Ultra-Orthodox Balk at New Rabbinical Ban on Sabbath Elevators

Announcement snowballed into strong disagreement that threatens to destroy a rare halachic consensus.

It would be an overstatement to conclude that the latest halachic ruling banning the use of elevators on the Sabbath shocked residents of the Tovei Ha'Ir retirement home in Jerusalem.

Most residents at this institution, which caters to the religious and ultra-Orthodox, received news of the rabbinical edict with indifference.

Tovei Ha'Ir residents have been using elevators on the Sabbath for years - this is the only way they can get from their rooms on the upper floors to the dining hall and synagogue.

One of the retirees, a Haredi man, barely concealed his sarcasm when he responded, "What changed suddenly? What was kosher until now is suddenly treyf?"

Another woman was releaved to hear the edict was issued by Rabbi Yosef Sholom Elyashiv, the head of the Lithuanian Haredi community.

"Lucky for me that he isn't my rabbi," she said. "I only follow the Gerrer rebbe," she said.

Residents were unanimous in their opposition.

This is an edict that will not work," one said. "If we all adhere to it, not only will we not leave our rooms on Shabbat, but life in places like Manhattan will come to a standstill."

In halachic terms, Tuesday's announcement, which appeared as a tiny notice in the religious newspaper Yated Ne'eman, has snowballed into a strong disagreement that threatens to destroy a rare halachic consensus, not to mention the routines of hundreds of thousands of observant Jews around the world.