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Escalators: Are they allowed to be used on Shabbos or not?

(and the reasons behind it)

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3 Answers 3

Well it is no fun if there is no Machlokes. Rabbi B Horovitz from Yeshiva Dvar Yerushalayim writes that "One may not use a lift or escalator." - see link

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Would be nice if there was a halachic rationale given for it, though. –  Alex Nov 17 '10 at 0:02
Interesting, though you could argue that an escalator is fundamentally different in that it stays in one place - unlike an elevator, where the car itself goes up and down. –  Alex Nov 17 '10 at 3:20
By the way, is R' Horovitz a posek, such that an essay like the one linked constitutes considered pesak? I'm not suggesting that anyone should jump on escalators based on R' Neuwirth's and R' Jachter's say-sos without consulting their own rabbi, but I'm not sure that an unsubstantiated position taken in an essay like this is enough to establish that there's a machlokes haposekim. (Of course, in all likelihood, R' Horovitz' position is based on other posekim who are stricter than R' Neuwirth on this and didn't happen to be quoted by R' Jachter.) –  Isaac Moses Nov 17 '10 at 9:17
Actually I have no idea who Rabbi Horovitz is. I only put it in to show that there are those that may disagree with Rabbi Neuwirth. –  Gershon Gold Nov 17 '10 at 12:35
Gershon: your link is broken. Mind fixing it? –  yydl May 18 '11 at 19:08

Regular Escalators that don't have sensors which start working when one gets near them are okay Meikar Hadin but should be avoided unless one is Zaken or Holeh according to Hacham Yishak (Yalkut Yosef).

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R' Yehoshua Neuwirth, in Shemirath Shabbath in 23:52 permits the use of escalators. R' Chaim Jachter indicates (1) that this is because escalators don't have the problems with elevators expressed by R' Levi Yitzchak Halperin, the main authority behind prohibiting them.

For a detailed discussion of the issues with elevators, read R' Jachter's four-part series on the topic. The topic is complicated, involving a great deal of engineering and Halachic understanding, but it seems from R' Jachter's summary that the main problem with elevators is that the weight of passengers on a descending elevator assists the motors in making it descend. I'm not completely sure why this issue doesn't apply to "down escalators," but I suspect that passengers on them impede the escalator by increasing frictional force opposite the direction of travel at least as much as they speed it up by adding gravitational force partially in the direction of travel.

(1) Probably based on a footnote in the original Hebrew version of the book, which I don't happen to have handy. Anyone who does and wants to fill in details would be welcome.

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A more recent development in the exciting world of escalator technology are sensor switches (3rd to final bullet) - if a specified amount of time has elapsed without a rider on the escalator it will either reduce it's speed or stop. When a new rider steps on the escalator, a sensor is triggered which then returns the escalator to normal operating speeds. This is both a safety and energy saving feature. However, from a use-on-shabbat point of view, I'd imagine this presents issues with the opinion cited above. –  Ariel Allon May 18 '11 at 18:49

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