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. 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 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.
Rabbi 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 and, therefore, riding one is an uvdin d’chol). He notes, though, that those who opt for leniency have authorities upon whom to rely.
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.
Last week, we discussed using elevators on Shabbat. Rabbi Ben Zion Hai Uziel, zt”l (Responsa Piskei Uziel 16:7), cites the Mechaber (Orach Chayim 276:2), who permits a Jew to benefit from a candle lit by a gentile if the majority of those present are not Jewish or if the gentile lit the candle for his own use. From this ruling, Rabbi Uziel derives that a Jew may ride on an elevator on Shabbat together with a gentile as long as he doesn’t specifically ask the gentile to accompany him.
We also discussed Shabbat elevators, which stop automatically at every floor. Many authorities permit the elderly and infirm to use them, while some, like Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, maintain that everyone may use them.
* * * * *
Sometimes a seemingly unrelated factor can resolve a halachic dilemma. In our case, this “invisibility factor” was alluded to several weeks ago in a letter to the editor published in The Jewish Press (1/3/14) by my friend Dr. Joshua Canter, who has a dental practice in Boro Park, Brooklyn. Here is the letter:
That Black Man Might Be Your Brother
The purpose of this letter is to make the olam aware of an issue that comes up for many of us on Shabbos. I am not writing this to discuss when it is permitted to approach a non-Jew to help you out on Shabbos. Rather, I wish to focus on whom you might be inadvertently choosing to assist you.
The reality is that we have many converts in our midst. They come in many nationalities and colors. I am a dentist in Boro Park and have a black Jewish dental assistant whose parents converted.
To be brief, her father was a soldier in World War II. He was so moved by his exposure to survivors in the concentration camps that he decided to undergo an Orthodox conversion and moved his fledgling family to Jerusalem. Unfortunately he died at a young age and the children grew up experiencing much difficulty. One daughter went off the derech and moved back to the U.S., where she adopted a totally secular lifestyle. She had a few children who knew they were Jewish but knew little about Judaism.
One of those children was recently in New York to visit his aunt. Walking in Flatbush on Shabbos, he was approached by two frum women who asked him to help them by turning on a light. How should they have known that the black man with braids was a Jew? After they hinting to him several times what it was they wanted him to do, he understood and flipped on the light. A child witnessing the event sheepishly told the women, “I think he is Jewish.” The young man promptly responded, “Yes I am, and Shabbat Shalom.”
Let this story teach us not to make any assumptions. The first question to ask when approaching someone you need help from in such a situation is, “Are you Jewish?”
Dr. Joshua Canter
If this were not enough, I, too, once had the uncomfortable experience of discovering that someone I thought was a gentile was in fact Jewish. A number of years ago, I was involved in a Passover hotel venture, and my brother and I took over a hotel for the entire holiday. We brought in our own chef and a group of mashgichim, but for the most part we utilized the hotel’s kitchen and wait staff. In the week before Pesach, in the midst of kashering the entire kitchen, we had a number of orientation sessions for the hotel staff to fully acquaint them with the laws of kashrut and the additional Passover restrictions.
As there are many restrictions on what can be done in a kitchen on Shabbat and Yom Tov, many of the functions were to be performed by non-Jews. They learned, and understood exactly, what had to be done. I must say their performance was excellent.
At one point, though, in the middle of a casual and friendly conversation between one of the mashgichim and the kitchen steward, a seasoned man of no small abilities, it was discovered that although he considered himself a gentile, his mother was in fact Jewish. We were left with little recourse but to ask the hotel management to dismiss him for the remainder of the week and find a gentile substitute.
This brings us to the problem at hand, and one we must take great care in ascertaining: Is the gentile performing a labor for a Jew on Shabbat (i.e., driving a shuttle, pushing elevator buttons, etc.), in fact, a gentile? As we noted previously, when a gentile performs a labor for a Jew from which he personally derives benefit, there is room for leniency. However, if the “gentile” turns out to be a Jew, it is obvious that we cannot ask him to do anything for us as we will essentially be asking him to sin.
(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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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