Rabbi Yisrael Rosen passed away on November 2, 2017. In general, I only post obituaries for patent attorneys or former Israel Patent Office staff on this blog. However, Rabbi Rosen spoke at an event we held on Intellectual Property in Jewish Law. He was also a client of the firm, or at least his Zomet Halakha and Technology Institute was.
Rabbi Yisrael Rosen was born in Tel Aviv in 1941. After studying Talmud and Rabbinics at the Kerem b’Yavneh Yeshiva, he studied electronics in the Jerusalem College of Technology (Machon Lev) and then in Bar Ilan University. He went on to found the Zomet Halakha and Technology Institute.
Much of the work of the Zomet Institute was dedicated to developing technological solutions to enable electrical and electronic devices to be used on Shabbat by the halakhically observant. In cases where life or limb is at risk, Shabbat laws must be transgressed. However, there are many cases where there is no immediate danger to life and limb, but where there is a public need and arguably there is a requirement to minimize Sabbath desecration. For example, providing hot food in hospitals, keeping army units operational, use of electrical wheelchairs and the like.
Judaism (at least Orthodox Judaism) is a religion based on observance rather than abstract theology. Nevertheless, one can fairly argue with the premises behind both the alleged problems and the proposed solutions. However, I applaud the attempts made by Rabbi Rosen to enable the State to run on Shabbat and for religiously observant Jews to be able to contribute. Consequently, I was prepared to work pro bono and draft a patent application for a computer and method of interfacing via special keyboard and mouse that according to Rabbi Rosen’s understanding and interpretation of Jewish law was permissible for the operation of necessary infrastructure on the Shabbat. The application was written and filed prior to Zomet submitting a response to a tender put out by the Israel Defence Force. I am a great believer that the religious should serve in the Israel Army, and considered the project significant. When the application IL 191297 “SWITCHLESS COMPUTER INTERFACE (SHABBAT COMPUTER” came up for examination, the Examiner visited the Zomet Institute website and found a description of the invention linking to a paper that Rabbi Rosen had published in the Techumim Journal of Jewish Law prior to the filing of the Application, so the patent never issued. Furthermore, the patent office did not get to address whether a technological problem to a religious issue is patentable subject matter, which, I believe, is a shame.
Prior to writing up the patent I met Rabbi Rosen in Ramat Gan at a Chinese Restaurant. He had no idea what wonton soup was, and I explained it was a Chinese version of chicken soup with kreplach. Although well-versed with all aspects of Jewish Law and competent in electronics, Rabbi Rosen was far from being a renaissance man of wide knowledge and tastes.
At the event I organized titled “Intellectual Property in Jewish Law” that was co-hosted by JMB Factor & Co together with the Herzog Institute for Talmudic Research, see , Rabbi Rosen’s presentation was titled “The Halachic Obligation on the Individual to Recognize Secular IP Laws” in which he took the position that regulating property rights in a Jewish State should be left to the Knesset to legislate and didn’t think that Rabbis should deal with issues such as copyright, patents and trademarks. Whatever the civil law decided would be considered binding, and if a rabbinic court were to address a case they should rule in accordance with civil law. He also considered the same to be true for Jews living abroad. That is, that they were bound by the civil law of the country where they lived. We were particularly grateful for his attendance as his wife was ill at the time.
Rabbi Rosen was an Orthodox Israeli rabbi. In addition to being the director of the Zomet Institute for the interface of Halakhah and technology, he was the editor-in-chief of the journal Techumin published by that institute which is a leading forum for discussing contemporary halakhic problems. He also edited the weekly Shabbat b’Shabbaton newsletter which is mainstream Religious Zionist in orientation, and wrote a weekly column therein that was critical and outspoken on events and issues. His scholarly work included super commentaries on different Rabbinic interpretations of the Hebrew Bible.
Rabbi Rosen lived in Alon Shvut and was married with five children. He occasionally served as a matchmaker and set up my brother and trademark colleague Aharon Factor with Ilana Deutch the daughter of a Chazan (cantor) and neighbor of his in Alon Shvut, and subsequently served as the sandek (godfather) for one of their sons.
In April 2008, Rabbi Rosen was awarded the Lev Prize by the Jerusalem College of Technology for outstanding achievement in the field of “Torah and secular knowledge” which is a philosophy of Centrist Orthodoxy.
Rabbi Rosen was a member of the advisory committee of Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) political party , Not shying from controversy, in August 2017 he resigned from the party in protest of party’s chairman Naftali Bennett employing an openly lesbian spokeswoman. This was, however, not the first time that he’d resigned from the party on principle, and one expects that he would have returned to the party had he not passed away.
At a conference earlier this year, marking the Yahrzeit (death anniversary) of Talmudist and literature professor, Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, Rabbi Rosen reminisced about a meeting of leading Religious Zionist Rabbis held decades earlier that dealt with legislation for promoting Sabbath observance amongst the wider Israel public. He noted that Rabbi Lichtenstein himself wasn’t at that meeting, and that this was not a mere oversight, but reflected Rabbi Lichtenstein’s opposition to such initiatives. Though outspoken and opinionated, Rabbi Rosen was well aware that various colleagues had different perspectives and was generally intellectually honest and respectful.
Rabbi Rosen died in the early hours of November 2, 2017 (13 Marcheshvan 5778). May his memory be blessed.