“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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