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Biking on Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv

Judaism’s wheel has many spokes

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Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai Rides a Rental Bike(Tomer Applebaum (Haaretz))

With the High Holidays fast approaching, an interesting conundrum has emerged in the unrepentantly (or perhaps just largely) secular city of Tel Aviv. Like many cities, Tel Aviv has a bike rental program that allows would-be cyclists to rent and ride across town as they see fit. As in most places, it’s a quick, convenient, environmentally-conscious way to travel around a city. The best part of all–more bikes means less Israeli drivers, which anyone visitor to Israel can attest makes the world a safer place.

Enter the quandary of what to do on Yom Kippur in the Jewish State. According to reports, Israel Katz, the Israeli transportation minister, is threatening to pull the plug on funding for the rental program if Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai allows riders to use the service on Yom Kippur thereby “infringing on the holiest day for the Jews.”

The issue itself has seemingly resolved itself. There is a holiday plan in place where bikes will be rented before the holiday and can be returned without an extra fee. Also the funding for the program apparently comes from the municipality and not the transportation ministry.

But as a sometimes biker, I thought the greater question of biking on Yom Kippur was interesting one. Some angles (of many) for consideration: In a more secular city, is it offensive to allow city-sanctioned cycling on a holiday like Yom Kippur? Does the city owe access to its non-Jewish residents, visitors, or tourists? If biking around the city on Yom Kippur has become a ritual–which many say it has because of the lack of cars–is it worth denying those without bikes the means to rent a bike (regardless of whether it charges them or not)?

Commenters, as always, please educate me.

Tel Aviv bike program’s funding threatened over Yom Kippur rentals [JTA]
Minister threatens to cut funds from bicycle program if allowed to run on Yom Kippur [Haaretz]

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Paul Brandon says:

So it’s the renting (a business transaction) not the biking that’s in question.
Biking would not seem to be different from walking in Talmudic terms.

I read several years ago in one of the local Canadian Jewish newspapers the chief Rabbinical Council of Israel (or whatever the correct bureau is, sorry) had determined that one was not allowed to ride a bicycle to Shul on Shabbat but it was acceptable to rollerblade. The reasoning was that if you bicycled there was the possibility of it breaking down, therefore one would feel compelled to effect repairs; hence, work on Shabbat. Rollerblades, on the other hand, as determined by the Rabbis, don’t break down so the same expectation of possibly of having to repair a bicycle was not present when one rollerbladed. So, they were considered an acceptable mode of conveyance to Shul on Shabbat.
Obviously you’d have to own your own rollerblades in Tel Aviv.
But if it’s a matter of commerce on Shabbat, are all the coin operated snack and drink machines turned off during Shabbat?

Secular Tel-Aviv? You could say secular Israel. A state that was founded by Zionists to escape the anti-Jew (don’t ever say anti-Semitic) policies of Eastern Europe in the 1880′s disdained religion. They were Jews by heritiage and proud of their heirtage and the greatness of Judaism. Israelis, those who are not religious, hate the religious and say “Ani lo Yehudi. Ani Israeli”. which means “I’m not a Jew. I’m an Israeli”. And that’s is the saddest part but its because the religous party is so influential in the government they control marriage,death, religious education which pays for 600,000 Herudim to study. They don’t enter the army. They can’t fight to defend Israel. They have large families which perpetuate the situation and the Arabs love it. Being a strong, proud Jew is wonderful. Yom Kippur is the holiest day of our religion and it should be respected out of respect for almost 6,000 of a truly great religion and its heritage and contributions.
Most Israelis eat pork and when Passover comes the lines around Arab bakeries goes around the block several times so they can have their bread and not eat matzoh. Of course if they all converted there would be practically no one left in Israel. If the mayor of Tel-Aviv was to ride a bike on Yom Kippur than he is an idiot, secular or not. The best kept secret if the Arabs were smart they would make a real peace with Israel and wait about ten-twenty years and the country would disappear by itself.
Bill Levy zev57@aol.com

alexschindler says:

‘The reasoning was that if you bicycled there was the possibility of it breaking down, therefore one would feel compelled to effect repairs;’

we call that a gezera in Jewish jurisprudence. literally a ‘fence’ placed around a Tora law (in this case, the de’oraitha issur, Tora violation, of repairing on shabbath).

Funny story, though. You need a national beth din to make such gezeroth. As in a sanhedrin, not some Israeli-recognized bunch of rabbis, or local council. Groups without national (as in, the Jewish nation) legitimacy do not have the right to forbid what is permitted.

As it happens, bikes do not break down especially often, so in the event that you find 71 gamir and sabhir bekhol hattora khullah individuals to form a legitimate sanhedrin, I severely doubt they would ban bikes. A responsum on bicycles on shabbath can be found in Hakham Yoseph Hayyim’s book of responsa rabh pe`alim (some call him “Ben Ish Hai” for one of his works, I’d rather call him after this one), permitting them, though on a basis that appears to misunderstand the mechanics of a bicycle. There are simpler reasons why they are permitted, based on a mishna in the tractate shabbath:

י,ו המוציא אוכלים פחות מכשיעור בכלי–פטור אף על הכלי, שהכלי טפילה לו. את החי במיטה–פטור אף על המיטה, שהמיטה טפילה לו; את המת במיטה, חייב. וכן כזית מן המת, וכזית מן הנבילה, וכעדשה מן השרץ–חייבין; ורבי שמעון פוטר.

I’ll translate the relevant second half: (One who carries in/to the public domain) a living thing (say, a person) on a bed (or stretcher, etc), is not liable, *even for the bed*, *for the bed is peripheral to it/him* (the living being on it). (One who carries in/to the public domain) a corpse on the bed, is liable.

Now, it is important to be aware that in laws of shabbath, “not liable” means rabbinically forbidden– the same “gezera” notion I described above. In other words, prior to a decision by the rabbinic courts of Israel at least 18 centuries ago, and probably a bit more, it was permitted to carry a living person on a stretcher on shabbath. Why? Because the person can walk on their own, so your action wasn’t required to move them into the public domain — and biblical violations of shabbath must be required (for the same reason, if two people lift what one person could have lifted, they are not liable by Tora law — but it is forbidden rabbinically, much later in Jewish legislative history).

Now, the rabbis made a gezera, a fence around the tora prohibition of carrying, which forbade this case wherein you carry another living being on a bed– though the bed is still *peripheral and irrelevant* since the goal was to transport the individual, and the bed was merely the instrument. gezeroth are generally construed narrowly in halakha; that which is outside the scope of one remains permitted. So, we have a new invention, the bicycle. It is a means of transportation, like a bed. Your goal is not to transport a bike, but to transport yourself *via* the bike, like a mobile bed. we already know thus from the mishna that the bike itself can be transported. Now the question is, does the rabbinic gezera on carrying another individual on such a tool also apply to carrying *yourself?*

Those of us who would answer “surely not,” recognize that biking is permitted on shabbath, regardless of whether one’s city claims to have an “`erubh,” that is, a (generally legally fictive) conflation of private domains to prevent anyone from being in a semi-public domain.

alexschindler says:

Why not? There are many issues to consider before that summary conclusion.

For example, a bike can take me quite a distance relatively quickly — up to and exceeding a distance that ti’s forbidden to travel on shabbath (and thus yom kippur). A bike may include a basket or water bottle holder with which one might be carrying things, which is not permitted in the public domain. the bike itself is a thing, and it requires some analysis to establish that I can ride it without it being a violation of the same carrying prohibition. A bike may come with a horn of some sort, which would not be allowed on shabbath or yom kippur.

If one knows the law, I think riding a bike on shabbath and YK is perfectly fine. But there’s certainly more to go awry than when walking. For example, you can’t get off and walk the bike– that would be carrying it in the public domain (as opposed to it being the instrument of your *own* movement).

alexschindler says:

as for your last question, I think that is precisely the question to ask. Let’s say it’s the city’s business whether or not we are able to make business transactions on Jewish holidays.

So, do they turn off any vending machine in a publicly funded institution? Why do I feel like the answer is no? Those bikes are no different. Why not let people decide for themselves whether to keep halakha, while putting out a notice, perhaps, as to how best to do so?

alexschindler says:

as for your last question, I think that is precisely the question to ask. Let’s say it’s the city’s business whether or not we are able to make business transactions on Jewish holidays.

So, do they turn off any vending machine in a publicly funded institution? Why do I feel like the answer is no? Those bikes are no different. Why not let people decide for themselves whether to keep halakha, while putting out a notice, perhaps, as to how best to do so?

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Biking on Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv

Judaism’s wheel has many spokes

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