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Sivan 25, 5771

Subway on Shabbat


Rabbi David Sperling

Question:
If i sew my month ticket into my coat, and wait for dooors to be open by all the goyim who live in Berlin, Germany, may I use the subway? Marit Ayin is hardly a problem, since in those areas dont live Jews. It is not NY or London. It is BERLIN! SO may I go to synagogue and meals by taking the subway?

Answer:
Shalom,
The question of using public transport on Shabbat is not a new one. The Chatam Sofer (1762 1836) already discussed train travel on Shabbat and forbade it as breaking the Torah. However, before giving you a halachic ruling, it needs to be made clear that using transport on Shabbat is totally against the spirit of Shabbat according to all opinions. All will agree that part of the holiness of the Shabbat is refraining from using weekday machinery, including all forms of vehicles and traffic. Every Jewish community all over the world walks on Shabbat and this itself is an integral part of the Shabbat experience.
Having said this, it will be understood that no Rabbi will give a blanket ruling allowing train travel on Shabbat, even if they were to hold that it is technically acceptable. Even the most lenient of opinions will only allow it in very limited cases, under certain conditions. So I feel absolutely at ease to give you a definite ruling to your question:- it is absolutely forbidden to travel on a train on Shabbat unless you get a personal ruling from a Rabbi who is familiar with your particular situation and needs. (I would be very happy to rule for you personally if you have no local Rabbi to turn to, if you would be willing to get in touch with me via the telephone just send an e-mail to this site and I will reply with contact details).
Now for some halachic background (based on Shut BeMareh HaBazak 5,34) it is true that the train is being run by non-Jews and for non-Jews, and as such it is permitted for a Jew to benefit from it. The problems arise with carrying and using the ticket, traveling beyond the Shabbat boundary (techum), possibly leading other Jews astray in their keeping of Shabbat, and belittling the Shabbat atmosphere.
Sewing the ticket onto your clothing is not agreed upon as acceptable by all authorities. In fact the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Haim, 301, 33) rules it is forbidden because the ticket does not become secondary to the garment (unlike a clothes label, which is permitted), whilst the Rema rules that in a time of need one may be lenient. One needs to examine if your case is one of need or not.
Using the ticket is also problematic, if it needs to be put through a machine, or even punched by a conductor. Even if these actions are permitted by way of a non-Jew, there is a question as to whether it is considered as forbidden benefit if done for a Jew.
The train must not travel outside the Shabbat boundaries. These boundaries differ for each city (and are rather technical to define), but it can certainly happen that even a local train may leave the permitted area.
Lastly, if your traveling could be misconstrued as allowing forbidden Shabbat travel, then even if you are doing it in a permitted way it may still be forbidden. Even greater is the risk of desecrating the communities standards of Shabbat.
So, in summary, though there may be ways to technically allow this, because of the seriousness of the questions relating to both the practical halachic side, and the greater overall Shabbat atmosphere and holiness question, until you get a personal ruling in your particular case (which may or may not be forthcoming depending on the details of your situation), one may not travel on a train on Shabbat.
Blessings.


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