Question: Is cycling permitted on Shabbat?
Answer: The Mishna [Shabbat 7:2] lists the major categories of work that are prohibited on Shabbat: The primary forms of work are forty less one, … carrying out from one domain to another. Thus carrying is one of the main archetypal forms of labour on Shabbat.
The Halacha divides the world into four different kinds of areas, known as domains; a public domain, a private domain, a Carmelit and an exempt place. It is forbidden to carry from a private domain into a public domain or Carmelit (or vice versa). There are rules about carrying within each of these domains.
A private domain is an area that is enclosed by walls with only a minimal number of gaps for windows and doors. Carrying is permitted in a private domain. A public domain is a large public area where 600,000 people pass through each day. There is much debate as to how this is calculated, but only the most densely populated cities qualify as a public domain. It is forbidden to carry for a distance of more than four Amot (roughly two meters) in a public domain. A Carmelit is between public and private – it does not have walls so it does not count as being private and it does not have enough people in it to be considered public. The Rabbis have decreed that a Carmelit is to be treated as a public place and therefore carrying is forbidden within it. A Carmelit may be transformed into a private domain by surrounding it with walls and this is called an Eruv.. Once the Carmelit has been enclosed, carrying within it is permitted. An exempt place is so small that it does not qualify as being a space at all. The laws of carrying do not apply to it.
When cycling on Shabbat, one will frequently be moving from a private domain (one’s home) into a Carmelit (the street), and will be travelling a substantial distance within the Carmelit. Does this transgress the laws of carrying on Shabbat?
There is no question that one is allowed to carry within an Eruv. Outside of an Eruv the situation is more complicated. The Talmud [Shabbat 8a] considered the case of a person who threw a large barrel from a private place into a public place on Shabbat. It determines that there is no transgression in this case. The reason – the barrel is large enough to be considered a domain in its own right. Therefore, anything inside the barrel remains within a private domain, even though it is moving within a Carmelit. Surprisingly, from a Halachic point of view no carrying has taken place!
This determination has ramifications for many situations. Anyone travelling in a car or a bus – not to mention those who are being carried in chairs – are considered to be within a private domain. A private domain moving within a public domain does not count as carrying.
Therefore, when cycling within an Eruv, all carrying is permitted. Even outside an Eruv carrying should be permitted, even if travelling through the Carmelit, for this is a private domain moving within a public space [i.e. a Carmelit].
There are still other considerations that need to be taking into account when looking at cycling on Shabbat. I will be looking at these in part III of this response.
Rabbi Chaim Weiner
Based on R. Chaim of Baghdad, Rav Pa’alim, Part 1, OH 25.
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