When I was in my twenties, I served for a few years as a synagogue Rabbi in Amsterdam, Holland. It was a beautiful Shul in the center of town, built at the end of the 19th century and the members did everything to keep an active Minyan going week after week. It was according to strictly Orthodox traditions, but the one of the Gabbaim came to morning prayers every Shabbat by public transportation via the tram (trolley, streetcar).
This man was an elderly Jew in his 90’s who survived the Holocaust and lost his family in the camps. He was totally dedicated to the synagogue and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that there might be a Halakhic problem with the tram. After all I was only there for a few short years and he had served the Shul for decades. There was no way he could walk all the way from his house and he definitely wouldn’t give up coming to Shul on Shabbat. It was his entire life and he served faithfully till passing a few years later, but it made me wonder. Was there any Halakhic support to use public transportation on Shabbat?
These memories flash back in my mind when I read the following article:
I saw the following short Q & A article on the Aish Hatorah – Ask the Rabbi website which I’d like to share.
Rollerblading on Shabbat
My fiance and I both enjoy rollerblading. I am curious to know if it is okay for us to roller-blade in a park on Saturdays if our intentions are to have fun rather than get in shape. Thank you very much.
The Aish Rabbi Replies: It’s funny you should mention this. I recently had to visit someone in the hospital on Shabbat afternoon, and walked 16 miles in the process. As I was walking, I saw some kids rollerblading, and thought to myself, “What a great idea. This could have really cut down my travel time!” It was too late to do anything about it, but I registered the idea for the future.
In answer to your question, it is permitted to use roller-blades on Shabbat, provided one does not carry them (i.e. when not wearing them) in a public domain. However, if roller-blades are customarily not used on Shabbat by observant Jews in your community, then you should also not use them. An exception could be made in case of pressing need, for example my hospital visit.
It struck me how much one can get locked into their own worldview without realizing that in a different place and context, something which I might see as forbidden, is actually permissible.
Es passt nicht?
Take myself, for example. I live in a completely religious neighborhood in Israel. Most of the adult men don’t ride bikes even during the week because it’s considered Es passt nicht (Yiddish: “that’s not the way a person should go”). Using roller-blades in my town would probably be considered “not part of mainstream”. Even for those who do use roller-blades in my district, for a guy to do it with his fiancé would be absolutely inconceivable. It doesn’t happen. Therefor the image of a local newly engaged Yeshiva Bochur zooming down the main street on roller-blades with his fiancé on Shabbat, is so farfetched that it makes me giggle.
Yet here the Aish Rabbi actually permits it (within limitations of course) without blinking an eye. I write this with great admiration for him, because the Rabbi stripped away the social issues of Es passt nicht to deal with the essential Halachic issues of the Laws of Shabbat according to the worldview of the person who asked the question.
I believe that the Jewish Traveler should keep this idea in mind when visiting Jewish communities with different worldviews then his or her own. What might seem totally unacceptable in my world might be ethical and Kosher in another place. And conversely, when I meet a religious stringency on my journey which doesn’t fit with my tradition, that’s the time to be open and show respect.
If you plan to travel around the world without stopping in any Jewish communities, you’ll need to be prepared with a Jewish version of a Bug-out Bag.
I first learned about Bug-out Bags from books on surviving disasters and disappearing from your past (see my post – If Jason Bourne Was Jewish).
To quote Wikipedia:
“A Bug-out Bag is a portable kit that contains the items one would require to survive for seventy-two hours, when evacuating from a disaster. The kits are also popular in the survivalism and prepper subcultures. Other names for such a bag are a BOB, 72-hour kit, a grab bag, a battle box, a Personal Emergency Relocation Kits (PERK), a go bag, a GOOD bag (Get Out Of Dodge) or INCHbag (I’m Never Coming Home).”
It occurred to me that every Jew who takes to the road, whether for business, vacation, a disaster G-d forbid, or just to escape for a while from the daily grind, needs a “Jewish Bug-out Bag”. I’m not talking about Kosher food (see my post on eating Kosher anywhere), but about all the other ingredients needed to keep a Jewish lifestyle anywhere you go.
With a bit of research and experience in the military, I compiled a list of all the materials, products and equipment you’ll need for keeping the Tradition throughout the year. Many of them (like apples and honey for the Rosh Hashanah, a boiled egg for the Seder Plate or even the raw materials for a Succah) aren’t inherently Jewish and you can get them anywhere on the globe. Some of the list, though (like Tefillin or a Mezuza) need to be purchased at a reliable Jewish supplier.
For your convenience you can download the list as a two page PDF for printing on one double-sided page – The Ultimate Jewish Traveler’s Checklist. Obviously you won’t need them all for every trip. Just check it out before you leave, compare it to your itinerary and the Jewish calendar, get what won’t be available later and you’re good to go.
Staying in touch wherever we go is so ingrained into our psyche that if one is younger than their early twenties they probably can’t remember otherwise. Whether we send email or IM’s, post by Twitter or update our Facebook account, we accustomed to a continuous ubiquitous connection with the global village 24/7. Or at least 24/6 for those who keep Shabbos.
I still remember the time before email, working full-time far from home and not even owning a mobile phone (am I that old???). Today is different. We connect ALL THE TIME.
Being connected all the time, everywhere, has it’s benefits but a lot of drawbacks too. “They” expect you to be in touch all the time.
“Why didn’t you respond??? I sent you a text message over 3 minutes ago!”. Don’t you read it???
This brings me to the 24/7 issue or rather the 24/6 issue, barring Shabbos. I’m referring to Shabbos Across Time Zones.
Let’s say you’re roaming around Thailand on vacation and spend a lovely Shabbos at the Chabad House in Phuket. Shabbos ends on an upbeat note and right after Havdolo you give in to the unbearable temptation of checking your work email from back home in Vancouver.
You discover a desperately urgent message from your Jewish boss sent just before Shabbos in Vancouver (there’s a 14 hour discrepancy between the two cities) that needs a response ASAP or the world will certainly come to an end. Without a second thought you type out a response by email and press SEND. Then you follow it with a written fax and your signature. A moment after sending it off you ask yourself if you did the right thing since the fax printed out into your boss’s office while it’s still Shabbos morning on the west coast of Canada.
Shabbos Across Time Zones
How do you handle email or faxes when you are in a different time zone than the person you need to send the message to and it’ll arrive on their Shabbos?
Let’s say all the systems of telecommunication and Internet service providers are not Jewish owned and they aren’t up-keeping the systems just for yours truly. But what is the Halocho if you send an email or fax to Israel when it’s still Shabbos over there? Somebody in Israel is possibly working on Shabbos to make sure all the systems are go.
Another problem could arise if your boss is not Shabbos observant and has the habit of dealing with all the leftover issues on Saturday. That means they’ll act on your post-Shabbos messages and do more work, all because of your dedication to work 24/6…
Rav Yehoshua Y. Neuwirth wrote that one may send a fax (before or after Shabbos) to a place where Shabbos is now observed, but the recipient may not read it on Shabbos (Shemirath Shabbath Kehilchata 31:28). Rav Neuwirth didn’t differentiate between if the telecommunication structure is run by Jews or not. I’m guessing that its because most of the electronic activity is automatic, though repairs and such are performed by Jews on Shabbos.
Ask The Rabbi of Ohr Sameach quotes a similar ruling by Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg permitting both faxes and email to a place where it’s still Shabbos.
Nevertheless, I’m certain that if you know that your boss or colleague will read or act upon the message during Shabbos then you must wait till Shabbos is over by them (or put a delay send on the message) so that you won’t cause them to desecrate the Shabbos because of you.
In conclusion, whether the act of sending off a fax or email after Shabbos to a different time zone where it’s still Shabbos is permissible or not, I have a fundamental question. If you’re on vacation in Thailand, why in the world are you still checking your work email? For that you spent thousands of dollars to go to the Far East? Think a moment.
Moreover, by the time you read the message and reply to it many hours have passed. I’m hoping your boss will read it only after Shabbos is over by them too. By then reality has changed and your boss probably succeeded in resolving the problem on their own. If it’s still urgent they’ll phone you (assuming you made the error of leaving them an emergency number while you’re on vacation).
Besides, if you respond to work issues on vacation you are teaching your boss or colleagues or workers that its alright to bother you on vacation. You’re showing them that its impossible to manage without you ever. Be sure they’ll use that fact to their advantage on your expense. So loosen up a bit. Enjoy your trip without work.
The 4-Hour Workweek
For practical guidance on how to detach from work and work-related emails on vacation I highly recommend reading Tim Ferriss’ best seller The 4-Hour WorkWeek. I’ve read it twice and listened also to the audio version. Ferriss has some far out ideas in that book, but there’s a lot to learn from it.
Shabbos on the road in a Jewish community or at least a Chabad House can be a lovely experience. You’ll get invited out and won’t need to take care of all the pesky details of Shabbos. But when you travel to the Jewish backwaters, even in North America or Western Europe, you’ll need preparation.
Lets say you got wine or grape-juice, a few rolls or Challah and enough food. What else?
Lets see. Shabbos candles? I can use two tea-lights.
A Kiddush cup? I’m sure the hotel will have a clean glass cup in the room. At worst, I’ll get a disposable cup.
A cover for the Challah when I make Kiddush? I’ll use a disposable napkin.
How about the Havdala candle? Use another two tea-lights? It’s not easy sticking the lit wicks together to make it a valid candle for Havdala. OK, I’ll put two matches together.
Bsamim (spices) for Havdala? I’m sure I’ll find a lavender bush somewhere in the street or something like it.
Done. All’s good.
Ze Eli V’Anvehu
In Exodus 15:2 are the following words “Ze Eli V’Anvehu” – This is my God and I will glorify (or beautify) Him. The sages interpet these words to mean that a Mitsvah must be performed in a way which beautifies the act. So one should invest in making the object of the Mitsvah as nice as possible.
When you buy the Arba’at HaMinim, invest some money and get a nice set. Don’t just pick up the cheapest one (even if it happens to be Kosher). When you buy a set of Tefillin for your son (or yourself), get a quality set, as much as you can afford. After all we beautify our homes and get nice furniture. We buy pretty clothes and not only off-the-rack jeans and T-shirts, and so forth. We should treat our Mitsvos with the same investment into quality and beauty, not less than what we invest into our person needs.
A disposable cup for Kiddish, a napkin for the Challa and two matches for the Havdala candle are Halachically valid but aren’t exactly beautifying the Shabbos experience. Unless we’re unexpectedly stuck in the Sahara Desert and that’s the only thing available.
Shabbat Travel Kit
I discovered a very cute Shabbat Travel Kit called The Shabbat Collection. It’s a handy compact bag with all the equipment you need for Shabbos on the road.
Folding Kiddush Cup
Mini salt shaker
Candle for Havdala
Spices for Havdala
I’ve never seen it personally but it looks nice and for $59.95 seems reasonable too, if you’re on the road a lot. BTW the Kiddush cup is 4.8oz (141 ml), which is sufficiently large for the lenient Rabbinical opinion ( 86ml Rabbi Chaim Na’eh), though a bit smaller than the more stringent (150ml Chazon Ish)
Esther landed at Heathrow Airport in London early Friday afternoon hoping to spend a lovely Shabbos in Golders Green. To her chagrin her suitcases are nowhere to be found. Everything she needed for the coming few days was inside them including her Shabbos clothes, jewelery, and the gift for her hosts which she had invested so many hours tracking down.
After a high pressured three-hour wait at the airline office, Esther decided that there was no choice but to go only with her carry-on case to her destination. The suitcases definitely hadn’t arrived with the flight. Any more delay would force her to stay at the airport over Shabbos. The airline representative promised to be in touch as soon as the suitcases were located. Esther took the next taxi to Golders Green, was very upset, but decided to make the best of the situation.
One hour after candle-lighting her cell-phone started to ring. With all the rush she had forgotten to turn it off. It rang repeatedly but of course she didn’t even bother checking the little screen to see who was calling on Shabbos.
In the middle of the meal during the chicken soup, the doorbell rang. The hosts jumped up concerned that maybe it was an emergency. A moment later a smiling guy wearing an airline jacket entered with the missing suitcases in tow. He apologetically informs Esther that the suitcases were mistakenly sent on a parallel flight and since she didn’t answer the phone and they understood she was Jewish, the airline decided to deliver her suitcases to the contact address she left at the desk. The airline also gave her a free 5-star hotel voucher as a small compensation for the mishap.
After thanking the driver, Esther stared at the suitcases with a mixture of relief and confusion. What now???
She finally had the suitcases, but according to Halacha, may she open them and use the contents? After all, someone had specially driven on Shabbos to bring them to her. Would it make a difference that the driver wasn’t Jewish?
Lost Luggage Statistics
Just in case you think that a suitcase lost in transit is a rare occurrence, think again !
According to SITA (a multinational information technology company specializing in providing IT and telecommunication services to the air transport industry) there were 21.8 MILLION bags misplaced, lost or mishandled worldwide in 2013. That makes 6.96 bags lost per thousand passengers. It might not sound a lot, but its far more likely to happen then winning a lottery…
Ma’aseh Shabbos (work done on Shabbos)
According to Jewish Law one may not derive benefit from (Halachically prohibited) work done on Shabbos. For example, if a Jew cooked me a meal on Shabbos, I may not eat the food on Shabbos. This is true whether the chef cooked the food deliberately and was fully aware that it was Shabbos or whether he didn’t pay attention that Shabbos had begun (or simply wasn’t knowledgeable that cooking was forbidden).
In case of great need (for a little child or a sick adult), if the food was cooked by error, I may eat it even on Shabbos.
If a non-Jew did work for me on Shabbos (in situations when it is forbidden to ask a non-Jew to work for me), I must wait till enough time has passed that the non-Jew could have completed the entire job after Shabbos was over.
To Open or Not To Open?
In Esther’s case there are two schools of Rabbinic thought on how to proceed.
Since Esther’s suitcases were deliberately brought to her on Shabbos, she may not open or even touch the suitcases till enough time has passed that the driver could have left the airport with the suitcases after Shabbos had ended.
If the suitcases contain important medicines or things which are vital for a sick person or a small child, then she may remove these things from the suitcase for immediate use.
Esther didn’t ask the airline to deliver the suitcases on Shabbos. In fact the airline delivered them only to protect their reputation (and reduce court-claims). Therefor Esther may use all the contents of the suitcase on Shabbos without any qualms.
The laws of Ma’aseh Shabbos and the laws of a non-Jew doing work for a Jew on Shabbos, are extremely complex and one must consult with a competent Rabbinic authority. The above points are a very short and simplified summary to help travelers be aware of the issues involved, not as a definitive Halachic ruling.
Some people fantasize about Belgian chocolates and the latest Porsche 911 Turbo. Some crave a cottage with an Olympic-sized pool overlooking Lake Tahoe or maybe a month-long world cruise through the Caymen Islands.
I’d like all the above, but I’d prefer….a month of quiet vacation on the beaches of Bora Bora. Blue skies, white sands, endless clear water, majestic palm trees…peace and quiet. Without my cell phone. No emails, no appointments, no prior commitments; just the gentle lapping of waves at my feet with the awesome view of the blue lagoon.
The thought of it puts me into a trance-like state of bliss.
Then logic kicks in and I remember….
I can’t afford the plane tickets.
I can’t afford the hotel fees.
I’ll have nothing Kosher to eat.
Most of the alcohol they drink while sitting in a beach chair with a platter of exotic fruit, isn’t Kosher either.
I won’t have a Minyan to pray at the local synagogue.
There isn’t a local synagogue on the island anyways.
I won’t be able to make Kiddush on Shabbos because the wine isn’t Kosher. Nor the Challah…
I can’t carry outside my hotel room on Shabbos because there isn’t an Eiruv around the town.
And besides, why in the world should a nice Jewish boy go to a place like Bora Bora? Don’t I know that most of the women don’t wear Sheitels and long sleeves on the island and the men don’t walk around with Tsitsis and probably aren’t Talmudic scholars either ??
So why Bora Bora?
It’s in my soul. The island and surrounding are like Paradise. A very expensive bit of paradise. Anyone who isn’t well-heeled at the bank will end off with hell to pay on their credit card if they aren’t careful. So it’s a short-lived paradise at the very least, but nice indeed…
Although Bora Bora is out of my personal range, I’m still curious if one can manage there as an observant Jew (assuming of course that one keeps their gaze totally and absolutely on their own spouse and nobody else).
I contacted a few of the hotels on Bora Bora to hear what they can offer in terms of Kosher food. One hotel said simply that due to their isolated location, they cannot give Kosher food as they don’t have someone to supervise the preparation nor do they have the utensils. OK, that’s not surprising.
Then I got a totally different response from the Head Chef of another hotel. The chef gave me 3 possible options.
The hotel could provide brand new dishes and silverware along with new pots and pans. They have a Jewish employee who can light the fire and ovens to avoid Bishul Akum. Everything will be double wrapped in foil before putting in the oven. They’ll use only Kosher fish, vegetables and ingredients. All the cooking utensils will be hand washed and stored in a separate location.
They can order frozen Kosher chickens from New York.
With enough notice, they can order Glatt Kosher prepackaged meals.
To be honest I was very impressed. The chef even mentioned that as they don’t have a Mikvah on the island they won’t be able to immerse the new utensils (in fact as long as the utensils remain in the ownership of the hotel, they don’t need immersion in a Mikvah). One can see that he had a good basic understanding of the hotel Kashrut.
Just to be clear, I’m not giving the hotel a Kashrut certification on basis of what the chef wrote. There are many complex Kashrut issues involved that would need to be addressed and unless the guest in quite knowledgeable in hotel Kashrut, one can still trip up BIG.
So is Kosher Bora Bora just a fantasy or a possibility?
In my humble opinion, with an attitude like this chef, one has with whom to work with. There’s room for discussion and flexibility (on the side of the hotel of course), so I can imagine (in theory) that it would be possible to eat Kosher in Bora Bora.
I didn’t really go into it with the chef, but assume that whichever option one takes, it’ll cost something. But once you’re paying $1000 a night per guest, what’s another few bucks to eat Kosher? And you’ll probably get a bottle of Kosher wine for Kiddush thrown in for good measure…
Airport in Paris on 26 August 1988 and remained there at the terminal until July 2006. Nasseri had come from Iran and had lost all his documents in transit, so he could neither go back home nor enter France. He was stuck in the airport, for 17 years. During his long stay at Terminal One, Nasseri had his luggage at his side and spent his time reading, writing in his diary, or studying economics. He received food and newspapers from employees of the airport.
Nasseri’s story was later the inspiration for Steven Spielberg’s 2004 comedy-drama film, “The Terminal“.
It occurred to me that what makes an airport terminal unique is that it is neither “here” nor “there” (or as they say in Yiddish “Nisht ahin, nisht aher”). You have already detached from your point of departure, but until you exit the terminal at your destination, you haven’t really arrived either. One can call it a state of limbo.
In my humble opinion, every normal weekly Shabbat is a similar state of limbo too. One has detached from the previous week and cannot do any productive work, and at the same time one cannot do any preparation for the following week. On Shabbat you unwind from last week and can only anticipate the next work-week without getting involved in it.
So with a bit of literary license, Shabbat, is like …”The Terminal”.
All this is fine and dandy on a normal Shabbat, after we spend most of Friday (and some of Thursday), shopping, cooking, cleaning, showering, dressing up and whatever else needed to be ready for the Spiritual Terminal. Everything is finished, the candles are lit and whoever wants to go to the Synagogue has gone. Ahhh….now I can relax.
But what do you do when you see the sun setting on Friday eve from the window of the plane, and the sun seems to be descending much faster than you are…? There’s no way you’ll get to your destination on time. What now???
Here are a few tips:
Avoid flying on Friday
I know this sounds like an “I told you so” statement, but the best way to avoid getting stuck in the terminal on Shabbat is to avoid flying on Friday, like the plague. Seasoned travelers know that even the most efficient airlines will sometimes mess up. Call it Force majeure aka Act of God.
Follow the Scout Motto and “Be Prepared” for emergencies when you absolutely have to fly on Friday. Take in your carry on luggage the minimum needs for Shabbat if you get stuck. The following items are recommended:
A pair of tea-lights for lighting candles (in case you make it to the terminal with a few minutes to spare and can light them in a “smoking permitted” area.
4 rolls (1 roll for each of the 3 Shabbat meals, using a double roll for the blessing) or a box of Matzo.
A plastic bottle of grape juice or wine with a minimum size of 270 cc (a little over 9 oz) for twice Kiddush and Havdalah after Shabbat. If you don’t have grape juice or wine you can use any Kosher liqueur or beer.
A cup with a minimum size of 86 cc (3 oz).
Matches (for lighting the Shabbat candles and as a Havdalah candle.
A small amount of cloves (for Havdalah).
A Siddur for Shabbat.
A Talit (for men)
Some prepackaged food which be eaten cold
Disembarking from the plane on Shabbat
If your plane lands after nightfall, then you are permitted to disembark from the plane and enter the terminal. Assuming the shuttle which takes the passengers from the plane, has a not-Jewish driver, you can get on the vehicle with everyone else.
Leaving the airport
If the airport is located within the city, you may leave the airport on foot and walk anywhere in the city, (or until the nearest Jewish area where you can stay for Shabbat). If you have valuable items with you which are not permitted to be handled on Shabbat (Muktzah), you cannot take them with you when you exit the airport.
Remaining in the terminal
If the airport is located outside the city, one must stay in the airport till Shabbat ends. If one has valuable items which are not permitted to be handled on Shabbat (muktzah), but which cannot be left in safekeeping, one is permitted to keep them and walk around with them in the airport.
If the doors between halls at the terminal are activated by electronic sensors, then one should wait until a non-Jew passes through and activates them for his own use, and then follow in their footsteps.
The Terminal Shabbat – in conclusion
As much as you try to prepare for any eventuality in life, sometimes you might find yourself in uncomfortable and very challenging situations, like being stuck at the airport. Not for 17 years like Nasseri and not even 9 months like in the movie. Just for one Shabbat.
If it happens, it can still be an inspiring spiritual experience. An opportunity to test one’s resolve in keeping the Shabbat a Holy Day even without all the resources one is used to. No Shabbat table and no synagogue, yet it can be a Shabbat when one is aware of their Jewish Identity every waking moment of the 24-hour day in the terminal.
We prefer that it doesn’t happen. But if it does…make the most of it. You’ll never forget the experience !!