Electricity on Shabbath and Yom Tov - Sources

Last Updated: 4/17/21

The following is a list of links to to teshuvoth, poseqim, and analyses that permit (different applications of) electricity on Shabbat and Yom Tov. While we often talk about electricity in a polemical, abstract manner, the reality is Halakha (like any other system of law) deals with specific, concrete questions and situations.

Web Yeshiva - Halachot of Electricity on Shabbat §

http://www.webyeshiva.org/course/halachot-of-electricity-on-shabbat/ - offers a pretty extended (though not complete) treatment of the topic

Is the Torah Ancient Relic or Living Law? §

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahXP7GQu1Sk - This class by Joey Mosseri seems to primarily be readings from the work of Zvi Zohar, and specifically notes the following:

  • Hakham Yehuda Maslaton allowed the use of microphones on Shabbat and Yom Tob in Cairo - the Rabbi and the hazzan used them during services, and this was the case until at least 1961
  • Hakham Yosef Messas told a Moroccan American rabbi he could use a microphone in synagogue so that everybody could hear him
  • Hakham Messas also permitted taking the trolley, provided one did not have to carry
  • Hakham David Chelouche permitted using key cards to get into your hotel room on Shabbath
  • Rabbi Yaakob Kassin (the first Chief Rabbi of the Brooklyn Syrian community) ruled that ppl could take trolley cars (but not horse trolleys) as long as they didn’t have to carry. He also ruled that electric timers were fine

Joey Mosseri List (ed. By Raḥmiel Ezra Travitz) §

This is an edited version of a list originally compiled by Joey Mosseri. The later edits and informal commentary are by Raḥmiel Ezra Travitz or Aaron Asher, with the exception of 1924 - R’ Yehouda Youdil Rozenberg, who I (Luna) added in from a nearly-identical variant of this list.

Here is a list of those who permitted electricity on Yom Tov (generally they discussed this in the form of permitting the turning on and off of incandescent bulbs):

  • 1903 - Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein (ashkenazi) (author of Arukh HaShulkhan) in Bet Va’ad LeHakhamim allows turning lights on on Yom Tov.
  • 1903- Rabbi Yosef Yehudah Strazberg (ashkenazi) (author of Yad Yosef, & Av Bet Din of Makasov, Galitzia) in Bet Va’ad LeHakhamim also allows turning them on.
  • 1912- Rabbi Refael Aharon Ben Shim’on (sepharadi) (Chief Rabbi of Egypt) (He wrote this in 1901) in his uMitzur Devash allows turning them on, he also allows the use of an electric gramophone.
  • 1913- Rabbi Binyamin Aryeh HaKohen Weiss (ashkenazi) in his Even Yeqarah allows turning them on.
  • 1924- Rabbi Yehouda Youdil Rozenberg in his Maor HaHashmal in Montreal, Canada allows turning them on.
  • 1932- Rabbi Reuven Margaliot (ashkenazi) in his Nefesh Hayah allows turning them on.
  • 1934- Rabbi Yosef Messas (sepharadi) (Rabbi of Tlemcen, Algeria and Meknes, Morocco and Haifa, Israel) in his Mayim ‘Hayim allows turning them both on and off and he reiterated his position in numerous other places. This, even though he though it to be fire. He also allows the use of an electric gramophone.
  • 1934/35- Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank (Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem) in Qol Torah allows turning them on.
  • 1935- Rabbi Benzion Meir Uziel (The First Sepharadi Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel!!!) in his Mishpatei Uziel allows both turning them on and off and he reiterated this in 1947.
  • 1936- Rabbi David HaKohen Saqli (sepharadI) (Rosh Av Bet Din in Oran, Algeria) in his Qiryat Chanah David (volume 2) allows both turning them on and off.
  • 1945- Rabbi Eliezer Yehudah Waldenberg (ashkenazi) in his famous Tzitz Eliezer (volume 1) allows turning them on. (He lived till not that long ago (2005, IIRC), and never retracted, AFAIK)
  • 1948- Rabbi Masoud HaKohen (sepharadi) in his Pirhe Kehounah (Casablanca) allows turning them on.
  • 1964- Rabbi Shraga Faivel Frank (ashkenazi) in his Toldot Ze-ev allows turning them on.
  • 1973- Rabbi Shabetai Sheftel Weiss (ashkenazi) in his Hilkhita Rabeta LaShabeta allows turning them on.
  • 1976- Rabbi David Chaim Chelouche (sepharadi) (Chief Rabbi of Netanyah for over 50 years) in his Chemdah Genuzah volume 1 allows both turning them on and off on Yom Tov. I heard personally testimony that he actively does so on Yom Tov. He has continuously defended his position too, and there has yet to be one person that I know of who has satisfactorily disproven him.

Comments §

The following comments were added by Aaron Asher here:

Mi Yodea - How to have an easier time with Yom Tov?

Note about this list: As you can see from the dates, many of these rulings are from 30+ years ago, and so most of their discussions are regarding things like lightbulbs. You would have to read the original sources to discover if their applications would carry over into other devices we now have today, and keep in mind the limitation of the author. And by that I mean that possibly one of the rulings could be said to apply to things like electric ovens, because the Chakham might have been able to imagine such things, or such things might have existed in his time, but a smart phone would have been inconceivable and therefore you could not apply his ruling to it.

Note about Modern Sephardic Pos’kim: In more recent times, many Sephardic decisors have begun issuing rulings more in line with Ashkenazi halacha (such as Chakham Ovadia Yosef) and are therefore now banning the use of electricity of Yom Tov. And without getting into a debate into the topic of “Asheknazifaction of Sephardim,” let’s just say that it’s important to look at the slightly older works for certain sticky issues such as electricity on Yom Tov.

Haim Ovadia List §

From: http://files.ctctcdn.com/64c06db0201/ddabd1b4-fd52-4a3b-8a19-e04bf0a6e82c.pdf

The great Sephardic scholars who ruled in favor of using electricity on Yom Tov were joined by some of the leading Ashkenazi scholars, and together they represent the full spectrum of the Jewish world, including North Africa, Eastern and Western Europe, Israel, Turkey, and Egypt.

The list of those who allow the use of electricity includes:

  • R Yosef Messas;
  • R David HaCohen Skali;
  • The Rishon LeTzion R Benzion Meir Hai Ouziel;
  • R Rephael Aharon Ben Shimon;
  • R Yaakov Moshe Toledano; Chief Rabbis of Jerusalem,
  • R Zvi Pesah Frank
  • R Shalom Messas;
  • R Masoud HaCohen;
  • R Yechiel Michel HaLevi Epstein;

The most important names to be included in this impressive list are those of the Chief Rabbi of Netanya, R David Chelouche (B. 1920) and R Eliezer Waldenberg (1915-2006), zt”l.

Those two great scholars are known for their in-depth analysis of science and technology based related issues. They went to great lengths to thoroughly study all the scientific and factual aspects of a given question before issuing their Halakhic conclusion. The fact that they both agree on allowing the use of electricity on Yom Tov serves as a rebuttal to the last argument of the opponents. That argument is that the rabbis who wrote at the turn of the 20th century did not understand the nature of electricity. No one can level that claim at R Chelouche and R Waldenberg (R Chelouche actually studied the nature of electricity with an orthodox physicist, Dr. Benzion Reich). Finally, it is important to note that whereas previous rabbis argued whether turning off electricity is allowed, R Chelouche allows both turning the electricity on and off.

Because of the importance of R Chelouche’s ruling, it is presented here with translation (The full discussion is in Hemdah Genuzah, Vol. 1, pp. 67-100):

ףוס רבד הארנ ריתהל תקלדה למשח םויב בוט … תרונמ למשחה ראשו וירישכמ רתומ םתובכל םויב בוט

Sources (Citations) §

Note: Full quotes appear in PDF file

  • רב יוסף משאש, אוצר המכתבים, ג:א’ תשע”ג; ג:א’תתי”ב: אנו בני ספרד, נהגנו להתיר הדלקת חשמל ביו”ט
  • הגר”י משאש, מים חיים א:צד: המנהג הפשוט …להדליק ולכבות בידיים ביו”ט בלי שום חשש כלל…
  • הרב דוד הכהן סקאלי, קרית חנה דוד, ב:נו: …אור הנזכר לעניין הדלקתו ביו”ט עצמו נ”ל שאין לאוסרו
  • הראשל”צ, הרב עזיאל, משפטי עזיאל, חלק א’, ד:יט: נלע”ד להלכה… להתיר הבערה וכבוי החשמל… ביום טוב
  • הרב רפאל אהרן בן שמעון, ומצור דבש, אורח חיים, י: ומותר להדליק נר הליקטריק ביום טוב בלי פקפוק כלל
  • הרב עובדיה יוסף, יביע אומר, חלק ב’, או”ח סימן כו: …פשט המנהג פה במצרים גם בין החרדים לדבר ה’ להתיר הדלקת החשמל ביו”ט
  • הרב מסעוד הכהן, פרחי כהונה, אורח חיים, טז: …לא דמי למאי תנן אין מוציאים את האש … מה שאין כן האלקטריק אשר האש מצויה בו תדיר
  • הרב שלום משאש, הרב הראשי לירושלים, שמ”ש ומגן, חלק ב, סי’ סה: …ההדלקה היינו מדליקין לא עלה על הדעת שיש בזה משום נולד
  • הרב צבי פסח פראנק, הרב הראשי לירושלים, קול תורה תרצ”ד, א-ב: כשמדליקו להאור כמות שהוא מסתבר דהוי דינו כמו אוכל נפש גופיה… ויש להתירו
  • הרב יחיאל מיכל אפשטיין, כתבי ה’ערוך השולחן’, חלק השו”ת סימן ז: להדליק אור העלעקטרי ביו”ט נראה לעניות דעתי להתיר
  • הרב בנימין אריה וויס, בשו”ת אבן יקרה אורח חיים סי’ קסח: הנה לענין יום טוב אין ספק בעיני שההבערה מותרת
  • הרב אליעזר וולדנברג, ציץ אליעזר, חלק א, כ:ו: …עצם הולדת האור אינו עושה בזה… יש לומר שאין איסור של מוליד… וכן אין לאסור בכאן משום אינו מן המוכן

Text & Texture - From Our Archives: May One Use a Microphone on Shabbat? §

From: http://text.rcarabbis.org/from-our-archives-may-one-use-a-microphone-on-shabbat/

“It is well known, many American Orthodox congregations used a microphone in the middle of the 20th century, with some continuing to use them into the 80s. Today, it is very rare to find an Orthodox synagogue that uses one, and the very few that do employ the microphone developed by the Tzomet Institute for synagogue use.”

Yehonatan Elazar-DeMota - History of the Use of Electricity on the Shabbath: §

https://www.scribd.com/document/87573533/History-of-the-Use-of-Electricity-on-the-Shabbath - a simplistic overview of the subject

Uncensored Judaism - Yom Tov Halacha Gone Insane §

https://www.uncensoredjudaism.com/en/archives/1330 - the author has a very irreverent tone, but the post contains some interesting quotes and sources

But can the prohibition of electricity on Yom Tov be considered a protective Rabbinical decree (G’zera)? It seems not. A G’zera is instituted in order to protect the Torah, “to make a fence” around the Torah (לעשות גדר/סייג). However, when this “fence” is not acting as a fence but rather is a beckoning exit-door , it cannot be considered a lawful G’zera. It is something that turns Jews away from Judaism rather than bringing them closer to Judaism or keeping them inside Judaism (as a fence is supposed to do…).

So, if the prohibition of electricity cannot be considered a temporary decree (Horaat Sha’a) nor a protective Rabbinical decree (G’zera), it cannot be prohibited and should be completely permissible, or at least permissible for Melachot (labor) on Yom Tov which have to do with the preparation of food and which the Torah explicitly permits on Yom Tov. (A separate discussion is needed in order to discuss the status and possible use of other electrical appliances such as telephones, computers, etc on Yom Tov/Shabbat)

It must be stated that our Halachic suggestion is not “new” at all. Historically[1], there were many Poskim who permitted turning on lights on Yom Tov:

  • Rabbi Yechiel Michal HaLevi Epstein – author of the Aruch Hashulchan (Beit Va’ad LaChachamim, Booklet 1, New York 5663),
  • Rabbi Rephael Aharon ben Shimon from Cairo (UMitzur Devash 9-10),
  • Rabbi Efrayim Zalman HaLevi Slutzki from Vilna (HaPeles 3),
  • Rabbi Binyamin Arye HaKohen Weiss (Even Yekara (3rd edition), 168),
  • Rabbi Ya’akov Moshe Tolidano (Responsa Yam Hagadol, 26),
  • Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank (Yarchon Kol Torah, 5694, Booklet 1-2),
  • Rabbi Shalom Mesas (Responsa Tvuot Shemesh, Part 1- 27-28, 33; Responsa Shemesh Umagen, Part 2, 65),
  • Rabbi Eliezer Valdenberg (Responsa Tzitz Eliezer, Part 1, 20, Ch. 6)

In addition to these Rabbis, there were also Poskim who entirely permitted the use of electricity on Yom Tov (both turning on and turning off lights). These include:

  • Rabbi Yehuda Yudel Rosenberg (Maor HaChashmal),
  • Rabbi Yosef Mesas (Responsa Mayim Chayim, 1,94),
  • Rabbi David HaKohen Skali (Responsa Kiryat Chana David, 2,56),
  • Rabbi Ben-Tzion Meir Chai Uziel – the 1st Sephardic chief Rabbi of Israel (Responsa Mishpatei Uziel, 19)

Torah Musings - The Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik §


The Chazon Ish (Rav Avraham Karelitz, 1878-1953) held that illuminating light bulbs on Yom Tov was an issue of “Boneh”, and therefore he ruled that it is absolutely Assur on Yom Tov. Rav Soloveitchik on the other hand, based upon his understanding of the physics of electricity, felt that illuminating conventional light bulbs was an issue of “Ha’avarat Eish” , and therefore, Mutar Le’chat’chila on Yom Tov, for a Yom Tov need.

This opinion was expressed in the 1940’s and 1950’s and it was widely accepted in the Boston area where the Rav was the Mara D’Atra. Things changed however, in the 1960’s, – not because the Rav changed his mind in principle, but rather due to the influence of other large Jewish communities, like in New York and Chicago, where everyone was “Machmir” with electricity on Yom Tov. In the interest of maintaining a level of achdut in the United States the Rav refrained from “publicly’ expressing his opinion on the matter and in the 1970’s, hardly anyone, except for the people of Boston, was aware of Rav Soloveitchik’s lenient ruling on the matter. The stringent opinion of the Chazon Ish prevailed.

In a private conversation with his talmid and shamesh, Rabbi Aaron Adler, the Rav said that he even authored a Teshuva on “Electricity in Halacha” based upon his understanding of the complex issues that would revolutionize our Halachic attitude towards electricity on Shabbat and Yom Tov. He never published this Teshuva.