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.