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Not much more to add here, I've just always wondered if static electricity was discussed in any Chazzal or Rishonim. Someone from those times must've gotten a good zap and I'm wondering what they had to say about it.

EDIT: Birshus Double AA. To clarify, I am not necessarily looking for a halakhic discourse on the subject. But being that there was always available glass and fur and silk and other common household items that aid in the production of static electricity, I'm wondering if any of our great Rabbis ever discussed experiencing just such a phenomenon. Whether it was an unexpected spark, or a piece of paper sticking to a glass cup. Anything that would have seemed curious. Perhaps they might have even given an explenation. Considering that words like ברק, חשמל, פולתא דנורא abound in all our holy books I would think if someone experienced anything close to the aforementioned it would peak his curiosity. Various other natural phenomenon have found their place in our sfarim. Rashi and Rashba both mention magnets for instance. And considering that amongst our Rabbis there have been alchemists and mention of alchemy for almost a millennia, scientific curiosity was not something they would shy away from. So perhaps this was mentioned in a professional, scientific way. This is what I seek. Someone mentioning something.

  • I've heard it's permitted to use on Shabbos. – Ypnypn Jan 22 '15 at 23:34
  • @Ypnypn This is true according to several poskim (notably excluding the Chazon Ish), but this may only apply if the static electricity is generated incidentally (לא ניחא ליה) and not for the express purpose of generating sparks (as least according to some of poskim, such as R' Ovadia Yosef). – Fred Jan 23 '15 at 20:12
  • @Ypnypn R. Shlomo Zalman discusses it in a teshuva (Minchas Shelomo II:77) according to several of the opinions regarding electricity in general – הנער הזה Feb 2 '15 at 4:42
  • The answer to this question is no, unless you want to see later poskim who understand earlier sources to be referring to static electricity. I remember seeing a sefer where the author thought that sparks from static electricity were being referenced in the Mishnah (Beitzah 33a) but I doubt that he's correcy – הנער הזה Feb 2 '15 at 4:44
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    @Matt that does seem farfetched. It seems a lot of comments here are focusing on hilchos shabbos. That wasn't my intention per se. I was curious more as far as a natural phenomenon which can be very noticeable at times. I'm wondering if it was discussed philosophically not just halachicaly. Along the lines of the Rashba saying magnets are the proof that there is no such thing as teva. I wouldn't edit the question now after Double opened a bounty. I'm not sure what he's hoping to find, but I'm just curious in a general sense. – user6591 Feb 2 '15 at 9:57
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Based on some research, e.g. this link, I would venture that the Chazzal, the Rishonim and even early Achronim never heard of it and rarely if ever experienced the zap of static electricity.

About the only way to accidentally produce static electricity without synthetic materials is by rubbing silk on glass, or fur on copper.

Since they didn't wear synthetic clothing nor walk on synthetic carpets with synthetic shoes they wouldn't gotten that zap we have gotten to love when peeling off our woolen Tzitzis from our polyester-mix shirt.

So until we started living with lots of synthetic materials, home-grown static electricity mus have been very rare, if at all possible for the layman.

I found this about early uses of static elecricity:

The effects of static electricity were first discovered by the Greeks. In the sixth century BCE the Greek philosopher Thales found that amber, when rubbed with fur, could attract little pieces of dry straw. The Greeks didn't understand what was happening, and thought of the experiments as tricks.

However the peculiar effect did have its uses. In spinning silk using amber spindles, the attraction force would cause the threads to cling and that in turn made them easier to control. The Greek word for amber is in fact our word 'electron' and is the origin of the term electricity and all its derivatives.

Note there is no mention of sparks - just the "Flyaway hair" effect.

Since spinning silk is forbidden on Shabbat anyways, it would not have attracted Halachic attention.

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