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 Shabbos 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 Shabbos 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 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 4×4 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 Shabbat. 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 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.
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 discussed Shabbos 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.
Last week I alluded to an “invisibility factor” that may be key to resolving our halachic dilemma. A recent letter to the editor of The Jewish Press from Dr. Joshua Canter cautioned people to be careful whom they ask for help on Shabbat since not everyone who appears to be not Jewish is, in fact, not Jewish. I related my own experience when operating a Passover hotel years ago of discovering that one of staff hired to perform kitchen functions on Yom Tov was actually born to a Jewish mother. Although he identified as a gentile, he really was Jewish and was prohibited from preparing food for Jews on Pesach. One may not ask a Jew to sin for you.
* * * * * If we suspect that the person we’re asking to perform a melacha on our behalf – e.g., pushing a wheelchair, pushing the button on an elevator, driving a shuttle – may be Jewish, then wouldn’t asking him make us guilty of “placing a stumbling block before a blind man”?
Another question: Are we obligated to wonder about the background of the person we ask to perform a melacha for us? Or can we just assume someone is not Jewish if he seems not to be?
When hiring someone to push a person in a wheelchair, a more personal relationship usually results and it may be easy to discern whether the individual is Jewish or not. But what about when riding on an elevator? If the elevator operator, or random person pushing the elevator button, seems not Jewish, can we just assume he isn’t?
My first thought is to compare these scenarios to the one presented in the following baraita (Pesachim 9b): There are nine [butcher] shops, and all of them sell kosher slaughtered meat, but a tenth one sells [non-kosher meat]. If one took meat from one of them but is not sure from which, the meat is prohibited. However, if the meat was found [in the vicinity of the nine butcher shops], then we follow the majority [and eating it is permitted].
The Mechaber (Yoreh Deah 101:3) explains as follows: In the first case, since the meat was taken from a makom kavuah – a specific place – then the rule is that we treat the numbers of stores as mechtzah al mechtzah – as if half the shops sell kosher meat and half the stores sell non-kosher meat. The meat, therefore, is forbidden. On the other hand, meat found in the marketplace (or in the vicinity) is permitted, even in the hand of a non-Jew, because kol d’parush me’rubah parush – whatever is found is considered to have come from the larger group (which, in this case, is the nine kosher butcher shops).
The Mechaber notes, however, that the Sages prohibited eating the meat in the second scenario. (This rabbinic ruling is due an unrelated reason. As the Shach (sk20) and Ba’er Heitev (sk11) explain, the problem is basar she’nisalem min ha’ayin – meat that went unseen by a Jew and may have been substituted.)
Now let us compare the meat cases to our situation. If one tries to piggyback a ride on an elevator with another individual who most likely is a resident of that building, it is possible that doing so is forbidden if the majority of the residents in that specific building are Jewish (unless one is certain that the individual is a gentile). However, if there is an elevator operator (or a shuttle driver, in our other case), then perhaps riding on it would be permitted if the city has a non-Jewish majority.
Indeed, there are authorities who permit riding on elevators with an operator in a mostly gentile city since we assume the operator is a gentile too. Yet, these same authorities do not permit riding on a shuttle in mostly gentile cities. Why not?
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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