A Question of Jewish Law

October 14, 2010

Cycling on Shabbat (I)

Filed under: Shabbat — chaimweiner @ 5:18 pm

Question: Is riding a bicycle permitted on Shabbat?

Answer: It is obvious that there is nothing wrong with the act of cycling itself, which involves moving legs up and down on pedals, in a manner that is not unlike walking. However, cycling as an activity touches on several areas of the Laws of Shabbat and I will address each one separately. The first question is whether riding a bicycle is an ‘appropriate’ Shabbat activity in principle.

The Talmud [Beitza 25b] quotes a Braita which states: A blind man may not go out with his staff, nor a shepherd with his wallet, neither may a man or a woman go out in a chair. Rashi explains that these activities were forbidden because they are ‘weekday activities’ – Uvdin D’Hol. Any activity which belongs to the everyday work week, and not necessary or special for Shabbat, is proscribed under this regulation. As a form of transport, cycling may be prohibited under the category of Uvdin d’Hol.

The subsequent discussion in the Talmud concentrates on the Chair – which was a Roman sedan chair carried by two or more people – an early form of transport. The Talmud states that although going out in a Chair is usually considered Uvdin d’Hol – if one needs to go out for the benefit of the public, it is permitted. Based on this, the Shulchan Aruch rules: [OH 522:2] One may not go out in a chair on Yom Tov, man or woman, but if needed by the community it is permitted.

Examples of public benefit would include a Rabbi going to give a sermon, going to shul to read Torah, to make up the minyan or even just attending shul. The Talmud takes a lenient view and even one who rides in the chair to avoid walking on a crowded street or because he wishes to arrive relaxed is permitted. Thus Uvdin d’Hol does not apply where there is a public need.

Both Maimonides [MT Yom Tov 5:3] and Karo [ibid] include this ruling in the laws of Yom Tov, but not under the laws of Shabbat. They obviously think that although one may go out with a chair on Yom Tov, on Shabbat it is forbidden. This is because carrying is forbidden on Shabbat – so the chair could not be carried outside of an Eruv in any case.

To summarise, according to all commentators it is permitted to carry the chair on Yom Tov whenever there is public need. On Shabbat, most commentators agree that it is permitted to carry it inside the Eruv. Interestingly, the Tur does include this rule under the laws of Shabbat. He obviously felt that it is permitted to carry the chair on Shabbat, possibly even outside of an Eruv!

Back to the bicycle. Following this discussion in the Talmud, and strictly from the point of view of Udvin d’Hol, it is permitted to cycle on Shabbat inside an Eruv. However, once we go outside of the Eruv we encounter the prohibition of carrying on Shabbat.

But is cycling a form of carrying? And why does the Tur think one is allowed to carry the chair outside of the Eruv? To answer these questions we need to take a closer look at the laws of carrying on Shabbat. This is a subject I will deal with in part two of this response.

Based on R. Chaim of Baghdad, Rav Pa’alim, Part 1, OH 25.

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  1. Dear colleague and friend Chaim

    Thank you and yeshar kohakha for this very interesting enquiry. I would like to draw your attention to a very external old source dealing with that topic and to the mishna.

    In John (John 5.8). Jesus told the invalid to pick up his mat (stretcher). Verse 9 suggests that the invalid it taking the stretcher to lean on for support. He is explicitly taken to task for this: “The Jews said to him who was cured, it is Shabbat, it is not lawful to carry your stretcher! “(Jn 5:10).

    According to Talmudic law, it may be forbidden to carry something on Shabbat, either because it is considered muktze (set aside as dedicated for secular work, and therefore excluded from use on the sabbath) or because it will be transported outside an approved enclosure. According to the Talmud, in the first case the transgression is only rabbinical and in the second it is a Torah prohibition. Nevertheless, even in this second case, since the person has a real need to lean on a support (kiss-ve samokhot, corresponding to the “stretcher”) to move in the public domain, the transport of the object is allowed (cf. Mishna, Shabbat 6:8). It seems that the situation presented here is either an extreme case or is suspect. The more the lame recovers his autonomy, the less it is permitted to carry his stretcher.

    Rivon Krygier

    Comment by Rivon Krygier — October 17, 2010 @ 10:10 am | Reply

  2. […] are several other issues that should be taken into consideration. First, as we saw in my article on Cycling on Shabbat, there is a general prohibition of engaging in ‘Weekday activities’ on Shabbat, known as Uvdin […]

    Pingback by Public Transport on Shabbat « A Question of Jewish Law — March 1, 2011 @ 10:26 pm | Reply

  3. I am sorry; but it appears this is a completely outdated law. Is it more work to walk than to ride? It completely takes the entire meaning of Shabbat out of context. There should not be any prohibition if I want to ride a bike to the synagogue. It is the crazy list of rules that makes people think it is impossible to follow shabbat. I mean people could feel guilty for not following Shabbat when they would actually be following the laws. It should be a suggestion rather than a law. The law preventing people from riding a bike confuses those trying to follow the law. BIG MISTAKE!

    Comment by Bill Danielson — October 26, 2020 @ 2:11 am | Reply

    • Thank you for taking the time to engage.
      I think that you have missed the point. The idea of Shabbat isn’t to refrain from ‘hard work’. It is about refraining from ‘creative work- Melacha. It was always more work to walk than to ride on a horse or a donkey. But, when we stop doing ‘creative work’ and enter the Shabbat mode, we leave space in our lives for the social and the spiritual – which is what the Shabbat focus should be about.
      Whether this should include bicycles or not is open to debate – and that is what this post is about.

      Comment by chaimweiner — October 28, 2020 @ 9:00 am | Reply

      • Appreciate your reply. I do follow Shabbat. I fully understand the rules. In this case, it appears there is no ruling against riding a bike. Riding a bike is not creation, melakha. The ruling seems clear that by riding a bike is not melakha only that it could lead to someone wanting to break the rules of Shabbat. Everything is open to debate. https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/take-the-bike-or-tram-get-a-free-coffee-and-observe-shabbat/

        Comment by Bill Danielson — October 28, 2020 @ 2:15 pm

  4. I don’t disagree with you. The conclusion I reach at the end isn’t dissimilar from yours.

    Comment by chaimweiner — October 29, 2020 @ 9:29 am | Reply

    • Well, I am afraid your initial reply leads us into several other debates which are for a different forum. It is unfortunate this conclusion has been handed down through the generations. It is very simple to just lock up your bike on Sabbath should it get a flat. End of concerns. In fact, most people would accept and intuitively understand that fixing a flat tire would be considered malacha. For me, I will be proudly riding a bike on Shabbat without guilt.

      Comment by Bill Danielson — October 30, 2020 @ 3:14 am | Reply

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