Help! the power is off

Some of you would have read that there has been calamitous flooding in parts of Northern Australia (Queensland). The tail end of some of that activity reached Melbourne on Friday. Of course, such events always occur either on Shabbos or 2 minutes before Shabbos comes in. It’s like the injuries that people seem to find; those last-minute emergencies couldn’t have occurred 2 hours before Shabbos, they have a way of happening 2 nanoseconds into Shabbos. Hakadosh Baruch Hu seems to have an unnatural sense of humour כביכול and wants to make sure the Torah is always relevant and that we have to wrestle with Hilchos Shabbos together with all its consequent complexity.

Torrential Rain in Melbourne

We had an honoured guest on Friday Night, and as Shabbos dared impose itself on the torrential downpour, we realised we’d be sitting under the sole illumination of the Shabbos licht, once the electricity flickered and departed.

The electricity returned about 1.5 hours into the meal. My wife usually transfers the soup pot from the flame into the oven just before shabbos. This meant that given the “ovenly”  insulation, her delicious lockshen mit yoech were not cold.

We started to wonder about food that would subsequently be “warmed up” once the electricity came back on when I was informed of an incident that had occurred the previous week. At a family lunch after the Aufruf of my cousin, a fuse decided to fail thereby endangering the obligatory Glezele Teh following lunch. At worst there would be no glezele and at best it would be rendered a tepid taciturn excuse for a hot drink. The lunch was formally catered under the supervision of the hungarian charedi establishment in Melbourne. There were ample goyim to enlist should that have been deemed appropriate. The mashgiach was a young unmarried man, no doubt a Yorei Shomayim, but I am not sure whether he had come across or been trained to address this situation before. I had already gone home, so I don’t know if the caterer himself was still there. The caterer would undoubtedly have come across this issue in the past and would have discussed it with the Rav Hamachshir of the Hungarian Charedim, Rabbi A. Z. Beck, Shlita.

It seems (I haven’t been able to ascertain whether this is precisely what happened) that a goy was enlisted to save the urn by flicking the fuse switch. Subsequently, it was ruled (I assume through the authority of the mashgiach), much to the chagrin of those pining for a Gloos Tay, that the Urn could no longer be used, and that no tea of coffee would be available.

I had  a few simchas to perform for during the week (ברוך השם) and coupled to my day job, you can well imagine that by the time our Friday Night Seuda was over, I was snoozing ever so comfortably with my Neshoma Yeseira. On Shabbos morning I began looking to see if the urn sheyla had been addressed in the halacha seforim. Eventually, I did find it in ספר מאור השבת in חלק א at the back in the letters to R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z”l where the author, Rav Yadler, had asked a similar question to R’ Shlomo Zalman.

In a short response, R’ Shlomo Zalman wrote that if a Goy was asked about the fuse and he understood to flick the switch so that (in the Goy’s mind) a range of appliances (eg lights) would come on, then as long as the Goy was not specifically doing it for the purposes of the urn (food) and the re-ignition of the urn was simply a side-effect, it would be permitted to benefit from the hot water of the urn. On the other hand, if the fuse was tripped and panic set in and the goy was effectively asked to fix the fuse so that the urn would go back on (very likely if the goy was in the room hearing all the commotion) then according to R’ Shlomo Zalman, in the latter case it would then be forbidden to benefit from the Melacha of the Goy.

Of course, this doesn’t factor in if we say יש בישול אחר בישול with a דבר לח even if  נצטנן לגמרי  for which there are some Rishonim who are lenient but whose Halacha we don’t follow. It also doesn’t factor in if there was a need for hot water for a חולה שיש בו סכנה in the form of a young baby, etc.

Anyway, I thought it was interesting. Your thoughts? Mekoros?

Author: pitputim

I've enjoyed being a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia, as well as band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel and later in life at Machon L'Hora'ah, Yeshivas Halichos Olam.

2 thoughts on “Help! the power is off”

  1. You should read Hirhurim – especially the audioroundup. R’ Yonasan Sacks mentions this issue ( but doesn’t provide specific mekorot ((3) Electricity on Shabbat – assur, why is more an issue! (This one is for you Harold Z.) Using in Eretz Yisrael on Shabbat – it’s ok (listen why). Issue in US if there’s an interruption of service on Shabbat – can you use food “reheated” after the service restart.) You can call him-he’s very accessible.


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