I received a few comments and emails on the Ask a Jew: Sabbath edition post which all said essentially the same thing: Isn't leaving the lights on/utilizing electricity/cooking/etc. on Sabbath "cheating"? This upset me, and I say this NOT to point fingers, because really, anyone who raised the issue with me did so respectfully, and genuinely, I believe, not in a stir-the-pot fashion. No, I'm upset at myself, because that means I clearly did an oversimplified, piss-poor job of explaining. So, I'm sorry for that; if anyone came away with the impression that Jews who utilize electricity of any type on Sabbath are, I guess, trying to cheat the rules, or using loopholes, it's not the case, and I'll endeavor to explain that more clearly in a moment.
As you know, I'm not a rabbi, and as I have said time and agian, I'm not an expert in Jewish law, but since I have taken on the "responsibility" of putting my explanations out there in these posts (OMFG I SOUND LIKE THE WORLD'S BIGGEST DOUCHE PLEASE HELP), I kind of feel like it's also my responsibility to clear up any mistaken impressions said posts might present. I was going to just tack this on as an addendum to the last post, but I have no idea if anyone ever reads updated posts, and it was really important to me that I clarified this. (Also, I realized I left out some questions that were asked, and I saw in the comments that some new ones were raised, and I'm filing them all away for next time.)
So! Here's the deal:
The Sabbath is supposed to be a day of rest, one where we refrain from work. As I'd mentioned in the post, the specific prohibitions all branch off of a list of 39 forms of work that were utilized in the building of the Mishkan (the portable Temple that the Jews carried with them in the desert after leaving Egypt). In terms of utilizing electricity, the prohibition isn't against deriving a benefit from a flame/hot oven/lamp. It's against the creation of the spark/completion of the circuit in the first place. We're not supposed to do "work" on Sabbath, but enjoying, for instance, a light, or an air conditioner in some way once it's already set up for use before the Sabbath is completely permissible. Again, the focus is on the act of creation/"work," NOT using the item in question once it's been done ahead of time.
Is that clearer? I really hope so!