Over 100,000 people have signed a petition asking the Israel Electric Company to install automation procedures that would obviate the requirement for Jewish personnel to operate the IEC’s generators on Shabbos. Other petitions on the same topics with smaller numbers of signers are being circulated as well, and the full number of signers is not yet known, although it was estimated by observers to be as high as an additional tens of thousands of individuals.
The effort has gotten a great deal of support in the chareidi community and beyond, with many Rabbanim signing the petitions and asking their congregants to do the same. Harav Binyamin Chuta, who organized the largest petition signing, said in a radio interview that parts of the petitions have already been submitted to the IEC, which has promised to examine and “act on it if possible,” he said.
The halachic permissibility of the use of electricity on Shabbos has been a matter of discussion among Gedolei Yisrael for decades, and there are many families who do not use electricity because of the way it is produced. For security reasons, all employees of the Israel Electric Corporation involved in electricity production are Jewish, which leads to questions about whether it is permitted to use electricity produced by the melachah of Jews on Shabbos.
According to United Torah Judaism MK Rabbi Yaakov Asher, recent reforms at the IEC opened up a window of opportunity to institute a system that would automate the process of electrical production, without requiring the involvement of any workers. The IEC has resisted the idea of automated production systems, out of concern that it would increase pressure to replace workers with machines and robots. However, as part of the reform, the IEC will be shedding 1,800 workers, replacing them with automated systems. MK Rabbi Asher said that including a means of producing power without human labor was a worthy addition to the reforms.