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Why Is Pressing a Button Considered Work on Shabbat?

Why Is Pressing a Button Considered Work on Shabbat?



Rabbi, do you honestly believe that pressing a button to cross the road is considered doing work on the Sabbath? It doesn't seem so strenuous to me...


It is not strenuous work that is forbidden on Shabbos, but rather creative work.

During the working week we strive to make the world a better, safer and more comfortable place. We use our human ingenuity to invent, build, develop and improve the world around us. But on the seventh day we step back into ourselves. We take a break from trying to change the world and we appreciate the innate beauty of the world that G‑d created. Instead of altering our surroundings we enjoy them. Rather than utilize the amenities that technology has given us we enjoy the blessings that G‑d has given us - love, family, friendship, meditation, and just being human.

Shabbos is a like a dream-world, and we enter this dream-world by leaving the mundane world behind. Even the smallest disturbance — like pressing a button — would bring us crashing back down to earth. And there's nothing worse than waking up from a dream before it's over.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to
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Mitchell Wachtel Lubbock, Texas November 3, 2014

Another point about Ipads Almost always, the rabbi says "we'll move to the _______" with the blank being filled by whatever prayer that might be. The Ipad is connected to all the ipads in the synagogue. When the rabbi says "next . . ." the image moves to the next prayer for everyone before Shabbas begins to switch to the next prayer in the ceremony. This would help significantly because, for heaven's sake, I often get lost at services & have to ask my neighbor what page to turn to! Because the rabbi programs things before the ceremony this never happens. With Ipads being larger screened & cheap these days, no prayers can fail to fit the screen.

I'm going to read more about Shabbat rules. This stuff is fascinating. Of course, when Jews are widely separated, almost always true outside large US cities, they cannot walk to Temple. That's sort of like how horseradish became the bitter herb for Pesach, even though it is not green.

Thank you so much. I love this site.

Mitchell Wachtel, MD Reply

Mitchell Wachtel Lubbock, Texas October 31, 2014

This is fascinating. What about an app that lets you speak to the page in question? This is a wonderful discussion & I appreciate the answer given to touching an Ipad. Assume you have an ipad & that it is left on. It is set to display the prayer book & the Torah Parsha. All you do is say the word "page ______" & the page is displayed on the ipad. All you need to do is say "torah parsha chapter __ verse _______" & that is displayed.

The prayerbook is in memory, as is the whole torah (very simple of course). How are you manipulating electricity here? Again, this is penned as hypothetical. The interest lies in reducing expenses for our synagogues, protecting our sacred writings from damage, & assisting those with eye problems to be able to read large print versions of our prayers.

I appreciate the opportunity to discuss things with persons much more learned than myself.


Mitchell S. Wachtel, MD
P.S. I am doing my best to protect circumcision from being banned. Whether my efforts will make a difference - that's not my decision. Reply

Nilson Fa Rio de Janeiro October 11, 2014

Shabat ans the state of things I once had this question about electricity restriction on Shabat and got an answer from a religious cousin of mine which I think is perfectly aligned with the above: As in the seventh day of creation we don't change the state of things, that's what in stake here. Reply

Tired Ruth who gladly kashers her ovens, range, etc. Los Angeles April 20, 2014

Obviously nobody is trickin Gd Gd gave us difficult laws in Torah.
But not Impossible laws.

It makes no sense to demand that the laws be made impossible, and then to claim that, since they are impossible, they should be thrown out.

What SHOULD be done--and IS done--is to make it POSSIBLE to KEEP the laws.

And it is also a fact that Gd does not require the whole world to keep any of these laws except the laws of Noah. It is perfectly fine for anyone to ask others to do for him what he cannot do for himself.

Nowadays technology can tend the fire, via the thermostat, or turn the lights on and off via a timer.

We do inconvenience ourselves by placing the chometz in cabinets which are then taped shut and not opened. The sale is real; the buyer is told the location and CAN come and take the chometz he has bought. We DO risk his doing so. If he is willing, we must buy it back after Pesach ends. Have you ever changed all your dishes for Pesach? It's not a copout, but exhausting, taking days. Reply

Chaim Cinncinnati March 25, 2014

By the way.... I was not brought up to keep Shabbos, cannot explain everything. CAN say the little I've experienced..

It's just that after experiencing the joys of Shabbos when I was invited to orthodox homes, I wanted to have it at my home too.

It's no fun to keep Shabbos alone. It only works if we invite friends and/or family and/or strangers from Shabbos morning services to come home for lunch. (& of course, if we invite them for Friday night.) It's great merriment to surround ourselves with fun conversation & afterwards (I imagine) to make love to one's spouse (that is creative, but not manufacturing!). And it's also fun to spend all afternoon Saturday around the table with the same fun folks (or others!), in fascinating conversation. When we are busy enjoying other people, we stop feeling that we are missing out because we are free of electric devices for 25 hrs..

[For turning lights on & off, we can use timers. Even for wall switches. We can set the thermostat before Shabbos, too. Reply

Chaim Cinncinnati March 25, 2014

It doesn't matter if it is laborious. You can stand inside an apartment building and carry a sofa up the stairs to the tenth floor and that is NOT a violation of Shabbos rest because nothing is manufactured or destroyed. You merely got tired; you did not manufacture anything or destroy (or kill) anything. But if you step on an ant, that is a violation of Shabbos. If you plant a seed or pick a flower, that is a violation of Shabbos. It is not about effort or fatigue nor enjoyment. It is about the difference between creating a world for oneself (by cooking or by building a fire or using a fire in any way--remember, Prometheus was punished for "stealing" fire from Heaven, so lightning is fire and so is electricity--but Gd does not begrudge us the use of fire during the week, only asks us specifically in the Torah to avoid anything to do with fire on Shabbos. On Shabbos, all destruction and all manufacturing and all fire are Gd's alone. We also avoid money & doing our salaried jobs. Reply

Meira Shana San Diego March 24, 2014

Traffic signal button If flipping a switch to turn on a light is not acceptable on Shabbos, I can understand that pushing a traffic signal button would also not be allowed.

I never understood why it was ok for a Jew to ask a non-Jew to flip the switch or tear the toilet paper, etc.

'Shabbos Goy' -- continues to be offensive to me.

Might be the same with getting rid of non-Pesach foods ... by selling them to a non-Jew.

Tricking G-d? Hmmmmm. Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for December 3, 2012

What about an Ipad? Any adjusting or manipulation of electricity is forbidden on shabbos. Work as it relates to Shabbat rest, is not physical exertion, but what the Torah calls 'melachah,' "creative work." For example, writing or cooking is a melachah, while carrying a heavy piece of furniture across the room is not. For more on this see Melacha - A Unique Definition of Work Reply

Mitchell Wachtel November 30, 2012

What about an Ipad? It would be interesting to hear whether touching an Ipad screen constitutes work. Were everything online, no one could burn our Talmud or any other of our sacred texts without printing them out. Apart from the Torah scrolls, there would be no need to worry about protecting anything from the elements. Synagogue expenses would drop considerably, with the lack of a need to purchase paper prayer books & bibles. If touching a screen & seeing a holy text appear is work (it always seems miraculous to me, but then I am over 40 years old), surely opening a door, pulling out a ladder to reach the upper shelves of the stored prayer books, & opening the books to specific pages is work. In cases where security is an issue, if you pull out a key to unlock the door where the books are, are you not doing work? Reply

C. FitzPatrick Lawrenceville, Georgia via February 21, 2010

Flushing? Ok, If you don't flush, then you are going to have to go outside and bury away from your house. Particularly on Shabbat when He walks with us. The mitzvah concerning human waste is quite clear. It is evident that it pertains to cleanliness and to stop the spread of disease, so flush away or go and dig a hole, do it there and bury it. Reply

Anonymous limaPERU November 15, 2009

the shabbatt I think that the shabbat was made for the man and not the man for the shabbat Reply

Ricardo Boquete, Panama November 4, 2009

Beautiful What a beautiful answer Rabbi. It was a very good and simple explanation of what Shabbos really is for Jews. Reply

Pauline Goldberg Commack, N. Y. via July 8, 2009

pressing a button on Shabbat I wouldn't consider pressing a button work but doesn't pressing a button create a spark which is not allowed?

I guess since you didn't answer my question I'm not supposed to go to Shul on Shabbat as it wouldn't be safe to cross Jericho Turnpike without having the traffic stopped. It would bother me not being able to walk to Shul. Reply

Rob W. Pittsburgh, PA / USA July 7, 2009

Resting on Shabbat Wow, what an interesting, heated debate! I am Jewish by birth, but I grew up with very little religion. So now at 41 when I try to keep the Sabbath holy, I have a lifetime of habits to break -- an uphill battle, but I haven't given up. Flipping switches might be the hardest habit of all for me to break -- it's all so automatic.

Once when I walked a considerable distance to shul on a Shabbat morning, I came in all tired and sweaty. I said, "Who'd 'a thunk resting on Shabbat would be such hard work?!" A fellow Jew replied, "Are you kidding? This is the hardest day of the week!"

Rabbi Yisroel Altein the Younger once advised me not to write on Shabbat. I had never heard of such a thing; I now know that anyone educated in Yiddishgeit knows this. He asked me if I was offended by his instruction. "Of course not," I said. "It's different from what I'm used to, but don't I trust you to teach me such things?" Reply

terry toronto, ont January 29, 2009

sparks While my original question was about a technological device which does not create any sparks at all, this has apparently become the sticking point of our thread. Nowpushing a lever that causes a reaction that causes a circuit to be completed (flushing) is OK but pushing a button that closes a circuit is not. what about when I wear a man made sweater and take it off on shabbat? ( a mundane task for sure) this is work and creates hundreds of large visible sparks as does eating a lifesaver or tearing open a food packet that reqires no cooking as I wouldn't heat food on shabbat or opening a bandaid or nasal strip package. Try any of these things in a dark room and watch the sparks/fireworks that erupt. Light, heat and sparks from simple tasks all easily visible and immediate. Reply

Ruth Springfield, MO January 28, 2009

who decides? consistency? Some posts imply that there is a finite list of what can & can't be done on Shabbat or that there are clear guidelines that can be applied to any situation, even something new that has come about since the Torah was given. Yet Chabad has posted "The reason why it is generally permissible to flush on Shabbat is because there are many steps and variables in between your flushing action and the possible reaction which may be triggered." That response seems to contradict many of the earlier statements. If pushing a button is not allowed because it closes a circuit or creates a spark, things that are not seen, why do all the known actions resulting from a toilet flush not cause the same problem with doing it? We can't have things both ways. The question of using a microwave was mentioned but not commented on. I'm sure pushing a microwave button starts many actions, so can it be used or not? Most people no longer have fires in a stove that can be banked to keep food warm. Reply

Menachem Posner, January 27, 2009

Flushing Good point! There may indeed be some cases where flushing a toilet or draining water in the sink is forbidden. For instance, if you are in a basement and your flushing triggers an automatic reaction from a pump, you may have a problem. The reason why it is generally permissible to flush on Shabbat is because there are many steps and variables in between your flushing action and the possible reaction which may be triggered. Reply

terry toronto, ont January 26, 2009

About flushing on shabbat about flushing...Surely you all understand that flushing not only starts an electric pump somewhere in the city works but also causes waste processing activities in the drainage of that water a huge double NO. Just because you can't see what you do doen't mean it doesn't happen Reply

Anonymous Commack, N. Y. via January 22, 2009

pushing a button on Shabbat Should I not go to shul on Shabbat? The only button I push on Shabbat is to safetly cross Jericho Turnpike. It would not be safe to cross without the walk light. Reply

Esther Roth hauppauge, NY via December 19, 2008

pressing a buttom Interesting...much appreciated insight.
Like that beauty in simplicity.
Wondering about loophloes ie timers..(for a light) Reply

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