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The Geek Guide to Kosher Machines

Wired 12.11: The Geek Guide to Kosher Machines

The relationship between the social and the technical can be fraught. Nowhere is the tension greater than on Friday night in Hampstead Garden Suburb, or so Wired would have us believe. Old technology was malleable, it could be made to work for you on, for example, the Jewish Sabbath whilst you still honoured the rules of the Sabbath not to do anything ‘active’ e.g. turn on the lights, work, or use ‘technology’. Stark2
The oven could be pre-set, the light in the fridge could be taped ‘off’. However, new technology with all its user friendly ‘simple’ interfaces and safety features allows for none of this. Hope is at hand.. salvation even… from the Kosher guide to technology written by Jonah Ottensoser of Star-K. Jonah and Wired explain…

Basically, Ottensoser converts your fancy – and expensive – appliance into the one your grandma bought after World War II.

One of the hardest parts of Ottensoser’s job is explaining to engineers the intricacies of Jewish law. He starts by focusing on the concept of indirect action. Sabbath law prohibits Jews from performing actions that cause a direct reaction; that would qualify as forbidden work. But indirect reactions are, well, kosher. In Hebrew, this concept is called the gramma. There are two types of grammas, Ottensoser tells me. Say you hit a light switch, but it doesn’t come on immediately – that’s a time delay, a time gramma. There’s also a gramma of mechanical indirectness, like a Rube Goldberg contraption in which a mouse turns a wheel that swings a hammer that turns a key that launches a rocket. You can’t claim the mouse actually launches the rocket.

Ottensoser gets manufacturers to build the easier time gramma into their products. Rabbis differ on how much of a delay is required; the Star-K rabbinical authority, Moshe Heinemann, authorizes a 5-second lag. To be on the safe side, Ottensoser increased the delay to 15 seconds and a random wait of as much as 10 seconds. Why? “An indirect action is one where you can’t predict what’s going to happen,” he says

This is fabulous. It totally unpicks the logic of technological ‘progress’ – In the quest to make things simple we make things complex.

2 Comments
  1. Nothing in life is simple, only by analysing the complex and breaking it down into its simple components, can we understand whats going on.

  2. I became a Christian in 1981; from the begining I was lead to believe that the Sabbath was to be kept, even thro I was going to a Sunday keeping church. The only thing I would not do was work for money. Making a meal, turning a light on, helping a person in need; these thing I did not and still do not assume to be wrong, or Sabbath-breaking. The only thing that is right/wrong is how we treat others. If you read the last sentance in the fourth commandment, you will learn that Sabbath keeping is to acknowledge that God is the Creator of this World. John A. Clark

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