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 email@example.com.
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