From the Matzah Machine to the Kosher Switch: A Brief History of Jewish Religious Technology

July 16 2015

Over the past years, there has been heated discussion in Orthodox circles about an electrical switch designed to circumvent the prohibition against using electricity on the Sabbath. (Rabbis are still in disagreement over whether the loophole is legitimate.) Searching through the files of the U.S. Patent Office, David Zvi Kalman has discovered that this latest gizmo is but part of a long history of American Jewish innovation connected with religious observance:

By the time the “KosherSwitch” was patented in 2007, more than 100 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. . . .

This first period of Jewish patents, born in the midst of American industrialization, is dominated by industrial machines and processes, especially for food production. There’s a substitute for beef extract “which . . . can be used also by the Orthodox Jewish population.” There’s an electrical device for plucking chicken feathers “without cutting them as it is prescribed by the rules of the Jewish religion.” There are methods of printing Hebrew text. The family-run Manischewitz company refined the crude matzah-making machines of the 19th century through innovations like better baking ovens (1916), more efficient carton-filling machines (1919), and even attractive cracker designs (1939).

Read more at Tablet

More about: American Jewish History, Halakhah, Religion & Holidays, Shabbat, Technology

In the Aftermath of a Deadly Attack, President Sisi Should Visit Israel

On June 3, an Egyptian policeman crossed the border into Israel and killed three soldiers. Jonathan Schanzer and Natalie Ecanow urge President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to respond by visiting the Jewish state as a show of goodwill:

Such a dramatic gesture is not without precedent: in 1997, a Jordanian soldier opened fire on a group of Israeli schoolgirls visiting the “Isle of Peace,” a parcel of farmland previously under Israeli jurisdiction that Jordan leased back to Israel as part of the Oslo peace process. In a remarkable display of humanity, King Hussein of Jordan, who had only three years earlier signed a peace agreement with Israel, traveled to the Jewish state to mourn with the families of the seven girls who died in the massacre.

That massacre unfolded as a diplomatic cold front descended on Jerusalem and Amman. . . . Yet a week later, Hussein flipped the script. “I feel as if I have lost a child of my own,” Hussein lamented. He told the parents of one of the victims that the tragedy “affects us all as members of one family.”

While security cooperation [between Cairo and Jerusalem] remains strong, the bilateral relationship is still rather frosty outside the military domain. True normalization between the two nations is elusive. A survey in 2021 found that only 8 percent of Egyptians support “business or sports contacts” with Israel. With a visit to Israel, Sisi can move beyond the cold pragmatism that largely defines Egyptian-Israeli relations and recast himself as a world figure ready to embrace his diplomatic partners as human beings. At a personal level, the Egyptian leader can win international acclaim for such a move rather than criticism for his country’s poor human-rights record.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: General Sisi, Israeli Security, Jordan