There is an interesting potential contract case brewing in New York and other cities with large Orthodox Jewish populations. Various buildings in New York cater to Orthodox residents in offering such things as Shabbos elevators, which stop on every floor from Friday evening to Saturday evening so that residents do not have to push floor buttons. Talmudic rules prohibit the use of electrical devices. However, a group of powerful rabbis have now issued a new judgment on the use of Shabbos elevators that they may indeed be a prohibited practice — even if you simply step into one.
There has long been a divide among Orthodox Jews on elevators. Many viewed them to be prohibited devices, but in the 1960s rabbinical scholars announced that families could use the elevators so long as they did not push the buttons. This was an obvious load off for Orthodox families in New York, which largely live in high rises.
By the way, the same approach is taken by some Amish groups. I have gone on biking trips to the Pennsylvania Amish areas where some families actually buy cars for neighbors, who in turn agree to drive them to different places. As in the Jewish community, many Amish have long rejected the practice as still using a machine.
Now back to the Shabbos elevators. Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, 99, originally signed the letter giving the green light to Shabbos elevators. He is considered the most influential rabbi on the interpretation of the Torah in Orthodox world. He and other rabbis issued a statement that they have reviewed “a written and oral technical opinion” of engineers that indicate that Shabbos elevators may be a “desecration of the Sabbath.” The assumption is that one of the problems is that modern elevators have a device that monitors weight and adjusts power according to the number of people in the car. The rabbis concluded that riding in the elevator is using a device.
This creates a serious problem for landlords. First, in Israel, all buildings are legally required to have at least one Shabbos elevator, which will now just be known as the “slow elevator.” Second, for buildings promising such elevators, the question is whether they must seek the creation of a new designed elevator without such things as the weighing component. Not only would that be hugely expensive but could run afoul with safety laws.
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