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Switch to Sabbath mode

Special to The Times

Ca contemporary wall oven be blessed by a rabbi? Yes, if it’s been re-engineered to turn off all of the modern bells and whistles in a kosher kitchen before the Sabbath begins.

“The joke is that we’re using software to make modern appliances like they were 20 years ago,” says Jonah Ottensoser, a mechanical engineer who helps companies create appliances for Orthodox Jewish families.

A feature called “Sabbath mode” is increasingly being embedded in ovens, stoves and refrigerators. It disables the automatic shut-offs, lights, fans, icons and electronic displays that get in the way of the Sabbath prohibition on using electricity. In an oven, Sabbath mode’s main function is to override the automatic shut-off, allowing it to be left on for more than 12 hours so food cooked before the Sabbath can be kept warm.

Traditionally, cooking and lighting of fires are not allowed on the Sabbath or holy days. The modern interpretation also includes no electricity moving through a circuit. Until the 1990s, observant Jews had been able to navigate the requirements by making easy modifications: lightbulbs in refrigerators would be unscrewed, buttons on door frames taped down, and ovens set at warm.

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In 1998, the Sabbath mode was patented by Whirlpool after the company collaborated to develop the device with Ottensoser and his employer, Star-K, a Baltimore nonprofit group that certifies kosher food as well as appliances.

Since then, Star-K has worked with eight other companies, including Frigidaire, Kenmore, Viking, Wolf and General Electric.

The innovation fills a niche. Jonathan Ament, senior project director for planning and research at United Jewish Communities, estimates there are 529,000 Orthodox Jews in the United States. Because the average family has six or more children, according to Ottensoser, there’s an ever-expanding need for Sabbath mode products.


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