An Interview with Rabbi Dan Marans

 

Rabbi Dan Marans is the executive director of the Zomet Institute.  Zomet is a non-profit, public research institute dedicated to seamlessly merging halakhic Judaism with modern life.  For over thirty years, Zomet’s staff of rabbis, researchers, and engineers has devised practical and pragmatic halakhic solutions for institutions, businesses, and private citizens.  Zomet has also published thrity volumes of the journal Tchumim, which focuses on halakhic research and response written by leading rabbis, scholars, scientists, doctors, lawyers, engineers, and economists.

 

Can you describe the overall goal of the institute?

The goal of Zomet is to merge and synthesize Halakhah with  all aspects of modern life.  It could deal with technology, it could deal with euthanasia, it could deal with almost anything, even ecology.

Is there a specific connection between the work being done at Zomet and the building of the state of Israel and its society?

I think that as we build a Jewish state, and everything in the world becomes more and more technically oriented, there are constantly new challenges.  For example, entrance control: People aren’t just using a metal key; they are using electronic keys or codes, or bio-tech systems that recognize people’s faces or fingers. So as life gets more and more complex, you can’t just stay behind. It’s very hard to stay behind.   As life gets more and more complex, we have to investigate every option of whether or not we can use new modern things with Halakhah.  And as the world becomes more and more complex, it becomes much harder for people to tell the difference between what we are used to doing and what we could be doing.

What would you describe as the Institute’s most important achievement?

The most important depends on one’s point of view, but, personally, I think the most important products are those that help people who are disabled to lead a normal life. For example, you have someone who couldn’t talk on Shabbat or couldn’t move around on Shabbat — it totally ruins their oneg Shabbat — and we give the people their oneg Shabbat, which is a really big thing.
For example there was a doctor who couldn’t speak, who lost his voice and the ability to speak, that we gave a microphone, a personal microphone that enabled him to speak on Shabbat, that enabled him to be a participant, to be involved in his community.

Are there any common misconceptions concerning the institute that you face?

I think that maybe people often think that we are trying to trick God, or find loopholes. But the reality is that it’s one of two options: either you can trick God or you believe that God knows everything and you can’t trick someone who knows everything.  If God is an all-knowing being, then God knew that computers would exist, knew how

the world would develop, and knew that there were loopholes in Halakhah that we would be able to use.

 

Can you describe how the Institute began? Was there a specific event or situation that instigated it?

 

R. Rozen, who learned at Kerem B’Yavneh and learned with Professor Lev, felt that there was a need to do it. He was one of the first students at Machon Lev. He felt that the world was advancing, and if we want to make a Jewish state, it would have to be independent. We can’t just rely on Arab workers, or other non-Jews doing work for us on Shabbat. We have to understand how Halakhah deals with everything that comes up in modern life.

 

Do you find that public perception of things that the Institute is producing are an obstacle to making the products more mainstream?

 

Some things that are technologically permitted are not necessarily in the ruah of Shabbat. For instance,

using a Shabbat keyboard, which we developed, is only halakhically problematic because of uvda de-

hol, it’s not “shabbesdik.” You’re not building circuits or creating fire or creating something new – all the problems of Shabbat. But it’s still a problem, because if people could suddenly use their keyboards on Shabbat, that would really change Shabbat as we know it, so obviously people are worried about change.

 

How did you get involved in Zomet?

 

R. Rozen called me and offered me a job.

 

What is the most rewarding experience that you have had working for Zomet?

 

A couple of years ago, three days before Rosh ha-Shanah, I got a letter from a doctor in Canada who

said that, as a doctor, he realizes that one of the most important

factors [in healing] is the person’s mental and psychological well-being.  The fact that we were able to give him a halakhicly permissible sound speaker to use on Shabbat helped to cure him from the cancer.

Specifically, [the patient] was able to read the Torah on Shabbat.

 

Does Zomet primarily produce things for public use?

 

More for mosdot like government hospitals.

 

What is Zomet working on now?

 

We’re working on new nurse call systems.  Also, new Shabbat light based on LEDs is coming out –similar to the Shabbat (Kosher) Lamp, but based on LED lighting.

 

Are there are any long-term projects involving the government or the army?

 

To dial Bluetooth phones, we’re working on lots of different things. It’s hard to specify individual things.