A Final Note Regarding Rav Simcha Zelig Reguer’s Position on Opening a Refrigerator on Shabbat
By Yaacov Sasson
The purpose of this note is to establish conclusively that Rav Simcha Zelig Reguer, the Dayan of Brisk, never permitted opening a refrigerator on Shabbat when the light inside will go on. I was deeply disappointed to read Rabbi Michael Broyde’s response to my “Note Regarding Rav Simcha Zelig Reguer’s Position on Opening a Refrigerator on Shabbat.” In short, R. Broyde has incorrectly asserted that Rav Simcha Zelig permitted opening a refrigerator on Shabbat when the light inside will go on. In truth, Rav Simcha Zelig permitted opening a refrigerator when the motor will go on; he never addressed the refrigerator light at all. Rather than admit to this simple mistake, R. Broyde has chosen to reiterate his basic error and compound it with further errors. Furthermore, R. Broyde has entirely ignored the crux of my own argument, specifically that the articles to which Rav Simcha Zelig was responding were about triggering the refrigerator motor by allowing warm air to enter. Those articles do not mention refrigerator lights at all. It is therefore untenable to claim that Rav Simcha Zelig permitted opening a refrigerator on Shabbat when the light inside will go on.
Let us proceed to examine how each argument advanced by R. Broyde is incorrect. Below are direct quotations from R. Broyde’s response (in bold), followed by my own comments.
“The relevant paragraph of the teshuva by Dayan Rieger reads simply:
ובדבר התבת קרח מלאכותי נראה כיון דכשפותח את דלת התיבה הוא כדי לקבל משם איזו דבר ואינו מכוין להדליק את העלעקטרי הוי פסיק רישיה דלא איכפת ליה אפילו להדליק אם הוא באופן שהוא פסיק רישיה.
And in the matter of the artificial [electric] icebox it appears that since when one opens the door of the box to get something from there and does not intend to ignite (light) the electricity it is a psik resha that he does not care about, even to light in way that is a psik resha.”
R. Broyde’s citation has omitted the first several words of the paragraph, which read as follows:
הגיעני השלשה כרכים הפרדס ובדבר התבת קרח מלאכותי...
“I received the three issues of Hapardes and in the matter of the artificial [electric] icebox…”
This omission is significant, because these words make clear that Rav Simcha Zelig was addressing the refrigerator question raised in earlier issues of Hapardes. (See Hapardes 1931 num. 2 page 3, and Hapardes 1931 num. 3 page 7.) The question under discussion in those previous volumes was the triggering of the refrigerator motor, and not the light, as noted.
Also of note, is that at the end of his teshuva, Rav Simcha Zelig addressed Rav Moshe Levin’s question regarding the permissibility of making ice on Shabbat. Rav Simcha Zelig cited this question specifically in the name of Rav Levin. This is significant because the ice question appeared in the name of Rav Levin in Hapardes 1931 num. 3 page 7, in an article about triggering the refrigerator motors. See the final paragraph of the article titled “Frigidaire” in the image below:
So it is clear that Rav Simcha Zelig introduced his teshuva with a reference to the prior issues of Hapardes. And it is also clear that he closed his teshuva by addressing Rav Moshe Levin’s ice question from Hapardes (which appeared in the article entitled “Frigidaire”, shown above, about the refrigerator motors.) R. Broyde apparently contends that in between, Rav Simcha Zelig veered off to address an unrelated question which never appeared in Hapardes (that of the refrigerator light), without ever addressing the question of the refrigerator motor itself. And he did this while directly addressing the ice question from the article entitled “Frigidaire”, but never addressed the main substance of that article, the refrigerator motor. The absurdity of this position is self-evident.
Also of note is the introductory paragraph to Rav Simcha Zelig’s teshuva, presumably written by the editor, Rav Shmuel Pardes, which reads as follows:
תשובה זו מוסב על השאלה הנדפסת בהפרדס, אם מותר לפתוח תבת קרח מלאכותי בשבת, או לשום מים בתיבה לעשות קרח בשבת.
This teshuva addresses the question that was printed in Hapardes, whether it is permitted to open a refrigerator on Shabbat, or to put water inside the refrigerator (freezer) to make ice on Shabbat.
Rav Pardes clearly understood and presented Rav Simcha Zelig’s teshuva to be addressing the question of triggering the motor, which had been raised in earlier issues of Hapardes.
Furthermore, R. Broyde’s translation of Rav Simcha Zelig’s words is inaccurate, and the effect of this mistranslation permeates his entire response. The closing words of Rav Simcha Zelig in the paragraph cited by R. Broyde are:
הוי פסיק רישיה דלא איכפת ליה אפילו להדליק אם הוא באופן שהוא פסיק רישיה.
R. Broyde has translated these words as:
“…it is a psik resha that he does not care about, even to light in way that is a psik resha.”
The astute reader will notice that the bolded words in the Hebrew citation are left untranslated by R. Broyde, essentially ignored, as if they do not exist. The closing words of this sentence are correctly translated as follows: even to light IF IT IS in a way that is a psik reisha. Most of R. Broyde’s response revolves around the incorrect assertion that since Rav Simcha Zelig referenced a psik reisha, he must have been referring to igniting the light, which is a psik reisha, and not the motor, which is not a psik reisha. However, correctly translated, Rav Simcha Zelig says that opening the refrigerator is permitted EVEN IF there is a psik reisha involved. Such conditional language is entirely out of place when referring to a light, which is certainly a psik reisha. This conditional language is only applicable to the refrigerator motor, because there are times when, unbeknownst to the person, the opening of the refrigerator door will immediately trigger the motor to go on because of the already heightened initial air temperature inside the refrigerator. (Such a situation is known in the language of the Poskim as a “Safek psik resha”, as noted in Hapardes 1931 num. 3 page 6 regarding the refrigerator motor. It is the subject of dispute whether such an action is permissible, similar to a Davar Sheaino Mitkavein, or prohibited like a psik reisha.) Rav Simcha Zelig’s qualification that it is permitted to open the refrigerator door even IF the situation is one of psik reisha makes clear that he is referring to the refrigerator motor, contrary to R. Broyde’s misreading.
“A careful reader of the first sentence, and indeed of the entire teshuva, can sense that there is some ambiguity here about the electrical object referred to, since Dayan Rieger does not specify the source or consequence of igniting the electricity.”
There is no ambiguity to anyone who has seen the previous issues of Hapardes which deal with the question of the refrigerator motor. There can only be ambiguity if one reads Rav Simcha Zelig’s teshuva entirely out of context, without looking at the articles to which he was responding.
“Particularly in the Yiddish spoken culture of that time, the term “electric” seems to have meant “lights” and not electricity or motor.”
R. Broyde’s assertion that “electri[c]” did not mean electricity or motor is incorrect. See for example, the language in Rav Shlomo Heiman’s letter (dated Erev Sukkot 5697/1936), printed in Chosen Yosef, and reprinted in later editions of Chiddushei Rav Shlomo:
פקפק כת"ר שליט"א בענין פתיחת הפרידזידעיר על העלעקטרי דע"י פתיחתו הוא מבעיר העלעקטרי ורוצים להתיר על פי שטת הערוך דהוי פס"ר דלנ"ל דיותר נוח לו שלא יכנס שם אויר קר, ולא יעלו לו הוצאות העלעקטרי...
In this short excerpt, Rav Shlomo Heiman uses “elektri” to refer to both the refrigerator motor and to electricity. Rav Heiman was clearly discussing the permissibility of opening the door and triggering the refrigerator motor, and refers to triggering the motor as kindling the “elektri”, the same exact term used by Rav Simcha Zelig. Rav Heiman further notes that this is considered “lo nicha lei” because the person would prefer to save the additional expense of “elektri”, i.e. electricity.
See also the words of Rav Chaim Fishel Epstein, in Teshuva Shleima vol. 2 – Orach Chaim, beginning of Siman 6:
נשאלתי בדבר המכונה המקררת בכח חשמל שקורין ריפרידזשיאטר, שבעת שפותחים הדלת נכנס אויר חם ואז נתעורר כח החשמל (עלעקטריק בלע"ז) והמכונה מתחלת להניע ולעבוד כדי להוסיף קרירות...
Here, Rav Epstein synonymizes koach chashmal, or electricity, with "עלעקטריק".
See also Hapardes 1931, num. 2 page 3, where zerem hachashmali, or electric current, is synonymized with "עלעקטריק". R. Broyde’s contention that “electri[c]” did not mean electricity or motor is simply false.
“Elektri, according to my colleague at Emory, Professor Nick Block, more likely means the light than anything else in 1930s Yiddish.”
One need not be a Professor of German Studies to recognize that within a discussion of refrigerator motors, it is more than likely that “Elektri” means a refrigerator motor, the subject under discussion, or its associated electricity. This was true even in 1930s Yiddish spoken culture; see Rav Shlomo Heiman’s 1936 letter cited above.
Additionally, as mentioned above, Rav Pardes (editor of Hapardes) clearly understood Rav Simcha Zelig’s teshuva to be addressing the question of triggering the motor, which had been raised in earlier issues of Hapardes. Rav Pardes’ knowledge of 1930s Yiddish was certainly robust.
“Second, and much more importantly, the halachic analysis presented by Dayan Rieger addresses a direct action, while everyone else who discusses the motor speaks about an indirect action…opening the door usually leads to an increase of air temperature inside the refrigerator, which eventually directs the motor to go on…many times when the refrigerator is opened, the motor does not go on at all…But Dayan Rieger makes no mention of this…he assumes that when the refrigerator door is opened the electrical object under discussion is always ignited, and it does so immediately and directly, thus causing a melacha. This is the formulation of psik resha, which inexorably causes melacha each and every time…”
This section is entirely wrong, and is predicated on R. Broyde’s misreading/mistranslation of Rav Simcha Zelig’s words, as noted above. That Rav Simcha Zelig added the qualification of “IF IT IS” a psik reisha renders R. Broyde’s words here to be entirely irrelevant and incorrect. Rav Simcha Zelig’s language of “IF IT IS” a psik reisha makes clear that he is assuming that the motor is not always ignited by opening the door, but at times it might be ignited in a manner of psik reisha, due to the heightened initial air temperature inside the refrigerator. (Again, such a situation is known as “safek psik reisha” in Rabbinic parlance, as the air temperature inside the refrigerator is not known to the opener.) Contrary to R. Broyde’s assertions, Rav Simcha Zelig’s language here is a clear proof that Rav Simcha Zelig’s teshuva was in reference to the refrigerator motor and not the light.
“Professor Sara Reguer noted by email to me that “my grandfather conferred with scientists and specialists in electricity before giving his response,” and given this fact it is extremely unlikely that he missed such a basic point that anyone who repeatedly opened and closed a refrigerator would have noticed.”
This argument is also incorrect, and is again predicated on R. Broyde’s mistranslation of Rav Simcha Zelig’s words. Also significant is R. Broyde’s citation of Dr. Reguer (in his footnote 8) that “she is certain that this teshuva is referring to the thermostat or motor and not the light.”
“First, the other substantive halachic logic employed by Dayan Rieger which analogizes elektri to sparks seems to me to be a closer analogy to a light than to a motor which is hardly fire at all; sparks like incandescent lights, are fire according to halacha.”
R. Broyde is wrong again. In fact, several poskim have noted that ignition of the refrigerator motor also generates sparks. See the words of Rav Chaim Bick, describing the problem of the refrigerator motor in Hamesila (2:1):
וע"י הגלגל נושב רוח ומוליד הקר לחלק השני של התבה, אשר שמה נמצאים כל צרכי אכל ומשקה. הגלגל בשעה שמתחיל מרוצתו יוצא ממנו נצוץ-אשי...
And by way of the wheel, the wind (i.e. air) blows and creates the cold in the other section of the box (refrigerator), where all the food and drink are located. The wheel, when it begins to run, emits fire-sparks…
See also the words of Rav Chaim Dovid Regensburg, describing the problem of the refrigerator motor, in Mishmeret Chaim, siman 3:
ומה שלפעמים ניצוצות ניתזים, ברגע של מגע החוטים החשמליים אחד בשני, אין זו הבערה, כי מלאכת מבעיר ביחס לשבת לא חשובה אלא אם האש נאחזת באיזה דבר, וכן כתב הפרי מגדים סי תקב...
And that sometimes sparks fly off, at the moment that the electrical wires touch each other, this is not havara, because melechet havara with respect to Shabbat is only considered when the fire takes hold to something, and so wrote the Pri Megadim…
See also the words of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, within a discussion of the ignition of the refrigerator motor in Minchat Shlomo (Kama), Siman 10, Anaf 2 Ot 4:
אולם יש טוענים דיש לחשוש לזה, שבכל פעם שמתחדש מעגל חשמלי יוצא במקום החבור ניצוץ קטן של אש ונמצא שבפתיחתו הוא גורם למלאכת מבעיר...
However, some claim that one should be careful about this, that every time that an electric circuit is completes, a small spark of fire comes out of the place of connection, and thus through his opening [of the refrigerator door] he is causing the melacha of mav’ir…
Thus, contrary to R. Broyde’s assertion, Rav Simcha Zelig’s mention of sparks is in fact directly analogous to the ignition of the refrigerator motor, which actually involved creation of sparks.
“Secondly, there has been a regular subset of poskim (as shown by Rabbi Abadi’s most recent teshuva, Ohr Yitzchak 2:166) who adopt the exact analysis and view of Dayan Rieger and view the light as lo ichpat since one does not want it and a light is on already.”
To refer to a single teshuva, published in the 21st century by a lone posek, as “a regular subset of poskim” would seem to be somewhat of an exaggeration.
“On the other hand, there is a good and natural impulse to read halachic literature conservatively and to press for interpretations that align gedolim with one another and not leave outliers with halachic novelty.”
My original note and my comments here in no way reflect any impulse to read halachic literature conservatively. They reflect my impulse to read halachic literature correctly.
“Furthermore, I do recognize that many halachic authorities who have cited Dayan Rieger’s teshuva have quoted it in the context of the motor and not the light…”
More accurately, all halachic authorities who have cited Rav Simcha Zelig’s teshuva have quoted it in the context of the motor and not the light.
“But, I think these citations are less than dispositive for the following important reason: Those who quote Dayan Rieger’s view as something to consider about the motor note that his analysis is halachically wrong…Poskim generally spend less time and ink explicating the views of authorities whom they believe to have reached inapt or incorrect conclusions of fact or law compared with those whom they cite in whole or in part to bolster their own analysis.”
It is unclear to me whether R. Broyde means that all of these Poskim have misunderstood Rav Simcha Zelig’s position, or that they have misrepresented it. Either way, the assertion is bizarre. I will leave it to the readers to judge whether such an assertion is tenable.
The following is a partial list of Poskim and scholars who have cited Rav Simcha Zelig as having permitted opening a refrigerator on Shabbat when the motor will go on, and not in the context of the refrigerator light:
1) Rav Ovadya Yosef (Yabia Omer, Orach Chaim Chelek 1, Siman 21, Ot 7)
2) Rav Yehoshua Neuwirth (Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchata, Perek 10 Footnote 33 in the 1979 edition. This appears in Footnote 37 in the 2010 edition.)
3) Rav J. David Bleich (Tradition, Spring 2017, pages 57-58)
4) Rav Chaim Bick (Hamesila 2:1)
5) Rav Gedalia Felder (Yesodei Yesurun, vol. 3 page 293)
6) Rav Shlomo Tanavizki (Birkat Shlomo, end of siman 2)
7) Rav Moshe Shternbuch (Teshuvot Vehanhagot vol. 1 Siman 220)
8) Rav Chaim Fishel Epstein (Teshuva Shleima vol. 2, end of Siman 6)
9) Rav Chaim Dovid Regensburg (Mishmeret Chaim, Siman 3, page 27) 
10) Rav Chaim Druck (Noam Vol. 1 page 281)
11) Rav Shmuel Aharon Yudelevitz (Hachashmal Leor Hahalacha, page 130)
12) Rav Yosef Schwartzman (Shaashuei Torah, Chelek 3 – Shabbat, pages 391-392)
13) Rav Shlomo Pick (Who is Halakhic Man?, in Review of Rabbinic Judaism 12:2, page 260)
In conclusion, it is clear that Rav Simcha Zelig’s teshuva about opening refrigerators on Shabbat addressed the problem of the motor turning on when the door is opened. Every argument put forth by R. Broyde is wrong. Rav Simcha Zelig’s position was that it is permitted to open a refrigerator when the motor will go on, as triggering the motor is classified as a psik reisha d’lo ichpat lei, which is equivalent to lo nicha lei. Rav Simcha Zelig never addressed opening a refrigerator when the light will go on.
Regarding R. Broyde’s admonition of my tone, that “we certainly could use more light and less heat”, I could not disagree more. I will simply quote the words of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveichik in his remarkable speech at the 1956 Chinuch Atzmai Dinner, in appreciation of Rav Aharon Kotler:
קאלטע תורה, ווי קאלטע ליכט, איז גארנישט. עס דארף זיין הייס ליכט, א'מיר'זך אפ'בריען ווען מ'קומט'מן צו אים...
Cold Torah, like cold light, is worthless. It must be heated light so that one burns himself in its proximity…
 See Rav J. David Bleich’s typically thorough treatment of the topic of refrigerators in Tradition (Spring 2017, pages 57-59 and 64-65) for a discussion of why triggering the refrigerator motor would be considered lo nicha lei.
 Rav J. David Bleich in Tradition (Spring 2017, page 72) has noted that while a number of earlier poskim dealt with the issue of sparking in refrigerators, sparking has now been eliminated in most modern-day appliances.
 For biographical information on Rav Chaim Bick, see here.
 While Rav Regensburg assumed that the creation of sparks would happen only sometimes, it appears that Rav Bick and Rav Shlomo Zalman assumed that the creation of sparks happened every time the motor was triggered, and thus would be included in the category of safek psik reisha.
 My thanks to Dr. Marc Shapiro for bringing to my attention the references to Rav Felder, Rav Shternbuch, Rav Druck and Rav Schwartzman.
 My thanks to Rabbi Yitzchok Segal for bringing this reference to my attention.
 Watch here at approximately 28:00. See also Making of a Gadol, Second Edition, page 1019, for specific examples of Rav Aharon Kotler’s heated remarks in defense of his Torah positions.