDF purchased hundreds of telephones developed by the Tzomet Institute, a research group that finds technology-based loopholes in Jewish law, according to the army weekly Bamachane. "The growing number of religious mid-level officers and soldiers, many of whom are graduates of pre-military preparatory academies, has created a real demand for solutions to the problem of Shabbat desecration," said Rabbi Israel Rosen, head of the Tzomet Institute in Alon Shvut. "These solutions reach the IDF as a result of a demand from the bottom up," said Rosen. "Religious soldiers want to do everything to minimize transgression of the Shabbat." Bamachane quoted Lt.-Col. Rabbi Shlomo Yakabovitz, who is in charge of finding technological solutions to religious issues in the IDF, as saying there was a "real demand among soldiers for a kosher phone." Dialing and other electronic operations on the "Shabbat phone" are performed in an indirect way so that the person using the phone is not directly closing electrical circuits. Instead, an electronic eye scans the phone buttons every two seconds. If a button has been pressed, the eye activates the phone's dialing system. This indirect way of activation is called a grama. OC Chaplaincy Corps Rabbi Avichai Ronsky said the phones could only be used when there was a real operational need. But he added that the technology was an important addition to the IDF. "Until now, every telephone call [on Shabbat] that was not a matter of life and death or close to it raised questions and deliberations among religious soldiers regarding halachic permissibility. Now the calls can be made without any qualms," he said. Rosen said the Shabbat phone was just one of several devices that helps minimize Shabbat desecration. "The IDF is already using electric gate and door openers based on grama technology," he said. "And pilot versions of proximity sensors, magnetic cards and electronic eyes have been created." Rosen said former OC Chaplaincy Corps Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yisrael Weiss began to introduce kosher technologies and that Ronsky was continuing the trend. Another gadget that is now widely used in the IDF is a self-erasing pen. Writing is one of hundreds of activities prohibited on Shabbat. However, writing in ink that does not remain legible is a less severe transgression that is permitted when necessary, even if there is no danger to life. Bamachane reported that the IDF had also introduced a kosher computer mouse.•