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Being a Guest on a Hotel on Shabbos

by Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu Shlita

Translation and notes by Rabbi Yechiel Spira, Jerusalem Kosher News

The following is a summation of an article published a few weeks ago by Chief Sephardi Rabbi of Tzfat Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu Shlita. For those unfamiliar with the rav, in addition to being a Chief Rabbi, he is active in kashrus in Israel and familiar with many aspects of kashrus. He is also a member of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel Rabbinical Council. I urge those who can navigate the Hebrew to do so. Those who cannot, the English overview is in sufficient details to get the message across – going away for Shabbos entails far more than asking “do you use gush katif greens and what shechita meat and poultry are used”.

I point out that while many aspects of this article are applicable in any hotel, some items are only germane if one is in a hotel in Israel.

Kashrus of the Hotel

Prior to making a reservation in a hotel in Israel or abroad, one must check a number of important things. Hence, it is wise to phone the hotel prior to booking and telling the person the conversation is being recorded and if it is later learned that some of the information given is not factually correct, he may file a lawsuit against the hotel.

To achieve the correct level of kashrus one must inquire if the utensils are toiveled (ritual immersion in a mikve). While there are heterim for this [using utensils in a hotel that were not toiveled], this represents a hotel that is not diligent in kashrus observance, but rather a venue in which kashrus is not of paramount importance for bottom line, to toivel all the utensils is a chore that can be accomplished in a single day. A hotel that is not serious about its religious guests will be less than serious here too for it shows an unwillingness to make this effort in return for the hefty profits it makes.

One must check if the cooking is bishul yisrael or that of a non-Jew. If they are lenient regarding ‘bishul akum’, then the overall kashrus is in doubt. The presence of many non-Jews in the kitchen without a Jewish presence results in many other kashrus problems as well.

One must ascertain if the greens are the special ‘gush katif’ [insect free] type or do they make due with using regular vegetables that are washed and inspected by a mashgiach. The savings to a hotel that does not buy regular vegetables is zero as compared to the profit and the benefit to better kashrus is immeasurable. A hotel that does not take the needs of its religious clients seriously is not one that one should visit.

The culture of those who sin

Another issue that must be verified prior to one’s arrival is the level of tznius (modesty) for some hotels are located on the shore and some have a pool in the center, before the eyes of all, and this is unacceptable. Even if the kashrus is ‘mehadrin’, remaining in such a hotel is an aveira (sin).

There are also hotels that do not maintain a Shabbos atmosphere and may host ‘cultural events’ on Shabbos, utilizing main areas of the hotel, leaving guests with no escape. They play music and the desecration of Shabbos atmosphere prevails.

To light a light for Shabbos

Shabbos candles must be lit in the room one eats or sleeps, but safety regulations do not permit this. One must not violate the safety regulations. Hotels will permit women to light candles at the entrance to a dining room. One must be aware that according to the Shulchan Aruch (for Sephardim), only the first woman lighting there may do so with a bracha. (רסג סעיף ח) Other opinions permit otherwise (Rema/for Ashkenazim) and one must remember, if in doubt, one may not recite a bracha.

The correct way to comply with the Shulchan Aruch would be to light two battery-powered lights and make a bracha in one’s room and while we are not accustomed to this, my father and teacher Maran HaGaon HaRav Mordechai Eliyahu ZT”L ruled this way as is the ruling of the book Shmiras Shabbos Kehilchasah (פרק מ"ג, סעיף ד ובהערה שם כ').

I stress one must use a battery powered light for electricity is reliant on electricity that is renewed with each millisecond and one may not rely on this to make a bracha but the power from a battery does permit making a bracha for this is comparable to a light derived from oil. Hence, anyone and everyone must prepare fitting battery-operated flashlights that are worthy for use to light Shabbos candles in a hotel. If the wife’s custom is to light additional candles, even when not at home, then he must prepare the correct number of flashlights for her. (LED lights are fine too, and one does not have to have specifically a flashlight for the point is the light and tranquility and not the flame). (עיין בשבת כה: רש"י ותוספות שם)

Doors, sensors & warning devices

Another item that demands checking in advance is electric doors, particularly outside of Israel. There are hotels around the world with magnetic card locks to rooms without the option of a manual key bypass. In many hotels, electricity and climate control will also turn off and on when one leaves and enters a room. There are hotels with an electric main entrance without a manual alternative. One may not spend Shabbos in such hotels unless special arrangements have been made to accommodate Shabbos.

Most hotels in Israel offer a manual key bypass that is acceptable for Shabbos. One must ascertain if one may receive a key instead of an electronic lock before booking a Shabbos.

If you ordered a room in a hotel and forgot to ask, and find yourself without a Shabbos key, one may use tape to keep the tongue of a lock inside and close the door, permitting one to enter and leave without a magnetic card. In this case, one must be certain to place all valuables in a safe in the room.

In the Diaspora, one has to inquire regarding an eruv for most places around the world do not have one and one cannot carry a room key. In such a case, one must give the key in at the desk. One may carry a key inside the hotel for halachically, a hotel is viewed as one large house.

Using a non-Jew to open one’s room

If one is stuck and it is Shabbos, there are those who permit using a non-Jew by hinting to have him open the door for us but this is far from a l’chatchila situation. One may not instruct a non-Jew to do forbidden work for us on Shabbos, even something that is a Rabbinical prohibition and not Biblical unless there is a matter of illness (שו"ת מנחת יצחק חלק י סימן י"ט). If a non-Jew enters on his own to clean for example, one may then enter after him.

Using a non-Jew to open the main entrance

This heter may also be used regarding the main entrance of a hotel if the door only opens when one activates a sensor, but only as explained by the Minchas Yitzchak above – that one is stuck and has no other options. One MAY NOT rely on this heter if one decided to book for Shabbos knowing the situation.

If a non-Jew does it for himself – It is permitted

In order to truly understand the Minchas Yitzchak, one must familiarize oneself with the regulations governing a non-Jew doing a forbidden act for a Jews on Shabbos.

משנה, שבת טז:ח: נָכְרִי שֶׁהִדְלִיק אֶת הַנֵּר מִשְׁתַּמֵּשׁ לְאוֹרוֹ יִשְֹרָאֵל; וְאִם בִּשְׁבִיל יִשְֹרָאֵל אָסוּר.

מִלָּא מַיִם לְהַשְׁקוֹת בְּהֶמְתּוֹ, מַשְׁקֶה אַחֲרָיו יִשְֹרָאֵל; וְאִם בִּשְׁבִיל יִשְֹרָאֵל אָסוּר. עָשָֹה גּוֹי כֶּבֶשׁ לֵירֵד בּוֹ יוֹרֵד אַחֲרָיו יִשְֹרָאֵל; וְאִם בִּשְׁבִיל יִשְֹרָאֵל אָסוּר. מִלָּא מַיִם לְהַשְׁקוֹת בְּהֶמְתּוֹ, מַשְׁקֶה אַחֲרָיו יִשְֹרָאֵל; וְאִם בִּשְׁבִיל יִשְֹרָאֵל אָסוּר. עָשָֹה גּוֹי כֶּבֶשׁ לֵירֵד בּוֹ יוֹרֵד אַחֲרָיו יִשְֹרָאֵל; וְאִם בִּשְׁבִיל יִשְֹרָאֵל אָסוּר.

מַעֲשֶֹה בְּרַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל וּזְקֵנִים, שֶׁהָיוּ בָּאִין בִּסְפִינָה, וְעָשָֹה גּוֹי כֶּבֶשׁ לֵירֵד בּוֹ, וְיָרְדוּ בּוֹ רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל וְהַזְּקֵנִים.

[If on Shabbat] a gentile lights a candle a Jew may use its light; but if [he lit it] on behalf of the Jew it is prohibited [to use it]. [If a gentile] filled [a vessel with] water to give to his cattle to drink a Jew may give his cattle to drink after him [from that vessel]; but if [the gentile filled the water] on behalf of the Jew it is prohibited [to use it]. [If] a gentile makes a ramp to descend [from a ship], a Jew may descend [thereon] after him; but if [the gentile made it] on behalf of the Jew it is prohibited [to use it].

It once happened that Rabban Gamliel and the Elders were arriving on a ship and a gentile made a ramp to descend [from the ship] whereupon Rabban Gamliel and the Elders descended using it.

Rabbi Eliyahu then quotes the Talmud, Shabbos 122a.

ת"ר נכרי שליקט עשבים מאכיל אחריו ישראל ואם בשביל ישראל אסור מילא מים להשקות בהמתו משקה אחריו ישראל ואם בשביל ישראל אסור בד"א שאין מכירו אבל מכירו אסור איני והאמר רב הונא אמר רבי חנינא מעמיד אדם בהמתו על גבי עשבים בשבת אבל לא על גבי מוקצה בשבת דקאים לה באפה ואזלא היא ואכלה אמר מר בד"א שאין מכירו אבל מכירו אסור הא רבן גמליאל מכירו הוה אמר אביי שלא בפניו הוה רבא אמר אפילו תימא בפניו נר לאחד נר למאה מיתיבי אמר להן רבן גמליאל הואיל ושלא בפנינו עשאו נרד בו אימא הואיל ועשאו נרד בו תא שמע עיר שישראל ונכרים דרין בתוכה והיתה בה מרחץ המרחצת בשבת אם רוב נכרים מותר לרחוץ בה מיד אם רוב ישראל ימתין בכדי שיחמו חמין התם כי מחממי אדעתא דרובא מחממי ת"ש נר הדלוק במסיבה אם רוב נכרים מותר להשתמש לאורה אם רוב ישראל אסור מחצה על מחצה אסור התם נמי כי מדלקי


דף קכב,ב גמרא אדעתא דרובא מדלקי שמואל איקלע לבי אבין תורן אתא ההוא נכרי אדליק שרגא אהדרינהו שמואל לאפיה כיון דחזא דאייתי שטר וקא קרי אמר אדעתא דנפשיה הוא דאדליק אהדרינהו איהו לאפיה גבי שרגא:



Elevator or the stairs

There was a case involving Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ZT”L in which he was staying in a hotel in the United States, on the 15th floor. A number of important people were with him on Shabbos in the hotel. When he entered the hotel his escorts headed towards the elevators. The rav asked “Who will push the button?” They explained there is a non-Jew operating it and he will ask ‘what floor please’.

Rav Eliyahu responded “This is exactly what halacha prohibits!” He referred to a non-Jew doing a prohibited act specifically for a Jew. (שו"ע שכה) In the case of the elevator, clearly, the non-Jew does this for us, the Jew, even if he comes up to. The rabbi walked the 15 flights and this led to the others following.

The case of the elevator is not comparable [to the case involving Shmuel in the Talmud quoted above] since in this case, the non-Jew has nothing to do on the 15th floor. If the non-Jew has reason to travel up to the 15th floor, there are authorities who permit it. (ועיין בשו"ת משפט עוזיאל) He would permit accompanying the non-Jew for some buildings are high and not everyone can walk and the other option is being compelled to remain in one’s apartment the entire Shabbos but this is in case of ‘great need’.

A non-Jew who goes up [on the elevator for himself]

The Shu”t Chelkat Yaakov (שו"ת חלקת יעקב)(אורח חיים סימן קמ"ד) disputes the leniency given above by Rav Uziel, equating it with getting into a vehicle on Shabbos that is driven by a non-Jew. Rabbi Eliyahu then quotes the Rema who prohibits remaining on a train driven by a non-Jews on Shabbos (סימן ש"ה סעיף י"ח).

Shabbos elevators and escalators

Probing if one may use an elevator on Shabbos leads us to discuss escalators as well. There are those who permit using them, explaining the stairs open and close automatically without human intervention. Others prohibit it because the escalator calculates the load and if there are three motors and only a few people on it, only one motor may be operating. The addition of others may result in additional motors beginning to work. Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu would not use escalators, but he would also not rule to prohibit it.

He feels one gets on an escalator without doing anything and one cannot know if another motor will be activated, hence, if there is a matter of an elderly or sick person, there is what to rely upon for leniency.

A non-Jew writing it down

Assuming the person standing at the entrance to the dining room on Shabbos is a non-Jew, may we tell him a room number to permit him to check it off? This is done to keep those who are not entitled out of the dining room. In fact, this is a case of a non-Jew doing a prohibited action based on what we say.

There are those who are lenient, explaining the non-Jew is not writing for us but for the hotel. This is comparable to a non-Jew fixing a vehicle at a set on price, not by the hour. If repairs are carried out on Shabbos we are not responsible for he is doing this for himself. However, if he is paid by the hours, we cannot permit it.

Rabbi Eliyahu gives additional explanations.

Activating the mechanisms by opening and closing the door

In an effort to save money, many hotels have installed devices that activate and turn off heat, air conditioning, lights and more when one enters and leaves one’s room. One must check to determine if this can be shut off for Shabbos. One must check abroad, especially if one is joining a tour geared for Israelis towards determining which hotel is suitable.

P’sik Reisha – Rabbinical prohibitions

The automatic activation of a system is considered as if we directly did the act, as is the case with opening a refrigerator door that results in turning on a light. There are various opinions regarding a Rabbinical violation in which we do not benefit from the resulting violation. This applies to most systems and most poskim prohibit this unless it is a matter of danger. If one sees a snake or scorpion he may kill them even if not chasing them to prevent harm to others (שו"ע שט"ז). The Mishna Brura explains this is because they may harm others and this is a case the act is not wanted, meaning we do not benefit from killing them but we kill them to prevent harm to others.

A heter for P’sik Reisha to avoid a dangerous situation

It is permitted to pass venues with surveillance cameras and a pedestrian does not intend to activate it by passing. Therefore, they permit to pass a magnetic detector which inspects persons at public places in the event they are carrying a gun or knife.

However, this heter does not apply to an electric hotel entrance and as per the Mishna Brura and this also prohibits using automatic faucets and urinals on Shabbos. This prohibition would apply to entering one’s room when doing so activates different systems. If one is absolutely stuck without any alternative, one should ask a non-Jew to enter the room before him. This is because activating the air conditioning and lights by entering is a ‘P’sik Reisha’ that results from his actions and permitted.

Using hot water on Shabbos

One must not use hot water in a hotel room on Shabbos and inform his family as well. In most hotels the hot water boilers are working to accommodate the non-Jews and therefore, using hot water will result in heating cold water on Shabbos. ‘

These are some of the issues one must address before one makes reservations in a hotel on Shabbos.


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