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.
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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., sv ‘ein ha’suma…’) explains that this prohibition is due to uvdin d’chol.”