Shabbat Elevator

  • By Joe Seamans
  • Posted 08.26.10
  • NOVA

For many Orthodox Jews, conventional elevators and observing the Sabbath don't mix. So how can they get to the top floors of tall buildings after sunset on Friday while still being true to their faith? Hotel managers in Miami Beach, together with rabbis, have come up with a clever solution: It is called the Shabbat elevator, and it allows Orthodox Jewish guests to ride an elevator to their hotel floor while still properly observing the Sabbath, even though it often means a longer ride.

Running Time: 02:42


Shabbat Elevator

Posted: August 26, 2010

NARRATOR: Some of the slowest elevators in the world can be found in hotels on Miami Beach.

RABBI MANISH SPITZ: We have orthodox Jewish people coming here for the season, for all year round. So the question is, how do people get to their homes, get to their rooms on the Sabbath if you're on a high floor. Sleeping in the lobby is not a solution.

NARRATOR: The problem is, for observant Jews, it is forbidden to ride an elevator on the Sabbath.

RABBI MANISH SPITZ: The Bible specifically says we do not make a fire on the Sabbath. When you push the button, you create electricity, you're creating a fire. The door opens, there is all types of electricity, all types of labors are being done, and therefore that would be forbidden on the Sabbath.

NARRATOR: The other problem is the electric eye in the elevator door.

SHELLEY SPITZ: The electric eye detects your presence, opens those doors again. Uh-oh, your body has opened those doors. If we interfere with the electric eye, it's just as bad as pushing the button.

RABBI MANISH SPITZ: So the Rabbis, together with technology and science have come up with a solution, where they created a Sabbath elevator where there is no need to push any buttons.

SKIP KEARNEY (HOTEL MANAGER): We do have a Shabbat elevator for our Jewish customer. Our maintenance staff typically around five-thirty in the evening before the sun will set will key the elevator where it goes straight to the rooftop, up to 17. And then will stop on every floor on the way down until it hits, actually, the basement.

NARRATOR: Going up, the Shabbat elevator is an express to the penthouse. Coming down the elevator takes about seven minutes, stopping at every floor.

It could take seven minutes for the elevator to arrive. Not bad perhaps on a day of rest.

DINA ZAVADI: The day is a more relaxing day. So there are no appointments, doctors, running with the kids. Everyone is walking, and it's a relaxed day.

ZMIRA LEVIN: It's good we have a Shabbat elevator. It helps a lot with kids.

NARRATOR: For those who live by ancient law, modern life can be a challenge. But elevators make modern life possible. And the Shabbat elevator is proof that people will always find ways to use them.

RABBI MANISH SPITZ: Here we are in the lobby. We're going to get out. We have six seconds to get out so we don't break the circuit. Here we are. Automantic.


Production Credits:

Produced for NOVA by
Joe Seamans
© WGBH Educational Foundation

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