If I understand correctly, if your airplane or boat arrived on Shabbos, you're stuck within a ~half-mile radius of the boat or plane until after Shabbos because of techum. (I'd heard some discussion about how Ben Gurion Airport is set up for this situation?)

I assume theoretically the same would apply to those who arrived at Ellis Island on Shabbos, which I'm sure happened. Do we have any written sources that specifically discuss immigrants arriving at Ellis Island vis-a-vis the halachos of techum on Shabbos? Could be anything from a halacha sefer to a random newspaper article reporting on the predicament.

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    My ancestors arrived to the states (after Ellis Island days) on a Friday evening, and stayed there (the port?) all of Shabbos because they refused to sign the required release documents on Shabbos.
    – intuit
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 14:05
  • @intuit thanks for the info! The laws of techum (not walking past the city limits) may have kept them stuck even if there were no papers to sign -- but good point, there usually were.
    – Shalom
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 14:31

1 Answer 1


I found two anecdotes of people on Ellis Island in terms of halacha. One is from an article in the Jerusalem Post:

""Ellis Island was their first connection to the other side," said Mulfeld, 60, an Internet entrepreneur. "That's where we got our start." It was a Saturday afternoon, and Mulfeld's grandfather - who had been in America for five years - stood waiting for the ship carrying his wife and four children (including Stanley's mother) to arrive. The ship arrived from Paris, where the family was delayed on their yearlong journey from a small town outside Kiev. "My grandfather was Orthodox and this Saturday in 1925 was the only Shabbat he would break," said Mulfeld."

Another is from the weekly publication Kfar Chabad, in which a Chabad chassiad named R' Uri Ben-Shachar describes his journey to visit the Rebbe Rayyatz (the predecessor of the Lubavitcher Rebbe) in Elul and Tishrei of 1947:

"...את חג שמיני עצרת תש"ח אני מקבל על אדמת "אי הדמעות", כמובן, ללא קידוש על היין או על חלות שלמות, אם כן לכה"פ אוכל לקדש את החג בתפילה, אשר לכל הדעות לא היתה אצלי תפילה חגיגית ביותר. למחרת בבקר אנו מתבשרים כי היום בצהרים אנו עוזבים בשעה טובה את המקום ומשתחררים מההסגר שהוטל עלינו. אינני יודע מה לעשות, הלא חג היום ואין לעלות על ספינה, מאידך האם להשאר לבד במקום ובפרט שאינני יודע את השפה, המחשבות מתרוצצות בקרבי, את מי לשאול ועם מי להתייעץ אין לי, ואני אנה אני בא. לאחר היסוסים והרהורים רבים מצאתי "היתר" וכך עשיתי את דרכי יחד עם שאר הנוסעים בספינה שעזבה את האי והגיעה כעבור שעה לנמל בניו-יורק. במשרד ההגירה החתימו את הפספורטים שלנו וכאשר נדרשתי לחתום בחתימת ידי, הסברתי - איך שהוא - לפקיד כי אינני חותם היות והיום אצלי "הולי דיי", כלומר יום קדוש - יום חג, והפקיד הואיל לחתום במקומי..."


"The festival of Shmini Atzeret of 5708 I began on "the Isle of Tears" [Ellis Island], of course, without kiddush on wine or whole challot, however, at least there was food. To be mekadesh the festival through prayer, according to all of the views I never had such a festive prayer. The next morning we were told that on that day, at noon, we would be leaving in good time the place and we'll be freed of the quarantine that was placed upon us. I did not know what to do, after all it was a festival today and one cannot board a ship, on the other hand, to stay alone in that place, and even more so considering that I don't know the language, these thoughts buzzed through my mind, someone to ask or consult I did not have, and I do not know what to do. After much hesitation, I found a "leniency" and so I made my way together with the rest of the passengers in a ship that left the island and reached the port of New York after an hour. In the immigration office our passports were signed and I was supposed to sign mine by hand, so I explained - somehow - to the clerk that I cannot sign because it is a "holy day" by me, meaning a holiday, a festival, and the clerk agreed to sign in my stead..."1

Edit: Not an Ellis Island story, but the "Rav Hakolel", the first and only Chief Rabbi of New York, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Charif, arrived at the Hoboken docks on Shabbat (Ha'melitz, June 25th, 1888):

"נו-יארק, א' דר"ח אב. - יש לנו רב! ר' יעקב יוסף חריף שהיה מ"מ בווילנא, בא בשלום ביום ו' עש"ק העבר אחר שהתקדש היום להנמל אשר לחברת האניות הבאות מברעמען...הוא בעיר הובוקין...ואע"פ שרק דרך חמשת רגעים באנית הקיטור היא לעבור את הנהר בין הובוקין ובין נו-יארק, בכל זאת החמיר הרב על עצמו לשבות ולשבת בדד בהובוקין עד מוצאי שבת אחר ההבדלה, כי גם אלה מבני אגודת קהלות האדוקים, שאינם מדקדקים כל כך שלא לעבור את הנהר באוניות בשבתות ומועדי השנה, היו נכלמים ביום שבת זה מלעבור מנו-יארק להובוקין לקבל את פני רבם, פן יהיו בעיניו כלועגים לרב המחמיר על עצמו..."

Translation: "New York, 1st Rosh Chodesh of Av. - We have a rabbi! Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Charif who was a Maggid Mesharim in Vilna, arrived safely on Friday, Shabbat eve [???] after Shabbat began at the docks of the ship company of ships coming from Bremen...in the city of Hoboken...and though it is only a distance of five moments in a steam ship to cross the river between Hoboken and New-York, the rabbi decided to be stringent and to remain by himself in Hoboken for the duration of the Shabbat until Motzei Shabbat after Havdalah, and so even those of the observant community [Orthodox Jews] that were not so strict about crossing the river in ships during Shabbat and holidays, were too embarrassed on that Shabbat to cross from New-York to Hoboken to greet their rabbi, in fear of appearing as though they mocked their rabbi's stringency..."

According to Prof. Kimmy Caplan in this lecture, though not clear from this particular article, Rabbi Charif actually stayed on the ship itself during Shabbat.

1 Sadly, he doesn't mention what the Rebbe thought of what he did (he states that the Rebbe knew of his weeks-long Ellis Island quarantine, and the Rebbe was obviously aware of when he finally managed to come to his house).

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