The Sabbath is the day of rest, God’s break from creation and humanity’s respite from weekday toil. But for observant Jews, Shabbat also can be a challenge.
Many of the conveniences of modern life are subject to restrictions by Jewish law. You can’t drive, cook, turn on lights or use phones.
Fortunately, there are workarounds for some of the thorniest restrictions — if you have the right tools. Here are five Sabbath-friendly gadgets every observant Jewish household should have.
HotMat: The foldable Shabbat hotplate
Jewish law forbids cooking food or using an open flame on the Sabbath, but there’s a loophole: Solid foods may be heated or kept warm if the heat is indirect and non-adjustable.
To achieve this, observant Jews in the old days would set up a metal sheet over a flame, called a “blech” (seriously). Then came the plug-in Shabbat hot plate, an electric warming surface meant for the countertop.
Now this indispensable Shabbat gadget has gotten a makeover with HotMat, a foldable hot plate boasting fresh safety features and functionality.
HotMat has multiple individual warming surfaces meant to mimic the size and shape of burners, while other hot plates just offer a large rectangular metal surface. The HotMat’s surfaces are also divided into hot and warm plates, so users can keep soup hot while avoiding burning foods that heat at lower temperatures. (Most hot plates only have a single uniform surface temperature.)
Made of foldable silicone and weighing just 4 pounds, HotMat is also easier to store and transport than the typical hot plate.
HotMat just came out with a new, modular version called 2Dish Connect that enables users to connect up to five units with enough surfaces to keep 10 dishes warm.
The brainchild of Israeli entrepreneur Rafi Gabbay, HotMat is ETL approved to conform with North American safety standards and is certified as kosher for Shabbat use by Israel’s Zomet Institute. It retails for $79.
Shabbulb: A Shabbat light bulb that can be turned on and off
For decades, observant Jews used electrical timers to get around this problem. But that solution has its limits. Nothing is more irritating than cozying up with a great book on Friday night and then having the room suddenly thrown into darkness with the click of an electronic timer.
The invention of compact fluorescent light bulbs and then LEDs paved the way for a new solution: casings that completely cover a light source, allowing the user to “turn” off a lamp without actually extinguishing the light bulb (a solution impossible with incandescent bulbs because of the heat).
A new product on the market applies this principle brilliantly: The Shabbulb, a light bulb that fits any lamp and can be turned on and off on Shabbat.
Here’s how it works: a toggle on the LED bulb allows users to make it go dark by concealing LED diodes that actually stay on. Unlike other Shabbat-friendly lamps on the market, the Shabbulb fits any socket and can be used in a regular lamp.
“It’s probably my least profitable item, but people love this product,” said Mordechai Kohn, the Brooklyn-based lighting entrepreneur who invented it. “You can use it during the week. You don’t have a clunky lamp you have to take out especially for Shabbos. It’s safe, and the LED bulb will last for years while saving you on energy costs.”
The Shabbulb is approved for Shabbat use by the Orthodox Union and retails for about $25.
Sabbath-mode oven feature
Having an oven with a Sabbath mode feature is the gold standard in observant Jewish kitchens. While ovens cannot be used to cook on Shabbat, they may be used to keep food warm.
But conventional ovens present several problems. A light goes on when the door is opened. Many ovens have a safety feature that automatically shuts the unit off after 12 hours of continuous use. Many rabbis also forbid opening an oven door when the motor is not running because the resulting temperature drop will cause the thermostat to activate the heating feature.
Several manufacturers — including GE, Whirlpool, Frigidaire and Viking — now sell ovens with a Sabbath mode that disable these features. But perhaps the most useful element of Sabbath mode is that the oven’s temperature can be adjusted without altering the digital display – great for festival days when cooking is permitted but altering a digital screen is not.
Ovens with Sabbath mode range from $900 to over $4,000.
Shabbat-friendly hot water urn
Shabbat is supposed to be a day of joy, but how is that possible without hot coffee? Heating up liquid on Shabbat is considered cooking and is therefore strictly prohibited.
That’s where hot water urns come in. Nearly every kosher kitchen and synagogue has one to keep water warm on Shabbat.
There’s a big difference between good urns and bad urns. Cheap ones tend to give the water a tinny taste and flake apart into the water. Fancier ones tend to have electronic features that are impermissible on the Sabbath.
Enter the urn with the Sabbath-mode button. Models like the 5-quart Classic Kitchen have a stainless-steel interior, so no flaky bits get in the water. When Sabbath mode is activated, the urn keeps the water hot by periodically warming it regardless of the temperature, rather than via thermostat. Urns with Sabbath mode also have a manual dispense feature. These urns tend to run from about $60 to $100, depending on size.
Kosher Fridg-eez: The fridge light solution
Almost all refrigerators today have lights, compressor motors or cooling fans that automatically turn on when the door is opened. That’s a problem for Sabbath observers.
This problem can be circumvented by unscrewing the light bulb before Shabbat or taping over the fridge door switches that trigger them. But the tape may peel off due to temperature or condensation.
One simple solution is Kosher Fridg-eez, which uses velcro strips to easily and reliably depress the switches that trigger the fridge’s automatic electrical operations. It’s a handy little gizmo and retails for about $6.
Pronounced: shuh-BAHT or shah-BAHT, Origin: Hebrew, the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.