Ask the Rabbi

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • Electricity on Shabbat

Shabbat Elevator


Rabbi Yoel Lieberman

Nisan 10, 5770
Rabbi, About 10 years I became a "Baal Teshuva" and "Shomer Shabbat". I was recently on holiday in Cape Town- South Africa and stayed in a building on the 14 th floor. Whilst there I regularly attended the morning Shacharit services at the Orthodox Shul. Before Shabbat I made some enquiries regarding the situation with Shabbos and using the elevator or stairs. Certain Shule regulars (which I recognized as "Shabbos observers" from the last time I was in Cape Town)-said that the building where I stayed had an approved "Shabbat Lift" that did not need any touching of controls, doors opening closing automatically etc-that stopped on the ground floor, 3rd floor, 6th floor, 9 th floor and 12th floors.When asking how to identify the lift, they told me that the lift would have a sign inside it saying "Shabbat Elevator" After enquiring about the lift approval, the Holiday Shul Gabbai said that the lift was apparently approved by a Rabbi from the Cape Town Beth Din. A congregant who stayed in my building, said that he had a letter approving the lift-from a single Orthodox Rabbi whom I can identify from the Beth Din.( I did not see this letter though!).. Now my predicament is that I decided to use the lift because of (a) - the Rabbinic approval and (b) -about 4 years prior whilst on holiday my "Frum" cousins from Johannesburg used the same lift, which was not approved at the time- but they said that"they did not push any buttons and simply entered and left the lift together with other gentile passengers" Anyway what happened is on Saturday morning, when entering the lift on the 12th floor (all alone) going down everything seemed OK- no noises , buzzers, but when exiting on the ground floor (to my horror) a "buzzer" sound went off. My son who knows about electronics later told me that the lift door had a "beam mechanism" which caused the buzzer to go off. Now I am very stressed as I did not deliberately want to desecrate the Shabbos and now what should I do? - regular fasts or Tzadacha? Please help. Also, I read in a book on Shabbos- that Shabbos Elevators should only be used by the sick and elderly....What is the situation.? As a 56 year old , with (treated) high blood pressure. I don’t think that I’m sick or elderly!
It is possible that there wasn't any desecration of Shabbat at all. There are also Shabbat elevators in Israel which buzz automatically as a warning before the closing of the doors. Also, it was inspected by a few Rabbis who gave their approval. If you think that something was overlooked, you should contact the Rabbi who approved it to verify all the details. If your son knows electronics he can speak directly to the elevator company. If it turns out that you activated the buzzer, it would not be a torah prohibition but at most a rabbinic one since you had no intention of activating anything. There are many poskim who allow using a Shabbat elevator for the healthy as well. Watch your blood pressure and be well. Have a happy and kosher Pessach.
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