The Kosher Switch saga continues. KosherSwitch Technologies, Inc. (“KSTI”), the maker of this clever device (discussed in this post: link), has published a response to the critiques his invention has received (link). He deserves the right to speak in his defense and raises many important points for consideration. However, in his understandable frustration he has also lamentably lashed out personally at some of his critics.
I am honored that KSTI felt this blog sufficiently important to be the subject of one of the sections of his response. He offers a number of criticisms of my essay. He lists a few inaccuracies in my technical description of the device’s function, important points that, I believe, fail to move the halakhic dial but are worthy of mention. As I wrote in my original post and KSTI seems to agree, his device is built on the misnamed “Gerama switch” but breaks new ground with added features. While the Kosher Switch satisfies some of the criticisms facing the “Gerama switch,” it fails to answer some of the most important concerns and is therefore forbidden according to many significant hakakhic authorities.
KSTI’s most important criticism of my post is that I claim that the Kosher Switch “functions the same way as other switches (from the user’s perspective).” He objects that “[f]rom the user’s perspective, the KosherSwitch(r) Classic does not function the same way as other switches.” I disagree. A Kosher Switch slides in an up-down fashion like many other kinds of switches. It does not move side-to-side, diagonally or clockwise like a dial. It is an up-down switch. From the user’s perspective, you flip it up and down like you do the many other kinds of switches. That was my point in reproducing the pictures of switches in my house juxtaposed to the picture of the Kosher Switch (I cropped the logo, as I cropped all the pictures, so you can compare the actual switches). It is very easy to get used to flipping the Kosher Switch on Shabbos and to then mistakenly flip other switches. That is the issue of “confusion” about which R. Halperin, whom I quoted, objected. The logo may serve to obviate the problem of maris ayin, appearing to violate a prohibition, but it does nothing regarding the confusion of habituating the flipping of switches. Flashing lights and other indicators exist on other kinds of switches and nothing inherently requires the user to look at the lights.
The author then attacks as biased R. Yisrael Rosen, who confirmed in writing that R. Yehoshua Neuwirth only approved Kosher Switch for exigent circumstances and obtained a denial of support from R. Avigdor Nebenzahl (link). He is right and he is wrong. R. Rosen is not a competitor of Kosher Switch but not for lack of trying. Some 30-40 years ago, he came up with similar ideas and was broadly turned down by leading halakhic decisors. He therefore focused his energy on other approaches and building devices for only exigent circumstances. You can imagine his surprise when the very halakhic authorities with whom he regularly discussed these issues for decades suddenly reversed course and entirely permitted something they have long told him is forbidden. For this reason, he is not to be set aside and disparaged as a competitor but valued as one of the world’s leading experts on the subject. His testimony is worth many times that of unknown people like me (see Chullin 7a).
KSTI gives great detail about his process of obtaining rabbinic endorsements. However, his claim that rabbis have been intimidated into retraction is hardly plausible. Some of these rabbis are known for refusing to buckle under pressure and, frankly, there is no evidence of anything other than confirmation rather than intimidation. In particular, R. Nachum Rabinovich wrote a responsum forbidding these types of devices and Kosher Switch quotes him as permitting it! I had a close student ask him about it and he does not recall permitting it but rather stands by his published responsum, which essentially forbids it. There is no intimidation in that. Anyone wishing to know any of these rabbis’ opinions can and will ask them. I have confirmed that R. Yisrael Belsky and R. Moshe Sternbuch both consider Kosher Switch completely forbidden. It is hard to believe that they, or anyone, publicly permitted such a radical device as this without anticipating a surprised public reaction. And if they truly accept it then all they would have to do is respond “Yes, I believe it is permitted.” What intimidation is there?
My theory, which is total conjecture but maintains the respectability of all parties, is that KSTI enthusiastically presented his device to these busy rabbis and overwhelmed them with reading material. In his enthusiasm, he interpreted any interest or even minor approval as complete agreement. Some rabbis completely approved of the device but most others did not. However, they gave various indications of partial approval or at least appreciation (“amaze[ment]”) of his ingenuity and after receiving substantial thanks for the even slightly positive response agreed to write down what they thought was limited praise or approval. Misunderstandings abounded and ad hoc scribbles to please an energetic visitor became taken as complete endorsements.
This is all conjecture. I don’t know what really happened and the only eyewitness account coming from outside Kosher Switch tells a very different story (link). Be that as it may, everyone should consult with their personal halakhic authority before using any new device such as this. If he allows it for you, then feel free to use it. If not, don’t. We don’t decide halakhic practice based on websites and blogs.