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German 'thought car' could be driven on Sabbath, Rabbi says

David Wroe · 12 Apr 2011, 11:50

Published: 12 Apr 2011 11:50 GMT+02:00

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Rabbi Dror Fixler, an electro-optics expert from Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel, told The Local that the distinction between thought and action could mean that driving on the traditional Jewish day of rest was mutar, or permitted.

In October, scientists at Berlin’s Free University announced they had tested a “proof of concept” car that could be driven by thought. An electroencephalography headset with sixteen sensors measures the brain’s signals and sends them to a computer that operates the car.

Last week, Rabbi Fixler gave a lecture at the “Torah and Science Conference” at the Jerusalem College of Technology, during which he showed a video of the car being test driven at the former Tempelhof airport in Berlin.

That lecture, he said, has sparked a debate in Israel about whether such devices that integrate the mind with machinery would be permitted on the Sabbath, when driving is typically forbidden.

“When you are making only thoughts, it is no action at all. There is a difference – if you are thinking, it is not the same thing, so you can’t say it’s forbidden,” he said. “That was what I asked the audience to think about.

“At first the instinctive reaction was, ‘How can you say it’s mutar?’ But after thinking about it, they started to think about the big difference between regular action and thought.”

Fixler stressed he personally did not think driving thought-controlled cars should be permitted on the Sabbath, as it would destroy the whole purpose of having a rest day. Rather, he wanted to spark a debate, he said. Jewish theologians and intellectuals needed to start thinking about the impact of technology.

“It’s still in the future … it’s not going to happen tomorrow, but we need to discuss it today so we’ll have an answer tomorrow,” he said.

Story continues below…

The distinction between thought and action could affect one of the chief reasons driving is forbidden on the Sabbath - the fact that operating a vehicle constitutes work. However the creation of a spark and the combustion of fuel could be said to also violate the prohibition of fire on the rest day. There are also rules about how far one may travel by any means of transport.

But Fixler said his own Rabbi, with whom he had discussed the complexities of the issue for six months, believed that remote controls rendered electrical devices such as televisions and air-conditioners permissible.

“If I’m pushing a button, I cannot say it is my action turning on the air-conditioner. So he says it’s okay.”

David Wroe (david.wroe@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

13:01 April 12, 2011 by auniquecorn
Cool, Maybe they can design one where we can eat meat during lent too.
15:02 April 12, 2011 by Gilly58
all this thinking business has made me tired...yawn...oops sorry officer but it wasn't me driving. Absolutley amazing, it will be guns next and no one will be accussed of pushing or pressing a button, trigger. Not guilty your honour, it wasn't my action, I was just having a bad dream...Outstanding!
15:41 April 12, 2011 by moistvelvet
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
16:06 April 12, 2011 by whpmgr
WOW Moistvelvet, angry are we? OK I can see loads of apps for this. Loved the gun one, eating meat requires shewing so you cant do that, but, you could use this in some erotic way I am sure...and that is the best form of thought....at least for me. Then I could be thinking about it 50% or more per day and also doing soemthing about it too.

This Rabi is trying to weasel word his way through the Sabbath. Any action is still action. I think he can't really justify driving on the sabbath but hey, who cares, right?

Palestinians? Damn, who would have thought you could bring muslims into this conversation, and killing them at that....?
17:00 April 12, 2011 by Wobinidan
So I guess if you're fined for speeding that counts as a thought crime?
18:19 April 12, 2011 by mobiusro
That would give the word "totaled" a whole new meaning. Oh and think of the shivers one would get when entering a tunnel, exiting a tunnel, entering a tunnel, exiting a tunnel...
18:29 April 12, 2011 by munchingmuschiinmünchen
I for one would be happy with members of the fairer sex who would be able to react the same way as the car, through thoughts only!
19:48 April 12, 2011 by DoraPT
I don't know which one is worse, the rule that forbidden driving a car during the Sabbath or the mechanism that allows you to cheat the rule...
21:36 April 12, 2011 by bartschaff
WOW whpmgr, bothered are we?

You didn't like the bringing the Palestinians in? Well, you can't mention nazis without bringing all the WWII horrors in.. likewise, you can't mention Israelians without making some people remember of their crimes either.
22:14 April 12, 2011 by nayld
You have Rabbis in Germany!?

23:57 April 12, 2011 by Altdude

Respect! Gee officer, it was just a Freudian slip.
07:21 April 13, 2011 by auniquecorn
Dam Americans, (Just had to put that in).


So far there is no law governing what people think, right?
15:18 April 13, 2011 by tallady
auniquecorn, so far that is true,mainly because we do not know what they think. I shutter at a world where we do(:
20:50 April 16, 2011 by oliverboldizar
Ridiculous. By this logic, it would be permissible to kill by thought alone.. (I did nothing, officer, just thought about murder while my brain was hooked up to a terminator.) The source of all actions are thoughts. By thinking, one can move one's arm, or now, move a bionic arm, or move a remote robot. Thought is always the primary causative factor.
18:49 April 17, 2011 by Kennneth Ingle
This probably shows the main difference between Christian and Jewish faith.

Christians have no worries about driving on the Sabbath, whether manually or by thought, although one could often get the impression - especially in Germany - that most drivers do not think. They do on the whole however try to respect the "10 Commandments." These seem to have been completely forgotten in the Israel of today. That gives real reason for thought!
22:34 April 18, 2011 by Nemo2010
Ah yes, the Rabbis, like the their predecessors the Pharisees, making the Sabbath a burden. "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." The "work" that should not be done involves mostly that which is done for a living, not the "work" of building a cooking fire and preparing the days needs within reason.
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