Sunday, 15 June 2014

Security Cameras on Shabbos

Question: I have just had a security system with cameras installed around my house. It is not motion detected, but rather runs 24/7. Is it a problem to use on Shabbos?
Answer: A few years ago there was a big discussion about whether it was permitted to go to the kosel on Shabbos as doing so entailed going through security and being filmed. The Yated reported that R’ Yosef Shalom Elyashiv prohibited visiting the kosel on Shabbos as he was concerned that the surveillance video was being permanently saved to disk. It isn’t clear that he prohibited the use of surveillance cameras, however. R’ Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer 9:35) allowed one to go as the cameras are running irrelevant as to whether anyone walks in front of them or not.
R’ Shmuel Wosner (Shevet Halevi 10:60) wrote that one may visit someone in hospital even if that means passing by a security camera, though one should avoid it if possible. It would follow that he doesn’t allow residents to operate surveillance cameras on Shabbos.
Other Poskim are more lenient as such filming cannot be considered permanent writing. R’ Yitzchok Halperin (Yeshurun 11) writes that such cameras aren’t even forbidden miderabanan.
R’ Moshe Feinstein (in a letter to R’ Yisroel Rozen of the Tzomet Institute) wrote that as the data is not being permanently recorded, it is at worst a derabanan. Although the cameras operate for security purposes, the passerby does not benefit from being photographed. One only benefits from the system when there’s an unwelcome intruder. Thus, R' Ephraim Greenblatt (Rivevos Ephraim 3:247) writes that one may walk in front of a camera on Shabbos as this is a case of pesik reisha delo nicha lei (see Shulchan Aruch OC 320:18) which is permitted in a rabbinic prohibition. Likewise, one may operate a surveillance camera. R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (quoted in Ateres Shlomo 6, p57) concurs. 


  1. What would be the reason that this would be prohibited on Shabbat?

    1. Prohibition of Kesiva, writing, onto the disk..

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you! I have corrected the article accordingly.

  3. I don't think that your post covers the following questions.

    Is installing a motion activated camera (such as one available at at home mutar?

    If someone has a motion activated camera does he have to disable it for Shabbos and Yom Tov even if it is difficult to do do?

  4. It would seem that the issue raised by R’ Shlomo Zalman Aerbach is that there is no koach yad or action by the person being filmed. You can’t control light reflecting off of you. If someone takes a picture of you, you have not done a melacha and are not liable if they write it to disk, even if this would be considered K’siva (it is not legible in a human way, and it was written by a machine that is not directly operated by a human- it does it automatically). There are surveillance cameras everywhere and even satellites that can take photos so clear you can read a license plate. Even a gramah requires more action than being photographed, according to the examples he gives in “Meoreh Aish”. It would be therefore very difficult to even say it is a gramah.

  5. The same would be true of security lights that come on as you pass by. They capture infrared light reflecting off of you, of which you have no control, or Koach Yad. Whether the device then uses that infrared light to turn on a light bulb, or start recording, or even playing recorded sounds, is not an action you have caused, it is they who are doing it. A tv crew drove by and filmed me walking to shul for a documentary they were doing and I had no knowledge of. I’m just walking (permitted, last time I checked). Not responsible for what goyim do on Shabbos.