Elevators operating in Shabbat mode should not be used, according to a recent halachic decision issued by the heavyweights of the haredi rabbinical world.
"Regarding elevators on Shabbat, it is my opinion as well that one should not use them on Shabbat, whether one goes up or down," read a statement dated last Friday, signed by Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the nonagenarian spiritual leader considered the most important living halachic authority in Ashkenazi haredi circles.
The statement was appended to an earlier notice on the subject issued several weeks ago by Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Vosner, Rabbi Haim Kanievsky and Rabbi Nissim Karelitz - all highly respected halachic arbiters based in Bnei Brak.
A certified "Shabbat elevator" does not merely stop at designated floors automatically; its operating system is adjusted so that the weight of the passengers does not influence the amount of electricity the elevator uses.
Such technology has entered widespread usage, and in 2001, the Knesset passed a law ordering all residential buildings, and public buildings with more than one elevator, to include a control mechanism for Shabbat in one of the elevators.
The detailed notice issued by the Bnei Brak rabbis said, "The functions of Shabbat-mode elevators change with technological developments. A technical opinion has been brought before us in writing and verbally by technicians and engineers of elevators who are experts, and it turns out that the very use of the elevator, whether it is used to go up or to go down, causes the activation of mechanisms that result in transgressions prohibited by the Torah.
"It is forbidden to rely on any kosher certificate or supervision provided by various institutions [regarding Shabbat elevators], because use of elevators entails real desecration of the Shabbat," the opinion read.
Sources close to Elyashiv said that Vosner and Karelitz, who have opposed the use of Shabbat-mode elevators for many years, were the initiators of the decision.
A source close to Kanievsky said that he had signed after hearing that Elyashiv, Vosner and Karelitz had done so.
However, rabbis who specialize in finding halachic solutions to technologies used on Shabbat said that they would continue to stand by the kosher certificates they provided to elevators in hospitals, hotels and apartment buildings.
Rabbi Levi Yitzhak Halperin, head of the Institute for Halacha and Science, said Wednesday that he would continue to permit the use of elevators despite the decision by the rabbis.
"Every elevator that receives our authorization is thoroughly examined," said Halperin, who authorizes the Shabbat elevators in numerous multi-story buildings, including Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek Hospital.
"We are constantly keeping up to date on new technologies, and we are always able to find solutions in accordance with Halacha," he said.
However, the notice in the Yated Ne'eman newspaper cited elevators under the supervision of "various institutes" as not acceptable - likely a reference to Halperin's institute.
Halperin, whose solutions are widely accepted in the haredi community, told a haredi Internet site that Elyashiv had not wanted to sign the notice.
He also pointed out that Elyashiv had worded his own notice to say that he was opposed to elevator usage on Shabbat, but had not said he was opposed to Shabbat-mode elevators.
In addition, Elyashiv did not sign the part of the letter that said "technicians and engineers" had found new problems with the use of elevators.
Rabbi Israel Rosen, who heads the Tzomet Institute, which also finds halachic solutions to technological problems that arise on Shabbat, called the declaration against Shabbat-mode elevators "outrageous."
"The people behind the publication of that notice are stirring up trouble and causing unnecessary angst to innocent people who rely on Shabbat-mode elevators," said Rosen, a religious Zionist rabbi.
Rosen, whose solutions are not always accepted in more haredi circles, suggested that Elyashiv was not even behind the decision, but that there were extreme elements vying for Elyashiv's backing of public policy agendas.
"Apparently the people behind this are from Bnei Brak, where there are no tall buildings. Therefore, no special effort has to be made to find a solution to the use of elevators on Shabbat," he said.
Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein, the rabbi responsible for all of Jerusalem's hotels, met with The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday in the city's King David Hotel, and explained that "the King David and other hotels follow the halachic decisions of Rav Elyashiv. But we won't be taking out the device or putting up warnings. We trust that those who care will already know - it's been in the media, on the radio and in the haredi papers."
But when the Post approached a large number of hotel managers in Jerusalem about how they would respond to the declaration, many had not yet heard about it.
Naama Yemini, assistant manager of the Montefiore Hotel, had heard of the ruling, but explained that the hotel wasn't too concerned.
"None of our guests have asked us anything, and to be honest, we haven't received any instructions, either. I hope that they don't get to that point.
"The thing is that there are so many streams in Judaism. Some follow everything Rav Elyashiv says, and they will take the stairs, and others don't, and will continue to use the elevator," she said.
"As long as our guests continue to use the Shabbat elevator service, we will provide it, even if it is quite a nag for the non-religious community," Yemini added.
She lamented that the current situation led to an unfortunate problem for the hotel's religious clientele, claiming that "it will force religious people to stay on the lower floors, which is a shame."
But an unnamed worker at the King David explained that the haredi demographic most likely to abide by the ruling had never used the elevators in any case.
"The ruling that they were acceptable wasn't really for the general public. Haredi people almost always walked up the stairs rather than using the lift on Shabbat. It was only intended for those who would be troubled by taking the stairs - the elderly, the ill, and pregnant women," he said.