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A Kindle is an e-book reader that uses "e-ink" rather than an LCD screen. It has physical controls to turn pages. (This question is not about the newer ones with touch screens.) If left unused it enters a sleep mode, and you can return to reading by moving a (physical) button. Returning from sleep mode causes a light (LED? not sure what it is, but not heat-emitting) to flash. Here is some information about how e-ink works (h/t Shokhet).

If the device is already turned on at the start of Shabbat and the reading material itself is not objectionable (that is, there'd be no problem if you were reading the exact same book on paper), is its use permitted or forbidden on Shabbat? Please bring sources/arguments either way.

This question is not about using the Kindle's web browser to access the Internet. It is also not about typing on a computer on Shabbat or texting on Shabbat; even though this type of Kindle has a keyboard, it is not used for simple reading of e-books. It seems to me that consuming text would be different from typing it.

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Excellent question, but, believe it or not, not our first about this technology. See also judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/7275/… – Isaac Moses Jul 20 '11 at 14:40
@Monica Cello I just read this blog post, I think it will answer most of your questions. torahmusings.com/2011/07/texting-on-shabbos – avi Jul 22 '11 at 10:41
@avi, thank you for the interesting link. Perhaps you'll turn it into an answer? Unaddressed there, because it wasn't his topic, is whether there is a difference between texting, where the person creates and transmits a message, and reading text. Put another way, would R. Auerbach permit you to read a text message even if he forbids sending one? – Monica Cellio Jul 25 '11 at 1:30
This is only hearsay, but I heard recently that someone once asked Rav Schachter (Rosh Kollel at RIETS) if there would be any halakhic problems with using a Kindle type reading device on shabbat, and he didn't think so. Also, this could be practical because this summer both Artscroll and Koren-Shteinsaltz will be releasing iPad software for learning gemara bavli. Maybe kindle software is on its way as well. – Adam Mosheh May 15 '12 at 17:14
up vote 11 down vote accepted

No, it is not permitted to use a Kindle or any other electronic e-reader on Shabbat or Yom Tov (Chol Ha'Moed may be a different story).

There are two primary halachic issues with using such a device on Shabbat or Yom Tov:

  1. The usage of electricity
  2. The creation of letters

The Usage of Electricity

There is a debate amongst contemporary poskim as to what the prohibition of using electricity is on Shabbat and Yom Tov. Rav Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz (commonly known as the Chazon Ish) was of the opinion that all applications of electricity would fall into the category of Boneh, the melacha of building and that these applications would be deorita or Torah prohibitions. Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, in his SHu'T Achiezer is of the opinion that electricity falls into the category of ma'avir, the melacha of kindling, and that the Torah prohibition only applies in a situation where heat is generated (ie. a light-bulb) but in other situations it would fall into the category of a Rabbinic prohibition (which may be taken lightly!). Still, other poskim (I believe, Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach)are of the opinion that applications of electricity fall into the category of molid or creating something new, which is a Rabbinic prohibition (again, see note above). Rav Moshe Feinstein, in his Igrot Moshe seems to be of the opinion that applications of electricity would not constitute a Torah prohibition, however he cautions not to take this issue lightly as there is a 'chance that it involves the Torah prohibition of maakah b'patish (the final hammer blow)'.

Additional Info: Just found this Wikipedia page which, although I just skimmed it, appears to do a very good job presenting the issue: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_on_Shabbat_in_Jewish_law

Either way, whether applications of electricity are a Torah prohibition or a Rabbinic one, usage of a Kindle or other e-reader would be prohibited on the grounds that thousands of circuits are created and destroyed constantly as one uses the device.

The Creation of Letters

The prohibition of kotev, the melecha of writing, extends far beyond simply writing letters, the prohibition extends to forming any meaningful images which convey a message (amongst other things). The Mishna Berurah discusses a case in which an individual take a letter made of silver and places it on a background (thus making the letter clear) and rules that this is prohibited as kotev, certainly in the case of a Kindle or other e-reader, where the letters are formed (as opposed to being ready made) and the device is designed to use a contrasting background to make them clear this would fall into the category of kotev.

There will be those who argue that the prohibition of kotev only applies to something which is lasting (there is a debate as to the time-frame required for lasting, but most agree that it is 25 hours), but this argument is flawed. Firstly, this only reduces the prohibition to a rabbinic one (again, see note above). Secondly, I don't think the rule of lasting writing can be applied to this case based on the Rambam in his Mishne Torah where he discussed a case where a person writes on his skin with ink, even though the ink will certainly be erased by the person's sweat, it is nevertheless prohibited based on the fact that at the time of writing it was a permanent act. Based on the fact that the Kindle boasts a one month battery life, I would view each act of 'writing' as lasting for the purposes of hilchot shabbat.

All in all, it is clear, for various reasons, that using any electronic device on Shabbat or Yom Tov is prohibited on either a Torah or rabbinic level and therefore forbidden (except in certain extenuating circumstances which are outside the scope of this post) and certainly adding the element of creating letters to the issue further compounds the prohibition and therefore using a Kindle or other e-reader device would be prohibited.

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Shouldn't the Chazon Ish's prohibition only apply to turning a device on, not manipulating it once running? (Please correct me if I am wrong but my understanding was that his concern was with creating functionality, not with connecting circuits.) Also, if digital representations of text involve kothev*/*mochek, why is the custom to allow turning off/scrolling off divine names from a display? – Loewian Jan 22 at 15:23

Aside from the electricity needed to change pages, I think the melacha that e-ink runs into is Tzovei'a (dyeing). You are not allowed to paint things, and color things, and dye things on Shabbat.

The Kindle uses an Electrophoretic display, where basically, reflective titanium particles are suspended in a dark fluid. They are electrically charged to move to the from the front sheet of the display where they would appear white, to the back of sheet of the display, letting us see the dark ink. Pressing a button sends an electric signal to change their charges.

That being said, there is a possibility that it is not dyeing. On transition eye-glass lenses, Chacham Ovadia said that they are permissible since it is not a normal way to dye.

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Are there other examples of Dying applying to moving particles around, as opposed to changing the color of a material or binding a liquid dye to it? For example, do we know if covering an object with talcum powder would be considered Dying? – Isaac Moses Jul 20 '11 at 18:58

If anything it would be worse.

Many Rabbis say that there is no prohibition of erasing on a CRT screen because nothing is written, just a series of lights turning on and off fast creating the impression that something is written. I don't know the exact technology behind the kindle, but if there is real ink (like an etch-a-sketch), then every time one turns the page one could violate the Rabbinic prohibition of erasing/writing.

However, even the "physical" controls use electricity to control the screen, and the same prohibition of electricity on a classic computer would apply here too.

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So if e-ink is ink then it's writing/erasing, and if it's not ink then it's kindling fire (the light)? – Monica Cellio Jul 20 '11 at 16:46
it could be kindling either way (it depends on the different opinions as to why electricity is forbidden) but not for the display itself(for lighting something up to be kindling it has to light up due to heat like an incandescent light). – Shmuel Brin Jul 20 '11 at 17:27

E-ink is not any more like physical ink than a CRT or LCD monitor. They both have the same issues, as they are both virtual and made of pixels. But one angle that I saw considered in a blog post by Rabbi Elli Fischer on the subject of texting stated that the ubiquity of virtual writing might make it more akin to physical writing than one would have considered it to be several years ago, since its existence is a new type of "permanence". It's located on electronic media, perhaps even a cloud, but that doesn't mean it disappears just because it's not on the screen, and the fact that it's digitized (1s and 0s) doesn't (anymore) mean it isn't writing. In other words, writing as we know it is so fundamentally different than it used to be that, perhaps, the definition of writing needs to be changed in order for the word and the concept of writing to retain any meaning at all. R' Fischer seems to believe that e-books might one day be given a Heter, although I find it hard to believe that would ever happen, at least without some very heavy rabbinic gymnastics.

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"E-ink is not any more like physical ink than a CRT or LCD monitor" In once case, actual particles are being manipulated to form letters, while on LCD, there's just shining light. – Ariel K Jul 20 '11 at 23:50
@Seth J Your undersatnding of E-Ink technology is severely lacking. I suggest you read up on the subject. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_paper electronics.howstuffworks.com/gadgets/high-tech-gadgets/… – avi Jul 21 '11 at 9:49
Ariel K and @Avi I admit a limited knowledge of the technology's complexities, although I do assert that I'm not entirely ignorant on the subject generally. They both use pixels to form the shapes of letters. That (and storage) is what I was addressing as a matter of whether or not it constitutes Halachic writing, not as a matter of igniting or extinguishing fires or generating heat, etc. It's an open question whether or not HaZa"L would have considered this writing in defining the parameters of Melachah vis a vis Shabbath. I don't have the requisite PhD or Semichah to decide this. – Seth J Jul 21 '11 at 13:48
@Seth J I'm not sure what you mean by "both using pixels"... Using ink and paper you can also draw pixels. (Like the image of a newspaper, or the output of a Dot Matrix printer...) – avi Jul 21 '11 at 16:25
@avi "Using ink and paper you can also draw pixels. (Like the image of a newspaper, or the output of a Dot Matrix printer...)" ...both of which are prohibited on Shabbath. – Seth J Jul 21 '11 at 16:33

According to the following opinion (mentioned in another answer), the use of e-ink technology is prohibited on Shabbat, but it is only rabbinically prohibited, not biblically prohibited.

[E]ach fresh page view effectively creates a new image which is durable. Within the electronic paper are microcapsules which are arranged by electrical charge to display pigment and form an image. This image endures even without any refreshing of the display. E-ink is a stable form of writing and would therefore appear to be biblically forbidden as toledat koteiv.

Nevertheless, most current e-readers are set automatically to erase the written image after a brief period of inactivity, either by darkening the screen or by displaying a stock image in place of the written text [160]. If so, then the creation of a screen-view does not meet the halakhic standard of liability seen above in Tosefta Shabbat 11:8 of “writing something with a durable substance on a durable surface.” The status of creating a screen-view which will auto-erase after a few minutes would be that of פטור אבל אסור, exempt from full liability for the biblical melakhah, but still forbidden by rabbinic decree, much as writing in sand on Shabbat is rabbinically banned.

[160]. The current generation of Kindle typically replaces the text screen with a stock photo after five minutes of inactivity.

(From http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/public/halakhah/teshuvot/2011-2020/electrical-electronic-devices-shabbat.pdf, “The Use of Electrical and Electronic Devices on Shabbat” by Rabbi Daniel S. Nevins for the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) of the Rabbinical Assembly.) (The Rabbinical Assembly establishes the standards of Conservative Judaism.)

Note that this excerpt is discussing the halachic status of the use e-ink technology, narrowly speaking, as opposed to general issues surrounding the use of e-readers and tablets of any display technology. These more general issues are also discussed in the opinion, but are beyond the scope of the original poster's question, as I understand it.

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bfd, welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks for doing this excerpting work! Please take a look at our citation guideline, which asks for a summary, in your own words, of the relevant key points, using small excerpts only when the particular language is of value. Could you please edit this post to meet that standard? That way, we'll have an answer here that very directly addresses the question at hand without excessively republishing others' material. – Isaac Moses Feb 9 '15 at 22:07

This opinion seems relevant (Discussed on page 34 and on): http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/public/halakhah/teshuvot/2011-2020/electrical-electronic-devices-shabbat.pdf

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It could be. Perhaps you could edit into your answer which part exactly. – Double AA Oct 11 '12 at 1:44

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