The Knesset Economics Committee, the Energy Ministry and the Israel Electric Authority have signed an agreement that would establish a system for the production of electricity for use on Shabbos using automation, without the need to rely on employees of the Israel Electric Company – paving the way for the production of “kosher electricity.”
The deal will provide a mechanism to offer power produced automatically to all Israelis interested in it. Any extra costs for power produced in that manner will be borne by the customer, as opposed to all electricity consumers. The Electric Authority will “work with producers to offer a basket of solutions for those interested in this service,” the agreement reads. The Authority and producers will work to determine the most efficient and safest way to produce “kosher electricity,” with one of the ideas being the production of electricity via new natural gas processing facilities, which are scheduled to be built in the coming years, and will not require a reiteration of existing facilities.
The decision comes after efforts by chareidi MKs, in particular MK Rabbi Yaakov Asher, to raise consciousness about the issue. At a meeting of the Economics Committee last week on the reforms in the IEC, MK Rabbi Asher said that Israel needs “kosher electricity,” and that “among those reforms should be a solution to the production of electricity in a manner that thousands of families in Israel who do not use electricity on Shabbos will be able to use it.”
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.
During the discussion, Rabbi Asher said that the reforms 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.
Over 150,000 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 know, although it was estimated by observers to be as high as an additional tens of thousands of individuals.