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