While taking a Passover eve bicycle ride with some friends three years ago, 20-year-old excelling yeshiva student Yair Yakobovitch was hit by a truck and tragically passed away on the spot.
This devastation led to what would be one of the most important projects of Yair's father, Rabbi Shlomo Yakobovitch's life.
A few months after the death of his son, Lieutenant Colonel Rabbi Yakobovitch, the Intelligence Corps' rabbi, was approached by Chief Military Rabbi Brigadier-General Yisrael Weiss with the challenge of finding Halachic solutions to technological problems emerging in the Israel Defense Forces on Shabbat.
Yakobovitch considered the request, and after consulting with several rabbis, decided to accept the proposal to contribute to Shabbat-keeping in the IDF, for the sake of the ascension of his son Yair's soul.
In the two-and-a-half years that have passed since the rabbi accepted the challenge, Shabbat-friendly pens, telephones, mice, keyboards, electronic doors and gates, and even sensor-activated faucets and urinals have been developed.
This new technology was developed based on the Halachic concept of Grama, which means indirect action, and is constantly used in the defense and health establishments' life-saving routines.
Rabbi Yakobovitch explained that the new developments were meant to give solutions to matters in the grey area, where it is not always clear whether or not it is a matter of life or death.
"Situations which are clearly operational, or even uncertainly operation postpone Shabbat anyway," he explained, "Therefore, these developments are meant only for the grey areas."
How does an electric door keep Shabbat?In the IDF-developed mice, telephones and electric gates, flipping the activation switch does not directly cause an electric circuit. Instead, internal electric scanners check the status of the switches every few seconds, and only when a change is identified a circuit is created, indirectly, and the operation is executed.
For electric doors and other sensor-operated devices, operation is paused once every few minutes so as to ensure a safe passage for Shabbat keepers. A light installed near the door indicates when it is safe to enter the area.
These devices, according to Yakobovitch, do come with a downside, namely, the fear that routine operational use of this new technology would blur the boundaries and lead soldiers to believe that this was something that could be used on Shabbat in any situation and for any purpose.
"That's why we made sure that their use would be uncomfortable, so that the user will always remember that it’s Shabbat," said the rabbi, and made it clear that "with a Shabbat pen you cannot write a prose or a letter to your grandmother."
As a project manager without any engineering training, Yakobovitch is the driving force behind this technological revolution, while execution is usually carried out by institutions such as Zomet and Lehava, which specialize in finding technological solutions to Halachic problems.
Along with cooperation with external institutes, the Military Rabbinate entrusted developing bodies within the IDF to find Shabbat solutions for all new technology while it is still in developing stages.
"We don’t want to keep chasing after new problems," explained Yakobovitch.
'Provide recruits with basic spiritual conditions'
So where did the IDF's sudden interest in Halachic-technological development stem from? "It's all thanks to the cries of the soldiers in the field," said Yakobovitch, who added that "this should have been done a long time ago."
Yakobovitch said that Shabbat awareness was very high in the IDF and that it was at the top of the military rabbinate's priority list.
"The initial introduction of the products we developed may have been difficult, but today, the IDF understands that in order to recruit religious soldiers, they should not only be provided with a clinic and food, but also with basic spiritual conditions," said the rabbi.
Yakobovitch added that once the General Staff realized the great need for this project, it invested significant sums of money to the continuation of development.