Sunday, July 17, 2011

"Halachic" decision-making, non-Ortho style

Background: Years ago, I heard that Orthodox Jews in Paris rode the metro (subway, underground) to synagogue on Shabbat/Sabbath. How did they justify this, given that halachah/Jewish religious law forbids the use of both money and transportation on Shabbat except in life-or-death emergencies? Actually, it was quite simple. (1) They bought their tickets--the metro was then using paper tickets--on Friday before Shabbat, and told the ticket booth attendant that they'd be riding that evening and/or the next day. When they showed up at the metro on Shabbat, they explained to the ticket-taker that they'd already paid their fare. Apparently, the ticker-takers were sufficiently used to this that these passengers were allowed ride on trust. So no money was used on Shabbat. (b) They reasoned that, since the metro train stopped in every single station anyway, the trains weren't running for their benefit alone, and, therefore, it was permissible to ride one on Shabbat. (I think that the same logic might apply to riding an escalator on Shabbat, provided that it's a continuously-operating escalator that's not activated by an electric eye.)

Fast-forward about 40 years.

It occurred to me that I could use the same logic to ride a bus to the subway on Shabbat if and only if another person were already standing at the bus stop when I arrived, since the bus would not be stopping for my benefit. Finally, no more 15-minute walk to the subway to ride to my favorite egalitarian synagogue in Manhattan!

My glee didn't even last long enough for one bus ride. Okay, granted, the 30-day metrocard is prepaid, so I wouldn't be spending any money on Shabbat. But aside from the obvious halachic problem that I would still have to carry the metrocard on Shabbat in a neighborhood without an eruv, there's also the problem that I would have to dip the metrocard into the bus's fare box, tripping an electrical signal and thereby violating the prohibition against turning an electrical device on or off on Shabbat. It's bad enough that I have to trip an electrical signal to turn the entrance turnstile at the subway. Why violate the Shabbat twice when I can get away with once? Oh, well, 'twas a thought.


Blogger Miami Al said...

I've found just sayingm ,"I apologize for the inconvenience, but I can't do X for myself on the Jewish Sabbath" usually get's an accommodation, sometime's happily, sometimes with a quizzical expression, sometimes with an eye roll, but always an accommodation.

It's been a while since I've taken a NYC subway, but is there a handicap one that people go through with a gate? Would their be someone to let you go through there without the turn style?

If you're worried about the magnetic strip on the card, consider the fact that you're NOT completing a circuit when you slide one in, you're running a magnetic strip through a reader that is already operational. Any electric action taken is a step removed, and I'm pretty sure that magnets are permitted on Shabbat.

I wouldn't install a magnetic reader in my home, but it's not been something that I've panicked about when traveling, use a shinui and move on with life, or ask a polite attendant to help you slide the card.

Not paskening, just suggesting that you're making yourself neurotic over something that is relatively minor Halachically.

The entire electricity matter is a much stronger issue in cultural Orthodoxy than in the halachic literature.

Mon Jul 18, 10:15:00 AM 2011  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Hmm, the electric action is one step removed? That's good enough for me. Thanks for the information, Al.

Mon Jul 18, 10:41:00 AM 2011  
Blogger Miami Al said...

That's the physical what happens.

Magnetic strip has data encoded magnetically.

The swiper reads the magnetic field while you swipe which induces a small current.

The system does what it wants.

NOT urging you to take the subway. I am suggesting that if you are picking and choosing what to worry about, the bus with a combustion engine is going to be MUCH worse than a magnetic strip reader and an electrical current powered subway that's running anyway.

Mon Jul 18, 11:13:00 AM 2011  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Next time I come up with one of these allegedly-brilliant ideas, I should run it past My Son the Physicist first. :)

Mon Jul 18, 11:47:00 AM 2011  
Anonymous Chicago said...

To each their own, but this kind of narishkeit is one of the reasons I left OJ for CJ.

I will never understand why people in OJ bang the drum about being Torah True Jews when so much time and effort (not to mention money) is spent on getting around the very same rules they are so proud to "observe".

If you ask the average CJ why they carry on Shabbat, they will usually just say they have no issue with it. They will not go on about hanging a wire from utility poles, so therefore it's ok for them to carry.

Why take on an OJ observance level, and then immediately begin to find work-arounds?

IMNSHO- CJ is much less hypocritical. Not without it's flaws, but by-and-large, CJ's are more honest about their observance.

Mon Jul 18, 03:15:00 PM 2011  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Chicago, as a lifelong Conservative Jew, I know that Conservative Judaism has its advantages and its disadvantages. While it may be true that we "CJ's are more honest about their observance," my experience has been that our observance is often, well, AWOL (absent without official leave).

Mon Jul 18, 05:30:00 PM 2011  
Blogger The Reform Baal Teshuvah said...

And the beauty of Reform Judaism is that Official Leave is granted.

The advantage of CJ over RJ is that CJ offers a standard from which to deviate!

Wed Jul 20, 12:38:00 AM 2011  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"CJ offers a standard from which to deviate!"

Another wiseguy heard from. :)

Wed Jul 20, 04:14:00 PM 2011  

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