If you try to keep the Jewish Sabbath, you might have heard of KosherSwitch, which is supposed to allow observant Jews to flick switches without violating Shabbat. KosherSwitch looks like the clever brainchild of Rube Goldberg and Erwin Schrödinger. When you flick it, you’re raising a tiny plastic gate inside, which had previously separated a laser from a laser detector. Once a laser pulse is detected, the light turns on—but not instantaneously, because both laser and detector are wired to “malfunction” at random intervals. You flick, a light goes on—but because the link between actor and action has been severed, the person flicking isn’t culpable for the result, which is therefore Shabbat-friendly (the theory goes). An Indiegogo campaign to make KosherSwitch has raised almost $65,000.
The Indiegogo page notes several times that the device has been patented—this cockeyed Jewish legal dodge is proprietary and cannot be produced by others without the inventor’s permission. The patent makes it clear that the device is not just a religious convenience, but the motor of a profit-driven business. If the century-old prohibition on flicking lights is made obsolete by the adoption of the KosherSwitch, it will have been felled not simply by rabbinic acceptance, but by engineering know-how and a desire for profit. The KosherSwitch, as product and patent, contains a quality that is essentially American.
And it isn’t the only one. By the time the KosherSwitch was patented in 2007, more than a hundred patent applications had been filed for devices or processes relating to Jewish ritual practice; the earliest of these patents date back to the very beginning of the 20th century. Although these patents are public record and available online, they have never before been documented systematically. I have spent the last few weeks doing just that.
The full story is found at Tablet Magazine.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.