A shabbos experience, in ten parts

Contents

1. Park Plaza
2. Shemirath Shabbath 23:53
3. Shemirath Shabbath footnote 146
4. Gemara Sanhedrin 77B
5. Gemara Shabbos 99B
6. Mishna Berura 358:1
7. Orchos shabbos volume 3, chapter 26, paragraph 25
8. Gemara Baba Kama 60A
9. Mishna Berura 316:2
10. Following someone through a gate

1. Park Plaza

This past august, I stayed at the Park Plaza retirement center, a old age home/hotel in a Chicago suburb (See http://www.parkplazaretirement.com/). I had an interesting experience on shabbos (28 aug ’10, parashas ki savo). The front gate (a sliding door) of the hotel is opened by means of an electronic mechanism (It is unknown to me whether the system operates by means of an electronic eye, or by means of a photo-electric cell, see Section 10). In addition, there is a sensor under your feet when you get very close to the door. It also opens the door for you. When I arrived to the hotel on sunday, the desk clerk informed me that they open the gate and turn off the electronic mechanism before shabbos. This turned out to be true, but what they failed to tell us is that the night guard arrives at midnight and turns it back on.

As the guard explained to me shabbos morning at 5:15, you can’t let everyone wander in and out of the establishment as they please. I came down to the lobby on my way to the netz minyan with my tallis on only to the front gate/door closed and the electronic mechanism on. I proceeded to point out to the guard that I was promised before shabbos that the electronic mechanism will be turned off. He then pressed a button near his seat at the desk, which caused the gate (sliding door) to open. However, I was unwilling to go through because the electronic system was still on.

The guard was annoyed. He attempted to persuade my to make my exit, by announcing that he will be shortly going on rounds. He said I should use my chance to leave the hotel while he is still sitting at the front desk. He then proceeded to go on the said rounds, and in fact absented himself for 5 or 10 minutes. During this time, any arriving visitor would have had to press a button located on the wall outside the hotel, so as to get inside. Such a situation creates the possibility of transgressing the prohibition of lifnei ‘iver on the part of the hotel management, if the visitor happens to be Jewish. There is only one guard at the door at least until 7am. The guard must necessarily absent himself for his occassional needs. A situation where a Jewish visitor may transgress shabbos by pressing a button that controls the gate necessarily arises whether or not the guard goes on such “rounds”.

Upon his return from doing his rounds, the guard told me that I am going to have to make compromises. I again said that I was promised beforehand that the electric mechanism will be turned ofi before shabbos. He said he can open the gate for me, but then it goes back to the usual setting until 7 am. He said he makes shabbos at 7 am. He explained that the making of shabbos involves two actions: turning on the shabbos elevator, and activating a switch located on the lintel of the gate that keeps the gate permanently open. Shabbos starts at 7 am, he said.

I was still hoping to make it to the netz minyan where I was supposed to get an alyah. My mother’s yartzeit was the following week, and there is a custom to get an alyah the preceding shabbos. I therefore again pointed out to the guard that I was promised that the mechanism will be turned ofi before shabbos. He said people of all sorts of religions go through his gate. We kept it up this way, I making my remark every 15 minutes or so, still hoping against hope to get to my minyan late and catch the alyah, and he responding with all sorts of interesting comments. I got to find out his theory of both the JFK assassination, and the MLK assassination.

At 6:30 am, a fellow arrives to visit his elderly parents who are residents in the old age home. The guard presses the button, and the fellow (without a kipa) marched in. The guard turns to me and says triumphantly: “See? Jews also go through my door.”

At 7 am, the guard finally pushes the switch on the lintel that opens the gate permanently. I still have my tallis on. On closer inspection, it turns out that the electronic mechanism is still on! There is a separate switch on the lintel that turns ofi the power. This he would not do. At this point I am getting rather panicky. If I have to stay all of shabbos trapped inside the hotel, how will I say kedushah rabba? Can I rely on the hotel’s hechsher? Can one rely on the hechsher of a hotel that’s apparently mechallel shabbos?

We kept this up until about 7:30 when his superior arrived and ordered him to turn ofi the power switch. I made it to the 8am minyan at the collel, but did not get an alyah. Motzae shabbos I spoke to the mashgiach of the hotel and complained about the electric gate. He said, we never had a problem in the past. He personally never goes in there on shabbos. I told him my opinion that a hotel that’s mechallel shabbos cannot be a kosher hotel. He got very upset, and announced that I don’t know anything about kashrus, and he had been doing it for 30 years. I was informed later by the rabbi responsible for the hotel that they have a difierent mashgiach on shabbos.

The response from the Park Plaza retirement hotel management has been disappointing. My repeated queries elicited merely a cursory statement to the effect that it is the hotel policy that “the normal daytime setting for the door on Shabbat is that the sensor is turned completely off while the door is open.” Here “daytime” means 7 am. That’s when shabbos starts at Park Plaza retirement, shabbos elevator and all.

2. Shemirath Shabbath 23:53

Rav Neuwirth (Shemirath Shabbath) writes in paragraph 23:53 that

53. a. It is prohibited, both on shabbath and yom tov, to pass through an electrically operated automatic door which is opened

(1) by means of a photo-electric cell or

(2) a when one treads on the oor in front of it.

The hotel apparently has both systems in place. As I recall, one yom chol I approached the front gate at a time when a desk clerk was absent for some reason (and hence could not open the door by pushing the button near the desk), and was surprised to see that the gate opened by itself apparently as a result of my approach. The shemirath shabbath adds in item 53 b:

53. b.: In both of these cases, by approaching the door, one would be activating an electrical current.

Actually the division of paragraph 23:53 into parts (a) and (b) is an innovation of the translator. This innovation somewhat obscures the logical connection between the two. The original Hebrew (page 406 of the two-volume edition) writes keivan sheh, meaning “because one would be activating”.

3. Shemirath Shabbath footnote 146

I looked into Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah further. He has a footnote 146 on page 406 (of the 2-volume Hebrew edition), where he introduces an interesting distinction between the two cases mentioned in 23:53. The cases are (1) passing through a door operated by a photoelectric cell, “sensor” for short; and (2) treading on a “plata” which triggers the opening of the door (as I recall, Park Plaza has both). In the footnote, he notes that treading on the “plata” is “vadai asur”. Then he goes on to relativize the prohibition in the case of the sensor. He cites a number of sources apparently hinting at a possible leniency, based on the rules of koach sheni and related laws of gramah.

4. Gemara Sanhedrin 77B

Thus, he cites (footnote 146) what seems to be the main source for the matter of koach sheni, which is the gemara in Sanhedrin 77B (bottom of the amud), where Rav Papa reports an interesting case of bidka demaya. Here a fellow tied his friend down near a body of water, and then removed the barrier holding the water back, causing the water to gush over his friend and drown him. The ruling is that the fellow is chayav, but only in the case of koach rishon of the water, whereas for koach sheni he would be patur. Rashi explains that we are dealing with a case where the water was some distance away from the victim, and did not ush over him immediately; that would be the case of koach sheni, when the transgressor is patur. At any rate, that’s the source of a possible p’tur based on dinei gramah, for our photo-electric cell (but not for treading on the plata).

5. Gemara Shabbos 99B

How does this connect with laws of shabbos? Rav Neuwirth mentions the tosafos in Shabbos 99B, dibur hamas’chil “oh”, that discusses a similar distinction between koach rishon and koach kocho. This is in the context of throwing an object from the reshus harabim to a reshus hayachid, but where the object passes via a reshus haptur on the way there, which would be a possible source for being lenient and release the thrower from a chiyuv.

6. Mishna Berura 358:1

Shemirath Shabbath (footnote 146) further cites a mishna berura on 358:1 (mishna berura “ches”). Here one is dealing with a courtyard that’s too small to spill the typical amount of refuse water people customarily spilled. Chazal allowed him to dig a pit that’s big enough to contain the requisite amount of liquid. Then, even if the pit is already full, he can keep spilling, even though the water will necessarily ow out into the reshus harabim. We see there is no prohibition of hotzaa here. This also seems to be a leniency based on koach kocho.

7. Orchos shabbos volume 3, chapter 26, paragraph 25

The sefer Orchos Shabbos presents a much more detailed discussion of systems activated by means of an electronic eye. The sefer is widely accepted as authoritative halacha. The relevant discussion is in volume 3, chapter 26, starting with paragraph 25. They rule that activating such a system is equivalent to action by means of “one’s bare hands” and is not in the category of gramah.

8. Gemara Baba Kama 60A

The reasoning is explained in Orchos Shabbos, 26:25, footnote 36 based on gemara baba kama 60A. Here one who performs winnowing on shabbos with the help of the wind is declared chayav, even though the wind is doing all the work of separating the grain from the chafi. The reason mentioned in the gemara is that Torah prohibited m’leches machsheves. The combination of his action and the wind’s action is equivalent to his doing it by “his bare hands” since this is the usual way of performing such a melacha. The same reasoning, rules Orchos Shabbos, applies in the case of activating a system by means of an electronic eye. Even though at the level of the technical operation of such a system, its activation can be thought of as indirect (gramah), as far as hilchos shabbos are concerned, such an action is equivalent to action by means of “one’s bare hands”. This discussion in Orchos Shabbos appears to be in part a response to what Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah seems to imply in footnote 146, where he appears to be seeking a basis for a din gramah, even though in the main text at 23:53 he rules that it is forbidden to pass via such a gate on shabbos.

9. Mishna Berura 316:2

Orchos shabbos also mentions the ruling in mishna berura on 316:2, at the end of se’if katan “yud”. Here the mishna berura rules that someone who goes hunting with his dog, even though it is the dog that catches the deer, the hunter is chayav if he participated in any way in the hunt, even so much as standing beside the deer so as to scare it. This also indicates that in hilchos shabbos, indirect action is considered as if he did it by his “bare hands”, if the action is the way the melacha is typically performed, which is certainly the case for passing via a door opened by an electronic eye.

10. Following someone through a gate

Orchos Shabbos goes on to discuss a heter in the case of following another person through a gate operated by an electronic eye. If the person is a Yisroel mumar, the matter is a machlokes poskim. An unqualified heter applies in the case of following a gentile (26:26, item [beis]). Orchos Shabbos discusses a potential problem of delaying the closing of the gate, when passing through it by following the gentile. Orchos Shabbos mentions two reasons for allowing such a delay in footnote 39:

(1) the person is not interested in the door either closing or staying open once he has passed through, and therefore his action is not in the category of m’leches shabbos at all;

(2) since it is not his intention that the door should stay open, the action is in the category of gramah of a permissible kind loh nichah lei behai gramah d’sgirat hadelet.

Also in footnote 39, orchos shabbos introduces a distinction between

(*) a photoelectric cell that is activated when a person passing through blocks the beam of light, thereby breaking an electrical circuit;

(**) electronic eye, where the assumption is apparently that no electric circuit is either broken or formed.

In the case of an electronic eye, the two reasons (1) and (2) above apply. However, in the case of a photoelectric cell, orchos shabbos points out that the second reason (gramah) does not apply, as such an action is considered as maase beyadayim. This is similar to removing the barrier holding back a body of water by means of koach rishon, see discussion of gemara sanhedrin in Section 4. Note that shemiras shabbos kehilchasa brings the case of bidka demaya as a source of a possible leniency, based on interpreting the passage through a door operated by a photo-electric cell as a case of koach sheni. Meanwhile, orchos shabbos brings it as a source of a stringency as a case of koach rishon. Still, in a case of tsorech gadol, orchos shabbos allows one to pass through such a gate after it has been opened by a gentile, based on reason (1).

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