Move to outlaw Shabbat 'lifts'

By Anshel Pfeffer and Simon Rocker, October 1, 2009

A new edict by senior Charedi rabbis forbidding the use of “shabbat lifts” is causing an uproar in the Orthodox world.

For decades, the great majority of rabbis have approved the use of lifts that operate automatically, stopping for a few seconds on every floor, on Shabbat.

But on Tuesday, the Charedi daily Yated Ne’eman published a new ruling signed by some of the leading halachic decision-makers in Israel, including Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Rabbi Shmuel Halevy Wosner.

After receiving technical information on changes in the way lifts operate, they concluded that using these lifts on Shabbat constituted a direct desecration of the Torah’s prohibitions.

The ruling is already causing consternation among many thousands of religious Jews around the world living in high-rise apartment buildings and nursing homes, who rely on Shabbat lifts to leave their homes.

The ruling will affect religious Jews living in high-rise apartment buildings and nursing homes

The rabbis leading the two main institutes in Israel researching questions of halachah and technology have both said since that they are not aware of any changes in lift mechanisms that should lead to a change in the existing rabbinical rulings permitting their use on Shabbat.

One of them, Rabbi Yisrael Rosen of Zomet Institute, surmised that the rabbis had been misled.

Sources close to Rabbi Elyashiv are now maintaining that he did not personally sign the ruling.

A London Beth Din spokesman said: “The adaptation of lifts for use on Shabbat is a complex halachic issue. Any lift adapted under our guidance may continue to be used.”

A source for the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations said that it currently allowed Shabbat lifts only for invalids and the very elderly, but “not the general public”.

Last updated: 4:18pm, October 1 2009