Ways Around Jewish Sabbath Restrictions

Earlier today I was thinking about “Sabbath elevators” that, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, constantly move up and down, stopping at every floor so that observant Jews don’t have to use the stairs. That got me thinking about others ways to circumvent the “don’t operate machines” rule. I’m not concerned with the practicality of any of these ideas, just curious as to weather or not they’re kosher, so to speak.*

Option 1: Hire a non-Jewish elevator attendant. Tell them what floor you want to go to and they’ll press the button for you.

Option 2: Carry some kind of RFID-type chip that the elevator can read that tells the elevator what level your apartment/whatever is on.

Option 3: Artificial intelligence (now you see why I’m not concerned with practicality :D). Elevators have an AI that can recognize residents/frequent visitors and automatically bring them to floor they live on/frequently visit.
*Side question: is keeping the Sabbath part of keeping kosher or something else entirely?

Kosher is strictly the dietary laws.

For the others, it might depend on whether it’s just the people using the building who are Jewish, or the owners as well: I don’t think it’s allowed for a Jew to hire a Gentile to do work on the Sabbath.

And as for artificial intelligence, I’ll just note that in the golem legends, the golem got the Sabbath off, too.

Some kitchen appliances, such as ovens and refrigerators, have been sold with special “Sabbath mode” settings, in order to comply with rules against doing work on the Sabbath.

The Shabbos/Shabbat Goy, a Gentile hired to do work on the Sabbath, it a longstanding tradition. However, according to some opinions it would not be legitimate to hire one to operate and elevator, and even Shabbat Elevators amy not be permitted.

There’s some disagreement on that. Most authorities agree it’s not allowed; but in some communities it’s common and accepted.

Here’s an example.

– whoops, Colibri’s at least partly ahead of me.

Richard Feynman in Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman describes his experience with a gentile elevator operator at a rabbinical college. He tried to debate the students about the propriety of such and thing but soon found he was in over his head.

The RFID thing would be a no-go for this guy. He’s against automatic doors on Shabbat. (One exception: if a gentile triggers a door then it’s okay to follow.)

Any sort of sensor, AI or not, is against the rules for him. YRMMV.*

Chronos wrote:

But that was a Jewish-made golem, right? What about a gentile-made one? What if 300 people were involved in Project Golem and 27 of them were Jewish? What if the Jewish workers only did the IR sensors, could it still operate on Shabbat with the IR sensor turned off? (I think I better stop now … .)

  • Your rabbi’s mileage might vary.

In Judaism, there’s some disagreement on everything. :slight_smile:

This is something I have wondered about- is there literally a published list of what is considered “work”? In general I see climbing stairs a pain in the ass, but not work? There are no people who get paid to climb stairs? I assume the definition of work here is not the same? Thanks!

The Sabbeth Goy has already been mentioned, but another concept worth mentioning is the notion of what work is under Jewish law. For example, one is not to kindle a fire (hence the prohibition against lighting a fire on the Sabbath). However, one is also not to extinguish a fire either (although a candle burning down on its own and going out is OK - and Sabbath candles are lit before the moment of sunset). Why? I dunno. It’s tradition! (cue fiddle music from nearby roof).

So you can’t start a fire, but if a fire is already burning you can’t put it out (with the exception that if the fire is life-threatening PLEASE put it out regardless of whether it’s the Sabbath or not). Electricity and electrically operated things are regarded, by a process of logic that may or may not make sense to gentiles, as a sort of “fire”. Thus, you can turn on an electric light (because that’s starting a “fire”) but neither can you turn one out (because that is putting one out). BUT - if you have your electric light on a timer to turn itself off, well, under (some peoples’) rules that’s OK because you are not acting on the Sabbath to “put out the fire”. And this is where we get Sabbath elevators - you can’t summon an elevator (because that’s “starting a fire”) but if the elevator is programmed to go floor-to-floor on it’s own, well, you’re just along for the ride.

Rinse and repeat for pretty much anything electrical. Or utilizing fire. I’ve been Sabbat Goy on occasion, usually turning a stove off when the Sabbath meal is done cooking. This actually requires both understanding of at least the basics of the rules on the part of the Goy, and trust on the part of the Jew, because (in the example of the food in the oven) the Jew can not directly say “turn off the stove” because that would be initiating a string of events affecting the kindling/extinguishing of the fire.

However, preserving and sustaining life takes precedence over the Sabbath work rules, so if you have someone in your household dependent on some sort of electrical equipment in order to live (a respirator, perhaps) then turning it on/off or whatever might need to be done would be OK.

(If I have erred in any of this I’m sure one of our more studied Jewish members will correct me.)

Essentially, you’re talking about a Sabbat Goy here - except a Jewish person is not to directly initiate such a thing. So… not allowed. If, however, a gentile just happens to always be in the elevator on the Sabbath and pushes the button for your floor without being asked that would be allowed. But you can not hire a gentile to just hang out in the elevator, because, again, that would mean a Jewish person is the initiating cause of “lighting a fire”.

Honestly, I’m not sure if that would be allowed or not. Good question, and I’m interested in the answer, too, so thank you for not asking that on Friday evening so we might get an answer before Saturday evening.

That sounds like a mechanical Shabbet Goy to me, which might be allowed. It might also be defined as a golem, an artificially created servant which has a long history in Judaism. Whether or not a golem is permitted to operate on the Sabbath is, apparently, questionable - there are versions of the tale of the Golem of Prague that has the creating rabbi deactivate the golem before sundown on Friday to preserve the Sabbath, for example. But it seems to me that a golem is pretty much NOT a Jewish person so … we’re back to Sabbath Goy. Or a Sabbath Elevator.

My guess is that at least some Jewish groups would be OK with this and some would be opposed, but heck, you can say that about a lot of stuff. That’s why there are so many different Jewish groups in the world today.

Keeping Sabbath and keeping kosher are, if you will, “sister obligations” - neither is a subset of the other, they are both part of keeping the halakhah, which can be translated as “Jewish law” or “how to behave yourself”.

There are 39 categories of activities prohibited on the Sabbath. I believe the prohibition against turning on a light or operating electrical devices such as elevators is based on the prohibition on lighting a fire, since an electrical spark is considered a form of fire.

There is the Kosher light switch.

Of course, maybe you can still use stuff if you are within a trick wire?

Personally, if I were Jewish I’d worry that God viewed these tricks the same way that the gods of Discworld view Pascal’s Wager.



OK, remember that these rules were initially laid down in the Bronze Age, literally before iron tools and weapons were a thing. This was all pretty straightforward back then but we live in a very, very, very different world.

Also, though the English word used is “work” that’s actually not a great translation - this link goes into more detail about Sabbath prohibitions. As noted, better translations would be “deliberate action” or “creative activity”. You can read your diary, but you can’t make a diary entry. You can eat food, but you can not harvest, or butcher, or cook food.

So… probably best to remind yourself frequently that the term “work” in this context is a translation from another language (and another time!) and not necessarily what we in the 21st century would normally call “work”.

ETA: and… ninja’d!

Keeping Kosher is different from the restriction against work on the Sabbath. The latter is part of what strictly Orthodox Jews conform to. That said, I can’t imagine someone who would conform to the working on the Sabbath restrictions and NOT also keep Kosher.

When I was in college, a friend who lived down the hall was an Orthodox Jew. Every Friday evening, he would stop at my dorm room (I don’t remember if he was allowed to knock on the door, or maybe he just yelled from outside). I would then accompany him down the hall, open his door for him and turn on the lights and close the door once he went inside. I presume he slept with the lights on.

I don’t know what would happen if he needed to go out of his room for any reason, such as going to the toilet, before the Sabbath was over.

I’m not sure what the exact rule is/was regarding toilet use and doors on the Sabbath, but when my dad was a wee lad growing up in an Orthodox household one of his Friday afternoon chores was to tear off lengths of toilet paper and put them in a handy pile before the Sabbath, as in his community (apparently) tearing off a bit of toilet paper with which to wipe one’s ass came under “creative act” or something.

But, definitely, YRMMV.

Back in the day (before my time) McGill had Saturday classes. To walk from the Jewish ghetto to McGill was something like 2 or 2.5 miles. Not impossible, but not pleasant in mid-winter. So some students would wait at a bus stop, but only if there were other people there so the bus wasn’t stopping just for him. The next problem was throwing a ticket into the fare box. This is an awful lot like using money but somehow they rationalized it. But the tickets were sold in strips and you had to tear them beforehand, for reasons alluded to by Broomstick.

Some orthodox have combination locks on their houses because carrying a key (or anything else, actually) is forbidden. Then there are the eruv wars in Brooklyn. An eruv is a kind of mythical enlargement of a house using wires to delineate an area that you can carry something in. There are groups in Brooklyn going round putting up the wires and other groups that take them down because they are an attempt to fool God. To an atheist Jew like me, this is all pretty risible.

You know, for a day of rest, keeping the Sabbath sure sounds like hard work.

I just want to say: the standards around here have really gone downhill. Apparently nobody cares to follow the rules anymore, specifically “Any and all questions regarding Jewish laws and customs must be posted five minutes after sundown on a Friday”.

There’s a group in West Rogers Park in Chicago (or there was, 25 or 30 years ago when I lived just east of there) that used an eruv on the Sabbath. Which was fine… until they tried to impose a no-auto restriction on the gentiles. Including Touhy Avenue which is a fairly major and pretty busy east-west street in the area. Which was the first most gentiles had ever heard of an eruv, and also at least one Schrodinger Jew’s introduction to the concept (me).

Very atypical, that sort of imposing a rule on the gentiles.

Anyhow - they were told they could keep their magic line and their customs, but could not impede traffic flow on any Chicago street.

Like I said, all of this got started in the Bronze Age. Stringing up lines for an eruv and/or sitting around arguing about the rules probably was a pretty easy day compared to herding sheep or goats or farming or, on the female side, endlessly grinding grain, prepping food, and otherwise keeping up a household.