The Use of Elevators on Shabbat - Part II
by Rabbi Chaim Jachter
Last article we surveyed the Halachic debate surrounding the use of elevators on Shabbat. We discussed Rav Levi Yitzchak Halperin's breakthrough position that one may ride an ascending elevator but may not ride a descending elevator on Shabbat. In the coming weeks we will focus on five core areas of dispute between Rav Halperin and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. Rav Shlomo Zalman challenges Rav Halperin's approach and suggests that it may be permitted to ride on a descending elevator. His opinion is recorded and discussed at length in Shmirat Shabbat Kehilchata (23:49 especially note 140 - the longest footnote in the entire work). We will cite a few of the proofs alluded to by the advocates of both sides of the issue to give the reader a richer appreciation of these interesting debates.
Dispute 1 - Performing a Melacha that Would Have Occurred Even Absent His Action
Rav Shlomo Zalman suggests that: "Since the passengers did not cause any change in the pace of the elevator, either faster or slower, for even without the passengers everything would have occurred exactly the same, it is considered that the passengers actions are irrelevant and Halachically insignificant."
Rav Halperin, in chapter nine of Ma'aliot Bishabbat, vigorously disputes Rav Shlomo Zalman's proofs and cites proofs to prove the contrary. One example is what the Gemara (Kritut 20a) which teaches (see Rashi and Rabbeinu Gershom) that one who had two candles before him, one which was lit and one which was not lit, and simultaneously extinguished one candle and lit the other, has violated Shabbat. We see from here that even though by his actions he has not accomplished anything new he is considered to have performed Melacha on Shabbat. Moreover, Rav Halperin points out that additional passengers' weight slightly increases the velocity of the elevator.
Dispute 2 - Is a Person Responsible for the Actions of His Weight?
Rav Levi Yitzchak Halperin in chapter seven of Ma'aliot Bishabbat seeks to demonstrate that one is Halachically responsible for the effects of his weight, even if he is standing still. One of Rav Halperin's proofs is a Mishnah (Kilayim 8:3) which states the following: "One who drives a team of Kilayim (mixed animals) is punished with Malkot (forty lashes) and he who rides in the wagon [which causes the mixed animals to plow] is also punished with Malkot. Rav Meir excuses the person who sat in the wagon, from Malkot."