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The Five Books of Moses mention not stoking a fire on the Sabbath, if I remember correctly. By starting a car, I'd think I am stoking a fire. Is this okay to do for a Jew? Why or why not?

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Is your question "is this okay to do for a Jew" meant to be interpreted, "is this okay for a Jew to do" or "is this okay for a non-Jew to do on behalf of a Jew"? –  Seth J Jul 13 '11 at 16:51
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4 Answers 4

Moses tells the people who are about to get busy building the Tabernacle (sort of a travelling Temple in the desert) that they need to pause all their construction activities on the Sabbath, and mentions for instance not to burn things.

Our Oral Tradition (recorded in the Talmud, tractate Shabbat, see especially Chapter 7) has a list of 39 categories of creative labor which were used in building the Tabernacle, all of which are therefore prohibited on the Sabbath: "growing" (including planting, watering, and fertilizing), "plowing", "reaping", "cooking or baking", "dyeing", and so on and so forth. One of these is, as stated, "burning."

Hence, use of the internal combustion engine is prohibited on Sabbath. That's why Orthodox Jews have to be within walking distance of a synagogue, they can't drive; this creates a geographic sense of community that is very different than what typical American suburbia developed.

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How about an electric car with no internal combustion? –  Nathan Fellman Oct 9 '11 at 20:24
    
@Nathan The active use of electricity is a subject of dispute, but it is generally accepted that there are certain types of labor associated with actively using electricity (generating heat being akin to stoking a fire; completing a circuit being akin to an act of building, another prohibited category of labor among the 39 mentioned by Shalom above). –  Seth J Mar 23 '12 at 12:26
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not only starting the car, but on it's regular use you are constantly kindling and extinguishing fire, see how a 4 stroke engine works: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four-stroke_engine http://www.animatedengines.com/otto.shtml http://www.compgoparts.com/TechnicalResources/FourStrokeEngineBasics.asp http://www.howstuffworks.com/engine.htm

a different question is if a non jew could do it for a jew, which is a whole question on itself that depends on when, how, why and have exceptions

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Next year, you'll have to update your answer to account for Better Place's electric cars :) –  avi Jul 13 '11 at 12:37
    
when the time comes I welcome you to edit :) –  Avraham Jul 13 '11 at 13:00
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People often incorrectly think that the prohibitions in force on Jews on the Sabbath have to do with not 'working'. This is not exactly correct. One may hear people say that "in the old days" it was a lot of work to make a fire (and thus light) but now all we have to do is flip a switch, so now it is not work and is ok to do. This incorrect thinking is applied to many of the other Sabbath prohibitions. The fact is that the the type of 'work' that is prohibited, as someone stated above, is based on the 39 categories of creative activities that were done in the construction of the 'Mishkan', i.e. the Tabernacle (portable 'Temple') that was constucted when the Jews were in the desert after the exodus from Egypt. Those construction activities were halted for the Sabbath. The whole basis of 'resting' on the Sabbath is because G-d 'rested' on the 7th day after the 6 days of creation. Now we know that after those 6 days of creation G-d did NOT say "Wow, I am exhausted! I need to rest!" What that 'rest' means is that He stopped doing creative activity. In like manner he commanded the Jewish people to cease from doing creative activities on the Sabbath. This serves as reminder every week as to WHO it is that created the world we live in and who is truly in control of it. It gives a chance to reflect about the greatness of G-d and all He has given us, and about the limited creative powers that we do have because HE gave us those abilities to use to serve HIM.

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Pinny, thanks for your informative answer, and welcome to Mi Yodeya: I hope you stick around and enjoy the site. Please consider registering your account, which will give you access to more of the site's features. –  msh210 Jun 27 '12 at 3:39
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No a Jew cannot start a car on the Sabbath for the reason you outlined above. A non Jew could in theory open the car door and drive a Jew around, however there is a concept of marat ayin, where another Jew will see another Jew getting into a car and think, if they're getting into a car, so too can I drive.

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I'm not sure if marat ayin is the key issue. Asking a non-Jew to do prohibited work for a Jew is a problem of "amira l'akum" and is generally prohibited unless there are exigent circumstances. And the benefits of said work are also prohibited as a punishment. –  Curiouser Jul 13 '11 at 10:22
    
Sorry @Curiouser, you're right. To clarify, the non Jew would need to be arranged before the Sabbath and the Jew couldn't give any specific instructions such as let me out here. –  930913 Jul 13 '11 at 10:40
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930913 You could edit your answer to incorporate Amirah Le'Akum as a second consideration vis a vis a non-Jew operating the car for the Jew. You might also want to consider Grama (indirect causation) of the Jew's weight in the car causing the engine to work harder, burning more fuel at a faster weight, or whatever (I'm not an expert in combustion engines, so I don't know the details, but I know that this is commonly mentioned as an additional problem to be considered when weighing whether to allow a Jew to ride with a non-Jew). –  Seth J Jul 13 '11 at 16:42
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