A Question of Jewish Law

October 27, 2010

Cycling on Shabbat (lll): Further considerations.

Filed under: Shabbat — chaimweiner @ 5:09 pm

Question: Is cycling permitted on Shabbat?

Answer: I have already looked at two of the main issues concerning cycling on Shabbat, based on a response of Rabbi Yoseph Chaim of Baghdad (19th Century, Iraq).  He wrote a lengthy response to this question and came to the conclusion that cycling was permitted within an Eruv. In public areas he permitted being carried in a cycle-rickshaw, and then only if the person doing the peddling was not Jewish. If this seems strange, keep in mind that the original question came from Bombay, where rickshaws were common.

Most subsequent authorities forbid cycling on Shabbat. One of the most prominent was Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg [Germany, Switzerland, 20th Century). Weinberg prohibited cycling for three reasons.

1) Techum Shabbat (lit. the Shabbat area). Although one is allowed to travel any distance within a city on Shabbat, one may travel only 2000 Amot (roughly 1 km) from the perimeter of the city or town of residence on Shabbat.  A person on foot is unlikely to go beyond this limit, but this distance is easily covered on a bicycle. According to this opinion, cycling is prohibited in order to prevent one from inadvertently going beyond the Techum.

2) Repairs. One may need to repair a bicycle by adjusting the chain, the brake or inflating a tyre. All these are forbidden on Shabbat. Therefore cycling should be forbidden lest one inadvertently repair the cycle.

R. Yoseph Chaim considered both of these objections in his response and rejected them. He followed the principle that ‘one does not add additional decrees on ones own volition’, and as these activities were not prohibited in the Talmud, he asserts that we do not add them now.

3) Uvdin D’chol – appropriate Shabbat activities. R. Yoseph Chaim had already considered the question of Uvdin d’chol, and came to the conclusion that it doesn’t apply to cycling inside an Eruv. R. Weinberg disagrees. He reasons that there is a difference between regular household activities and activities like cycling which involve a great deal of physical exertion. He claims that hard physical work goes against the very spirit of Shabbat as a day of rest, and that one cannot ‘permit’ them on technical grounds.

The normative practice is to forbid cycling on Shabbat. Children are permitted to cycle within a closed area (backyard or park).  Children’s tricycles and bicycles are toys.  They unlikely to go beyond the Techum and if they break they are within walking distance of home.

Riding a bicycle is certainly preferable to driving a motor car on Shabbat. Therefore, in those cases where it is necessary to travel, (such as police on patrol or doctors making local rounds) if cycling is a viable alternative, one should choose to cycle.

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

Based on Weinberg, Tzitz Eliezer 1:21:27

This study sheet is sponsored by Jewish Journeys Ltd: Currently booking trips to Tunisia (Tunis and the Magical Island of Djerba).

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