Question: Is it permitted on the Sabbath or holidays to take a shuttle to synagogue? My 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.
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 found himself in the position of having 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 since we must rest our animals on Shabbat (Exodus 20:10). Furthermore, if we ride an animal on Shabbat, we may unthinkingly tear off a branch to use it as a whip. Another factor is techum Shabbat, the prohibition against traveling more than 2,000 amot (approximately 4,000 feet) on Shabbat.
These prohibitions, however, don’t apply to the doctor’s case because the animals belonged to a gentile, the doctor wasn’t driving the wagon, and the wagon was higher than 10 tefachim (and at that height, the air is considered a makom petur), thus rendering the techum Shabbat prohibition inapplicable. Techum Shabbat also may not apply because the coach (measuring more than 4×4 amot) was perhaps a reshut bifnei atzmah.
We are the prohibited from telling a non-Jew to violate Shabbat. However, in this case the gentile was calling for the doctor; the doctor wasn’t telling the gentile anything. The Chatam Sofer further said that the admonition of not violating Shabbat for a non-Jew does not apply in our times when we dwell amongst the gentiles as neighbors. Because of darkei sholom, keeping the peace and friendship of our neighbors, we must do everything to help them as we would our own. Thus, the Chatam Sofer ruled that the doctor may ride out of town to help deliver the baby on Shabbat.
Is this scenario analogous to your situation, where you wish to take a free shuttle to shul on Shabbat?
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You argue that riding a shuttle on Shabbat should be allowed just liked being pushed in a wheelchair is. Is this a valid comparison? Let us cite from the comprehensive work of Rabbi Yehoshua Yeshaya Neuwirth, Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchatah (vol. 1 34:27), in which he discusses people who cannot walk and wish to be pushed in wheelchairs on Shabbat. He writes that if there is an eruv, they may wheel themselves or be pushed by others.
However, if there is an eruv, what’s the issue? Isn’t it obvious that being pushed in a wheelchair would be permitted? The answer is that with wheelchairs we are dealing with at least two other possible Shabbat prohibitions. The first is “uvdin d’chol.” Our poskim (Mechaber, Orach Chayim 335:5, see Aruch Hashulchan ad loc., sk9) tend to prohibit activities on Shabbat that resemble weekday activities and it would seem that according to some, using a wheelchair might be an example of that category.
However, if a person cannot ambulate without a wheelchair, then surely it should be considered an extension of his body, similar to a cane, walker, or crutches. Thus, if a person has a clear disability, the prohibition of “uvdin d’chol” does not apply.
Another prohibition that might apply is “metaken kli shir – repairing a musical instrument” (Mechaber, infra 339:3) in the event that a wheel or other integral part of the wheelchair’s mechanism falls into disrepair. One would normally be prohibited to use such an item due to the fear that it will break and one will perform a repair on Shabbat. In the case of a disabled person, however, we waive this concern.
Rabbi Neuwirth notes that if a wheelchair is motorized, one must take care not to use the motor on Shabbat. Further, he notes that even if there is no eruv, a disabled person may wheel himself or be wheeled by a gentile for the purposes of a mitzvah (such as going to shul or perhaps attending a brit milah or going to learn Torah) because the prohibited activity in this case is only a shevut d’shevut.
It goes without saying that where there is no eruv, a disabled person is prohibited from carrying any items on his person (his lap or his pockets or on the wheelchair itself – i.e., on the handles – save for the cushion upon which he sits).
What emerges clearly from all this is that motorized means of transport are forbidden on Shabbat. The wheelchair itself may be used; however, its motor may not. Therefore, it would seem that riding on a vehicle which moves about only by means of its motor should be forbidden.
(To be continued)
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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