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As a student, I've noticed that practically all of the dormitories in my university require residents to tap their student cards to a sensor before they are allowed to enter their building. (Moreover, some buildings even use electronic room keys, but it seems (to my non-Jewish mind) that the situation for that specifically might be covered by something like this.)

Am I right in assuming that taking such an action would be forbidden on Shabbat, since it involves manipulation of electronic devices? If so, have any recommendations been made for such situations (particularly since it doesn't sound like a good idea to simply wait outside for a Gentile to unlock the door in the dead of winter)?

  • Update, since I was bored enough to do some more research: it looks like while some universities are willing to make accomodations and give keys to students, others straight-out refuse to. – user8555 May 4 '15 at 4:42
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    "others straight-out refuse to" - I'm no lawyer, but you may want to seek legal counsel on this. It may be a case of unwillingness to provide reasonable accommodations for religious purposes (i.e. - religious discrimination). Offhand, sounds similar to cases where colleges fail to provide reasonable accommodations for handicapped. – DanF May 4 '15 at 16:00
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    @DanF There's also a slight delay from when I pour water out of a bucket to when it lands on the campfire. Is that permitted on Shabbat? – Double AA May 4 '15 at 17:49
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    "being stranded in a hotel lobby isn't quite the same as being stranded outside a building". I missed that nuance. I.e., perhaps if you're standing in the rain outside, there may be a greater "need" allowing more leniency? Wow. I guess Shomer Shabbat living in a college dorm is getting a lot more challenging these days! Maybe the only "kosher" way to get to you room on Shabbat is to leave the window open and climb through the window! Then, you have to be sure the ladder is propped up against the window before Shabbat, if there's no eruv. – DanF May 4 '15 at 20:49
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    Here's a guide to dealing with Shabbat accessibility issues in college - including dorm access: docs.google.com/document/d/… – Hartzl Aug 6 '15 at 17:03
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A competent rabbi should be consulted in all such cases.

A similar case is discussed here where the questioner wants to know what to do if he's in a hotel where the rooms are accessed by a magnetic card. The rabbi answers that he should ask the hotel staff for a conventional key. If that fails, he can ask a non-Jew to open the door for him (since one is permitted to ask a non-Jew in cases of "great need".)

See also Rabbi Yuval Sherlow's opinion, and Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein's more stringent opinion.

  • My wife and I were on a cruise ship which included Shabbos and were advised to tape the card over the latch so that the door could not lock. However, this was only to the door of the cabin. Also since there would be no eruv on the campus, one would not be allowed to carry the card outsinde in any case. – sabbahillel May 5 '15 at 2:01

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