Yeshiva World News is reporting that several rabbanim in Israel (including Rav Wosner, Rav Eliyashiv and others) have ruled that one is not permitted to use Shabbos elevators. In their statement, they state that using such elevators on Shabbos violates an issur d'orissa (a Torah prohibition -- as opposed to a "mere" rabbinic prohibition).
The decree states that the ruling was reached after consulting with technicians and engineers that work on such systems. Personally, that's fine... I'm glad to see that the rabbonim are doing due diligience to ascertain the halacha (although please see the comment by Rav Rosen of the Zomet Institute in the original article). However, I was disappointed to see that there was no actual explaination given for the decree.
I know that there are some of you who will scream and yell "Rav Wosner doesn't owe you an explaination! He knows more Torah in his pinky than you'll know in your lifetime..." On the surface, I suppose that's true. Rav Wosner et al don't owe me an explanation. They don't *have* to tell me how they arrived at their conclusion that Shabbos elevators are forbidden.
Nonetheless, I think that an explaination of how the ruling was arrived at would be highly beneficial for several reasons:
1. It will increase compliance. Let's face it, today we're living in a world where you can freely choose to listen to the gedolim or ignore them. There will be those who will blindly listen to Rav Wosner and those who will choose to ignore him and continue using the elevators. But there's also a group in the middle - a group that won't blindly listen to the gedolim because of past (real or imagined) instences of "chumra abuse," but will listen to them where there are sound halachic reasons to do so. They may look at this latest decree as merely another chumra (despite the fact that the decree says it's an issur d'orissa) and choose to ignore it -- but when presented with solid halachic and technical grounds for observing it, they will do so. This will especially be the case where observing the ban will cause a great hardship -- infirm people who will, effectively, become prisioners in their homes for Shabbos or visitors to hospitals and other such institutions.
2. It will encourage Torah learning. When people see a decree like this, it's basically a "black box" type of decree -- you know that technical and halachic details went into the box, but you have no idea how the output (the ruling) was generated. As such, as a tool for Torah learning, it is very poor.* It could be made a much greater tool for Torah learning if the inner workings of the box were exposed and people could see how the ruling was arrived at.
3. It could result in a reversal. I know I'm going to tread on what some would consider to be hallowed ground here but, let's face it -- for all their learning (which is, by any measure, extremely great), there is the possibility that Rav Wosner et al made an error. By allowing for others to see how the ruling was arrived at, it's possible that someone could spot something or think of a possibility that Rav Wosner et al missed. I would think that especially in a case like this, where the ruling is going to cause significant hardships for some, that would want to possibly find ways to permit the use of these elevators if at all possible. By allowing more people to see the ruling, you allow a greater chance of finding just such a hetter that Rav Wosner can then consider.
There are those who will argue that it's demeaning to the gedolim to demand that they explain their rulings. There are those who will say that to do so is to possibly lead to a denigration of the gedolim by those who don't agree with their position.
To them I simply say to open up a copy of the Igros Moshe to almost page. Therein, one will find how R. Moshe Feinstein took pains to not only provide rulings on questions, but to explain those rulings, sometimes in painful detail. It was not beneath R. Moshe to do so... and even when people disagree with his rulings, it's done with respect. I don't see any reason why today's gedolim should be any different. For the reasons I listed above, I believe a reason should be given as to why shabbos elevators are forbidden. It doesn't have to be highly technical or highly detailed, but it should be enough that a person with a decent yeshiva background should be able to understand the ruling and "replicate" the results themselves.
* Yes, I know the ruling wasn't designed to be a Torah-teaching tool. But is there any real reason why it shouldn't be?