It feels like each and every day we are being reminded of thousands of reasons to be proud of Israel’s creativity in the fields of science and technology. The entrepreneurial spirit that pervades Israeli culture, the start-up mentality of looking for a problem and then looking for a solution to that problem is one we are all well aware of. I recently came across a new example of a product of the start-up mentality that is so amazing, so original, so simple (isn’t it always?) that it would literally change the weather (well okay not the weather itself but the effect of the weather.)
I was talking to Avi, the parent of another child in my daughter’s kindergarten about how I was worried about walking to our friends for Shabbat lunch because of the predicted rain. He told me that next year it won’t be a problem. I looked at him incredulously as he explained that he had invented an umbrella that could be used on Shabbat. He walked me through the various Halachot that have prevented the use of umbrellas on Shabbat and have caused generations of Shabbat-observant Jews to either stay home or to get soaked on Shabbat. Each time I raised a Halachic objection, he countered with a stronger proof of why his umbrella indeed was suitable for use on Shabbat. I do not want to risk the patent lawyers getting involved but suffice to say his innovative design really does solve the problems associated with using an umbrella on Shabbat (at least in an area with an eruv.)
First there was the problem; the rain and that using umbrellas are forbidden on Shabbat. Then there was the solution; Avi’s Shabbat umbrella. Problem solved, or so one would think. This is where the problem really becomes a problem. Avi you see, has sought to gain Rabbinic approval for his invention and has taken the prototype of his umbrella to many influential Rabbis both in Israel and in America. The response has almost overwhelmingly been something along the lines of, “wow, you’ve cracked it” or “that would be perfectly suitable for use on Shabbat” and then is followed by the sadly inevitable BUT… The BUT is not made up of Halachic considerations per se but is resistance to changing the status quo, even though the majority of the Rabbis have admitted that it is within the bounds of normative Halacha. I wonder if the inventor of the Shabbat clock for example was met by similar resistance (imagine how people reacted to the idea of a light actually coming on on Shabbat!!) The BUT ultimately points to a Rabbinic leadership that is unwilling to embrace the start-up spirit that helps the Jewish people to thrive and to grow. It is a sad indictment of the direction that our Rabbinic leaders are taking when instead of applauding and encouraging further inspired engagement with Halachic observance, they are mired down by the weight of the BUT and of the status quo.
This is not a call to make radical changes to the status quo itself but a call to change the attitude towards creative minds who seek to solve some of the challenges that Halachic observance poses to us. The example of the umbrella that was presented here was designed to solve a minor practical inconvenience. There are of course more serious dilemmas in the Jewish community today which need resolution within the parameters of Halacha, and I hope and pray that our Rabbinic leadership will come to embrace the abundant positive qualities of the start-up nation as they confront the problems which our community faces today.