Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Sabbath Feature

I love electronic marvels, like computers, iPhones, Nook Tablets, iPads, and now an electronic marvel of a kitchen double convection oven with a touch pad that puts to shame every other stove I've ever had.  Although I usually don't read the manuals that come with devices, for this one, I had to examine it.

Sitting at the kitchen table, devouring a pizza splice cooked on the special "pizza" feature, my eye fell upon the manual's page about the Sabbath Feature.  Why a Sears Kenmore Elite--and other brands--should have built in such a setting, I do not know. It's for Orthodox Jews who stringently follow the laws for keeping the Sabbath.  Apparently, when these laws were first formulated, thousands of years ago, making a fire was work. For this reason, you were not supposed to light a fire on the Sabbath.  Now, I don't know how many American Jews adhere to the strictest of the Sabbath proscriptions, especially since nowadays, putting on a cooktop or an oven is a matter of a flick of the fingers.  I do not know of any Jews who adhere to the Sabbath laws so strictly that they will not turn on an electric stove, but I surmise there are some.

When I was a child being brought up in a Kosher home, one in which we observed the Sabbath very seriously.  We didn't strike matches, tear paper, cut anything, or indulge in any activity that would interfere with our doing no work on Shabbos (as we called it.)  Actually, it was wonderful.  A total day off.  However, most of the Jews I knew in the 1930' 40's. and even 50's did keep Kosher homes, but, since then, only very Orthodox Jews or Chasidic ones still do so.  Why now, when there are maybe 100,000 Jews in all who keep the Sabbath holy have stoves instituted a Sabbath feature,which allows you to set the oven to a given temperature  for 24 hours?  The ovens even have a "Slow Cook" setting so that a dish or dishes can be put in the oven before the sun sets on the Sabbath, so it will cook slowly.

I always read when I'm eating alone, so I read The Sabbath features on p. 31 of the manual. Writing appliance manuals is a skill, one unfortunately not honed very well in many instances.  This one, I found unintentionally hilarious.  It lists the steps you take to activate the Sabbath feature before sundown on Friday to after sundown on Saturday.  That much is fine.  However, Step 5 says:

If you desire to set the Oven Control for a Cook Time or Delay Start do so at this time...Remember the oven will shut down after using ...[these features] and (underlining and bold mine) therefore may only be used once during the Sabbath/Jewish Holidays..."You may change the oven temperature once baking has started...enter the oven temperature...and then press Start TWICE (for Jewish Holidays only.) Remember that the oven control will no longer beep or display any further changes once the oven is set for the Sabbath.

In the event of a power failure, you should remove the food..because you may only start the oven once during the Sabbath/Jewish Holidays.

I haven't tried the Sabbath feature, but, if you do activate this feature, these directions make it seem as if you actually can not turn the oven on more than once in 24 hours.  Moreover, on a Jewish Holiday, the stove won't allow you to change the temperature more than once during the 24 hour period. 

How does the stove know if it's a Jewish Holiday?  The religious calendar is a highly inaccurate lunar one, and the Holy Days change every year. How does the stove know you're setting the Sabbath feature for the Sabbath or for a Holy Day?  What happens if you try to change the oven temperature while in Sabbath mode on an actual Sabbath?  Suppose you put on Sabbath mode on Wednesday or any other day? Is the stove programmed to know what dates Sabbaths and Holy Days fall?

I have visions of the stove binging at me if I try to change the temperature on a Sabbath, or setting off an alarm if I change the temperature twice on a Holy Day.  Does this stove have a direct line to God? 

Obviously, this section of the Manual was written by an Orthodox or Chasidic Rabbi who included the religious laws into the actual directions for setting up the Sabbath feature.  However, this information is simply listed in the Instructions for activating the Sabbath feature. I can imagine people in the Mid- or Far West who have never known any Jews reading this manual.  Will they think that Jewish stoves talk directly to God?  The stove is for sale for everyone, Jews and Gentiles alike. How does the stove know if its owner is even Jewish?

When writing, the inferences and variable interpretations of what is said have to be considered.  The directions for the Sabbath feature are unintentionally hilarious, so Bill and I found ourselves imagining scenes of reproach and malfunction if we violated the Sabbath mode unintentionally.  So,if you come by and find me talking to my ovens, I may be communicating with God.


Brenda F. Bell said...

The restrictions of being Shomer Shabbat have changed with the times in order to remain true to the letter, if not the spirit, of halakha (Jewish religious law). It is considered as much "cooking" to change the temperature of a stove or oven as to light or extinguish it, or to place food upon (or in) the appliance for the purpose of cooking it, heating it, or keeping it hot. In order to prevent an Observant (the umbrella term for all Jews who keep Kosher, keep Shomer Shabbat, and who make it their business to know and obey all 613 halakhic commandments) consumer from inadvertently breaking the law, it is designed with a sort of halakhic "fail-safe".

In the same way, the initiation of alarms (which often require manual intervention to cease) can be considered as requiring the device (which replaces a live person, and is therefore subject to the same restrictions as a live person) to do work.

While I've not owned any appliances with "Shabbos" features (nor am I Shomer Shabbat), I would presume it to be upon the appliance operator to set information for the specific event (Shabbos, holiday, etc.) on the day, and at the time of day, that it would need to be activated.

Elaine Chaika said...

I appreciate your insightful comment. However, to a non-Jew or even many Jews today, these comments were hilarious. I'm not commenting on their content. I understand that the manufacturer must have asked a Rabbi for input about the Shabbos feature, but in an otherwise dry, concise manual, these passages sounded as if you were to do any of these things, the hand of God would smite you. All the manual had to say was that to use the Sabbath mode correctly, one shouldn't change the temperature during the Sabbath, although one could change it once on Holy Days.

I was raised in a strictly Kosher home, and actually liked the discipline of it, so I'm a sympathizer. Moreover, I'm bewildered by ranges today being made with a Sabbath setting, when so few Jews keep Kosher--and so few Jews today are even Jewish!

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