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Cruise travel on Shabbat

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Rabbi David Sperling

Nisan 25, 5771
Question
I would like to consult you about travelling on cruise ships on Shabbat. We recently went on a kosher cruise to Greece on a Mano Line ship, organized by AACI. The ship did not leave Israel on Shabbat but travelled on Shabbat. The ships is not owned by Mano but rented from a Panama based company. The cabin and dining room staff are Asian and we were told that the ship’s crew was comprised of non-Jewish Russians, thus overcoming the problem of operation of the ship on Shabbat by Jews. We booked a subsequent cruise but then an announcement was circulated by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate claiming the Kashrut supervison was inadequate and travelling involved Chillul Shabbat. On personal clarification with David London, the manager of AACI, I was satisfied as to the stringent Kashrut supervision. However when I queried the crew operation of the ship on Shabbat, he told me that some of the crew were Jewish. Therefore I cancelled the cruise. I would like to know how the Halachic problem of Shabbat travel is addressed.
Answer
Shalom, I am unable to comment on the particulars of the cruise you mentioned as I am unfamiliar with the details. But the laws of traveling on a ship on Shabbat are as follows - It is forbidden to travel on a ship which is owned by Jews, or run by Jews, if it will continue to travel on Shabbat. One may travel on Shabbat in a ship owned and operated by non-Jews, if it sails at fixed times regardless of whether or not there are passengers. This is because all of the activities involved in the operation of the ship would be performed even if there were no Jewish passengeres on board. As a result, it does not matter if most of the passengers are Jews. To eat the food cooked on board such a ship on Shabbat is, however, certainly forbidden (even when halachic considerations not related to Shabbat would otherwise permit its consumption). The reason is that when preparing the food, account is taken of each and every passenger, and the non-Jews will obviously do more because of the presence of the Jews than they would have done in their absence. If the ship leaves or reaches port on Shabbat there are various laws relating to entering or leaving the ship. (the above is from Shmirat Shabbat Ke'Hilchatah chapter 30: 55 - see there) If some of the crew are Jewish, there are serious problems of benefiting from their Shabbat desecrations. The details are difficult to summarize as they depend on many variables such as the nature of the labor they perform, and for whom they do it. I imagine that this was (at least partially) the reason for the Rabbanut's announcement. My advice is to travel on cruises that have recognized rabbinic supervision, both for the food and the Shabbat. As the reason for the cruise is recreational, and not for an important mitzvah, it would seem that one should not search out leniencies. If however, there is a real need to take a cruise (eg. for health reasons), then you should ask a knowledgeable rabbi with all the pertinent details. Blessings.
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