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Topic: Electricity on Shabbat

Matt from Teaneck, New Jersey wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

I live in a Jewish town and go to a Jewish school where we study Torah daily. However, I'm still not sure as to the laws of Shabbat relating to my daily life. My friend said that if you have good intentions and stay home and rest but still use electricity that is still observing the Shabbat but I have trouble accepting this because it would contradict too many other laws that I observe. I do want to keep the Shabbat but I'm not sure how.

Dear Matt,

The Torah tells us not to do "melacha" on Shabbat. Melacha is sometimes defined as "work," but that's not a good definition. What is melacha?

Melacha means "creative act." By refraining from creative acts, we recognize G-d as the Ultimate Creator.

Melacha is any act which represents the uniquely human ability to put our intellect to work and shape the environment. Thus, switching on a light is a melacha. Among other things, it can be considered "building" a circuit.

Specifically, a melacha is anything that fits into one of 39 categories of activities listed in Tractate Shabbat page 73a. This list includes activities such as seeding, uprooting, building, writing and burning.

I recommend the following books to start: Shabbos: Day of Eternity by Aryeh Kaplan.(available at, The Shabbat by Dayan Isadore Grunfield, 39 Avoth Melacha of Shabbath by Rabbi Baruch Chait; illustrated by Yoni Gerstein, and The 39 Melochos by Rabbi Dovid Ribiat (all available at, and

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