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When one opens a refrigerator door, there are two classes of effects:

  1. Immediate result - e.g. light going on, or in newer models a fan might start.

    This class of effects can normally be fairly easily circumvented on shabbat by removing the light-bulb and/or ensuring the sensor which checks whether or not the door is closed is continually activated for the whole of shabbat (e.g. by using tape or magnets).

  2. Eventual response - opening the door allows warm air to enter, which will affect the refrigerator's thermostat, and, eventually, trigger the motor to cool down the refrigerator.

In this article from Machon Zomet, they write that their approach is not to worry about this second class of effects, because many poskim, most prominently R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, were not concerned about the indirect effect on the thermostat.

However, they note at the end of the article that there do exist refrigerators with a 'mehadrin shabbat mode', whose purpose is to neutralize the effect of opening the door on the thermostat, and that they define the use of such models as a chumrah.

With whose opinion are these 'mehadrin' refrigerators attempting to comply?

Please cite sources from Rabbis or poskim who either forbid or discourage opening a refrigerator door due to the affect on the thermostat.

  • Related (but not duplicate): judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/27349/… – Joel K May 9 '18 at 8:44
  • Intro to Igros vol. 8 says Rav Moshe Feinstein allowed it, but in deference to [I forget the rabbi!], he had his fridge on a timer: it was completely off during lunchtime, so you could open it then. Will check it later b'n, or someone else please help? – Shalom May 9 '18 at 8:53
  • @Shalom that is what Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchata writes (10:12) – mbloch May 9 '18 at 10:01
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R Howard Jachter wrote here a long article on the topic -- find a summary below with light edits. To immediately answer the question of those who rule more strictly he cites R Tzvi Pesach Frank, R Mordechai Yaakov Breish & R Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss and those who recommend that one to be strict if possible: Rav Yosef Henkin and Rav Ovadia Yosef.

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach rules that it is entirely permissible to open a fridge door when the motor is not running. In fact, he writes that it is not right to be strict on this matter, as it will lead one to limit his Oneg Shabbat, enjoyment of Shabbat.

His reasoning is based on the fact that opening up the door will not immediately lead to turning on the motor. The inevitable time delay between the opening of the door and causing the motor to go on leads Rav Shlomo Zalman to classify this as a "Grama" - "Koach Sheini" (indirect action).

Now the Rama (334:22 and see Biur Halacha ad. locum. s.v. D'Gram Kibui) rules that Grama is permitted only in situations of great need. Rav Shlomo Zalman asserts, however, that since one's intention is merely to open the door and not to turn on the refrigerator's motor, Grama would be permissible in all situations even absent any unconventional needs. Moreover, he writes that since he is only causing the motor to go on earlier than it would have gone on without his opening the refrigerator door, (also see Minchat Shlomo 91:10) one may treat the act of opening of the door even more leniently than Grama. Thus, opening the refrigerator door would be permissible in all situations.

Many poskim concur with Rav Shlomo Zalman's lenient approach. Indeed, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein told this author that Rav Soloveitchik agreed with the lenient approach. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe O.C IV: 74- Bishul -28) seems to fully accept Rav Shlomo Zalman's ruling (also see Igrot Moshe O.C. 2:68)- as does Rav Eliezer Waldenburg (Tzitz Eliezer 8:12 and 12:92). (See Encyclopedia Talmudit 18:663 note 13.)

Many eminent authorities, on the other hand, either rule strictly (Har Zvi O.C. I:151; Chelkat Yaakov 3:179; and Minchat Yitzchak 2:16) or at the least recommend that one to be strict if possible (Rav Yosef Henkin, Eidut L'Yisrael p. 122; Rav Ovadia Yosef, Yabia Omer I:O.C. 27). The problem is that once an action is performed routinely it cannot be classified merely as Grama (see Shabbat 120b and Rabbeinu Chananeil ad. loc. s.v. Rav Ashi and Bava Kama 60a and Rosh Bava Kama 6:11). Rav Shlomo Zalman responds that this applies only when one intends to create the resultant action. When opening the door one does not intend to turn on the motor.

R Yair Hoffman writes here that the answer changes over time as refrigerator technology evolves and brings additional views of whose who disagreed with RSZA

  • Rav Eliyahu Henkin, zt’l, ruled that one can only open the refrigerator when the compressor is on and it is forbidden to do so when the compressor is off
  • This was also the view of Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, as cited in Mitbach K’halacha, page 303
  • The Chazon Ish ruled that it is forbidden to open the refrigerator at all, whether the compressor is on or off. (Cited in HaPardes, Cheshvan 5719/1958)

He writes that issues are actually becoming more complicated with modern refrigerators and brings additional poskim being concerned

  • Rav Hershel Schachter holds that recording the information on a computer [as is done in modern fridges] would under many circumstances at least be considered ksiva miderabanan. He also feels that there may be issues of davar shemiskaven–the person intends for it to happen since it is beneficial for him–even on a rabbinic violation.

  • Rabbi Eli Gersten of the OU stated that Rav Yisroel Belsky pushed to have timers on refrigerators. He told Rabbi Gersten that his grandfather, Rav Wilhelm, used to sell timers in his hardware store–they called it “the Rav Henkin switch.” Rabbi Gersten also stated that Rav Belsky used the language of “chashashos,” concerns, of a Torah prohibition. Rabbi Gersten further stated that when one student from Yeshiva Torah Vodaath (who accompanied Rav Belsky at the OU on Thursdays when he came to rule on questions) expressed grave concerns after purchasing a new refrigerator, he said, “Look, until a timer comes out, just open it with a shinui. When the timer comes out, purchase it.”

See also here from Star-K and here for additional concerns.

  • I believe there's actually some significant debate how strict R Y E Henkin really was on this issue – Double AA May 9 '18 at 11:46
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SEE HERE for full source article.

I will quote some of the points (from the article) relevant to your question:

Most of today’s refrigerators include a multitude of systems and sensors that regulate a variety of functions. Electronic counters and sensors regularly monitor refrigerator moisture and temperature levels, while these and other instruments determine when other systems, such as the auto-defrost heating element turns on and off.

According to Darin Franks, Chief Engineer at General Electric, today’s refrigerators have “as many as seven or eight computers onboard.” Many compressors run periodically, or continually but at variant power levels, and are often affected directly by each and every opening or closing of the fridge door".

Switches that could once be circumvented before Shabbat are now commonly replaced by sensors that cannot be avoided.

SEE MECHON TZOMET SITE for a comprehensive article on the subject of opening Refrigeraters.

I will quote one paragraph which will point out the major issue of modsesrsn refrigeraters and Shabbos.

E. "Digital" refrigerators are not recommended for use! They have a minicomputer. Opening the door starts a timer that sounds a buzzer if the door is not closed within two minutes. They also often have an electronic display which is directly influenced by the opening of the door. Disconnecting the display or any other signal light or buzzer does not solve the problem of the electronic mechanism, which continues to send the information to the computer whether the buzzer sounds or not.

This means that not only according to "stricter Poskim" but even according to Mechon Tzomet, who are generally known as less strict in many areas, there is still a problem involved.

Most of the discussion among the poskim in the past was concerning the old models which did not have all these sensorss, and the issue was only about the thermostat. Today the issue is much more serious, as the resulting changes are DIRECTLY affected by the opening of the door.

  • 2
    Thanks for linking to this interesting article, but I don't think it really answers my question. The key line in the article that's relevant here is "The Shabbos Keeper also disconnects compressor function from door opening, resolving the concerns of even the most strict opinions". I'm asking: Who are these 'most strict opinions' that worry that opening the door will indirectly trigger the compressor? – Joel K May 9 '18 at 9:44
  • Or does everyone agree with RSZA, and the issue with modern refrigerators is that opening the door will directly trigger the compressor? – Joel K May 9 '18 at 9:46
  • @JoelK The main point was that we are no longer dealing only with turning on or off the light or even the compressor. As quoted "Electronic counters and sensors regularly monitor refrigerator moisture and temperature levels, while these and other instruments determine when other systems, such as the auto-defrost heating element turns on and off". and "Switches that could once be circumvented before Shabbat are now commonly replaced by sensors that cannot be avoided". As for Poskim who are concerned with these issues, the artcle quotes R' Yisrael Belsky ZTzL. – RibbisRabbiAndMore May 9 '18 at 10:07
  • @JoelK SEE THE ADDITION TO MY ANSWER QUOTED FROM MECHON TZOMET. – RibbisRabbiAndMore May 9 '18 at 10:20
  • Thanks for the additional source. I still think that this reads as more of an extended comment on my question than an answer. Let's say I purchase a modern refrigerator, with a switch developed by Machon Zomet, which means that opening the door has no direct effect at all. However, opening the door can still, eventually, trigger the compressor. RSZA would presumably say that was fine. I want to know who would not. mbloch provided a list which perfectly answered the question - R Y Henkin, R TP Frank, R Ovadia, R Breisch, R YY Weiss – Joel K May 9 '18 at 10:26

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