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  • Torah and Jewish Thought
  • Observing Mitzvot

Rabbinical law

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Rabbi David Sperling

Tishrei 25, 5778
Question
Following on from your answer to Riding in a car on Shabbos?, can you confirm which Rabbi(s) and when it was decreed that driving/riding a car breaks shabbos? I assume it was after 1850 when self-propelled mobiles/horseless carriages were first invented.
Answer
Shalom, Thank you for your question. In truth it caused me think quite a bit. As far as I know there was never a serious Rabbinic inquiry into driving a car on Shabbat, and therefore there was no Rabbinic rulings given. Let me explain a little as to how much of our modern (that is in the last 500 years or so) Jewish legal system works. We do not have a supreme ruling body that decrees laws, such as a Parliament or Congress. Rather, in every generation there are great Rabbis who people (or communities) turn to with questions. The answers they receive are then accepted as practice. Sometimes other Rabbis will argue on these rulings, and give their own opinions. In such a case, we sometimes see two different practices amongst different communities, or, in the course of time, one ruling will become standard practice. This will happen because others Rabbis give it more support (with additional proofs), or because the community accepts one opinion over the other. So, for example, with the invention of the bicycle different Rabbis were asked about it's use on Shabbat. There was one opinion that allowed it, but as time went on, more and more Rabbis wrote reasons to forbid it's use, and that has become standard practice. So too with the ruling about electricity. From the time it became widespread different Rabbis gave their opinions as too why it should be forbidden to use on Shabbat. Even though there is still a debate about the fine points, the accepted practice has evolved to forbid it's use on Shabbat. With the use of a motor vehicle, as far as I know there was never any serious discussion in the religious world as too using it on Shabbat. It is so obviously a violation of the major restrictions of the Shabbat that I doubt it was every a question. For starters it involves starting a fire (with the spark plugs). Then every time the gas peddle is pushed, one adds fuel to a burning fire in the engine. Both of these actions are forbidden on Shabat – and even mentioned explicitly in the Torah. With this in mind, it is unlikely that anyone who kept Shabbat every had to turn to a Rabbi and get a ruling to forbid it's use on Shabbat. They would intrinsically know that it was forbidden. So, in summary, the answer to your question would be that the use of a car on Shabbat was from it's very inception understood to be forbidden, and never required a Rabbinic ruling on the subject, I hope this is of some help to you. Blessings
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