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Vayakhel 5770: Skiing on Shabbat?

BreckenridgeTwo weeks ago I found myself in Breckenridge, Colorado for the weekend.  My brother's family rented a ski condo, so we had a "mini family reunion" on the ski slopes.  For the first time I was presented with skiing on Shabbat as a practical question, not just a theoretical question.

After thinking about it, I decided it was technically OK to ski — the ski lift is basically an outdoor Shabbat elevator.  I bought my ticket before Shabbat, the condo was "ski-in, ski-out," so no need for any transportation to the lifts — also convenient for lunch without having to carry food or spend money.

So I went skiing.  I tried to make it somewhat Shabbas-dik: I started late, after davenning; I even took a nap after lunch, to try and keep a bit of the feeling of a day of rest, and I tried not to push myself too hard (normally I spend all day on the "black diamond" mogul slopes and keep my heart rate up).

However, after having done it, I don't think I would do it again.  It wasn't that restful — I couldn't resist the temptation to ski my usual terrain, especially since I was skiing with my brother-in-law who's a great skier.  The day just did not "feel" like Shabbat at all.  Part of that is not being with a community on Shabbat. 

This week's Torah portion starts our with Moses gathering the people together; and right after they are gathered together, he reiterates the commandment to keep the Sabbath.  Seven years ago, for this parsha in 5763, I gave a d'var Torah where I explored the relationship between community and the Sabbath; you can read it here.  In that drash I observed:

A few weeks ago I had what for me is an unusual experience:

Shabbat without community. I had surgery on a Friday, and Shabbat was spent recovering at home. Most of that Shabbat was spent sleeping. I observed all the traditional observances—we had a Shabbat dinner, I prayed, etc.—but all without the presence of community.

It was a much different experience than a “regular” Shabbat. Yes, it was a very restful day. However, the lack of community—the lack of praying together, studying together, eating together—also made it

less spiritually fulfilling and uplifting. A lot of the power of Shabbat to change our lives comes because of the power of community to nurture us.

So a few weeks ago I was given a reminder that "community" does make a difference. 

So I would in the future hold that skiing on Shabbat is something I won't do, not because it's technically prohibited, but because I would include it in the category of a "shvut" prohibition, something that not in keeping with the spirit of Shabbat.

There are things that are considered forbidden on Shabbat because of shvut; personally, I don't think I would make halachic rulings for other people based on shvut because what's in keeping with the spirit of Shabbat is clearly in the eye of the beholder.  TV can make an interesting example.

I consider it OK to use electricity for permitted purposes on Shabbat.  As a practical matter, this means that I will flip light switches on Shabbat, but not anything else, because pretty much anything else you might want to do with electricity — cooking, grinding, etc., — is forbidden on Shabbat regardless of how you do it.  However, I never watch TV on Shabbat — not for any playoff games, not for the Olympics, nothing.  Not with the TV left turned on before Shabbat or any other technique.  Because for me, even though I'd say it's OK to turn it on and off from the electricity perspective, I consider TV totally NOT in keeping with the spirit of Shabbat, so we're very strict about it.  But I had a congregant a few years ago who posed an interesting question: what if he ONLY watches TV on Shabbat, so it's part of how he makes Shabbat different than the rest of the week?  Could it be permissible then?  I had to admit it was a good question.  I'd probably rule it permissible for him, even though I'd never consider it permissible for me.

However you manage to find it, may your Shabbat be filled with the spirit of Shabbat, filled with good food, family, friends, and the presence of the Shechinah!

Shabbat shalom,

Reb Barry

Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

5 thoughts on “Vayakhel 5770: Skiing on Shabbat?

  • Aren’t there other issues related to skiing on Shabbat? I doubt there is an eruv at the ski resort, so I would consider poles in particular to be a problem. You sound like an experienced skier, but in my case there would be a definite issur of the melacha of (snow) plowing.

  • i found you on the web lookin for something on heschel. living deep in the hebrew morrocan heartland in the south of israel i am among other things pondering to what extent heschel translates into hebrew and into what is going on here
    your blog on skiing on shabbat seems to be very strange even though occasionally we have seen snow in the negev

    as heschel says in the carl stern interview he does not believe in monopoly so neither should i , i imagine
    have a good week

    yerucham , israel

  • Larry, I hadn’t thought about the poles as an issue; I took care about not carrying anything else. I wonder if it is analogous to someone who uses a cane, and whether that would be permissible?

    Mr Harding, Heschel wrote one book I’m aware of in Hebrew, “Torah Min Hashamayim.” I think there may be some translations of some of his other work, but I think a lot of it would be very difficult to translate as his use of language is on the level of poetry in many places.

  • Rabbi Barry

    What I am wondering about is not so much the language issue – you’re right the poetics of his writing is really difficult to transfer – but more whether and how to translate some of Heschel’s substantitive humanistic pluralistic and universal messages into language that the Israeli ear and heart might absorb.
    Also I think there should be some kind of Israeli – Diaspora dialogue going on as to H’s relevance here and abroad. Maybe there is such a dialogue taking place somewheres ?

    J.W.Harding a.k.a Jeff Goodman

  • I don’t think the use of the ski poles for recreational purposes can be considered analogous to a handicapped person who uses a cane – in which case the halacha considers the cane to be his “third leg” – based on the following source: “If a person is incapable of walking without a cane, then halacha considers the cane his ‘third leg,’ and he may therefore use it for walking in a public domain on Shabbat. If, however, a person uses the cane merely for additional comfort and support, but he is capable of walking without it, then walking with a cane is tantamount to carrying the cane and is therefore forbidden in a public domain on Shabbat…one may use it [the cane; in a public domain] only if he cannot walk without it” (Or LeSiyon, Helek 2, Perek 23:5, and see Menuhat Ahava, Helek 3, page 354). –found in The Daily Halacha by Rabbi Eli J. Mansour.

    Additionally, I would imagine that skiing would be classified as Uvdin D’Chol – an act, which even if it technically involves no other labors that are forbidden on Shabbat would not be permitted because it is considered an “weekday activity.”Although, as you asserted, there may be some cases in which this may be “in the eye of the beholder,” we generally determine by the majority.


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