Using a Computer or other Electric Device on Shabbos
We are living in a "virtual" day and age, where electronic devices appear to have taken over the very essence of our lives. Much has been written and spoken about the hidden and not so hidden physical, psychological and social dangers of addiction to fast advancing technology, and computing. Even more has been written and said about the dangers of unsupervised internet use, especially to our vulnerable youth who we are trying to bring up and educate. Much less has been written on the halachic aspect of computers and their everyday use.
Hopefully the halachic implications of the article need not be stressed, but just to clear up any misconceptions or misunderstandings, let us just outline the basic problems with using a computer or other electronic device on Shabbos.
An Electric Current
There are differing opinions amongst the Achronim how to relate to the completion of an electric circuit. [This discussion is regarding completing the current itself, irrespective of the resulting consequent which may be an added issur].
The Beis Yitzchok (Responsa YD vol 2 Maftechos 31) held that completing an electric current us a Rabbinical issur if מוליד , the current is compared to a "new" essence added to the wires, which is compared to מוליד .
The Chazon Ish (OC 50:9, see also letters of the Chazon Ish in קובץ מאמרים בעניני חשמל בשבת from Harav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach pg 61-63) held that completing the current is "fixing" and thereby "completing" an unfinished circuit, and is ossur as מכה בפטיש , and תיקון מנא . The Chazon Ish added that completing a current is also "building" the circuit and is ossur as in בונה , which is one of the 39 Biblically prohibited groups of activities.
It has been universally accepted that it is absolutely prohibited to operate any electric appliance under any circumstances.
Writing on a screen
Harav Wosner (Responsa Shevet Halevi vol 6 36:1) writes that causing letters to appear on a screen involves the Biblical issur of כותב , writing, even though it gets immediately deleted, since the desired action or writing was achieved, even though an independent act of deletion causing its disappearance this does not prevent the issur of כותב .
Saving to the memory
The Shmiras Shabbos Kehilchoso (vil 2 ch 66 note 211) writes in the name of Harav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach that since an empty disk is useless, and its whole purpose is to save data, for future retrieval, hence if someone who saves data to a disk he has transgressed the issur of בונה .
We have discussed the basic underlying rule that the use of computers and electric devices on Shabbosis ossur. With advancing technological gadgets, a device gas been made whereby the user of an electrical device will only be indirectly causing a delayed reaction, and some may claim that this is only גרמא and may be allowed in some rare cases of great urgency and need, like in a hospital. Other Poskim disagree with the whole concept of "groma switches". This entire topic is not within the scope of this article to discuss, and they are not normally used on a domestic level, hence we have avoided the discussion. Bl"n we will dedicate a future article to this topic.
Consequences of using an Electric device
Besides for the problems and issurim involved in "using" an electric device or computer, there are very many issurim which can be transgressed through their use. Let us list just a couple of very common ones.
Lights: When switching on some machines, this causes an incandescent light bulb to be lit, and this would be ossur as מבעיר one may not light a fire on Shabbos. Some forms of lights may not involve the issur of מבעיר but it is ossur to switch on any form of electricity generated lights as explained above.
Printing: No proof needs to be brought that "printing" with a printer involves an added melocho of "writing" and is Biblically prohibited as כותב .