Many are struggling today, in different ways, with Shabbat observance. This challenge is an issue for us to be sensitive to and to be responsive to in all ways possible. One dimension of the challenge for many observant Jews today (or those working to become more observant) is where they can live. Homes that are very close to the shul that they can (or want) to go to are often out of their financial reach. Given the option of driving a car to shul, it seems far more halachically responsible to ride a bike to
This is most important for rising costs in observant Jewish life in
These positions have heavy-weight poskim behind them and should be taken very seriously. But these are reasons for a beit din ha-gadol to enact new legislation. But these are not halakhic principles that can obviously, easily, and stringently, be applied to a new case in our day.[xix] We did not have bikes in ancient times, of course, and the power to create new prohibitions was reserved for the rabbis of the Talmud. We don’t simply say that because we haven’t seen an act being done[xx] that it cannot be permitted.[xxi] Without an explicit prohibition in the Talmud[xxii], we need not create new
Of course, it will be a breach of the contemporary Orthodox norms if one bikes and that is something to take seriously. Just because something is technically permitted, doesn’t mean that everyone should do it. We must be sensitive to the norms of our tradition and to the norms of our religious community. So, if one were to choose to bike, they should be aware of the social implications of that choice as we should generally seek to limit areas where we diverge from communal norms to foster communal harmony. Further, for those merely looking for enjoyment, Shabbat should be meaningful and pleasurable but we should remember that the primary goal is not fun.
If one is going to bike, one should take certain precautions. Firstly, they should service their bike
It is very common for observant Jews to push strollers, often with inflatable tires, on Shabbat. The issues one could raise with such a stroller are almost identical to issues of biking (Will one leave the eruv? What if a tire is flat? What if it makes grooves in the dirt?) and so almost all of the potential challenges of biking have already been addressed through the permission of using strollers.
The reasoning that biking is not officially prohibited should be enough. But if one’s norm is to ensure that a major rabbi has officially permitted a practice then they can rely on the Ben Ish Hai. Rav Yosef Hayyim[xxxiv] of Baghdad[xxxv] fully permitted riding a bicycle in the streets of the walled city of Baghdad on Shabbat.[xxxvi]
"It is allowed to ride…on both Shabbat and Yom Tov, in a city where there is an Eruv. It is not considered a non-Shabbat activity… since the rider only moves his feet and the bicycle moves by itself, it is not like being carried in a chair by other people [which is forbidden] … it is allowed without doubt in a city with Eruv even for recreational purposes, and even more so if one is going to perform a Mitzvah…"
Rav Ovadia Yosef is sympathetic with the position of the Ben Ish Hai.[xxxvii] In regards to inflating bike tires on Shabbat, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach[xxxviii] rules that it is allowed to inflate a ball on Shabbat[xxxix]. The same reasoning should apply to inflate a bike tire. So, fixing a bike, in some ways, may not be a problem in the first place. In any case, the concerns around biking are not about any prohibition at all, just that it may end up leading to a prohibition.
Orthodoxy continues to demand more conformity to new stringencies. There is often a pervasive fear of suggesting approaches outside that mainstream. But we can take a more halakhically-pluralistic approach to Shabbat observance. Once something is permitted as a matter of halacha, then if some don’t find it enjoyable, meaningful, helpful, or in the spirit of the day to ride a bike on Shabbat, that’s great. If others find it meaningful or helpful, then they should embrace the opportunity. Observant Syrian Jews in Brooklyn, today, ride their bikes on Shabbat[xl]. We should not encourage people to refrain from the permitted absent sufficient religious concern.
If some prefer not to bike for whatever reason, there are other options in addition to biking such as non-electric scootering and rollerblading[xli] that may be more appealing to some. Just as Modern Orthodox synagogues open their parking lots to those who choose to drive (while driving is a halakhic violation of Shabbat), shuls should start offering bike racks (since biking is not a halakhic violation of Shabbat) and it could encourage more people to attend.
In many Asian cities and in some European cities, biking is closely connected to work and thus uvda d’chol may indeed be a concern[xlii]. But biking in America is not work related and thus not uvda d’chol in the classical sense of work conduct. Poskim in Europe (and perhaps Israel) who don’t allow biking have different concerns whereas biking in America is for recreation, not work. It seems that the minhag not to ride a bike came from a time when bikes were connected to work, perhaps like watches. This has changed and thus the practice should change in America (but perhaps not in Israel, China, or Europe). In this model though, perhaps someone in America who bikes to work (or uses a bike for work) should not bike on Shabbat.
What is the goal of Shabbat? To pray? To relax? To serve God? To eat and sleep? To learn Torah? To recharge? So many different explanations emerge. Many suggest some leisurely activities are not prohibited but are simply “not shabbosdik.” I believe in an approach where we empower people to make their own religious choices based upon their own religious worldviews, within the confines of halakha[xliii]. To be a religious person is to take responsibility for one’s religious life[xliv]. In an era, where the high majority of the Jewish people are not interested (and even offended by) Jewish law, we need to invoke more
“Whoever delights the Shabbat, is given all their heart’s desires!”[xlvii] May we do all we can to preserve the beautiful sanctity of the day. And do all we can to find joy in the gift of Shabbat and come closer to God and to actualize our unique life missions in service of God.
[i] It also seems it would be a better option to bike than to stay home all Shabbat, lose one’s financial stability by purchasing a home out of their reach, or take on a detriment to one’s family Shabbat experience in any way, unnecessarily.
[iii] See the Nishma survey on how much Modern Orthodox families are struggling financially to keep up with the economic demands.
[iv] Even if one goes out of the eruv, in almost all cases, the area outside of the eruv is a karmelit, so we are only looking at a d’rabbanan concern, not d’oraita.
[viii] Rav Moshe teaches that marit ayin is only when someone misunderstands the facts, not when someone misunderstands the halakha. In that later case, one should learn the halakha (OH 1:96).
[ix] Maybe uvda d’chol for a mitzvah is mutar?
[xiv] Kli shemelachto li’issur?
[xvi] Rav Ovadia Yosef ruled that creating grooves in the snow is not a problem at all (Yabia Omer OH 5:28). We will need to determine if snow is the same as dirt. If not, we’d be looking at a psik reisha, lo nich lei.
[xvii] Grooves in the dirt is not a pesik reisha and it is no lo nicha lei.
[xx] There is a debate about "Lo Ra’inu Eino Ra’aya" (the inference from what hasn't been to what ought not be) and both sides have merit.
[xxii] Rosh, Shabbat, 2:15
[xxiii] See many more sources supporting the idea that we don't make new gezeirot in Encyclopedia Talmudit volume 5 on "gezeira."
[xxvi] Rabbi Sliman (Solomon) David Sassoon permitted biking. Rabbi Shamah, the talmid muvhak of Rabbi Sassoon, has written about his bicycling position. Also, Rabbi Eliezer Cohen, ruled in theory and in practice that people within the eruv had permission to take their bicycles to synagogue and back on Shabbat.
[xxvii] If someone’s bike breaks and it is not rideable anymore, rather than repair it, one should lock it up there, if it is too far to walk to one’s destination, and then return after Shabbat to retrieve it.
[xxviii] A limit of 2,000 Amot (cubits) outside the city
[xxxii] One should only, of course, bike on a sidewalk if there are not pedestrians and if it is legally permitted.
[xxxviii] Minchat Shlomo, siman 11:5
[xxxix] This comparison only makes sense in regards to low air that needs more air but not in regards to a broken tire.
[xl] This is not a new phenomenon. In the Syrian community, it was always considered permissible to ride bikes on Shabbat.
[xli] Even Aish HaTorah has no problem with rollerblading: Then again, Ohr Somayach doesn’t like it:
[xlii] “Uvdin di’chol is not a gezeira, so it can’t be dismissed with the same logic as adding new gezeirot in general. Rav Dov Linzer writes: “In contrast, Rav Moshe Feinstein’s position parallels that of Ramban. Rav Moshe was asked whether an egg- or cheese-cutter should be forbidden on the basis of uvda di’chol (אג”מ או”ח ח”ד ע”ד, טוחן אות ד). He first points out the irony that a labor-saving device would be considered contrary to the spirit of Shabbat. Rav Moshe then analyzes all the cases that are defined as uvda di’chol and concludes that an uvda di’chol activity is one that is connected to professional work. However, it is not a problem when the act is done דרך עראי, in an ad hoc fashion to address an immediate Shabbat need. The problem is when the act is done with close attention and on a scale that suggests weekday work, what the Gemara refers to as כדרך שהוא עושה בחול.”
[xliii] One potential drawback of a bike culture, even given all the potential gains, is the potential loss of a more physically close Jewish community.
[xliv] In addition to American Jewish life, Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo writes about how allowing bicycles could make Shabbat observance so much more possible and appealing in Israel today:
[xlv] This doesn’t feel like one of the most urgent religious issues but the continuing assimilation and disinterest in Jewish observance is indeed something we must be more and more responsive to.
[xlvii] BT, Shabbat 118b