Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

20 Teves 5760 - December 29, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Bnei Brak OK for Y2K

By A. Cohen and M. Plaut

The city of Torah and Chassidus has made its own preparations for the threats of problems caused by the computer glitch known as Y2K, or the millennium bug. The fact that the secular year changes on a Shabbos this year has caused complications, but they are being dealt with in consultation with appropriate experts including halachic authorities. Like other cities in Israel, Bnei Brak is trying to take no chances. Unlike other cities, Bnei Brak will not ask for a special government permit to work on Shabbos January 1, because it is approaching the issue with the aid of halachic consultants.

In the early days of computers, space was at a premium so pressured programmers used two digits to store the year instead of four. This can cause problems in the change from the year 1999 to 2000, since the two digits of the new year (00) are lower than the two digits of the old year (99). Now computers have no problem storing the four digits, but the presence of systems and programs left over from the early days in systems that have become critical to the operation of computer systems that control much of our daily lives has necessitated a massive effort to ensure that everything is properly set up to make a smooth transition to the new secular year.

The unusual name has its source in computer terminology. Since computers internally are based on the binary number system, everything is in powers of 2, rather than in decimals. 1K, in computer terminology, is 2 to the tenth power, which is about a thousand -- 1024 to be exact. "K" thus came to be shorthand for a thousand, and the year 2000 thus became "Y2K."

Experts say that most of the western world that is most dependent on computers is well-prepared, after spending billions of dollars over the past few years. They expect that there will be few problems, and expect those to be minor. Israel is included among those countries that are well- prepared.

Countries that are less ready include Russia and China as well as many smaller, poor countries that were unable to spend the necessary sums to prepare. What will happen there is hard to predict. The U.S. Government has advised all its nonessential personnel in those countries, including the families of diplomats, to spend the upcoming weekend in someplace that is better prepared.

All the government bodies that have requested special work permits to enable emergency staff to be on hand on the night of December 31 to cope with possible Y2K hitches will get the permits this week.

Some 42 government ministries and other government bodies and about 50 private firms have asked for special permits to work on Shabbos, January 1, when there may be breakdowns or other difficulties.

The Ministry of Labor said that 80 percent of the private companies that had applied had received work permits.

Maj. Gen. (Res.) Gideon Shefer, who heads the unit dealing with the Y2K bug in the Prime Minister's Office, reported that the latest surveys show that the Israeli public is not concerned.

Nevertheless, the police have completed work on a special center to monitor Y2K-related problems, which will operate for 10 days beginning on December 31.

The Bnei Brak Municipality has organized a team of non-Jewish workers for this Shabbos, the 23rd of Teves (1/1/2000) to standby near its wells and the central water tank, just in case. Tests conducted a short while ago indicate that the city's computerized water system, street lights, traffic lights and database systems in the educational, engineering, parking, welfare and billing departments are ready for the new secular year.

In addition to the non-Jewish workers who will stay near the wells, Jewish employees will arrive at critical sites on foot on Shabbos, and one on-duty worker will remain in the offices with his family throughout the entire Shabbos. The Jewish workers' communication devices (beepers and cell phones) will remain open to enable them to receive reports in case of problems, however they will not answer back, in order to prevent Shabbos desecration. All halachic issues related to Y2K are being coordinated with a posek. All Municipal Emergency Services water tanks will be filled before Shabbos.

At the meeting it was reported that all of the city's traffic lights are ready for the bug, including the important signals on Jabotinsky Road, a main thoroughfare. Tests for Y2K compliance were successfully carried out at a number of intersections. Head of the Traffic Office in the Dan Region, Police Superintendent Benny Peles, told the Traffic Department of the Municipality that the Police Department will be on special duty and police will be posted at all key intersections.

The Municipal Hotline "106" will be staffed with additional experienced staffers in order to respond to problems or life threatening situations, cholila, starting erev Shabbos, the 22nd of Teves, until the following Monday.

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