Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Appliance makers add 'Sabbath mode' to new products

From here:

While manufacturers were thinking up ways to make kitchen appliances better, Orthodox Jews were yearning for the good old days of simple gas ovens.

First came the 12-hour automatic safety shutoff. Then electronic controls and digital displays followed, further complicating the lives of Jews who observe Sabbath rules that forbid starting or turning off fire or its modern-day equivalent: electricity.

What happened was technology created all these problems for us, and now we're using technology to shut them off," said Jonah Ottensoser, a mechanical engineer who certifies appliances as kosher-consumer-friendly for Star K, a nonprofit kosher certifying agency based in Baltimore.

Ottensoser, who lives in Baltimore and maintains a kosher kitchen at home, works with manufacturers on their ovens and refrigerators -- the two appliances that cause the most problems for observant Jews -- to create "Sabbath modes," or ways for consumers to override automatic features.

Observant Jews would often turn on their ovens before sundown on Friday and leave them on until sundown on Saturday in order to have hot food on the Sabbath, when no work is allowed. The mechanical knobs didn't cause any electrical currents and simply raised or lowered the temperature.

But then manufacturers began including automatic 12-hour shutoffs for safety reasons, causing problems for Jews on Sabbaths and holidays.

"A lot of people leave a porridge-type concoction in for lunch on the next day," Ottensoser said. "With holidays, sometimes it can be two or three consecutive days."

With Ottensoser's help, several manufacturers have programmed "Sabbath mode" features into their ovens. Any consumer who wants to can enable it to override the automatic shutoff and turn off the electronic display icons. The oven's temperature can be changed while in the Sabbath mode, but no displays show up on the screen to indicate those changes. Many users leave a thermometer inside the oven to keep track of the temperature.
"It's a little like flying blind," Ottensoser said.

Star-K first worked with the KitchenAid division of Whirlpool about 10 years ago to develop a Sabbath mode. Manufacturers were interested in making their products useful for Jewish consumers, and Star-K had developed a reputation of successfully applying Jewish law to modern life, according to Star-K President Avrom Pollack. Today, about a dozen manufacturers have worked with the company to install Sabbath mode features on their appliances. The features come standard on most new ovens and do not raise the appliance's price. Sometimes the manufacturers automatically include Sabbath mode features, while other times they're reminded by Jewish consumers.

"One of the manufacturers put an automatic shutoff on the warming drawer and forgot that people might want to keep it on," said Susan Yudin, chief operating officer of Yudin's appliance store in Wyckoff. "We're the ones who pointed it out to Star-K, who pointed it out to the manufacturer."

Yudin's store has developed a reputation in the region as a specialist in appliances for kosher kitchens. About a month ago, Dacor shipped its new oven with a Sabbath mode to the store, and Yudin's had Ottensoser test it. The store owners also worked with Star-K to develop new products for Jewish consumers.

"We worked with Mr. Ottensoser with General Electric to devise a Sabbath switch for one of their refrigerators, and we got the first one coming out of the GE factory," Yudin said.
Sabbath mode features for refrigerators turn off any digital displays and make sure that the light doesn't come on when the door is opened. In addition, they make sure that the condenser fan doesn't activate during the Sabbath; normally, the fan would come on after the refrigerator door is opened a certain number of times.

While some refrigerators have an internal Sabbath mode feature that simply needs to be activated, others require that a small box be installed inside the refrigerator that allows consumers to switch between regular and Sabbath modes.

For other refrigerators, users simply have to create their own Sabbath modes by either unscrewing light bulbs or taping down the switches that turn on the lights.

"Sometimes you have to live with certain handicaps for certain items," Ottensoser said. "People have gotten used to it. It's not an issue."