"During the week, I can get around driving my car, and I can type my needs on a small organizer, but on Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) I was totally isolated," she told The Media Line.
Tannenbaum has worked hard not to let her disability control her life. She started a company to sell the jewelry she makes herself, and plays the harp in her spare time. It was only on the Sabbath that she really hit a wall.
On Shabbat, all creative activity, including starting a car, cooking, and using electricity are forbidden. For most people it just means a little extra preparation – cooking food in advance, putting the lights on a timer, and walking instead of driving to synagogue or friends homes.
But for anyone who uses an electric wheelchair for transportation, it could mean being stuck at home all day. Zomet, a non-profit organization that aims to reconcile Orthodox Jewish law with the modern world, has solved many of these issues.
In Tannenbaum’s case, it’s an electric scooter with a special mechanism in which no circuit is completed, meaning it can be used on the Sabbath.
"Jewish law thinks about people whose mobility is challenged or who are disabled," Dan Marans, the executive director of Zomet told The Media Line. "We believe that God wrote Jewish law, but that he knew how we would use it would change."
As a Jewish state, all official Israeli institutions, including the army and hospitals, are supposed to be Shabbat-observant. There is a loophole in a religious principle that preserving human life takes precedence over Jewish law, meaning that the Sabbath can be violated if a human life is at stake.
At the same time, many Shabbat observant Jews prefer to violate the Sabbath as little as possible, even in cases where human life may be at stake.
So Zomet has invented a special pen that skirts the prohibition of permanent writing on Shabbat. Used by doctors and Israeli soldiers, the pen has special ink that disappears after 72 hours. Any notes made on Shabbat could be rewritten after the day of rest ends.
'A win-win situation'
Zomet has 20 employees, most of them engineers. The labs, like engineering labs the world over, are a tangle of metal and electrical wires. The scientists here, all Orthodox Jews, have large black skullcaps, with ritual fringes hanging out.
The organization’s funding comes from both the Israeli government and private donations. Marans says he finds it especially gratifying when Zomet is able to find a solution to individual problems like Tannenbaum’s. Beyond the mobility issue, she has also used a "lightwriter," a computer that "speaks" what is typed into this.
Zomet was able to modify the device by putting in a device that basically adds an intermediate step between Tannenbaum’s pressing the button, and the computer speaking her message. That intermediate step enables the device to be used on the Sabbath.
“It is an indirect connection in which the person does half and the computer does half,” Marans said.
An estimated 20% of Israel’s Jewish population is Shabbat-observant, and would want to use these devices. Zomet hopes that by making it easier, more people will want to become Shabbat-observant.
"We want the Sabbath to be observed in a non-forced manner,” Marans said. "If we’re able to invent something so that they can observe Shabbat, it’s a win-win situation which makes everyone happy."
That has certainly been the case for Tannenbaum.
"I am so grateful to Zomet for making my life and other people's lives a lot easier," she said. "My isolation has disappeared."
Article written by Linda Gradstein
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line