* Fixler is a student of R. Nachum Eliezer Rabinovitch, and I used some of the time we were together to clarify the details of R. Rabinovitch’s position that there is no halakhic prohibition in using an electronic key card on Shabbat, or in walking through a door that opens electronically, or even using an electronic faucet where the water comes out when you put your hand under it. Without getting into the halakhic details, I think one thing is sure, namely, that the future will bring more such lenient decisions in this area. The changing circumstances of modern life will create enormous pressure for lenient decisions, as modern technology which helps us in so many ways also creates many problems regarding Shabbat. For example, how long until it will be impossible to access an apartment building in New York and other big cities without using a key card? The day is probably coming when private apartment doors will also use key cards, not to mention numerous other such Shabbat-problematic technological advances that will be unavoidable aspects of life in the future. Therefore, I believe that some future poskim will return to R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach’s position that if there is no creation of heat or light, then technically there is no violation of Shabbat.
* R. Moses Isserles…states with reference to a different case that Jews who threaten to kill another Jew are only trying to scare him, “as Jews are not murderers.”
* Here is another story about Harbin told by R. David Abraham Mandelbaum. In 1943 his father and his friend, both yeshiva students in Shanghai, came to Harbin where they visited the university. While there, and presumably in the library, they found on one of the tables a Sefat Emet on Kodashim. The two students were very surprised, since how did this book end up in such a far-away place? They grabbed the book and quickly exited.
The story as told is quite shocking to me and I am surprised that it was reported, for how was this not thievery? Presumably, the university acquired the book from one of the local Jews who donated it. Or perhaps at the time the yeshiva students were visiting the man who was studying the book had gone out to the restroom or he had left the book there from a previous visit. If such was the case, when the man returned he would have been very upset to find that his book was taken. It appears that the two yeshiva students simply felt that they had a right to take the book, as it did not belong in a Chinese institution.
This reminds me of how many years ago I walked into the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary and saw that they had installed an anti-theft system to prevent anyone from removing a book without it being checked out. Upon inquiring I was told that this was necessary as some people thought it was OK to take books from the library, as they felt that they were “liberating” the books from the clutches of those who had no right to them, that is, the Conservatives. I never took that claim seriously and always assumed that a thief is a thief, and the people stealing the books – no matter how big their kippot or how long their beards – did not have any religious justification worked out. Subsequent experiences have shown me that these sorts of thieves will steal from anyone if given the chance, even if it means pretending to be kollel students. (I won’t elaborate further, but some European readers will know what I am referring to). But in the case from Harbin, it seems obvious that the reason for taking the book was precisely because the yeshiva students felt that there was no reason for the Sefat Emet to be in a Chinese institution. As mentioned already, I do not see how this can be justified halakhically, as we are not talking about a Jewish book that was, for example, confiscated by the government for anti-Semitic reasons.