Seven children died in a fire that was caused by a hotplate that had been kept on all night and set their apartment on fire. The hotplate was not left on due to oversight but was done deliberately to avoid breaking Jewish law that prohibits working on a Sabbath, and turning a hotplate on is apparently considered ‘work’.
The hot plate was left on for the Sabbath, which lasts from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Many religious Jews use one to keep food warm, obeying the traditional prohibition on use of fire on the holy day as well as work in all forms, including turning on appliances.
The Sassoons’ hot plate apparently malfunctioned, setting off flames that tore up the stairs, trapping the children in their second-floor bedrooms as they slept, investigators said.
I have written before about these absurd workarounds that very observant Jews use to circumvent their equally absurd restrictions, such as the Certified Sabbath Mode stoves and kosher telephones (scroll down) and Shabbat elevators, not to mention even the simple act of writing one’s name or using tape recorders.
These rules are mostly exercises in ridiculous wasting of time and energy. They seem to mostly serve to provide employment to the rabbis whose job it is to come up with the prohibitions and the ways to get around them. But as we see in this case, these absurd practices can on occasion lead to tragic results. The logical response to this tragedy would be to say that turning on a hot plate cannot possibly constitute an evil act in any rational world. But religious people do not think like that. Watch for rabbis and manufacturers to come up with a hot plate version of the certified Sabbath stove, a complicated solution to a non-problem.