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Israeli Rabbis Rule Against `Shabbat Elevators’

posted by mconsoli

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.



  • Scott R.

    Oy – what schmucks!
    (says the Jew)

  • David W

    Rav Elyashiv and his fellow Poskim should be moved to 30th floor apartments – after all he’s 98 or so. Then let’s see how he’ll rule!

  • nnmns

    It’s only a problem for people who pay attention to these guys. They should learn to think for themselves.

  • jestrfyl

    I must confess this all seems a little too minuscule for a world full of need.
    On a similar note – as my wife and I were driving around central Ohio’s Amish country we saw what seems to be a new development. Many of the Amish were riding bicycles. Not just “cruiser” bikes with one speed either; these were 15 speed road & trail bikes. It seems that there have been some new decisions made that allow the once verbotten bikes. Does anyone know about this shift in practical theology? I know the Ohio Amish that come to Sarasota, FL (our hometown has a significant Amish population from Ohio and elsewhere) ride three wheel bikes – but then they are not allowed to use horse and buggy here. Has that translated to Ohio as well?
    Shabbat elevators v. walk-ups and Buggy v. bike – – – it all seems so small in relation to the scale of the world’s woe and worry. But for some folks these things are questions of significant magnitude and theological import. Humanity deliberates, God laughs – it’s all good.

  • Henrietta22

    It’s all good until you have to walk up the stairs and down again! ;)

  • nnmns

    If you walk up 15 flights of stairs every day of the year it’s probably healthy. To do it a few times once a year is probably unhealthy. Do you think these guys have in mind getting bequests from some of their rich old followers?
    j you are soo right about this kind of thing vs. the serious problems in the world.

  • pagansister

    They’ve been used for decades and NOW there use is breaking the law? Seems a little stange. Also, what are the elderly and those that are not healthy enough to be climbing stairs supposed to do…not go to Temple?

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