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Roadside Insistence

Written by הרב דניאל קירש, 3/3/2019


"לא תבערו אש בכל מושבותיכם ביום השבת"

Roadside Insistence

The municipality of a particular town, in the Shomron area of Israel, put in place a law that, in the religious area of the town, it was forbidden to drive on Shabbat. The residents were pleased with this development, which allowed them to celebrate Shabbat in an environment of sanctity, and respect for the special day. Drivers obeyed the law, as they had little reason to drive through the religious neighborhood on Shabbat, anyway.

That is, until a new road was built between the religious neighborhood, and another neighborhood in the area. One Shabbat afternoon, Shmuel left his house, and walked in the direction of the synagogue. He was startled to see a car coming in his direction! Shmuel realized that the new road was causing new problems, because now, it seemed, drivers would start driving through the religious area, as a shortcut.

Shmuel sighed with pain, as he realized that the tranquil scene of people serenely walking outside, and children playing in the streets, was about to be shattered by blatant Shabbat desecration. Without further hesitation, Shmuel stepped out into the street, and waved his hands in front of the approaching car. The driver of the car stopped, and rolled down his window.

“Hey, what’s this?” the driver inquired impatiently. “Why are you blocking the street!?”

Shmuel pointed to the road sign at the entrance to his neighborhood. “I’m sorry, but this is a religious neighborhood, and driving on Shabbat is forbidden by law.”

An argument ensued, with Shmuel insisting that the driver turn around and go the other way, and the driver insisting that it would take him an extra seven minutes to bypass Shmuel’s neighborhood, and it was a waste of time and gas, and he really needed to get home before the ice cream in the back seat melted. After a few rounds, however, the driver gave up, spun his car around, and headed for home via the long route.

By this time, a crowd had gathered. One of the men walked up to Shmuel and slapped him on the back. “Good job, Shmuel. You taught him a lesson!”

“Yeah, we need to make sure that people don’t ruin the Shabbat spirit in our neighborhood!”

Only David stood on the side, looking thoughtful. “I know that cars shouldn’t be driving here on Shabbat.” David paused. “But I’m not sure that you were allowed to do that. I mean, by stopping him from driving through our neighborhood, you made him go the long way, which means that he was driving for even longer on Shabbat, which is even more of a violation!”

The talking stopped for a second, as the men digested David’s words. Then Shmuel began speaking again “You’re right that I made him drive further today, but by doing that, we’re stopping him once and for all!”

The men continued walking to synagogue, where they found their rabbi, and asked him whether or not it was correct to make the errant driver make a detour.

What do you think?

Answer of Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, shlita:

Regarding this matter, there is a distinction to be made, between the basic question, and the application regarding a public matter. In essence, it is forbidden to divert a driver, and cause him to extend his ride, on Shabbat. However, in matters relating to the public, at times, it is permitted to cause a loss in the short term, for the sake of long term benefit. If causing the driver to take a detour will deter him from driving through the religious area in the future, there is room to say that causing the detour is permitted. Similarly, we find that our sages say that it is preferred to violate one Shabbat, in order to facilitate keeping many Shabbats in the future. (Despite the fact that this is not causing the driver himself to observe more Shabbats in the future, this action is contributing to the preservation of the Shabbat spirit in the religious neighborhood.)

A similar issue arose in the past, when some groups demonstrated on Shabbat, to prevent Shabbat desecration. As a result of the demonstrations, the police arrived, which was in itself a Shabbat violation. Nonetheless, in matters relating to the public, there is room to permit such things. However, in all such cases, it is essential to consult with Torah scholars in the area, as this is a very delicate matter.

In summary: There is room to permit Shmuel’s actions, however, it is necessary to consult with local Torah scholars, regarding this matter.


Translated by Avigail Kirsch

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