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Q & A: Sabbath Shuttle? (Part III)

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Question: Is it permitted on the Sabbath or holidays to take a shuttle to synagogue? The neighborhood shuttle runs from 9-5 daily, is driven by a gentile, has a designated stop schedule, and is free of charge.

In my case, it would be very helpful as I have major difficulties walking the almost one-mile distance from my apartment to shul due to a medical condition known as peripheral artery disease. I am close to 80 years old.

I live in the Bal Harbor area of Miami Beach, FL, and I know that many Orthodox Jews who live in high-rises use a Sabbath elevator or take regular elevators and allow someone else to press the button. Several people sit in wheelchairs (including a local Orthodox rabbi who is ill and cannot walk) and are wheeled to shul.

I fail to see why taking the shuttle bedi’eved is different than taking a Sabbath elevator or being pushed in a wheelchair. Although I know I should ask my shul rabbi, I would appreciate hearing your opinion.

Hershele L
(Via E-Mail)

Summary of our response up to this point: My uncle, Rabbi Sholom Klass, zt”l, discussed this matter many years ago. He cited a responsum from the Chatam Sofer regarding a Jewish physician who was asked to travel on Shabbat to care for a gentile patient. The Chatam Sofer noted that we are prohibited from riding an animal or in a coach on Shabbat because of the command to rest one’s animals on this day (Exodus 20:10). Furthermore, we might tear off a branch to use it as a whip. We are also prohibited from traveling more than 2,000 amot on Shabbat (Techum Shabbat).

The Chatam Sofer argued, however, that these concerns don’t apply to the case at hand. The animal belonged to a gentile, not a Jew, and the doctor was asked to ride in the coach, not on the coachman’s seat (and so there was no concern that he would tear off a branch to use as a whip). Techum Shabbat is also not a problem because the wagon was higher than 10 tefachim, and the air above that height is considered a makom petur. Also, if the coach was 4 x 4 amot, it is a private domain.

We are generally prohibited from telling a non-Jew to violate Shabbat. But the doctor in this case was not asking for anything. As far as the rule about not violating Shabbat for non-Jews is concerned, the Chatam Sofer argued that this rule does not apply to our times when we dwell amongst gentiles. Because of darkei sholom, we must do everything to help them as we would our own.

Thus the Chatam Sofer ruled that the doctor was permitted to attend to the non-Jewish patient on Shabbat.

Last week, we considered the argument that being pushed in a wheelchair is comparable to riding in a shuttle on Shabbat. Rabbi Yehoshua Yeshaya Neuwirth in “Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchatah” (vol. 1, 34:27) writes that a disabled person may be pushed in his wheelchair, or wheel himself, if the area he is in has an eruv. There is no problem of performing an uvdin d’chol (a weekday-like activity) or a concern of metaken kli shir (that one will fix the wheelchair on Shabbat if it breaks). Since this person cannot ambulate without a wheelchair, the wheelchair is considered an extension of his or her body. Thus, these concerns don’t apply.

However, Rabbi Neuwirth notes that it is prohibited to use the motor of a motorized wheelchair on Sabbath. We argued, therefore, that riding in a vehicle on Shabbat should surely be forbidden.

* * * * * After having completed last week’s installment, I came across the wondrous sefer of Hagaon Harav Tuvia Goldstein, zt”l (Responsa Emek Halacha, vol. 1:26), wherein he discusses some of these issues. Rabbi Goldstein cites from Responsa Rav Pa’alim (the halachic work of Rabbi Joseph Hayyim ben Elijah al-Hakam, popularly known as the Ben Ish Hai due to his famous work of the same name), vol. 1:25, where the following question is presented: “Is one permitted to ride a bicycle on Shabbat?” The Ben Ish Hai answers as follows:

“It would seem to be that there is reason to permit riding a bicycle…whether on Shabbat or Yom Tov [as long as it is being ridden] in a city that is encircled with an eruv. There is no [problem] of uvdin d’chol since it is within an eruv-bound city, and the entire city is considered a reshut ha’yachid. Therefore, one may rely on those who are openly lenient in this matter.”

Some people argue that riding a bike should be prohibited due to mar’it ha’ayin (the appearance of wrongdoing). The Ben Ish Hai, however, comments that this view is “a mistake because the possibility of mar’it ha’ayin is only in a matter where there is ch’shad d’var issur – where we might suspect that a person is violating a Biblical violation due to the similarity between the permitted and forbidden acts. An example would be one who eats meat in, or with, almond milk [or any other non-dairy milk]. In such an instance, one who sees the person eating has no idea that he is not consuming cow’s milk – which would be a clear and definite prohibition – since both liquids appear the same. Therefore we are careful [when serving non-dairy milk] to place some almonds in it in order that [the person consuming it not be suspected of violating a biblical prohibition].

“But, as for this bicycle, there is nothing like it that is prohibited [in an eruv-bound area] because the [means of transport] forbidden are either motorized or horse-drawn carriages. A bicycle is neither of these two. Rather it is an implement that moves about via the peddling of the person who sits upon it. What is there to suspect? Thus, surely there is no mar’it ha’ayin involved here.”

Some people maintain that riding a bike should still be prohibited because onlookers may confuse riding a bicycle with riding in a motorized or horse-drawn carriage and think that the latter is also permitted. The Ben Ish Hai, however, dismisses this argument. “Are we to take into account,” he asks, “every fool who can’t tell the difference between the two, who can’t tell the difference between a vehicle powered by a person and a vehicle powered by an animal, who can’t tell the difference between light and darkness? If so, let us enact that one shouldn’t carry any object in an eruv-bound area.”

The Ben Ish Hai writes further: “The argument I heard that we should consider the possibility of some sort of breakdown [of the bicycle] is totally without basis since this is an implement that is not [easily] given to breakdowns. Furthermore, we should not issue enactments on our own that our sages did not enact.”

Yet, as we will see, not all are in agreement with the Ben Ish Hai in this matter.

(To be continued)

About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.


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2 Responses to “Q & A: Sabbath Shuttle? (Part III)”

  1. Jonathan Weber says:

    As always, thank you Rabbi Klass. :)

  2. …. Fresh Air of a sensible Posek ! Personally I find the Ben Ish Chai's psak on women disgusting, but this article means I will view him with more favor in future… Todah Raba !

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