I have a question in Jewish law. Can I preset a video camera to record a Bar Mitzvah ceremony on Shabbos? While I know we can't press buttons and turn on appliances on Shabbos, presetting them to go on automatically is ok. So why would presetting a camera be any different than setting a timer before Shabbos to turn on lights and air conditioners over Shabbat? Can't I do that, so I can share the memory of my son's bar mitzvah?
This is a great example of how Jewish law is more relevant today than ever before. You can't take a video on Shabbos, even preset. And not videoing is the best way to remember your event.
Here are the technicalities. There are two issues with being videoed on Shabbos:
1. By intentionally standing before the camera, you are causing digital and mechanical changes to occur in the camera, which is no different to pressing a button.
2. You are being recorded, which is likened to writing (leaving an imprint), and permanent writing of any kind is forbidden on Shabbos.
Neither of these concerns apply when before Shabbos you preset a light or air conditioner to go on during Shabbos. Your presence in the room makes no difference to the lights or the air conditioner.
So unlike using a timer to turn on lights, we cannot record an event that takes place on Shabbos, even if the camera is set up prior to Shabbos.
This is a good thing. These days we often miss what's going on in front of us, because we feel we can always watch the playback. It's almost like virtual experiences have replaced real ones. As the old riddle goes, if a tree falls in the forest, and no one posted it on youtube, did it really happen?
Life is meant to be shared with friends, not "shared" with "friends". Some occasions can only be lived once, and deserve your full presence of mind. Those priceless moments that happen on Shabbos can only be recorded in one way: live them as they happen, and etch them in your memory forever.
While videoing is forbidden on Shabbos, this does not apply to security cameras. A Jewish institution is permitted to have a security camera running over Shabbos, even though it will capture Shabbos observers entering and leaving. There are several reasons for this discrepancy:
1. Those cameras may save lives, and the preservation of life overrides Shabbos restrictions, especially where:
2. There is no intention on the part of the innocent Shabbos observers to be recorded. They are not posing or actively participating in the recording, or even getting anything out of being recorded. This is significant, as to break Shabbos an act must be intentional and beneficial.
3. The recording is not kept indefinitely, often being erased after 24 hours. This alleviates the writing issue mentioned above, because to be halachically considered writing it has to leave a long lasting mark.