May 30, 2024
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Video Baby Monitors on Shabbat and Yom Tov

A TABC graduate asked if he and his wife may use a video baby monitor on Shabbat or Yom Tov and place it in an infant’s room to monitor their baby from afar.

We begin by discussing baby monitors without a video on Shabbat.


Microphones vs. Hearing Aids

To a great extent, the question hinges on the halachic evaluation of the use of microphones on Shabbat and Yom Tov. As such, we first must examine Rav Moshe Feinstein’s classic teshuva strongly forbidding using a microphone on Shabbat and Yom Tov. Rav Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe O.C. 4:84) sets forth four prohibitions associated with using a microphone, arguing that there is a concern for the transgression of two Torah prohibitions and a definite violation of two rabbinic edicts.

Rav Feinstein is concerned that the process of making a voice louder violates a Torah prohibition such as boneh (building) or makeh b’patish (completing a construction process). He also is concerned that the increased current caused by speaking into a microphone constitutes a Torah-level infraction.

He insists, though, that the microphone parallels the Talmudic prohibition of setting a mill before Shabbat to grind grain on Shabbat. Chazal prohibit this activity because of avsha milta (the thing grows louder), which will lead people to suspect that a Jew loaded the mill on Shabbat. Similarly, there is concern that people will think a Jew turned on the microphone in violation of Shabbat or Yom Tov.

Rav Feinstein also notes that Chazal prohibit playing musical instruments on Shabbat and Yom Tov lest one fix it. The Rama (Orach Chaim 338:1) rules that this prohibition extends even to a kli hameyuchad l’hashma’at kol, an instrument dedicated to projecting sound, even if it is not music per se. Rav Feinstein maintains that a microphone is included in this prohibition, as there is a definite concern that one may come to adjust it on Shabbat or Yom Tov.

If one considers only this source, it would seem that baby monitors are unquestionably forbidden. However, in the very next responsum (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe O.C. 4:85), Rav Feinstein endorses the common custom of speaking on Shabbat and Yom Tov to people who are wearing hearing aids. This ruling is astonishing in light of Rav Feinstein’s strenuous objections to microphone use on Shabbat and Yom Tov. After all, earphones and microphones are identical in operation!

Rav Feinstein explains that since the concern he raised for violation of Torah prohibitions is in serious doubt, we have no right to prohibit the use of hearing aids due to the great need for their use. He also notes that the hearing aid is not parallel to the Talmudic case of a mill, since a loud noise is not created. Finally, regarding the prohibition of using an instrument made to project sound, Rav Feinstein boldly states that since it constitutes a great need for a hearing-impaired individual, Chazal’s edict was not issued in such circumstances.


Baby Monitors

How do we classify baby monitors? Is it similar to a microphone or a hearing aid? Rav Ovadia Yosef (Halichot Olam 4:197-198) permits their use, but Rav Moshe Shternbuch (Teshuvot V’Hanhagot 1:230) prohibits them. There are three points regarding which these two Torah giants differ:

1. Rav Shternbuch raises concern that parents are causing the child to speak on a microphone, violating Shabbat. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 243:1) prohibits parents from causing their children to transgress. Rav Ovadia Yosef, though, argues that one cannot regard the baby as violating Shabbat since the baby does not intend to project his voice on the monitor. Thus, the baby is merely mitaseik and can hardly be defined as violating Shabbat.

2. Rav Shternbuch is concerned when adults enter the room and speak into the microphone. Rav Ovadia Yosef, though, dismisses this concern since adults have no intention or benefit from their voices being heard on the monitor. Rav Ovadia Yosef notes that, at most, this is a psik reisha d’lo nicha lei regarding a rabbinic prohibition, regarding which he rules leniently.

3. Rav Shternbuch is concerned that the baby monitor is analogous to a mill, which the Rama forbids to run on Shabbat except for a case of particular need. Rav Ovadia Yosef, though, argues that since the monitor is used to help the child, we may rule leniently. Rav Ovadia Yosef notes the ruling of the Rama (Orach Chaim 328:17) that we regard children to have the status of an ill individual (choleh she’ein bo sakana). Therefore, meeting the needs of a baby is sufficient reason to justify the loud noises from the baby monitor on Shabbat in one’s home.


Conclusion Regarding Baby Monitors

Yalkut Yosef (Orach Chaim, inyanei chashmal b’Shabbat biktzara number 51) permits parents to set a baby monitor before Shabbat. However, Rav Hershel Schachter and Rav Mordechai Willig both told me that although baby monitors on Shabbat may not technically be prohibited, their use runs counter to the spirit of Shabbat. They also both question the need to have such a system in place on Shabbat. Rav Zvi Sobolosky and Rav Michael Taubes both told me that they permit the use of a baby monitor only in case of considerable need.


Video Baby Monitors

Using a baby monitor with a video component adds a much more serious dimension to our discussion. If the video is powered by entering the room, it is unquestionably forbidden to use on Shabbat since one is powering an electric device.

If the video runs continuously, the question hinges on the debate regarding video cameras and Shabbat. In our case, one intends for the baby to appear on the video, raising the possibility of creating an image on Shabbat. Contemporary poskim debate whether deliberately causing an image to appear on a video screen is considered writing.

Rav Betzalel Stern (Teshuvot B’Tzeil HaChochma 6:65) was asked by Jews living in heavily guarded homes in South Africa whether they may appear in front of a security screen so that the non-Jewish guard allows them to enter the apartment building in which they live. This matter is a more serious question than appearing on a security camera at a synagogue and the like. In Rav Stern’s case, it is undoubtedly nicha lei to cause one’s image to appear on the screen. Rav Stern permitted doing so in a matter of great need (where otherwise the building’s residents would not be able to leave their homes on Shabbat), arguing that causing an image to appear on the security camera is not defined as writing. He argues that causing one’s appearance to appear on a security camera is analogous to causing one’s image to appear on a mirror. Rav Moshe Shternbuch (Teshuvot VeHanhagot 2:189) concurs with Rav Stern’s ruling. Teshuvot Shevet HaLevi (10:68), Rav Eliashiv (cited in Orchot Shabbat 15:35), Rav Hershel Schachter and Rav Mordechai Willig, however, disagree with this ruling and forbid deliberately causing one’s image to appear on a security camera screen.

One should not consider relying on the lenient opinion regarding this matter except for a circumstance of very special need. Thus, while a baby monitor without a video may be used in case of considerable need, a video baby monitor may be used only in case of exceptionally great need.

Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

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