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Shabbat Parashat Beha'alotcha 5776

Ask the Rabbi: LED Shoes for Children on Shabbat

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: Can a child wear on Shabbat shoes that have lights (LED) in the soles that light up when he walks?


Answer:  The consensus is that activating light-emitting diodes (LEDs) on Shabbat is not a Torah-level prohibition, but is a Rabbinic level one. One connects a circuit and light is emitted (by the transfer of electrons through junctions of semi-conductors). It is not simple to pinpoint what the Rabbinic violation is (when the diodes do not form writing or pictures). Some (including Rav S.Z. Auerbach) say it is molid (creating something new), even though there is no explicit Talmudic category of molid with light. Others say it is under the category of uvdin d’chol, which is a sort of catch-all for things that by halachic intuition and precedent, must be forbidden on Shabbat, which we assume regarding operating electric systems on Shabbat.

In the case of a child’s shoes, we can raise various grounds for leniency. This is especially the case if we assume, as depends on the circumstances, that despite the initial excitement of watching himself light up his shoes, a child eventually walks without thinking about the lights. Since the lights definitely will go on, this is a case of p’sik reishei, someone who intends to do an act (e.g., walking) for a certain purpose, but, by necessity another result, which is forbidden (e.g., activating LEDs on Shabbat), also occurs. While p’sik reishei is forbidden, the Terumat Hadeshen (64) says that a p’sik reishei of a Rabbinic violation is permitted. While we accept the opinion of the Magen Avraham (314:5), who forbids p’sik reishei even of a Rabbinic prohibition (see Mishna Berura 314:11), it is still a mitigating factor.

At some point, it is possible that the child is not considered to have a preference that the shoes light up, in which case, we have a p’sik reishei d’lo nicha lei, which the Aruch permits (see Beit Yosef, OC 320). Admittedly, the Aruch’s opinion is not generally accepted (Shulchan Aruch, OC 320:18; see Mishna Berura 320:53, that all agree with the Aruch that there is no Torah prohibition).  However, there are quite a few opinions (including Yabia Omer V, OC 28) that a p’sik reishei d’lo nicha lei on a Rabbinically forbidden result is permitted. While many are stringent even in that, in cases in which refraining from the matter at hand causes particular trouble, it is quite accepted to be lenient (Orchot Shabbat 30:5). Thus, if an adult were to ask about wearing the shoes in question, we would not allow it without special need, but this strict ruling would not be a definite one if he did not care out all about the lights.

When we turn to the question of a child wearing such shoes, the situation becomes much more lenient. If it is a toddler, who is too young to train in any serious way about observing Shabbat, then his parents do not have to distance him from violations of Shabbat. On the other hand, when one is involved in facilitating the prohibition for the child (the applications are broader than the Talmudic term of “feeding him by hand,” and certainly include putting shoes on him), it is prohibited. The Rashba and Ran say that this prohibition does not apply to Rabbinic prohibitions (see Beit Yosef, OC 343). While the Shulchan Aruch (OC 343:1) does not accept this opinion, many are lenient in certain cases of need, at least with small children (Orchot Shabbat 24:(32) - see Bi’ur Halacha to 343:1). Regarding something which is not even unanimously agreed to be forbidden for an adult, it is much easier to be lenient for a child.

Despite all the technical grounds for leniency, it is very much out of the spirit of Shabbat to have a child wear such shoes on Shabbat, and, therefore, we rule that it is generally forbidden. That being said, if a one-time, unique situation arises where these are the only shoes the child is able to wear and the child does not think about activating the lights, it is possible to combine the indications for leniency and let a small child wear such shoes (or even put them on for him).

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