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Why can't we use and change electricity on Shabbat and YomTov? By this I mean why can't we turn lights on and off?

I've heard Rabbis say that its because you can't complete a circuit on Shabbat, and that's what you'd be doing by turning the light on and off. Another time I heard electricity was like fire.

Is this the only reason? If not, what are the others?

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    Have you searched the site? This sounds like a duplicate to me. – avi Dec 24 '11 at 16:21
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    @avi - Oddly enough, I can't find a question on use of electricity in Shabbat that's a general one. Anyone else? – neilfein Dec 24 '11 at 21:28
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    @AvrohomYitzchok - Certainly, that's a variation of this. That answer goes into detail on the creating of letterforms, but also covers electricity. If this gets closed, so be it, but I think there's no reason not to have variations open. Perhaps, to be a more useful question, this one could focus more on, say, the history of the issue? (The final sentence of this question hints at that in any case.) – neilfein Dec 25 '11 at 2:49
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    There are several answers that have discussed the issue, but no question that addressed it head on. I'm strongly inclined not to close this, and hope it generates (oy) some good answers. – msh210 Dec 25 '11 at 4:08
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    (In the most respectful tone possible): Can someone please give me an answer already? – wizlog Dec 25 '11 at 14:50
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There are nine possible reasons not to use electricity on Shabbat

Opinions about electricity range from deorita, d'rabanan and technially, not really an issur. The two most commonly cited sources on the topic are the Chazon Ish and R. Auerbach who's opinions on this vary greatly.

Igniting a fire

The basic example of using electricity, (turning on an incandescent light switch) violates the Torah prohibition of lighting a fire on shabbat. (the metal glows, and gets hot) However, even though this was the first application of electricity, and it's the most common, and clearly not allowed, it is not a catch all reason for all uses of electricity.

Molid

Many want to say that using electricity creates situations of Molid (creating something new) However, R. Auerbach says that you can't expand Molid beyond its usage as defined by the Talmud.

Boneh

The Chazon Ish says that closing a circuit to create current falls under the deoraita of Boneh. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach disagreed in the strongest terms. The reasons for this require an indepth understanding of Boneh.

Makeh Bapatish

Some try to argue that turning on or off an electrical appliance, or just using a button on it, is the "final step" that finishes the the item. R. Auerbach greatly dissagreed with this.

Sparks

If the electrical device always and purposefully creates sparks, (like my radiator for example) the creation of sparks might be a problem.

Additional fuel consumption

In Israel, or places where power plants are run/owned by Jews, the use of electricity might cause these power plants to consume more fuel.

Heating metal

Electricity entering into a wire might heat that wire (according to the Chazon Ish). However, in recent years the prevalence of solid-state technology has made the reality underlying this concern obsolete in many cases.

Minhag

Rabbi Auerbach says that outside the case of an incandescent light bulb, the true reason not to use electricity on shabbat/yom tov is minhag.

Not Shabastik/ In the spirit of Shabbat / yom tov.

Many say that while electricity in most cases might actually be allowed, it's not in the mood of shabbos and is a "davar chol", something that is normally done during the week. Especially after the past 80 years of Jews not using electricity on Shabbat.

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    +1 Firstly, thanks for your expansive answer. Does this mean that if I use a bulb that doesn't get the slightest bit hot (OK, the slightest bit, but not much more than that) for example a CFL or an LED, would I still be igniting a fire? – wizlog Dec 26 '11 at 6:04
  • "closing a circuit to create current..." I might be mistaken, however I didn't think that closing a circuit created current. Furthermore, by connecting two ends of a paperclip together, you'd be "creating a circuit". Can you please refine your explanation of Boneh? – wizlog Dec 26 '11 at 6:07
  • I don't understand the boneh argument, for that and many other reasons :) (like the "normal use" clause. – avi Dec 26 '11 at 7:01
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    CFL, actually work by burning a small element. Any lightbulb that eventually "goes out", must work through some fuel being consumed. In the traditional case, it's the tungsten. – avi Dec 26 '11 at 7:02
  • About the additional fuel consumption... What about if the light or electrical device is solar powered? – wizlog Apr 22 '12 at 3:37
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One more reason is shvisas keilim which is a gezeira dirabanan from the times of chazzal. And while Beis Hillel allowed one to leave his keili to continue a milacha that was started before shabbos, such as soaking material in dye or leaving a pot of food to continue cooking, as long as the other gezeiros were taken into account, Beus Hillel is in agreement with Beis Shamai that a keili cannot start a milacha on shabos.

This may or may not preclude adjustments of the keili such as dimming a light, but it would definitely apply to turning it on and most other functions of today's electronic devices.

  • 1
    How does this answer the question? This answer refers to timers, not to electricity. According to this what is wrong with my turning on a fan? – Double AA Sep 5 '14 at 18:38
  • It also answers any time your fan gets turned on on shabbos. Whether by you or by a timer. – user6591 Sep 5 '14 at 18:45
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    No it doesn't. What Melacha is my fan doing that Shvisas Keilim applies? – Double AA Sep 5 '14 at 18:48

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