The lab that helps Jews to observe rules dating back 3,500 years

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WITH its disappearing ink and cunning electronic gadgets it could be straight out of a James Bond story.

But this laboratory, where grey-bearded engineers invent fiendish devices and test machinery, grapples with altogether trickier problems than keeping secret agents ahead of the game. The 40-year-old institute, in a scruffy block on the fringes of Jerusalem, conjures up solutions thatallow observant Jews to meet the challenges of modern life without violating the Sabbath laws.

Jewish law — or Halacha — handed down in the Torah 3,500 years ago, dictates the actions of the religious between sunset on Friday and sunset on Saturday, the day of rest and prayer. But Rabbi Levi Yitzhak Halperin has spent half a lifetime finding ways to enable Orthodox Jews to contend with the demands of urban living.

“We give advice on what a Torah life is in our technology-rich society,” said Rabbi Halperin, 73, director of the Institute for Science and Halacha. “This highlights that the Torah is a living Torah that is for ever applicable.”

Much of the work focuses on the Sabbath prohibition against lighting a fire or doing work. Orthodox Jews translate this as a ban on switching on an electric bulb or completing a circuit, so preventing telephones being answered, cookers being switched on, cars being driven or lifts in flat blocks being summoned or instructed to stop at the appropriate floor.

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