As a non Jew, after reading Why are Shabbat loopholes a good thing? I have been pondering the above question:

The Torah forbids closing/opening electrical circuits on Shabbat. - Danny Schoemann

So what then about things like CCTV's which records a Jew walking by will cause per pixel circuits to be changing (essentially closing/opening). Just like a public or hotel elevator it is not owned by a Jew, so that does not seem to matter. So, does it matter whether one intentionally is opening/closing electrical circuits? Or does it being unintentional make it a passive activity (despite walking intentionally somewhere, thus actively being part of the creation of new videos/pictures)? Or did I never notice and do Jews actually go out of their way to not walk in areas covered by CCTV's, satellites and motion detectors? And additionally if I understand it correctly R. Auerbach had a differing opinion regarding the use of electricity on Shabbath, but I understand that one even less.

Reading this article concerning walking through motion sensors triggering lights there is the statement made:

If a permitted action might or might not cause a prohibited result, the action is nonetheless permitted.

Which would answer my question regarding satellites and motion detectors (not the CCTV's though (Especially so as you directly benefit from the presence of the CCTV's making your neighbourhood/city safer)), if it would also explain why that's the case.

Note: I am asking this out of a genuine interest as, I will be honest here, I have an extremely extremely hard time comprehending the notions outlined in the aforementioned question. The literal form of interpretation used in Judaism is one that I am quite not used to to say the least, especially when it starts mixing with technical questions.

  • 3
    Thanks for your excellent question. It turns out, this may be a more complicated question than you realize. The issues with respect to electricity on Shabbat are extremely complex, and many factors come into play such as whether the Jew intentionally caused the electric circuit to close/open, whether any noticeable reaction happened as a result of the action, as well as other things. It should be noted that (at least as far as I can tell), it shouldn't matter whether the electrical circuit is owned by a Jew. It only matters who activates it.
    – Daniel
    Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 12:03
  • @Daniel: Wow, hadn't heard about "any noticeable reaction happened" before. Could you direct me where that is debated? Because I would be quite curious what 'noticeable' means in such a context, for example, do satellites count as noticeable as you can see their result on Google Maps for example? Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 12:38
  • There are also cases in which Jews will cross the street to avoid triggering an automatic light when passing a house. It is just that unless one is attuned to it one would not notice. Also, many people are caught by surprise even when they know the sensor is thee because they underestimate the point at which it triggers. Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 12:41
  • 1
    "Noticable" is a little more nuanced; it's that your individual effect is noticable, as I understand it. This is why you can flush a toilet on Shabbat even though the water system uses electric pumps; your individual flush didn't cause the pump to cycle, or if it did you'll never know -- it's just part of the aggregate. Same would apply to satellite photos I would think. Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 12:59
  • 1

1 Answer 1


There is an argument in the Talmud as to whether an action that causes an unintended violation of the Shabbat is permissible to perform. (SOURCE TBA)

Rabbi Yehuda claims that violations of Shabbat performed without direct intent are still forbidden (even Biblically, according to most Rishonim). For example if someone drags a bench across a field, thereby unintentionally digging furrows, he is in violation of the melakha of charisha, or plowing. Even though he only intended to relocate a bench, he is culpable for his action, since ultimately he did plow a field.

Rabbi Shimon disagrees and claims that the absence of direct intent to violate Shabbat renders this act Biblically permissible. (Source for quote)

Later rabbis extended this argument into four categories:

  1. Melacha she'einah tzricha legufah (an action not needed for its result). This occurs when one does a prohibited action on Shabbat not intending to commit the action prohibited by halacha. For example, pouring water on a field to dispose of the water, rather than to irrigate the field, is a melacha she'eina tzericha legufah. This is normally a rabbinic violation.

  2. Pesik resha (undesired act). This occurs when a permitted act will inevitably and directly lead to a prohibited act. As an example, the Talmud stated that if one cuts off the head of a chicken on Shabbat to play with the head, even though one does not care if the chicken lives or dies, a biblical violation has occurred since the action will inevitably lead to killing an animal (a biblical prohibition on Shabbat).

  3. Davar she'eino mitkaven (unintended act). This is identical to a pesik resha except that the second act might not occur, and is thus permitted.

  4. Pesik resha delo nichah lei (undesired act with no benefit). This is a pesik resha where the second act, even though it must occur, will provide no benefit to the person causing it. Most authorities maintain this is a rabbinic violation; some maintain it is permitted. (Source for quote)

As such, one would have to determine which of the categories their actions would fall into.

Many Jews do walk out of their way to avoid motion-detector activated lights, as incandescent bulbs are generally accepted to be Biblically prohibited, and walking in front of the sensor will directly and inevitably cause them to turn on, even if the resulting light is not intended.

CCTV's and satellites on the other hand, will create new video and pixel-changes regardless of whether anyone is walking by, and as such, the Jew's actions are not directly nor inevitably causing any Melachot to be performed.

R' Aurbach held that using electricity is technically not a violation of any of the 39 Categories of Prohibited Actions (Melachot), but is still prohibited due to custom and tradition. (Since all Jews accepted not to use it on Shabbat, with exceptions for devices that use timers set before Shabbat, it remains prohibited even if it's technically permitted. "All Jews" means traditional Jews in the late 1800's-early 1900's, when electricity first came into widespread use. )


The Torah forbids closing/opening electrical circuits on Shabbat. - Danny Schoemann

"The Torah" says no such thing. As mentioned in this article, and this answer, it is unclear which, if any, of the 39 Categories electricity falls into. According to some opinions, closing a circuit is "building (boneh)," which is indeed Biblically prohibited, but this is disputed.

owned by Jews

It does not matter to whom the item belongs, because actions are forbidden, not items. A Jew is not allowed to write on Shabbat; it doesn't matter if s\he borrows the pen from a non-Jew.

Passive vs Active

I'm guessing you mean "indirect" when you say passive - you cause something to happen, without actually doing it. This is known as grama and is a really complicated topic.

Directly benefit from CCTV

CCTV's act as a deterrent to crime, which is an indirect method. One's actions on Shabbat are many steps removed from reducing crime.

any noticeable reaction happened

I'm not sure what the commenter is talking about. Perhaps he means that the actions don't have a direct and inevitable result.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .