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Ask the rabbi Shabbat and Holidays Electricity on Shabbat

non-Shabbos elevator on Shabbat

Rabbi David SperlingAdar I 2, 5774
Question
Hi. Your website is great. The situation: Using an elevator at a hotel on Shabbat. At this hotel, there are no stairs, really. The stairs have been cut off; the only, only way up and down is to use the elevators. I went there once this past summer, and did not know and understand the "Shabbos elevator" situation fully until afterwards. Horribly, I pushed the button to go up, and then to go down. There was no one else there to do it for me, and I waited a LONG time. Question: Can I go visit them again for Shabbat, and ask ahead of time that someone be there for me, to push the elevator button? Or instead, would asking a non-Jew to push the elevator button for me, would that be doing work on Shabbat, and I should not go there, not at all? And there is the concern of getting up there, and then not being able to get down. Please respond in English to my email address. Thanks!
Answer
Shalom, Thank you for your question. You are quite correct that using an elevator on Shabbat is very problematic. Because of this there are "Shabbat Elevators" in Israel (and a few other places with large Jewish communities) that are designed to work automatically without any need for the passenger to do anything. Unfortunately you won't have such an elevator in the hotel you are visiting (unless it's in Israel!). So what are the options? If there is a non-Jew who is using the lift for themselves you are allowed to join them. However, you have to get off on the floor they do, and enter and exit the lift with them. It would seem that in this particular hotel there aren't a lot of guests using the elevators, and so this option isn't a good one on a practical level. In times of great need one is allowed to tell a non-Jew to perform a task on Shabbat that is forbidden to a Jew because of a Rabbinic prohibition (as opposed to asking a non-Jew to perform a Torah prohibition for us, which is nearly always forbidden). There is a debate about whether pushing the elevator buttons is forbidden rabbinicly or from the Torah. If we rule leniently on this question (as many great authorities do), then, in a times of great need it would be allowed to ask a non-Jew to push the buttons needed for you to ride the elevator. The question though is "what is considered great need"? Certainly if someone is staying in a hotel room and needs the elevator in order to leave their room and go to synagogue to pray, or to return to their room in order to sleep, that would be considered as a great need. However, if one could just as easily stayed in a ground floor room, then it may not be considered as great need if they themselves choose to enter into a situation where they will need the elevator. Each case would need to be examined individually to determine the level of need involved. In your case, it is not clear to me the need involved. There could be many factors involved (family needs, religious needs, financial considerations, etc). The general rule is – if you can avoid having to ask a non-Jew to work the elevator for you, you may use it together with a non-Jew using it for themselves. If you need to ask the non-Jew to work the lift for you, this is permissible (according to some opinions) in times of great need. The definition of great need varies from situation to situation. Blessings.
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