Insights from the Institute-Winter 2015


Q:   It has become common for businesses and stores to have security video cameras which monitor the foot traffic in front of their properties. Similarly, many apartment buildings have video cameras which record anything that enters or exits the building. Is a Jew allowed to walk in front of such a video camera on Shabbos? Can a Jew operate a video camera knowing that other Jews will walk in front of it on Shabbos?

A:    In order to answer this question, we need to address four issues.

(1)  The video camera may be connected to a monitor that displays the recorded image.  May a person walk in front of a video camera on  Shabbos if it will cause his image to be displayed on a monitor? 

One of the forbidden  melachos on  Shabbos is  kesiva, writing.  Drawing a picture is also considered to be  kesiva  mideoraissa (writing which is forbidden by the  Torah). 1However, there are a number of reasons why it may not be  kesiva  mideoraissa to walk in front of a camera and cause an image to be displayed on a monitor:

(i) According to  Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach,  zt”l, writing on a monitor is not  kesiva  mideoraissa, as the image is formed by pixels of light. [2] However,  RavElyashiv,  zt”lpaskens  that writing on a monitor may  halachically be equivalent to writing on paper, and should be considered  kesiva  mideoraissa.[3]

(ii) The  Torah forbids  kesiva on  Shabbos only if it has some permanence.   Rav Moshe Feinstein has been quoted as saying that the image on a monitor is not permanent; therefore, it is not considered  kesiva  mideoraissa.[4] However,  Rav Elyashiv  paskens that the image is considered permanent, since the image would remain unchanged if nothing in the picture moved.[5]   Rav Elyashiv would agree that the image would not be considered permanent if the monitor cycled between different images from different cameras, so that the image of any one camera would not constantly appear on the screen. [6]

(iii) The person walking in front of the video camera does not intend to create an image on the monitor.  Even though this unintended consequence will certainly happen, it is not something that he cares about since he derives no benefit.  An unintended and unwanted consequence is not considered a  melacha deoraissa,[7] so the image on the monitor will not be  kesiva  mideoraissa.[8]However,  Rav Elyashiv  paskens  that if a person lives in a house which has a video camera, and he wants the monitor to display the image of everyone entering and exiting the building, then it is considered a beneficial consequence to him even to have his own image displayed on the monitor, and it can no longer be considered an unwanted consequence.[9]

(iv) The act of writing is generally performed by a person’s hand.  Since creating an image on a monitor by walking past it is not the manner in which this melacha is generally performed, it is not  assur  mideoraissa.[10]  Furthermore, when the image appears on the monitor, it can be argued that the person is merely walking down the road and is not trying to perform any activity, and this is certainly not the normal manner of  kesiva.[11]

(v)   The act of writing is normally performed by moving a writing implement over a surface.  However, in this case the security camera is stationary.  For this reason, it may not be considered a normal method of  kesiva, as it is not performed in the manner that occurred in the  Mishkan.[12]

Thus, there are multiple reasons why it is not an  issur  mideoraissa to walk in front of a video camera, causing an image to be displayed on a monitor.  Any one of the above arguments alone would still result in the action being  ossur miderabonnon (forbidden by the Sages).  However, as there are multiple reasons why this action is not  assur  mideoraissa, it is possible that the  rabonnon did not forbid it at all.[13]  In fact,  Reb Shlomo Zalman Auerbach  paskens that, on  Shabbos, one is permitted to enter a house which has a security camera connected to a monitor.[14]   Rav Moshe Feinstein has also been quoted as allowing this.[15]   Rav Elyashiv  paskens  that, if it is difficult to avoid and unintended and not beneficial to the person, it is permitted to walk past a video camera connected to a monitor.[16]

(2) The video camera may also record to a hard drive, so that the video can be replayed at a later time.  May a person walk in front of a video camera on Shabbos if it will cause his image to be recorded to a hard drive? 

Rav Heinemann once asked  Reb Chaim Kanievsky,  shlit”a, the following question.  In Baltimore, when a person opens a faucet on  Shabbos, the water meter measures how much water is used and wirelessly sends the information to the billing agency. The information does not appear on any screen in the agency, but is stored in their computers.  Is this a problem?   Reb Chaim Kanievsky answered that he sees no problem with this.[17]

In general,  Rav Heinemann  paskens that any activity on  Shabbos which indirectly causes information to be stored on a computer is permissible, as long as nothing appears on a screen and no lights change color – i.e., nothing detectable by the five human senses occurs.  The fact that the information is stored “invisibly” on the computer is not a problem, as the  Torah does not forbid “invisible” things.[18]  For this reason, a person may walk in front of a video camera on  Shabbos, even though it will cause his image to be recorded to a hard drive.[19]

(3) The video camera may be motion sensitive, such that it turns off when nothing moves in front of it and turns on when something moves.  May a person walk in front of a video camera on  Shabbos if doing so will turn it on?

Some  poskim  feel that this is a problem.[20]  However,  Rav Heinemann  paskens that there is room to be lenient, and he maintains that this is not a problem if no visible change takes place.[21]

(4) If a Jew owns the video camera, may he leave it on if he knows that other Jews will walk in front of it on  Shabbos?

Ideally, a Jew should not leave a video camera on during  Shabbos.  If it is necessary to leave it on for security reasons,  Rav Heinemann  paskens that he should turn off the monitor and make sure that no noticeable changes occur during  Shabbos. If no change that can be detected by the five human senses occurs, it is not considered a melacha on  Shabbos.[22]  However, it is not sufficient to merely cover the monitor, or conceal any noticeable change in a similar fashion.[23]


1.מ”ב סי’ שמ ס”ק כב  2.נשמת אברהם ח”ד סי’ שמ ס”ק א, הובא בשלחן שלמה סי’ שמ אות יא  3.עי’ בספר אשרי האיש או”ח ח”ב פמ”ב אות ד’ ואות ו’.  ובספר מאור השבת ח”ד עמ’ רא כתב אודות ‘עין אלקטרונית’ בשם הגרי”ש אלישיב זצ”ל “הצורה הנראית במסך יש בזה חשש כתיבה דאורייתא”.  4.מאור השבת שם עמ’ קצח בשם הגר”מ פיינשטיין  5.אשרי האיש שם  6.מאור השבת שם עמ’ רא בשם הגרי”ש אלישיב  7.מ”ב סי’ שכ ס”ק נג  8.מאור השבת שם עמ’ קצט בשם הגר”מ פיינשטיין והגרש”ז אויערבאך, ועי’ בשו”ת שבט הלוי ח”ט סי’ פט וח”י סי’ ס, וע”ע בשו”ת חשב האפוד ח”ג סי’ פג ובשלחן שלמה סי’ שטז אות י’ וסי’ שכח הערה כט  9.שמעתי ממו”ר ר’ משה היינעמאן שליט”א (לקמן – הגרמ”ה) ששמע כן מהגרי”ש אלישיב  10.מאור השבת שם בשם הגרש”ז אויערבאך  1.עמ’ במאור השבת שם עמ’ רא בשם הגרי”ש אלישיב והגר”נ קרליץ 12. שמעתי מר’ הערשיל וועלדטשער שליט”א רב דק”ק אהבת ישראל ד’קיו גערדענס הילס’, שהגרי”ש אלישיב אמר לו שכ”ה סברת השו”ת בנימין זאב הובא בט”ז יו”ד סי’ רעא ס”ק ח, ואף שהט”ז דחה את דבריו מ”מ יש לצרפו כסניף להקל  13.מצינו היתר כזה בכמה מקומות בהל’ שבת, עי’ במ”ב סי’ שיד ס”ק יא ובמ”ב סי’ שטז ס”ק ה ובמ”ב שם ס”ק טו ובשעה”צ שם ס”ק יח ובמ”ב סי’ שכא ס”ק נז ובשעה”צ שם ס”ק סח ובשעה”צ סי’ שלז ס”ק ב ובמ”ב סי’ שמ ס”ק יז  14.עי’ בשלחן שלמה סי’ שמ אות יב(ב)  15.עי’ במאור השבת שם עמ’ קצח 16.עי’ במאור השבת עמ’ ר-רא, ושמעתי מהגרמ”ה שלא התיר ר’ אלישיב אלא במקום שהוא פסיק רישא דלא איכפת ליה ולא במקום דניחא ליה, ואמר שר’ אלישיב התיר רק במקום שהוא “אי אפשר בענין אחר ולא כמכוון”  17.שמעתי מהגרמ”ה  18.שמעתי מהגרמ”ה  19.שמעתי מהגרמ”ה  20.שמעתי מהגרמ”ה, אמנם עי’ בשלחן שלמה סמ’ שמ אות יא ואות יא(ב) ובשמירת שבת כהלכתה פס”ז הערה קו, ועי’ במאור השבת שם עמ’ רא בשם הגרי”ש אלישיב, וע”ע שם עמ’ קצט במש”כ לדון בדברי הגרש”ז אויערבאך, וע”ע שם עמ’ רלא בשם הגרי”ש אלישיב  21.עי’ במאור השבת שם עמ’ רז  22.שמעתי מהגרמ”ה  23.שמעתי מהגרמ”ה