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.
Summary of our response up to this point: My uncle, Rabbi Sholom Klass, zt”l, discussed this matter many years ago based on a responsum of the Chatam Sofer, who addressed a query from a Jewish physician who had to travel on Shabbat to deliver a gentile baby. 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.
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 it 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. Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchatah (vol. 1, 34:27) states 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.
Hagaon Harav Tuvia Goldstein, zt”l (Responsa Emek Halacha, vol. 1:26), 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 Ish 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.
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. Responsa Yaskil Avdi states that perhaps the Ben Ish Hai was not proficient in the workings of a bicycle since they were not common in his day. When alerted to the true facts, the Ben Ish Hai reportedly prohibited their use on Shabbat, even within an eruv.
Responsa Keren David (Orach Chayyim 96) disagrees with those who prohibit wheeling baby carriages in an area with an eruv because of metaken kli shir or uvdin d’chol. Although Tractate Beza (25b) prohibits a blind man walking with a stick and a disabled person being carried on the holidays for long distances, baby carriages are not used for distant transport. Rather, they are used to stroll in public places. The Machtzit Hashekel (Orach Chayim 522:1) cites numerous authorities who permit using a cane if there is concern that the person will fall.
Rabbi Goldstein concludes that wheeling baby carriages is permitted on Shabbat within an eruv, but riding bikes isn’t (because bikes are used for long distances). He notes, though, that those who opt for leniency have authorities upon whom to rely.
The Tzitz Eliezer (vol. 7:30) offers another reason to forbid riding bikes: a concern that one will violate Techum Shabbat. Kaf HaChayim (Orach Chayim 404:8) notes that many who ride bicycles on Shabbat are not b’nei Torah and, if given permission to ride within the town limits, will likely travel beyond them since one can traverse numerous amot quickly. He also writes that a flat tire may cause the rider to violate the labor of metaken manah and notes that the custom in Israel is not to ride bikes on Shabbat or holidays.
I noted that many strollers today have air-filled tires that occasionally require additional air. People use such strollers, however, without concern for metaken manah. I suggested that we abide by what our sages teach us in Berachot 45a – that we don’t seek to overburden people in matters where we can opt for leniency.
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You compare riding on a shuttle to riding on an elevator. The late Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Ben Zion Hai Uziel, zt”l, discusses elevators in his Responsa Piskei Uziel (16:7). He writes: “The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 276:2) rules that a Jew may benefit from a candle lit by a gentile if the two were dining together and they are in a place where the majority of people are gentile. However, if the majority is Jewish or the makeup is 50/50, benefiting from the light is forbidden. If, however, there is reason to conclude that the gentile lit the candle for his own purposes – for example, we see that he is using its light – then even if the majority in that place is Jewish, it is permitted to benefit from the light.”
Rabbi Uziel comments: “From this ruling, we find reason to be lenient regarding…riding on an elevator with a gentile…. Since the gentile is also riding it, there is no greater proof that he is using it for his own need and benefit. Therefore, even if most of those going up or down are Jews, one may ride on the elevator. And for this reason, there is even reason to permit riding on an elevator with a gentile doorman since he is hired for this purpose [i.e., this is his livelihood].
“To be sure, we find that the Mechaber (infra 276:3) rules that it is not considered ‘the need of the gentile’ if a Jew told his non-Jewish servant or handmaiden to go with him and light a candle because – even though they both need the light – the main reason for their walking is for the Jew’s benefit.
“However, most probably, in my view, they only forbade this if the Jew told the gentile to go with him. But if the gentile is going of his own volition, the Jew is permitted to benefit from his lit candle since we say that the gentile lit it for his own need as it is not evident that he is pursuing this route specifically to accompany the Jew. The Jew can benefit as long as we have no reason to suspect that the gentile will add more oil for the Jew’s benefit.
“This is similar to a gentile who rides in an elevator with a Jew without the Jew asking him to do so. Since we see that the gentile is using it [for his own benefit], riding with him is permitted.
“I am aware that one must be very careful regarding this leniency. However, there are buildings with three or four stories or more, and not everyone is able to go up or down the stairs by foot. A person is not expected to be stuck in his house for the entire Shabbat day. And what is a Jew to do if he is in an [apartment building] that is inhabited by a majority of Jews and it is not always possible to find a gentile who wishes to go up [for his own purpose]? In cases of necessity like this, I find reason to lean toward leniency [even when the gentile is acting on behalf of the Jew] because the gentile is [also] using the elevator himself. We [therefore] opt to say that he is riding it for his own need and a Jew may benefit from his labor.”
Regarding a Shabbos elevator – one that automatically stops on every floor – my uncle, Rabbi Sholom Klass, zt”l (Responsa of Modern Judaism, vol. I, p.71), notes authorities who permit its use (see the responsum of the Gaon Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, Responsa Ivra 19:2). Certainly, the elevator keypad controls must be completely disabled and the doors must remain open at each floor long enough to allow one to safely embark and disembark. Many of the authorities who permit using Shabbos elevators do so only for the elderly who find it difficult to climb numerous flights of stairs. (From Rabbi Henkin’s responsum, however, it seems that if the Shabbos elevator is properly equipped, one may use it on Shabbat regardless of one’s age.)
(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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