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January 23, 2017 / 25 Tevet, 5777
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Q & A: Sabbath Shuttle? (Part IV)

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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.

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.

Last week, we cited the Responsa Emek Halacha (vol. 1:26), wherein Hagaon Harav Tuvia Goldstein, zt”l, quotes the Ben Ish Hai’s ruling permitting the use of a non-motorized bicycle on Shabbat in an area with an eruv. The Ben Is Hai rejects the argument that riding a bike should be prohibited due to mar’it ha’ayin since mar’it ha’ayin only applies to cases where the action appears like a biblically prohibited act (e.g., eating meat with almond milk). Riding a bike, however, is not such an act since it is clear that the person is moving via peddling, not via a motor.

He also dismisses the opinion that riding a bike should be prohibited because some may mistakenly infer that riding in a motorized or horse-drawn coach is permitted by saying it is impossible to take into account every fool’s error. Regarding the concern that the bicycle may break and the rider will be tempted to fix it, the Ben Ish Hai writes that it is not a common occurrence. Yet, many others disagree with the Ben Ish Hai’s ruling.

* * * * *

Rabbi Goldstein (Responsa Emek Halacha, ad loc.) cites from Responsa Yaskil Avdi (vol. 3, 19:4), which addresses the Ben Ish Hai’s statement that a bicycle is not given to breakdowns (and thus there is no fear that one may come to repair it on Shabbat in violation of metaken klei shir).

He writes that the Ben Ish Hai undoubtedly was not proficient in the workings of a bicycle’s mechanisms, and that those who informed him about them did not explain the matter properly. He states that it is possible (in the Ben Ish Hai’s defense, as well as those who informed him) that bicycles were not that common in his time and therefore most people were unaware of the possibility of them breaking down. Such is not the situation nowadays, he writes, when there are many bikes on the road, and we are witness to breakdowns every day. Without a doubt, he argues, if the Ben Ish Hai had been aware of the frequency of breakdowns, he would not have permitted riding bikes on Shabbat so easily.

Responsa Yaskil Avdi continues: “I have heard, from those whose word is to be believed, that after the Ben Ish Hai was made aware of the [possibility of breakdowns], he retracted [his ruling] and prohibited their use [on Shabbat]. Therefore, there is no reason to permit their use even in an area surrounded by an eruv.”

Rabbi Goldstein cites Responsa Keren David (Orach Chayim 96), who discusses wheeling baby carriages in an area with an eruv. Should we be concerned about carriages breaking down? Responsa Keren David cites the Magen Avraham (Orach Chayim 313:12), who argues that we need only be concerned about breakage regarding items like candelabras, which are constructed of various sections. If a candelabra breaks, its parts will dissemble, and one will be tempted to affix them to one another again. Our sages only prohibited using such items – nothing else – and we are not permitted to add further enactments based on own comparisons.

However, Responsa Keren David sees reason, nonetheless, to prohibit wheeling baby carriages. He argues that it may be an uvdin d’chol – a weekday activity. He writes: “At first I didn’t see how uvdin d’chol has any connection here, for [based on this reasoning], let us prohibit everything as uvdin d’chol. Yet, in truth, I did find a bit of a hint from the discussion in Tractate Beza (25b) to cause us to prohibit this activity: Our Sages taught: A blind person may not go out with his cane… and one may not go out carried in his [sedan] chair on the festival. Rashi (ad loc., svein ha’suma…’) explains that this prohibition is due to uvdin d’chol.”

What is the uvdin d’chol? Responsa Keren David cites a Rashi that it appears as if he will be walking or carried far. Uvdin d’chol, however, should not apply to baby carriages since they are not meant for distant transport. Responsa Keren David, therefore, writes that wheeling baby carriages “simply cannot be compared to a blind person going out with a stick.”

We must digress now, for we find many G-d-fearing individuals who walk outside with canes on Shabbat. From the Mechaber (Orach Chayim 522:1), it seems that doing so is prohibited (he cites the above Gemara). Yet, the Machtzit Hashekel (Orach Chayim 522:1) cites numerous authorities who permit using a cane if there is concern that a person will fall without it (such as in a hilly area or when it’s raining or icy outside). For frail people, this concern presumably applies no matter the area or the weather conditions.

(To be continued)

Rabbi Yaakov Klass

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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  1. Anonymous says:

    The wheelchair should be prohibited as it might. however slight, break down and the crippled person would be left with no way to move. Concerning the bicycle, if it breaks down, a rider is able to leave it until after Shabat and walk to his destination. A man and wife rode their bicycle for two from Maine to Florida with flat tires as their only breakdown; so the bicycle's mechanical parts are very reliable.

  2. Margaretha Tierney says:

    Is there no compassion for an 80-year-old lady who wants to attend synagogue on Shabbat, but unable to walk the distance?

  3. Garden State says:

    It is very hard to see how using a motorized wheelchair can be likened to riding a shuttle driven by a gentile driver for the obvious reason that the former is directly controlled by the person while the latter is not. Also, it would seem that the benefits of using the shuttle to get to the synagogue would outweigh the possible violations associated with the ride.

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