JERUSALEM (RNS) Four influential ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Israel have decreed that Jews may not use so-called “Shabbat elevators,” which enable observant Jews to use elevators without breaking rules against manual labor on the Sabbath.
This is the first time a group of such eminent rabbis has banned the use of Shabbat elevators, which have been in use for decades.
Generally, Shabbat elevators are set to automatically stop on every floor for 20 to 30 seconds on ascent and descent, precluding the need for people to press a button, which is considered a form of labor.
The ruling, which was signed by Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv — arguably the most influential Torah sage in Israel — and Rabbis Nissim Karelitz, Chaim Kanievsky and Shmuel Halevy Wosner, could have major ramifications for hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Jews in Israel and around the world, many of whom rely on Shabbat elevators in hospitals, hotels and residential buildings.
The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, passed a law eight years ago requiring buildings with more than one elevator to designate one for Shabbat use.
In their edict, issued the end of September, the rabbis said the way Shabbat elevators operate “is related to a grave prohibition against actual desecration of the Sabbath.”
The rabbis said they felt compelled to rule on the elevators after receiving “a written and oral technical opinion” from certified elevator technicians and engineers.
“It was made clear to us that in using these elevators, either in ascent or descent, direct activation is created regarding doing work according to the Torah,” the rabbis wrote. They noted that “the function of Shabbat-mode elevators change with technological developments.”
Although the decree did not specify exactly what the problem is, prior rabbinical debates have focused on whether the number and weight of passengers influences the elevators’ operation.
Many Jews expressed concern that the ruling does not address the use of Shabbat elevators by the ill and elderly. Rabbi Yisrael Rozen, director of the Tzomet Institute for Halacha (Jewish Law) and Technology, told Ynetnews that the rabbis had failed to consider all sides of the issue.
“I’m glad the majority of the public does not buy (into) rulings in this manner,” Rozen said.
By Michele Chabin
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.