Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Staying in a hotel with electronic locks on Shabbos

I stayed in a hotel this Shabbos in a small Jewish community near the shul. These days it is a big problem to stay in a hotel for Shabbos because almost all hotels have switched over to electronic keys. Electronic keys use electricity and therefore are prohibited to use on Shabbos for whatever reason electricity is prohibited (there are a number of reasons given including the opinion of the Chazon Ish that creating a circuit is Boneh min hatorah, RSZA holds that there is no issur whatsoever however, it is prohibited based on minhag). The bottom line is we assume that electricity on Shabbos is prohibited at least m'drabbanon.

The advice that I got was to tape up the lock and leave the door unlocked on Shabbos when I go out, I did this and while it worked it made me very nervous. R' Willig told me that if you get locked out you can ask a non-Jew to open it as it is a shvus d'shvus b'makom kitzva.

This illustrates the problem that electricity poses for us and is going to pose for us in the near future. Everything is going electronic. Soon it will be very hard to find anything that doesn't have some kind of electronic sensor on it. If you go to a hotel you can see some of them for example:
Electronic keys
Motion sensors which shut off the lights and air conditiong if there is no movement
Faucets that go on and off based on motion sensors
Toilets with sensors
Automatic doors
Security cameras

Household appliances are changing as well. New refrigerators all have sensors that are put into action when you open the door etc. (even if you tape down the light switch). Modern burglar alarms have sensors on the door and register when the door opens even if the alarm is off. There are surveillance cameras everywhere.

The point is that electronics and sensors are becoming ubiquitious, they are going to be everywhere. It will soon reach a point that we will not be able to do anything without causing some reaction in some sensor.

The question is what will the reaction from the poskim be? RSZA opinion that there really is no issur seems to be very well reasoned and I believe is generally accepted. The question is will anyone have the courage to run with it and say that in the modern world where circumstances have changed we need to allow certain things (like electronic locks, refrigerator sensors etc.) The fact is that in the next 10 years the incandescent light bulb will go the way of the dodo which will remove the only issur doraysa related to electricity. I know that there is a very fine line it is clear that we don't want people using computers, tv's, mp3 players on shabbos, on the other hand we are rapidly reaching a point where we will be unable to do anything on Shabbos in a modern home. The poskim need to come up with some kind of balance, given what is going on in the Jewish world I am not optimistic.


Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Don;t forget to leave the "Do Not Disturb" sign on your door when you tape the lock up on the doorframe. If you put your wallet in the room safe (or hotel safe) its not that big a risk.

I used to do that in HongKong all the time (Chabad, 6th floor Furama Hotel)

Anonymous said...

I also leave the door unlocked when I'm alone, but my wife is psychologically unable to sleep when the door is unlocked. When she is along we explain the situation to the hotel staff in advance and they will meet us at the room and unlock the door. We try just to hint at our needs on Shabbat (while giving the full explanation beforehand). We've had some hilarious (in retrospect) adventures using this technique. If we are in a party with non-Jewish friends. we give them our electronic keys, and offer to give them snacks when we need to get into our room. They then come along, open the room and have a snack, and we follow them in.

Kol Tuv


bluke said...

Most hotel rooms have a deadbolt as well, when I was in the room I locked it.

There are issues with amira l'nochri with what you are suggesting. It is not so simple that you are allowed to do those kinds of things. Amira l'nochri is a complicated topic that is not well known.

Critically Observant Jew said...

Can you do a post on RSZA opinion? Interested in finding out what his reasoning is. As for being unable to do anything - I was at a Shabbaton where there were automatic doors with an ultrasound sensor. The hotel turned off the doors and propped them open, but they could not turn off the sensor (it was connected to a different grid). There was really no way to go other via that entrance so I had to walk there with the sensor clicking every time I walked through.

Anonymous said...


Isn't RZSA's opinion more nuanced? Yes he says that electricity is not assur in and of itself - but if the electricity is causing something to happen which is assur it is problematic (i.e. the problem with an electric grinder is not the electricity - it is that the electricity is used to grind things). I believe in the minchas shlomo he compares this to mechnical items which were prohibited by a someone whom I can't recall right now for the same reason - you have to know whether the mechanical item is causing an issur or not. I believe he extends this idea to electricity - so we are left with no heter. Is this your understanding as well?

bluke said...

Basically RSZA went through all the reasons offered by the poskim and showed why they were invalid. I will post about this tonight or tomorrow.

bluke said...

Clearly RSZA agrees that you cannot use an electrical appliance to do a melacha. However, in theory he would permit something like turning on a fan or unlocking the door as the appliance is not doing any thing that is assur.

Anonymous said...

The Geek Guide to Kosher Machines

Anonymous said...

I attended a shiur by a rather well known Rav in Israel over the summer, who spoke of the Chazon Ish's psak, but how modern circuts do not work now the way they did then and his whole issue with boneh is no longer an issue.

He also spoke about RSZA's position and mentioned that if there's no malacha involved there's no reason that it is assur (clear so far).

Apparently in Gateshead (if I remember correctly) they recently installed a security system that the Rav okayed for shabbos use. If there's no Malacha then there's no issur, this Rav mentioned that it is possible that in a Hotel you can use the card since LED lights do not pose a problem. The only issue might be if a notification is sent to the security desk when a door is opened.

He also reasoned that you can turn off and on a fan on Shabbos since there's no Melacha involved. He wasn't giving a psak here for us to do this, but rather ended with "If we trust rabbaim to give a hechsher for kashrus, we should also trust rabbaim to give a hechsher for certain appliainces on shabbos".

Anonymous said...


Didn't you say that Rav Willig said that you could tell a guy to open your door for you? In addition, certainly if you rely on RSZA that electricity is just a minhag, and even if you told the goy explicitly to open it for you it would only be a minhag violation which doesn't constitute amira laakum.

bluke said...

Rabbi Willig was not talking l'chatchela, he said that if for whatever reason I get locked out I could ask a Goy because it is a shvus d'shvus b'makom mitzva.

According to RSZA the minhag is to assume that it is an issur d'rabbanan and therefore amira l'nochri would apply.

Am Kshe Oref - A Stiff-Necked People said...

This is an area I've never really delved into much, but I thought the reason we don't use electricity on Shabbos is because turning something on creates a spark, which is fire. Is this not the case? If so, what is the spark considered?

bluke said...

This is simply not the case anymore. Today's appliances do not create any sparks.