Tuesday, September 29, 2009

R' Elyashiv: Shabbat Elevators Forbidden

Yated Nee'man Newspaper: In a landmark Halachik (Jewish Law) ruling, 4 of the foremost rabbis in Israel, R' Shalom Elyashiv, R' Chayim Kanievsky, R' Nissim Karlitz and R' Shmuel Vosner have forbidden the use of "Shabbat Elevators" (elevators which automatically go up and down on shabbat, stopping at every other floor; who would have thought that Wikipedia would have an entry on it!?).

They say outright that one may not rely on any certification from any organization, and that its an outright desecration of the Shabbat to ride in a Shabbat elevator (up or down).

I'm curious who is behind this -- its not like these Rabbis woke up one morning and said, "hey, lets make everyone's life incredibly difficult." Though it could be someone else did...
Shabbat Elevators are prevalent everywhere throughout the world -- in Baltimore, there was even a landmark shabbat elevator case this past summer.
"After a lengthy legal battle that involved allegations of First Amendment violations, the board of Strathmore Tower voted to install a Shabbat elevator in the 56-unit, nine-story condominium on Park Heights Avenue on Tuesday, Aug. 18.

At the request of some Strathmore Tower residents, the state of Maryland Commission on Human Relations looked into the matter. In 2008 it issued a report in which it found “probable cause” that discrimination by the condo board had occurred against the condo’s Orthodox residents. The finding raised the possibility of legal action against the condo board at the time of the investigation.

Prof. Kenneth Lasson of the University of Baltimore School of Law has been representing the complaining residents to the commission on a pro bono basis. Mr. Lasson said he spoke to commission members following the board’s most recent vote and “they are very pleased to hear this finally went through.”

The commission will be monitoring the situation to ensure that the Shabbat elevator is in fact installed, Mr. Lasson added.

“The commission also wants to see that Strathmore Tower’s bylaws are amended to reflect that accommodations for religious preferences will be made and there will be no discrimination of the basis of religion,” he said. Baltimore Jewish Times

Crazy legal issues like this are non-existent in Israel. Now we just need to either see if elevators are really forbidden, or build a better one, which isn't.

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Michael Sedley said...

I'm sorry, but these sudden announcements are made so often with mis-attribution to rabbis or a warped interpretation of what the Rabbi really meant that i no longer believe any of them.

Unless I get a personal phone call from Rav Elyashiv himself, I'm working on the assumption that he never said anything remotely like what is written in this "Psak halacha".

I'm guessing that in a few months someone will design a "new" Shabbat Elevator which is permissible by these Rabbis, and for a "moderate" fee will be prepared to install it (together with appropriate certification) in every Hotel in Israel.

Once upon a time, Piskei halacha were about doing the will of HaSHem, today they seem to be about making money.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Michael: I think that someone with an agenda approached the Rabbis and presented "facts" in such a way that the Rabbis gave the answer they did.

I don't believe the Rabbis are at fault...just the askanim who decided to make everyone's life miserable.

I've written about them in the past here

Anonymous said...

Well we never had lifts in Annatevka so they must be asur!

*rolls eyes*

Yellow Boy

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

YB: No, its more complex than that -- since they USED to be acceptable....someone with an agenda obviously is working behind the scenes.

Litvshe said...

Rav Ovadia has been permitting them for years.

elchonon said...

You should know how sh'ut's (sheilot u'teshuvot) work.. and the resulting psak din.

I cant stand how people conclude that every psak din that goes against their interest MUST be be the work of some fanatic with a agenda.

For example,
If all these rabanim came out with a psak din tomorrow that shaving with an electric razor was a issue m'diorayta all of brisk would burn down rav elyashiv's house ;)

It generally works like this, someone brings up a shayla that has a connection to another matter etc etc etc.. or in the research etc.. stuff are discovered...

I am not saying there arent kanoim running around jumping for issurim.. but chabad has never used electric elevators.. as a kid I remember climbing 17 stories to visit some family with my father (we never could understand where the 13th floor went.. my father said it had a bar mitzvah and took off on it's own)

Who paskend the original shabbos elevators ? rav moshe ? rav auerbach? what year ? me thinks it was 70's - 80's and its possible that with the technology changes it has caused the psak to shift... such as electronic sensors, video camera's etc.. etc..

I know that back in the 70's technology was more crude so to speak.. nowdays if you activate a sensor your doing melacha..

btw when I was 6 years old my father taught me the halacho's of using a water fountain on shabbos vis a vis activating the fan etc..

But overall, its bordeline nuts to believe every psak din.. and plain out foolish to write it off as a kanoi job

keren said...

Techumin publications had an extensive article on that
(articles published by Machon Zomet on Torah and technology and curent affairs)

I wonder what their opinion is on this now?

Bruce Krulwich said...

I definitely agree with previous comments about problems with signs and psak, but I don't think that that's necessarily the problem here.

I can't believe I'm actually writing this, but the problem here (in this particular case) is that people haven't learned enough about the halacha.

(NOTE that I'm writing from memory, not with seforim in front of me.)

Shabbat elevators have in fact been a huge discussion since they were developed. It was a huge area of dispute when Rav Neuwirth wrote Shmirat Shabbat Kehilchata, since Rav Shlomo Zalman was not necessarily in agreement with everything he wrote. (I believe that Rav Shlomo Zalman wrote a slightly different opinion in his haskama or in another publication, but I don't remember the details now.) There was a big distinction made by poskim between going up and going down, since when you go down it was found that the brakes mechanism would have to work harder based on the weight in the elevator. The understanding at the time was that going up was less of an issue because of the counterweight mechanism. There were poskim at the time that said they're fine, and there were poskim that said they're fine only le'tzorech gadol, and there were poskim at the time that said they were only fine for going up.

This explains the repeated comment about "either going up or going down," which is a reference to previous psak on the subject.

I'm as cynical as anyone about signs on the wall, but what the sign here says is that they have simply revisited an existing huge issue based on new information from a technologist.

SO... I welcome all cynicism about signs and about the influence of askanim on the psak halacha process, BUT it's not accurate to say that the Rabbonim involved are simply "prohibiting something that was previously permitted."

Anyone who believes that psak halacha needs to be revisited in light of technological developments, and that something that is prohibited based on certain scientific understanding should be permitted if later scientific understanding changes the basis of the psak, should agree in principle that this can work both ways.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Elchonon: 1. As Litvshe pointed out, R' Ovadia has permitted them for years.

2. There are plenty of serious organizations involved in high-tech that certify all sorts of devices, including elevators.

They are clearly AWARE of modern technological advances, and you should give them just a bit of credit that they aren't simply relying on piskei halacha from decades ago.

Unfortunately, knowing how piskei halacha and kol korei's come out, its far from foolish to assume that an askan is behind it.

ProfK said...

What bothers me more than any possibilities that technology has changed, ergo the halacha must be applied differently, is that no public discussion ensued prior to the giving of the psak, certainly no public warning was given.

I can't speak for Israel, but if this psak is true as written it will cause havoc in the US. Thousands of Jews who live well above the third floor in high rises. Plenty of elderly people in those buildings, plenty of people with some type of disability, plenty with very young children who won't be able to manage the trip, not down and not up. So, plenty who will not be able to leave their apartments on Shabbos, meaning no davening in shul on Shabbos, no going to someone else's home for a meal on Shabbos. There are a number of homes for the aged or nursing homes with the Shabbos elevators which count on them to get patients from one floor to another for things like meals and davening on Shabbos. There are major hospitals in Manhattan with Shabbos elevators so that family members/bikur cholim members can get up and down to their loved ones on Shabbos.

You aren't talking a minor inconvenience here--you are talking major lifestyle changes. Surely public discussion should have come first, if this psak is true as written.

yehupitz said...

Here's a secret that is well-known in my circles:

R' Elyashiv's psakim have been ignored and rejected by most Chareidim in America for several years now, since the methods by which shailos reach him and by which background information needed to arrive at a psak reaches him became known.

The American Orthodox/Chareidi community will wait for a comment from other poskim before refraining from anything as big as this.

realRightWinger said...

My solution -
Put all the rabbonim on the 20th floor of Jerusalem Hilton (or whatever) - and get them to have a conference on the issue on Shabbat. (conference rooms on floor -3 ).
We will see if they walk the 20+ floors or not !.
In addition, they can discuss the issue of Kitniot for Ashkenazim too. (perhaps while travelling up or down).

Anonymous said...

Whatever the reason for the decision or whether it ultimately is upheld (remember the Indian wig debacle), this psak will have an enduring economic consequence. Some people will sell apartments on high floors and others will benefit from decreased prices as the possibility of current or future halachic status brings the value of the properties for frum populations into question.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Real Right Winger: R' Ovadia permits the shabbat elevator...and also eats kitniyot on Pesach :-)

ProfK: I agree its a huge lifestyle changer (imagine if the concept of "eruv" disappeared...or shabbat clocks).

As I wrote - this was pask was definitely influenced by "someone" -- who made sure they ran around to all the different rabbanim to get their approval. I can't imagine R' Elyashiv picking up the phone and calling everyone up, "hey, guess what I heard? Shabbat elevators are all based on "new" technology...lets assur it...pass it on"

Dov: Well - what do you expect from a Yated Neeman publicized article? A serious halachik debate or a sensationalized psak desigined to make everyone nuts?

maeyer ben-elazar halevi said...

if you will lokk in bear moshe by re woman undergoing episiaotomies, where the mechaber attacks r'moshes psak, and even says thanks to the minchas yitzchak , boruch shekivanti, but than in a postscript acknowledges that r'moshe got his facts from a doctor and knew the exact details and is 1000% correct, and that he, r'bick, paskened upon assumption, umdene, but is still fearful and paskens lchumra althoiugh r'moshe is correct [i will get u the exact citation]
an israeli ?posek did research and showed that standing in front of an electric FAN causes increased electrical drain to the motoe and is assur.
When bnai yisrael have gedolim who try to make their life liveable within halacha, ANYONE gadol who wants to assur/machmir and bring kitrug or make us baalei avera will have to answer before the kisay hakavod.
wether it is concerts, buying shmitta from murderous arabs, abusing children as long as there is no hacnasat atarah, instead of having the daas tora to be mater agunot, mater eruvin, allow sincere gerim, we are turning our GEDOLIM into BIRYONIM[ like those bymai hamikdash- who forced their chumrot and caused the churban

MBK said...

I can't comment on the psak because I dont know the halakhic issues involved, and I know about the lifestyle issues. But I cant resist sharing this line that I heard 2nd hand from I believe R Ahron Soloveitchik ztl about Shabbos elevators as he struggled up the stairs in a hotel with a Shabbos elevator "not everything that is muttar should one do"

Shmilda said...

For all those of us who believe that either:
1. they didn't really say it, since Yossed Neman articles and signs on walls are unreliable;
2. they didn't really mean it, since they were duped by profit seeking askanim; or
3. it is irrelevant, since they are out of touch with real life;

Why are these rabbanim still so highly revered? If they can't be bothered publicly disavowing the askanim/sign hangers/Yossed Neman over many mangled psaks, despite the discomfort those pskas cause the multitudes, are they worthy of our respect?

And why do we still pay attention? Think of the advice people give to kids who are called names: stop giving them the attention they clearly do not deserve.

JoeSettler said...

Shabbos Clocks are next.

"Chadash Assur Min HaTorah"

menachemmashiv said...

And as quickly it is published, it is "revised" or "reversed" as you see, unfortunately, many rabbonim are being lead around by rabble rousers.

FYI R" Moshe Feinstein did assur shabbos clocks but not for lights.

Michael Lipkin said...

The issue of Shabbos Elevators is very complex. The standard elevator which simply stops on every floor still poses many halachic issues. The Institute of Science and Halacha designs and certifies elevators that conform to rigorous halachic standards.

The implication in this "psak" is that even places like the "Institute" are not be relied on. To me, that is a major clue that this "psak", if it exists at all, is based on incomplete or faulty information.

The signatories (thought there are no signatures) would have to have an extensive crash course in engineering and electromechanics in order to give a fully informed psak. (I don't care how much you learn Torah, this is not information you can glean within the walls of a Bes Medrash.)

If the psak had said something like "Since many Shabbos elevators do not conform to Halachic standards set by those who fully understand their operation and are designed to function with transgressing Shabbos we are recommending that people only use elevators that have proper certification." It would be both believable and logical.

For now, unless one of these Gedolim is YOUR posek you should CYLOR on this, and any other matter.

NormanF said...

Shabbat prohibits all manner of work that requires external creativity. Fire is such an act. Electricity on the other hand is always present. It can be argued turning on and off electrical appliances on Shabbat is not akin to setting a fire because the current is always "on". No Shabbat rule is broken if one presses a button on an elevator.

OTD said...

Best solution: Toss ALL rabbis out a window.

Michael Lipkin said...


Forget pressing the button (which aside from closing a circuit always turns on a light), just getting on the elevator has potential issues. Big discussion as to whether or not you become a "partner in decent/assent". If so, then you participate in the leveling of the elevator, generating/using electricity, triggering floor lights on every floor, etc.

There's a good book, called "Shabbat and Electricity" by Rabbi Halperin that has a few chapters on elevators.

Anonymous said...

Off the Derech:

Don't you mean "down an elevator shaft"?

Shiloh said...

It's all nuts. You wonder why we have to suffer to bring the geulah instead of haShem giving us the easy route. This is why and we refuse to realize it. Stop wasting our and haShems time.

NormanF said...

Menachem, technology has made Shabbat observance more complex. It has freed one from forbidden manual labor but has introduced its own set of new dilemmas. For those who lived before electricity became practical, life was far simpler and harder.

There are workarounds but they are as observant Jews know not always convenient. But one does not question G-d; one does as one is commanded in the Torah.

Michael Lipkin said...


Couldn't agree more.

It's only due to ignorance and fear that people feel that technology is a burden.

Eliyahoo william Dwek said...

When ‘dayanim’, ‘rabbis’ and false ‘mekubalim’ use the Torah for their own power and commercial profit, this behaviour is abhorrent.

No other ‘rabbi’ will ever act against another ‘rabbi’ - even when he knows his colleague is clearly desecrating the Torah. Each rabbi is only worried about losing his own position.

Therefore, the ‘rabbi’, ‘dayyan’ or false ‘mekubal’ (‘kabbalist’) will never effect justice. And he will never truly stand for the Torah or the Honour of Hashem. His pocket will always prevail.

The Torah must never be used for commercial gain and profit. Amm israel can only be lead by those who have the necessary love and respect of Hashem and the Torah.

Eliyahoo William Dwek said...

Any man who chooses to be a ‘rabbi’ (‘true teacher’ of Torah) or a ‘dayan’ (‘judge’), or a ‘mekubal’ (‘kabbalist’) should be doing so Voluntarily. Out of his pure love for Hashem and the Torah. And his Ahavat Yisrael.

If he refuses to do community work voluntarily, and wants and accepts payment for everything he does, such a man should not be leading a community. He should get a job and earn a living. He can collect milk bottles or clean the windows. That is what is called ‘earning a living’.

Torah is learned, studied and taught: out of Love. Voluntarily. But the ‘rabbis’ have turned the Torah into their ‘Profession’, from which they earn money.

We are commanded in the Shema to:

‘LOVE Hashem, your G-d, WITH ALL YOUR HEART, and with all your soul and with all your might.’

‘VE’AHAVTA et Hashem Elokecha BECHOL LEVAVECHA uvechol nafshecha uvechol meodecha.’ (Devarim, Vaethanan, 6:4-5)

Is the ordinary man or woman PAID to pray to Hashem, or to say some words of Torah? No. Has veshalom! But the rabbis are. These men can give ‘lovely’ shiurim that they have rehearsed. But they would not give a shiur without being paid for it.

The true hachamim and rabbis of old, all actually worked at proper jobs and professions.

Wake up! Even a little child could have worked this out. These salaried men can never truly stand for the Torah, because in a case of conflict between a correct course of action according to the Torah, and the rabbi or rav’s pocket – his pocket and position will always prevail.

Pirkei Avot: (2:2)
“Raban Gamliel beno shel Rabi Yehuda HaNassi omer: yafeh talmud Torah im derech eretz, sheyegiat shenaihem mashkachat avon. Vechol Torah she’ein imah melacha sofa betailah ve’goreret avon. Vechol haoskim im hatzibbur yiheyu imahem leShem Shamayim……”

“Rabban Gamliel, the son of Rabi Yehuda HaNassi, said: It is good to combine Torah study with a worldly occupation, for working at them both drives sin from the mind. All Torah without an occupation will in the end fail and lead to sin. And let all who work for the community do so for the sake of Heaven………”

Fofo said...

rav elishav also had a ruling about two pesachs ago, that a 4 year old girl cant sing manishtana at the table . . ya kol isha. (the assumption is that he's worried about getting a boner at the seder from a 4 year old)

these ashkenazim need to get a life. thank god i wasnt born as one and have to listen to this nonsense coming out of their mouths nonstop.

Kamagra said...

This elevators are amazing, i would like to get one of them at home, i think that this elevators has a very good technology.

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