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”?