Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

22 Adar II 5760 - March 29, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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The Removal of the Ring

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

"NIS Three Million for new Shabbos bottle cap," said the headlines. What's the story behind this welcome innovation for shomrei Torah umitzvos?

We called the home of the rav who was the main initiator of the idea and the following conversation ensued:

Q: What's the great chiddush in the bottle cap?

A: The removal of the ring. That's the chiddush. The halachic problem was the ring's Achilles' heel. Once it was removed from the bottle, everyone heaved a sigh of relief.

Q: But the invention itself doesn't seem that innovative.

A: You're right. We are more excited about the company's agreement to pursue this issue than about the invention itself. We've been in contact with them for two years. It was a great effort on both sides, ours and theirs. They invested NIS three million in the Shabbos bottle cap, including development expenses and advertising.

Our efforts were quite intensive. The first stage involved obtaining the signatures of prominent rabbonim on the proposal. The next step was to find appropriate avreichim to accompany us to meetings with heads of the company. We held numerous meetings and made scores of telephone calls.

The whole venture began in the summer of 5758 (1998). The first letter on the subject from HaRav Nissim Karelitz -- who was joined by HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv -- is dated Sivan 5758. The idea of having a Shabbos bottle cap for soft drinks is a simple one. The difficulty, of course, was in its implementation.

My initial thoughts were not optimistic. I was convinced that no soft drink company would be willing to do this project just to benefit the religious sector.

We later found out that market surveys had indicated that the entire chareidi and religious sector was aware of the problem of opening bottles on Shabbos, that many poskim rule that it is forbidden to open the usual cap that is attached to the bottle with a ring that breaks off when the bottle is first opened, and would react favorably to a lechatchilo solution to the problem.

The Pepsi-Tempo people received us cordially. But, of course, economic considerations weighed heavily against us, and there were many obstacles along the way. But we succeeded in the end, with Hashem's help.

Some say that bottles with the Shabbos cap contain less soda, but this is just the way things worked out. Previously Pepsi launched a campaign selling bottles with a liter-sixty-five of soda. Later they offered the Shabbos caps only on bottles with the original amount of a liter and a half. The supposition that the disparity covers the costs of the Shabbos cap are completely unfounded.

The fact is that Tempo (which has the Pepsi concession in Israel) has two large factories: in Netanya and in Holon. The liter-sixty-five production line is in the Netanya factory, while the liter and a half bottle is made in Holon. The machinery producing the Shabbos bottle cap was better suited to the Holon factory. If the company had postponed the release for a few months, they could have transferred the equipment to Netanya, they said. However, they didn't want to postpone it, and they thus began the new production in Holon. In any case the liter-sixty-five campaign is only scheduled to last a few months. Nonetheless, they have plans to compensate the chareidi sector for this disparity.

What is the cap all about? What were the problems to be overcome?

In order to ensure that all bottles are not opened before purchase, the law says that all bottle caps must be manufactured with a ring. The ring breaks off the cap when the bottle is opened. The law, of course, is meant to protect the consumer from the introduction of unsanitary, harmful or poisonous material into products. The Shabbos cap replaces this ring with another kind of sealed cover, called "shrink wrap" -- a clear plastic wrapper applied with heat and pressure. Once removed, it cannot be replaced. This solves the safety problem.

Small mineral water bottles without caps already have this type of plastic covering. But there were no large capped bottles without the ring available. The new Shabbos caps are currently being imported. They could be manufactured locally if warranted by sales.

The company had to purchase a new machine to keep pace with the production rate of tens of thousands an hour amounting to a hundred thousand a day. It then needed machinery to close the new caps and wrap them in the "shrink wrap." Special engineers were hired to adjust the machinery for this task. Along with marketing and advertising costs, the Shabbos bottle cap was an expensive proposition.

Q: Is the bottle with the symbol "Shabbos cap" marketed country-wide or only in areas with substantial religious populations?

A: You won't find it in Tel Aviv. It is meant for the chareidi community. The bottles are marketed in Bnei Brak and Jerusalem.

We wonder if the company fears media backlash. Apparently they are proceeding with caution. But they also know that they have no reason to fear the secular sector, which is incapable of getting together to ban a particular product. That's the way it was in Levayev's Ramat Aviv shopping mall. They yelled and screamed yet did nothing. (Incidentally, today that mall is the most successful in all Israel.)

The average secular Jew is motivated by taste alone when it comes to his consumer shekel. In addition, contrary to what is portrayed by the media, most people in the country do not hate religion.

A new mall was recently built in Zichron Yaakov. Its owner insisted on one ironclad condition: that the rented stores be closed on Shabbos. Some thought that he would fail. But boruch Hashem all the stores were rented, and the mall is closed on Shabbos. Everything is closed. He succeeded far more than anyone expected and is thinking of opening a synagogue and a kollel there.

No one will unite against a soft drink marketed with a Shabbos cap.

The activists in the affair were fine avreichim from the entire chareidi spectrum: Chassidim, Sephardim and Litvaks. Tempo's rabbi was of tremendous help, and the company's director, Jackie (Yaakov) Ber, should be commended for his efforts to overcome all hurdles.

We closed the conversation with the blessing of the Torah: Shabbos is the source of blessing, and on the merit of your special kiddush Hashem may you know only good. Hopefully this is a breakthrough for many other positive steps in this direction. Let us sanctify shem Shomayim by means of strengthened observance of Torah and mitzvos.

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