Wall Camera on Shabbat

Right now it is not quite Shabbat in Los Angeles. I've have been visiting your Western Wall Camera site daily and find it very informative and "spiritually relaxing." I have actually copied one of the daily pictures and placed it on my desktop so that I can continually see the beauty and majesty of the Kotel.

Although the site indicates that the picture changes every 60 seconds, am I correct in assuming that it does not change during Shabbat? Although I do not visit the site on Shabbat, I have always assumed our time difference might allow me the wonderful opportunity to see Shabbat arrive in Jerusalem.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

(Editor's Note: This question was posed regarding the earlier version of the Wall Camera, which was kept running on Shabbat. The newer, higher quality version, is programmed to turn off for Shabbat, due in part to the reasons discussed below.)

The Western Wall camera is kept running on Shabbat. The reason is because nobody is doing anything on Shabbat to operate the camera. It sits in a locked box in the Aish HaTorah building and runs automatically. It's like turning your light on Friday afternoon, and leaving it on throughout Shabbat. No problem.

But isn't it still a problem for the people at the Wall who are being photographed?

Technically, this is no problem, because the person's movement activates nothing; the camera automatically records images, whether the person is there or not. Therefore, many rabbinic authorities permit the Wall Camera to operate on Shabbat, based on the following factors: 1) the person at the Wall is merely one factor in causing the image to be recorded, 2) the person at the Wall is unaware and/or uninterested in the fact that s/he is being recorded, and 3) the electronic image is technically not a form of "writing."

By the way, in large American cities it is almost impossible to walk on Shabbat without being videotaped. Cameras are set on at intersections by the police department, and outside of nearly every business, and even many private homes.

In fact, when someone walks in Jerusalem to the Western Wall, the path through the Old City is "covered" by closed circuit cameras that transmit photographic images to screens at police headquarters.

So what does this all mean in actual practice?

Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the leading halachic authority of our generation, ruled that the police cameras do not present a problem, since there is the added factor of "security concern." However, since the Wall camera does not involve security, Rabbi Elyashiv asked to the tilt the camera upward on Shabbat, as not to film people at the Wall. So that’s how we have it – from Friday afternoon till Saturday evening.

Happy viewing – and please come visit us in Jerusalem. (There's nothing like the real thing!)

(Sources: Chazon Ish O.C. 50:9, Yabia Omer IX O.C. 35.)

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