In the labyrinthine realm of halacha, Jewish religious law, a new question has arisen: is trudging up and down 17 flights of stairs farther from the definition of “work” prohibited on the Sabbath than entering and exiting an elevator that moves automatically up and down floors?

According to the Jerusalem Post, a “Shabbat elevator”—which is just a regular lift, set to stop automatically on each floor, or sometimes alternating floors, so that religious Jews can navigate tall buildings on their day of rest, “does not merely stop at designated floors automatically; its operating system is adjusted so that the weight of the passengers does not influence the amount of electricity the elevator uses.” But a new statement (debatably) signed by authorities including Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, “considered the most important living halachic authority in Ashkenazi haredi circles,” declares that using such an elevator “causes the activation of mechanisms that result in transgressions prohibited by the Torah.” This hair-splitting dilemma has made waves in Israel’s religious community—particularly in one home for the elderly where residents rely on elevators to get to synagogue—but one hotel proprietress has a level-headed response: “The thing is that there are so many streams in Judaism. Some follow everything Rav Elyashiv says, and they will take the stairs, and others don’t, and will continue to use the elevator.”

Leading Rabbis Issue Halachic Ruling Against Shabbat Elevators [JPost]
Elevator Or The Stairs? In Israel, Rabbis Weigh In [NPR]
Ultra-Orthodox Balk at New Rabbinical Ban on Sabbath Elevators [Haaretz]