My Way or the Yahweh: Rabbis Ground Shabbos Elevators With New Religious Interpretation

200px-Sabbath_elevatorThere 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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14 thoughts on “My Way or the Yahweh: Rabbis Ground Shabbos Elevators With New Religious Interpretation”

  1. Am I the only person to see the obvious (snarky) solution? It’s right there in the description. Orthodox high-rise dwellers hire Amish to walk in “gopher wheels” to power elevators during the Jewish sabbath. No electricity – everybody’s happy!

  2. Mr. Turley: I note that you’ve labled this topic under “bizarre.” Just because you don’t understand the Jewish law underlying the issue, and failed to recognize the pro-consumer purpose of updated pronouncements, should not be an excuse for belittling the religious beliefs of others.

  3. I’m sorry that there is much mis-information on this. The Talmud does not prohibit elevators — no elevators existed when it was written. The issue here is not whether one can use a Shabbos elevator ever, but what defines a Shabbos elevator. There are Shabbos elevators which besides stopping on every floor also have equipment which do not need to compensate for added weight. There are also many that do not work that way. You see, it is all right to use a machine that benefits everyone without discrimination. Moreover, this is not a new demand of the rabbis. I can remember similar rulings made more than 30 years ago. Rather, I would call this a consumer advisory that there are some landlords who market their buildings as having “Shabbos elevators” which, in fact, do not. It is an unfortunate reality. Blame the landords (or unscrupulous elevator installers who misled the landlords) and not the rabbis.

  4. I would think if you lived on the 63rd floor and weren’t Jewish you’d be a little pissed off too. Maybe these Jews could show how much they love god by taking the stairs.

  5. At least, it’s good to know they can use bunny shredders which can hop upstairs by themselves.

  6. After reflecting on this issue I must say I cannot believe anyone would think God didn’t want them to use an elevator. For instance, suppose I’m having my last supper of the day and my neighbor starts annoying me with his loud music. I tell him to turn it down but he doesn’t. So I figure the only righteous action that is pleasing unto the Lord would be to kill him. It’s like Cain and Able, sort of. So I go over and kill him. God knows I did the right thing is he going to leave me hanging in this situation? No!

    Look, it ain’t always gonna be Halloween where when you kill someone and stick their body out the window, everyone thinks it’s a realistic prop. So I have to get rid of the body. Is God going to expect me to drag the body down flights of stairs? No. God knows I am a righteous man who observes all the laws, he is gonna help me. I have a bad back. He’s not gonna make me drag a body all over the place. He’s gonna help me out by making the elevator available for my use. So basically, from everything I know about God, this ban on elevators makes no sense at all. The Lord helps them who help themselves.

  7. So let me get this straight. It is an abomination before the Lord to even see a working elevator on the Sabbath? The Bible has specific instructions regarding these types of offenses–pluck out your eye. Problem solved! Other people can use the elevators and the orthodox won’t have to look at such a horror as a working elevator that they don’t need to use.

    Seriously, I have no respect for this crap at all. If you don’t want to take an elevator, then don’t. However, there are people who have health conditions or want to use an elevator for their own purposes. If religion is to do any good in this world it needs to dump all legalism and concentrate on the amelioration of human life. That would mean having compassion towards those who may require the use of an elevator.

  8. I would think the beam type sensors that prevent the doors from closing when someone is blocking the beam, would also be a problem area. Disabling the beams would certainly constitute a safety issue.

  9. Schmucks. Some elevators are hydraulic, though the pumps and doors are run be electricity. How far do they carry this? Even the Amish use elevators on the Sabbath, though some can’t ride bicycles by local bishop rule.
    They all belong back in their own 18th century.

  10. Question, if someone has a pacemaker installed can they use it on Fridays Saturdays? What about artificial limbs with electronic impulses? What about watches that are quartz driven?

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