Emma Sass
Grateful to be Grateful

‘Alexa’ the Shabbos Goy?

We just “Alexa-d” the house. For those unfamiliar with concept, Alexa – a virtual assistant developed by Amazon that can carry out voice-interacted instructions – is able to (in our house anyway) “turn on AC,” “turn on train,” tell us who won the World Cup and many other things like that.

So my first question following Alexa’s first Shabbos in our home, was hey, why not just ask her to turn on the AC.  Apparently the question has already been asked and Halachapedia responded that it’s not allowed. In response to the question they quoted Tshuvot Igrot Moshe YD 1:173 which prohibits the activation of an electronic device with one’s voice on Shabbat.

Hmmm…I wasn’t convinced. So I took a look at the source in its origins and I found the following:

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe YD 1:173) writes that it is forbidden to make recordings of verses being sung for the purpose of listening to them for pleasure. Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer OC 3:15) writes that the prohibition does not apply if the songs are sung with fear of heaven and “level-headedness” (כובד ראש) at a celebration of a Mitzva. Rav Yaakov Ariel writes that it is only permitted to sing verses if one focuses on their content and on one’s connection with God. Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv writes that one can listen to such songs only with “holy trepidation” (חרדת קודש).

Hmmm….not exactly what Halachapedia led me to believe…

So I came back to the Alexa question and asked the following: we will accept that halacha forbids one from voice activating an electric device on Shabbat…Okay.  Can we work with that? My friend and neighbour suggested this: How about if Alexa becomes the Shabbos goy and you don’t actually ask her to switch on the AC, you instead suggest that your comfort levels would be enhanced if she did switch it on. Because that would just be like her being your Shabbos goy no?  And according to Wikipedia a Shabbos goy is: “a non-Jew who performs certain types of work (melakha) which Jewish religious law (halakha) prohibits the Jew from doing on the Sabbath.”

As far as I know Alexa isn’t Jewish. Although, when I asked her she said: “People all have their own views on religion.”  So she didn’t say she is but she didn’t say she isn’t either.

Okay, up next…how to get Alexa to admit she’s not of the faith…Stay tuned…

About the Author
At 48 years old, Emma Sass is blessed to be the most content she has ever been.