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.
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.
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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