Congregation Beth El–Keser Israel

85 Harrison Street, New Haven, CT 06515-1724 | P: 203.389.2108 |

Our banner is based on BEKI’s stained glass, designed in 2008 by Cynthia Beth Rubin. For information on this and other of Cynthia’s work, go to: <a href="" target="_blank"></a>. Artisan Fabrication by JC Glass of Branford, CT


Dear Rabbi,

I know that the Conservative movement said it is okay to drive on shabbat, but I for one don’t want to. Yet, the synagogue is a bit too far to walk. Can I ride a bike and still keep the rules of the sabbath?

Signed, At the limit

Dear Limit,

The problem you describe is typical of many of our neighbors: They don’t want to drive to shul and they don’t want to walk. So they do neither.

It was never stated by the Conservative movement that it is permitted to drive on shabbat. What was stated in 1950 was that many Jews live in places where the only way to get to shul–not the shopping mall, not the laundry, not the movies–was to drive, and since their spiritual health and identity as Jews may have depended on their coming to shul, we should not object if they drive directly to and from shul, on condition that they make no stops on the way. In places where Jews (of all affiliations) were already driving to shul it seemed hypocritical to rope off the parking lot and have them park a block away. The choice facing the Rabbis seemed to be: They come by car or they don’t come, and the Rabbis wanted them to come. It seemed preferable to violate the prohibitions of driving than to have much of the religious fabric of life fall apart. At the time they stated, “the program that we propose is not to be regarded as the full and complete regimen of Sabbath observance, valid for all Jews for all times and for all places. On the contrary, it is aimed to meet the particular situation that confronts us.” They further emphasized, “It should be understood that in their wisdom and in light of the conditions prevailing in their respective communities, individual rabbis may find the easements here proposed unnecessary for the achievement of the larger goal herein envisaged.”

This permission was misunderstood. The Rabbis who articulated this stance in the 1950s only meant that they would not object to driving to shul, because they believed the alternative of not going to shul at all was worse. They never envisioned that people would think that it was permitted to drive altogether, or that people would reasonably conclude that if they could drive to shul, they could drive to perform other significant mitzvas. Their permission turned out to be a very slippery slope indeed.

Notwithstanding the deficiencies in the Rabbis’ approach (from both traditional and liberal viewpoints), let us consider your solution of riding a bike. It appears that a bike has several advantages over a car. Unlike driving a car, a bike does not involves the kindling of fire, which is a biblical prohibition.

Driving often entails handling “muqtza,” items which may not be touched or carried on shabbat, such as a purse or wallet, money, and credit cards. One may have to buy gas, which is also prohibited on shabbat. Driving tempts us to stop at the laundry, grocery, or do other errands. These are much less likely to happen with a bike.

On the other hand, bicycles are apt to require repairs, which may entail shabbat violations. Bikes like cars may lead us to travel outside of the eruv or to carry outside of the eruv. Bikes may have electrical appliances such as lights and meters attached.

In short, bikes do infringe on shabbat prohibitions, but clearly not to the same degree as cars.

Another alternative for you is to consider moving closer to the shul. You can be sure other members will help you. Many BEKI members have made this move with great results.

As for your own decision, you must consider your health, the state of repair of your bicycle, and your religious outlook. Whether you come by Schwinn or Chevy or Hush Puppies, we are always happy to see you in shul.



Dear Rabbi,

I learned giving gifts is not permitted on Shabbat. If this is so, how can people bring food to other people’s house on shabbat, if they are giving it? Religious people do that all the time.

Signed, Don’t Give a…gift

Dear Don’t Give,

If food is brought, it is usually understood as sharing, as the food is served that day. For other items, one might legally accomplish the gift by having a third party accept the gift on behalf of the recipient before Shabbat (as one can usually accept something on behalf of someone, even without their knowledge, if it is something they would want). Don’t worry about it too much.



Dear Rabbi,

What is the symbolism of lighting Shabbat candles?

Signed, In the Dark

Dear Dark,

It is not a symbol. Originally, at least, and in most times and places, the lighting of Shabbat lamps was primarily to give light so that people would not have to (as they say in the punch line of many Jewish mother jokes) “sit in the dark.” That is, if they didn’t light Shabbat lamps, it would be dark, because most people did not otherwise have artificial lighting to illuminate the night. In most times and places, when the sun went down, it got dark, and that was the end of the matter. Lighting Shabbat lamps meant that this one day of the week was special in that people could see, and so could stay up later talking, singing, eating, studying, and reading. Shabbat was a very special day for that reason.

In our day the lighting serves as a moment for an individual or family to pause and begin a period of sacred time. The act of lighting the candles links one Jewish household to another and one generation to another.


Dear Rabbi,

Is it permitted to use Razor Boards [skateboards with handles] on Shabbat? Signed, Cutting it Close

Dear Cutting it,

Halakha (Jewish law) enjoins us from engaging in dangerous activities, and to follow safety rules in everything we do. Thus halakha requires those using Razor Boards, skateboards, skates and bicycles to wear helmets and other standard protective gear. Razor Boards present a particular hazard of internal injury should the rider crash and be thrown against the Board’s handle.

Razor Boards and the like are generally not considered within the “spirit” of Shabbat by most observant communities. Nevertheless, they do not entail the violations of halakha associated with automobiles or even bicycles. As long as it is understood that the device will be used within the eruv (Shabbat boundary) and operated in an especially safe manner, there may not be any specific barrier to their use. We live in a mixed community, and in general, I would not want to deprive my children or myself of available pleasures on Shabbat unless there is a good reason to do so. Especially if riding a Razor helps children or parents come to shul or to share Shabbat with friends and relatives, such riding would be within our community standard.


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