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.
Answer: My uncle, Rabbi Sholom Klass, zt”l, discussed this matter many years ago and cited the Responsa Chatam Sofer (by Rabbi Moshe Sofer, zt”l, 1763-1839, vol. III, Hashmatot, ch. 194). The Chatam Sofer discusses a query by a Jewish physician who was asked by a gentile from a distant town to hop into his coach on Shabbat to attend to his wife who was about to give birth.
We present here a condensed version of the Chatam Sofer’s responsum:
“The prohibition of riding on an animal, or in a coach, on Shabbat is due to the following reasons: We are told to rest our animals on Shabbat (Exodus 20:10) and not to lead them. Also, we are not supposed to ride an animal lest we tear off a branch (to use it as a whip) or travel out of town more than 2,000 amot [approximately 4,000 feet].
“The first problem of resting one’s animals would not apply here since the animals don’t belong to a Jew but to a gentile.
“The prohibition of tearing off a branch also wouldn’t apply here for two reasons. First, the doctor is riding inside the coach, and secondly, he is not driving the wagon.
“Then we have the prohibition of telling a non-Jew to violate Shabbat. We are not permitted to order a gentile on Shabbat to do any work we are not permitted to do ourselves. However, in this case the gentile is calling for the doctor; the doctor is not telling the gentile anything.
“The question of Techum Shabbat has a few facets to it. It does not apply to anything higher than ten tefachim [around three feet] since above that height is considered avir makom pitur – the air over that height is not considered a public domain [and the prohibition thus does not apply]. Also, if the coach is four amot by four amot [approximately eight feet by eight feet], it is considered a reshut bifnei atzmah, a separate entity or a private domain, and the laws of Techum Shabbat do not apply to it.
“Then you have the admonition of not violating Shabbat for one who doesn’t observe Shabbat, especially a non-Jew. This, however, does not apply in our times when we dwell among the gentiles as neighbors and because of darkei shalom (keeping the peace and friendship of our neighbors). We must do everything to help them as we would our own. These laws were promulgated at a time when the gentiles, the heathen idol worshippers, were bitter enemies of the Jews and they lived outside of the land of Israel. Today, to show our friendship to the gentiles, we are obligated to help them put out a fire in their house even on Shabbat.”