Question: Is it proper for Orthodox synagogues to have their parking lots open on Shabbat?
Answer: There are a number of serious halachic objections to shul parking lots being open on Shabbat. First, it must be recognized that there is a major distinction between one who violates Shabbat privately and one who violates Shabbat publicly. A person who violates it publicly – who is “mechallel Shabbat b’farhesia” – is halachically categorized as a gentile (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 72:2).
What defines a public violation of Shabbat?
Harav Yaakov Ettlinger, author of the famed Aruch LaNer commentaries on the Talmud, contends that a public violation must take place in the presence of 10 Jews (Responsa Binyon Tzion 64)
His argument is based on the Talmud (Sanhedrin 74), which derives the definition of the word “farhesia – public” from the verse that requires a minyan for matters of kedushah (i.e. Kaddish, Barchu, etc.). Just as kedushah activities require at least 10 Jews so too must a public violation of Shabbat.
It is true that Esther’s sin (when she went to Achashveirosh) is regarded as public – even though 10 Jews weren’t present – but her sin is an exception to the rule, explains Rav Etlinger. Since sexual sins are almost never witnessed by 10 people, general knowledge of a sexual sin is sufficient to deem it public. All other public sins, however, require 10 witnesses.
The Minchat Elazar (the Munkatcher Rav) actually requires 10 shomrei Shabbat to view the violation for it to be considered public. HaRav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach, the late world-renowned posek, rules that any Jew who refrains from violating Shabbat in the presence of a rav (or ish chashuv) cannot be classified as someone who is mechallel Shabbat b’farhesia (Madanei Shlomo, volume I, Moadim, pp. 26, 27).
Keeping a shul parking lot open on Shabbat opens the door for Jews to be classified public Shabbat violators since 10 Jews (and even possibly the rav) may very well see people entering their cars and driving away at the end of davening.
(To be continued)