The Sceptic Blog

Random thoughts of a random chappy

Sense and Sensibility – The Bournemouth Lights Fiasco

with 2 comments

1.  The BBC news is reporting today that a couple are suing the management company of their Bournemouth flat for installing automatic light sensors that will prevent them from using their flat on shabbos.  They are claiming religious discrimination.

2.  Just a few thoughts.

3.  First and foremost, this raises general issues about the use of laws on religious and other discrimination.  Laws are no substitute for sense and sensitivity – not to mention manners – all round.  The fact that laws have to be cast in wide terms does not mean it is always appropriate to rely upon them: to insist upon ones rights can sometimes help to turn us into a selfish and litigious society, rather than a caring and sensitive one.

4.  Secondly, who have these people asked about the position on shabbos?  I do not know the precise circumstances of their flat and the positioning and use of these lights.  But based on the facts in the news report, if it is forbidden by halochoh to walk past these sensors and turn the lights on, then I am a baked hedgehog with mushroom sauce.  Yes, the lights will certainly come on each time – but that doesn’t make it forbidden to walk past them: for those interested in the technicalities, it is a din of misaseik rather than a din of psik reisho.  Of course, every case is different and what is permitted in one context may be forbidden in another – but on an issue like this one would need to consult one of the gedolei hador (which for all I know they may have done).  A little halachic knowledge is always worse than none – and can lead one to go seriously wrong in either direction. 

5.  Thirdly, what sort of impression will this give their neighbours of the way Jews behave? Answer: if they lose, bad – and if they win, worse.  Why should I insist that my religious principles should cause other people to spend extra money on equipment and electricity, contrary to their economic interests and ecological principles?  Not burdening ones neighbours is a significant halachic principle.  Standing on our rights rarely makes people think well of us.

6.  I may be misjudging these people and their situation seriously – because my comments are based only on the BBC news report: but from what I can make of that, it is possible the whole episode is a serious misjudgment, neither required nor desirable in accordance with halochoh.  Of course, there are other factors one would need to take into account before forming a judgment about this behaviour: in particular, what contractual or other commitments were given on the acquisition of the lease and by whom; and what attempts have been made to resolve this issue without recourse to the courts.  Overall the news report makes uncomfortable reading, and reminds us of the importance of doing whatever we can to treat, and be seen to treat, our host countries in exile with respect and gratitude, and not to appear to be overly demanding or insensitive to other people’s rights and values.

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Written by Daniel Greenberg

June 16, 2009 at 9:04 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Can you explain why you understand that it would be a din of mitasek and not psik resha? If they know that the light are going to come on if they go outside I would understand that to be psik resha.

    Chana

    June 24, 2009 at 7:46 am

  2. Psik reisho is a din in dovor sh’eino miskavein. Misaseik is nothing to do with dovor sh’eino miskavein; it is a separate reason why something is not a meleches machsheves.

    Daniel Greenberg

    June 24, 2009 at 9:10 am


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