Tuesday, September 29, 2009

OK, But Why Is It Forbidden?

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.

The Wolf

* 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?


Mike S. said...

Matzav.com has a post claiming that at least Rav Elyashiv, slit"a said no such thing.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

I disagree with your basic premise.

Any posek who makes a wide ranging ruling and expects the entire Torah observant community to follow it doese owe us an explanation and a detailed teshuvah. I may not be qualified to argue with the teshuvah but halacha is not a banana republic ruled by diktat. If you look at all the universally followed poskim like, in your post you mentioned exactly this, the Igros Moshe or the Tzitz Eliezer, they didn't simply say "Do this!" or "Don't do that 'cause I says so!" but went through and explained why they reached their conclusion.
I wonder if this is another cause of stolen signature stamps.

Woodrow/Conservadox said...

Even if Rav X takes this position, how do you know this is the majority and/or dominant rule?

OTD said...

Religion is not democracy.

Mike S. said...

Religion may not be democracy, but people have to determine with whom to consult on halachic matters, which is done in part on the basis of published reasoning. But more than that, the decree fails because one doesn't really know what to do here. Is there really any new information provided by the engineers? Or are these rabbis merely disagreeing with the psakim of R. Shlomo Zalman Aurbach that is relied on by the institutes that certify the elevators? And if the latter, what other appliances are built relying on similar rulings? And is it all designs of elevators, or some specific ones? And if the institutes want to design an elevator acceptable to these rabbis, what are they supposed to do? And anyway, how could the rabbis issue such a ruling without talking to the institutes or to the engineers who designed the elevators? How did whatever engineers they consulted get their design data? And how is the rabbi supervising some hotel supposed to know whether to follow these rabbis or Rav Shlomo Zalman if they published no reasoning?

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

all halakhic rulings are meant to be Torah-teaching — that's why we call the process of psaḳ "hora’a".

OTD said...

MikeS: You're full of bull.

BrooklynWolf said...


That's not a very helpful rebuttal. Can you articulate *why* you disagree with Mike?

The Wolf

OTD said...

Mostly because he's not a real person.

Other reasons too.

BrooklynWolf said...

IOW, you're simply going to go ad hominem rather than address his points (the validity of which stand or fall on their merits, regardless of whoever is behind the keyboard).

The Wolf

OTD said...


I'm going to claim Garnel uses many names to hide. One of them is MikeS.

BrooklynWolf said...


That's the *very definition* of an ad hominem attack. You're attacking him because you believe he's Garnel. You're not addressing the points he's made which, frankly, don't matter whether he's Garnel or anyone else.

Please respond to the points he's made... not the identity you accuse him of having (whether it's true or not).

The Wolf

OTD said...

If you're fine with sockpuppetry, I'm fine with ad hominem attacks.

OTD said...


There's no such thing as "published reasoning" in the frum world. Or frum "engineers." There is no "design data" to speak of. Some rabbi with an elementary understanding of electricity sticks a switch in one of the controls, and thus "kashers" the elevator. Then he charges good money for this system, and if he's lucky enough to be good friends with a famous rabbi, has the famous rabbi endorse it, he patents it, and then makes good money off it.

Garnel likes to confuse rabbis with scientists. Not recommended. Just because he's the only frum person with a medical degree, does NOT mean the frum world is just bursting at the seams with ***holes like himself.

G*3 said...

OTD, don't be ridiculous. There are plenty of frum professionals, including engineers. My brother-in-law is a frum engineer. He builds robots for NASA. I’ve met chassidishe elevator technicians. And even if you’re premise was true, what (in theory) prevents the rabbonim from consulting non-Jewish engineers?

Wolf, this seems to be in line with the idea that the masses are idiots who wouldn’t understand the explanation anyway, so why bother. Or it could relate to your third point. These days, for someone to question daas torah is considered heresy in the frummier circles.

OTD said...

Okaaay. There are a few frum professionals. But most of them have better things to do than make kosher elevators.

And Garnel should stop pretending rabbis are Halacha professionals. They're not scientists, for Ch**st's sake. Halacha is not science. Halacha was invented a few thousand years ago, science only really started a few hundred years ago. If Halacha had its way, we would have no science. Religion gets more obsolete by the day, and Garnel can stop driving me crazy. Thank you.

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

As relating to the post: I'm sure Rav Wosner's reasoning will find a prominent place in the coming edition of "shu"t shevet halevi" (I don't think Rav Elyashiv writes shu"t, ..correct me if I'm wrong).

Anonymous said...

joel rich

Mike S. said...

1) I am a frum physicist/engineer who has nothing to do with the building or certification of any type of shabbos appliance.

2) I am not Garnel Ironheart, nor do I know him. Nor is he, whoever he is, the only frum medical doctor around. I know many. If the two of you are having some sort of flame war, please leave me out. I am not interested.

3) My concern here is as a practicing Jew and a student of Jewish Law; it does not have to do with engineering or science. I have the same problem with R. Elyashiv's alleged p'sak regarding Croc's on Yom Kippur because they are "too comfortable." Whithout any explanation of what the criterion means, what about any other brand of footware? What about Croc's that are slightly damaged and less comfortable than new ones? If I go ask my Rabbi what this p'sak means for my brand x footware, how is he supposed to answer me?

4) As for there being "no such thing as 'published reasoning' in the frum world" I have a couple dozen volumes of just such published reasoning in the form of Shaila V'tshuva and pamphlet literature addressing everything from liability for shipping delays when the ice on a river melts at an unseasonable time to how to vocalize "Geshem/Gashem" in "mashiv ha ruach", and my local seforim dealer has hundreds if not thousands of such volumes.

OTD said...

Yeah right, MikeS. I know Garnel when I see his comments.

Garnel Ironheart said...

I'm not MikeS but he sounds like a nice guy.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Also, Rav Eliashiv does print sifrei shu"t - they are called Kovetz Teshuvot and at last count I believe there were 3 volumes.

With all the crap going on, I usually recommend that people go with what's printed, not with what they've heard.

But more than that, let's say the latest Shevet HaLevi contains a responsa banning Shabbos elevators. So what?

Part of the process of paskening is responding to questions and when I ask a question, it's for me, not klal Yisrael. If Rav Wosner was my rav and I asked him "Hey, can I use a Shabbos elevator" I would have to abide by his decision. But he's not my Rav and I never asked him any questions. This concept of a "gadol" sitting somewhere in Israel and paskening unasked questions for all of the Torah community is an innovation. Until recently people followed psaks because they followed the Rav in particular, not because he announced something by diktat.

ProfK said...

Hate to break up the vitriol that is spewing forth above but there is a question that needs to be asked here. It would be logical to assume that something new in elevators has brought forth this psak, otherwise these rabbanim would have banned the elevators long ago, despite there being comments that they have "always been problematic." It doesn't take 20 years to come to a change in psak about something this major.

So, where does that leave buildings with elevators that don't have that particular type of technology? There are thousands of buildings with elevators that are easily a few dozen years old. And a good reason for why the reasoning behind the psak should have been made public. Is it all elevators, regardless of age, or is it only those with the technology the rabbanim see as problematic?

OTD said...

Rabbis are all corrupt. Just take a look at Garnel.

Wake up and smell the coffee.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Prof K, that's what makes this psak so disturbing.

In addition, the Rav who first created the current form of Shabbos elevator at the Institute of Halacha and Technology is standing by his position that they're permissible. If he knew Ravs Eliashiv and Wosner really banned them, he wouldn't.

Michael Lipkin said...

Unless you are a member of the litvish Yeshiva world you are under no obligation to accept this psak.

If there is a compelling reason for a change in a status quo that has existed for at least 40 years and probably much longer, then that information will make it's way to your LOR and he can decide according to his Mesora. To that end, we can't demand, but we certainly can expect a detailed Teshuva explaining the reason for this sudden change.

To be fair. My shul back in the old country (NJ) had a shabbos elevator that was certified by the Institute of Science and Halacha. Even so, it was made clear to us that use of this elevator was not L'chatchila and it was only meant to be used by those who had difficulty negotiating the stairs. And, naturally, non-certified elevators are even more B'dieved. I find it nearly impossible to believe that these Rabbis intend for a wheel-chair bound person to suddenly become a Shabbos prisoner in his high-rise.

Further, we've unfortunately arrived at a state where we no longer trust (and rightfully so) that these edicts are being faithfully transmitted from those who allegedly signed them. Yet another reason to stick with your LOR's opinion.

Anonymous said...

The psak re elevators was printed on the front page of the Yated Neeman. Hopefully that testifies to its validity. I think the crocs issue was published in Ynet. lemaaseh it's an old issue. The problem is that it takes one person who wants to ask a gadol a shaila so he can boast that so-and-so told me "fill-in-the-blank." Re Rav Wosner he has 10 [I heard an 11th was printed] volumes entitled Shu"t Shevet HaLevi. It's the real thing. He doesn't need to write the reasoning of the psak in a newspaper announcement. That's for the sefer. Rav Elyashiv has some sort of dumbwaiter system to get up to his floor. Does anyone know if he uses it on shabbos? Maybe he davens at home.