Jewish Sabbath Elevator Rules

Jewish Sabbath Elevator Rules | What You Need To Know

According to the Jewish Law, it is forbidden to use electricity on the Sabbath. Thus, they came up with the idea to make automatic elevators that stop at every level. 

By doing this, one is not bound to press a button and thus, use electricity. 

These elevators, operated automatically to comply with Jewish law, have become a lifeline for observant Jews around the world.

In this article, we will explore the history, operation, and locations of Shabbat elevators, as well as their significance in accommodating the needs of observant Jews.

Electricity Not To Be Used on the Sabbath

In the Jewish Law, it is forbidden to use electricity on the Sabbath. This commandment is said to come from Exodus 35:3 in Orthodox Judaism.

Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day. 

Exodus 35:3 

The Jewish people have interpreted this verse and accommodated it to the modern times in which we live. 

How biblical this interpretation is is debatable. 

Back when the Israelites were in the wilderness, God told them to keep holy the seventh day, the Sabbath! 

See, for that the LORD hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. 

So the people rested on the seventh day. 

Exodus 16:29-30 KJV

In this context comes the commandment to “kindle no fire” on the Sabbath day!  

Kindling Fire on the Sabbath

In those circumstances, you had to go out, and gather wood in order to kindle a fire, which would be considered work and punished by death! (Numbers 15:32-36).

Yet, nowadays, and in the context in which most of us live, we reasonably do not think that that principle applies anymore if you live in a modern apartment for example.

If you need to switch on a light on the Sabbath we do not think that would be a break of any commandment.

Yet, if you live in the country and have to gather wood to make a fire, then, yes, it would be considered work!

Description and History of Shabbat Elevators

You may frequently encounter Shabbat elevators in various locations, such as hotels, hospitals, apartment buildings, and synagogues, designed to accommodate the needs of observant Jews on the Sabbath.

These elevators hold great significance in Jewish communities, as they play a crucial role in enabling Sabbath observance.

According to Jewish law, operating electrical switches on the Sabbath is prohibited. 

Shabbat elevators provide a solution for this dilemma by automatically stopping at every floor, allowing people to enter and exit without pressing any buttons.

This ensures that observers of Jewish law can use elevators without indirectly violating the Sabbath restrictions.

The impact of Shabbat elevators on Sabbath observance is significant, as they provide a practical and convenient solution for Jews who rely on elevators in their daily lives.

Locations Where Shabbat Elevators Can Be Found

Shabbat elevators can be found in various locations, including hotels, hospitals, apartment buildings, and synagogues, providing a practical and convenient solution for observant Jews on the Sabbath. 

These elevators are implemented to accommodate the needs of observant Jews who are prohibited from operating electrical switches on Shabbat.

Here are some important points to consider:

Cultural implications of Shabbat elevators:

  • Shabbat elevators reflect the importance of religious observance within Jewish culture.
  • They serve as a reminder of the commitment to uphold Jewish law even in modern settings.

Challenges in implementing Shabbat elevators in non-Jewish majority areas:

  • Non-Jewish areas may not have a significant understanding of the need for Shabbat elevators.
  • This lack of awareness can make it difficult to gain support and cooperation from building owners and management.
  • Educating non-Jewish communities about the cultural significance of Shabbat elevators is crucial for their successful implementation.

Operation of Shabbat Elevators

One key aspect of operating Shabbat elevators is their automatic functionality. 

These elevators are designed to comply with Jewish law by stopping at every floor and allowing people to enter and exit without pressing any buttons, which is prohibited on the Sabbath. 

This automatic operation ensures that observant Jews can use the elevator without violating their religious practices.

In terms of safety, Shabbat elevators are designed with specific protocols to ensure the well-being of passengers. 

For example, they’re programmed to respond to emergency situations and have backup power sources in case of electrical failures.

Additionally, the implementation of Shabbat elevators has had an impact on building design. 

In areas with significant Jewish populations, buildings are now designed with multiple elevators, including Shabbat elevators, to accommodate the needs of observant Jews. 

This shows how Shabbat elevators have revolutionized building design to promote inclusivity and religious observance.

Non-Jewish Assistance for Observant Jews

To address the issue of operating elevators on Shabbat without violating religious practices, observant Jews often consider the possibility of non-Jewish assistance. 

This raises important ethical implications and requires cultural sensitivity.

Here are the key points to consider:

Ethical implications:

  • Observant Jews must balance their religious obligations with the need for convenience and accessibility.
  • Relying on non-Jewish assistance raises questions about the boundaries between personal autonomy and dependence on others.
  • It’s crucial to ensure that non-Jews are treated respectfully and not burdened with excessive requests.

Cultural sensitivity:

  • Engaging non-Jewish individuals in the operation of elevators on Shabbat requires an understanding of their beliefs and practices.
  • Sensitivity to different cultural backgrounds and religious sensitivities is essential to foster mutual respect and avoid misunderstandings.

Addressing the topic of non-Jewish assistance for operating elevators on Shabbat requires careful consideration of the ethical implications involved and a commitment to cultural sensitivity.

Related Topics in Shabbat Observance

When considering the broader context of Shabbat observance, it’s important to explore various aspects related to Jewish law and practices.

One such aspect is the use of Shabbat elevators and the religious injunctions surrounding them. 

Shabbat elevators are designed to accommodate the needs of observant Jews on the Sabbath, as Jewish law prohibits the operation of electrical switches. 

These elevators operate in a specific mode where they stop automatically at every floor, allowing people to enter and exit without pressing any buttons.

However, it’s worth noting that there have been religious injunctions issued by some Haredi rabbis forbidding the use of Shabbat elevators.

Another related topic is the use of electricity in Shabbat, which is also a subject of discussion among religious authorities.


In conclusion, Shabbat elevators have revolutionized the experience of observing the Sabbath for observant Jews worldwide. 

With their automatic operation and compliance with Jewish law, these elevators have provided a convenient solution for individuals who can’t operate electrical switches on the Sabbath.

These elevators have transformed the lives of countless individuals, allowing them to fully participate in their religious practices.

How biblical this principle is again, debatable. Yet, anyone is free to practice their religion as they want and know best. 

The Bible teaches us to do no work on the Sabbath, but it does not encourage us to stop using electricity. 

These modern facilities have improved our lives greatly, and we sincerely believe that using a button on the Sabbath would not bring dishonor to God.

Instead – working, cooking, shopping, doing business and transactions on the Sabbath, and our own pleasure are what bring dishonor to God and His holy day. (Exodus 20:8-11, Isaiah 58:13, Nehemiah 13:15-22).

Frequently Asked Questions

Are There Any Safety Concerns With Using Shabbat Elevators?

Safety concerns with using Shabbat elevators may include issues like elevator malfunctions or breakdowns. However, these elevators are designed with accessibility features and safety measures to ensure the well-being of observant Jews during Sabbath observance.

Can Shabbat Elevators Be Used by Non-Jews?

Yes, non-Jews can use Shabbat elevators. They provide accessibility for all individuals, regardless of their religious beliefs. Shabbat elevators are designed to accommodate observant Jews, but they are available for everyone’s convenience and safety.

Are There Any Limitations to Using Shabbat Elevators?

Using a Shabbat elevator has its limitations. While it eases Sabbath observance, you may still face challenges such as longer wait times, crowded elevators, and limited accessibility to certain floors.

How Do Shabbat Elevators Differ From Regular Elevators?

Shabbat elevators differ from regular elevators in their operation and design. They are programmed to stop automatically at every floor, allowing people to enter and exit without pressing any buttons, in compliance with Sabbath elevator operation.

Are There Any Legal Requirements for Installing Shabbat Elevators in Buildings?

Yes, there are legal requirements for installing Shabbat elevators in buildings. These requirements ensure that the elevators are properly configured to comply with Jewish law regarding the Sabbath. The installation process is carefully regulated to meet these standards.


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