A $50 kitchen appliance feature has become the answer to a millennia-old challenge for observant Jews.
The so-called “Sabbath mode” for most stoves and some fridges allows owners to warm food and use their fridge between Friday and Saturday nights, because Jewish law prohibits working on the Sabbath.
When the eight days of Passover begin on the Sabbath, as it does this year, modern appliances make it possible for Orthodox Jews to serve preprepared, labour-intensive Seder meals without breaking the rules.
Michael Gnat of the wholesaler Midnorthern Appliances says almost all popular brands of stoves and ovens have a Sabbath mode feature – essentially a switch that disengages automatic safety shut-offs, allowing ovens to maintain a low heat for extended periods.
High-tech refrigerators are a bit trickier if you happen to be an observant Jew: merely opening a door causes lights, defrost cycles and digital readouts to come on and compressors to engage — all signs and symbols of work. Yet even here, technological solution was introduced more than 10 years ago. “It’s a bypass switch worth about $50 to $100,” he says. But for many Observant Jews it’s priceless. “We have a large Orthodox clientele and the Sabbath mode feature is critical for them.”
There are some applicances in the kitchen that just have to be left alone on the Sabbath — microwaves or dishwashers, for example, which can’t be left running.
Every Jew determines their own level of compliance — often under the guidance of their Rabbi.
Rabbi Leslie Lipson of Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda synagogue says it can be traced back to God’s decision to rest on the 7th day as written in the second chapter of Genesis. “So we rest on the seventh day,” he says.
There are 39 categories of work listed in the Torah, says Rabbi Lipson. But the nature of work has changed over the years. Mostly we are not an agrarian society and many of us do not cook with fire. In modern times completing an electrical circuit is tantamount to lighting a fire, explains Lipson.
Observant Jews can decide not to use their microwaves. As well, they can disable the light in their fridge so the electrical circuit is not completed.
When Vaughan couple Joshua Oerbach and his wife Melissa were shopping for appliances for their new home in 2010, they looked for fridges and stoves with Sabbath mode kits. He had not been brought up in an Orthodox environment; she had been. They finally settled on a GE Café stove and an Electrolux fridge with Sabbath-mode technology.
“Everyone draws their own boundary,” says Joshua.
General Electric, Electrolux, Sub-Zero, Frigidaire, Whirlpool, Maytag and Viking have developed Sabbathmode features. (A list of Star-K-approved appliances — fridges and stoves that are compliant with Jewish law, can be found at star-k.org.
GE spokesperson Kim Mann isn’t assuming there will be a run on Sabbath mode appliances as Passover approaches. “This is not market driven. It’s culturally driven,” she says. “All ranges manufactured since the late ’90s have a Sabbath mode,,” says Mann.
It’s a phenomenon that’s been building since the 1980s, says Mann.
Frances Goldstein is a fundraiser for the United Jewish Appeal who remainxs content with her “20 year old appliances”.
“I consider myself Orthodox,” she says. “I’m an old-fashioned girl.”
She’ll spend the weekend at her daughter’s home because she won’t drive on the Sabbath.
At 60, she’s not tempted by the technology that make observing the Sabbath easier. “You need to be a rocket scientist,” she jokes.
She is certain, however, that these are important celebrations. “It’s a wonderful time for family, a time for children to ask questions. We don’t look at is as a chore.”
Still, she’s thankful that appliance manufacturers are paying attention.
“They are listening and they are making changes.”