You may have heard of kosher food, kosher salt, and kosher hotdogs, but who ever heard of kosher appliances? Over the past three decades, appliance manufacturers have utilized modern technology to design kitchen appliances to be safer, more efficient, and more convenient. Although everyone benefits from these new innovations, they can pose a bit of a problem for the Sabbath or Shabbat observant Orthodox or religious Jew. Automatic shut offs, thermostats, digital displays, lights and buzzers that exists in even the most basic models today, make it virtually impossible for someone who wishes to keep the Sabbath according to Jewish law. According to the written Torah and Jewish Oral Law, it is forbidden to ignite or extinguish a fire on the Sabbath. Modern day rabbinic authorities explain that electricity is included in this prohibition. Therefore any appliance that is activated by a person’s direct action such as a refrigerator light or fan that turns on when the door is opened is categorically forbidden on the Sabbath.
In the mid 90’s, the STAR-K kosher certification organization in Baltimore hired a team of engineers who began working together with the appliance manufacturers to rewire the computer boards in ovens, fridges, air conditioners, and freezers to override these enhanced features. In 1998, the Whirlpool Corporation (manufacturers of KitchenAid, Maytag, Amana and others) was awarded a patent for their “Sabbath Mode,” which successfully eliminated these problems in many models. Today the STAR-K certifies sixteen major brands of ovens, fridges, and freezers including most of the major manufacturers such as GE, KitchenAid, Whirlpool and others.
The STAR-K certification on appliances falls into two categories:
The Sabbath Mode includes models that have unique software/hardware programmed into them that specifically address the concerns of Sabbath observant Jews. Some models come with a built in Sabbath Mode option whereas others require it to be programmed by order.
The second category includes models that were assessed by the STAR-K at to the manufacturer’s request with the intention of helping consumers avoid the unwanted surprise of not being able to use their expensive purchase on the Sabbath and holidays. The STAR-K has a list of which appliances are Sabbath compatible and what some of the pitfalls are to be aware of in each model. Details of manufacturers in both these categories, listed by company along with the specific model numbers, can be found by visiting the STAR-K website at http://www.star-k.com/cons-appl.htm. The STAR-K has issued the disclaimer that although the models are certified for use on the Sabbath, a qualified Orthodox Rabbi should be consulted to clarify exactly what actions do and do not constitute the forbidden labor of cooking.
Here is a list of some of the major considerations that Sabbath Mode eliminates:
There are a number of issues in modern ovens regarding the kosher consumer. Many ovens have thermostats that pump up the heat when the door is opened to compensate. Others have lights, digits, and sensors that are activated as well when the door is opened, or the temperature increased on the holidays when certain cooking is permitted. Additionally, many ovens automatically shut off after 12 hours and for safety reasons, most ovens will not recover from a power failure in the on position, meaning that food will be cold for the duration of the day.
Ovens with the Sabbath Mode take care of these concerns by deactivating many of these features. No lights, digits, solenoids, fans, icons, tones or displays will be activated or modified when the Sabbath Mode is activated. In many cases this mode will also prevent the oven light from going on or off as the door is opened or closed. In other models, however, the bulb must be unscrewed or the light left on for the entire day. A delay is built into the temperature controls so that the oven temperature can be raised or lowered on the holidays (though not on Shabbat). Many ovens have a timed bake feature that permits one to have the oven go off after a fixed period of time, however it is usually followed by an alarm. The STAR-K models with timed bake do not have an alarm after the time is up nor do they have an icon that is cancelled when the door is opened. To ensure that food will stay hot in the event of a blackout on the Sabbath, most Sabbath Mode appliances will turn back on once power is restored and will not shut off after twelve hours of continuous operation. Warming drawers should be treated as standard ovens since they present the same issues.
Ovens certified as Sabbath compliant have various protocol depending on the model that determine how they can be used on the Sabbath. If opening the oven door turns on a light, the bulb should either be removed before the Sabbath or Holiday or the light should be turned on at the control panel and left on for the entire Sabbath or Holiday. Some models that have an indicator light that cycles on and off during heating instead of a digital temperature readout can be used on the holidays when the light is on. Most Sabbath compliant models lack a delay in the temperature change process and therefore the temperature cannot be changed on the holidays.
Both gas and electric cooktops may have a light that increases or decreases as the temperature setting is adjusted. Some also have simmer lights that turn on and off as one enters or exits a very low setting. Sabbath Mode or Sabbath compliant models avoid electronic controls and lights, and turn on after a power failure. There should also be a way to disable or override the 12-hour automatic setting.
Although air conditioners do not come with Sabbath Mode, Sabbath compliant units will stay on after return from a power failure and should be compatible with Shabbat clocks.
Modern day refrigerators pose a number of problems for the Sabbath observer. Often times, opening a refrigerator door will cause lights, defrost cycles and digital readouts to go on, and circulation fans to go off. Refrigerators certified with the Star-K Sabbath Mode incorporate technology that eliminate the problem of lights, digits, icons, tones, alarms, solenoids or fans being activated/deactivated when opening or closing the door. A built-in delay prevents the compressor from turning on immediately after the door is opened and the defrost cycle operates solely on clock time without any feedback from consumer usage of the refrigerator. The ice and cold water systems will be turned off since they invariably use electrical solenoids and motors to operate.
Thanks to modern day ingenuity, it’s still possible for religious Jews to observe their ancient traditions while benefiting from state of the art technology. We hope this guide has been helpful to provide you with a brief overview of what to look for when shopping for Sabbath appliances. We wish you all a Shabbat Shalom and a good Sabbath!