The Written Torah mentions little about creating a fire on the Sabbath, if I remember correctly. By starting a car, I'd think I would be starting a fire. Is a Jew allowed to do this? 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, 2011 at 16:51

7 Answers 7


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? Oct 9, 2011 at 20:24
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    @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, 2012 at 12:26
  • Our Oral Tradition (recorded in the Talmud Does the Talmud state that this is based on Tradition? If so, consider sourcing. If not, consider not making things up. If this is just a figure of speech thrown around this isn't meant to mean anything at all, consider being more clear.
    – mevaqesh
    Dec 12, 2016 at 2:40
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    Hence, use of the internal combustion engine is prohibited on Sabbath Do you have any sources that the halakhic definition of burning includes turning on an engine. I don't see how this is much better than this answer.
    – mevaqesh
    Dec 12, 2016 at 2:41

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, 2011 at 12:37
  • when the time comes I welcome you to edit :)
    – Avraham
    Jul 13, 2011 at 13:00
  • This shows that the OP's question can be extended from turning on the car, to driving the car. It fails, however, to answer the question.
    – mevaqesh
    Dec 12, 2016 at 2:45
  • @mevaqesh I think this does answer the question, if it is a little light on detail. Assuming, as the questioner does (at least in the current iteration of the question; I haven't checked the history), that fire is forbidden on Shabbos, Avraham says that there's a lot of fire involved in driving a car. What's missing? [Review: Looks OK]
    – MTL
    Mar 14, 2017 at 18:32
  • @shokhet the op Is asking whether the fire of turning on a car is the same fire that Jews are forbidden from making on Sabbath. The answer just says that driving would have the same status as whatever the status of turning on the car would be. At most it simply assumes the answer to the ops question with no sources and then talks about something else. Perhaps barely a very low quality answer.
    – mevaqesh
    Mar 14, 2017 at 18:54

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.

  • 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, 2012 at 3:39
  • 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 Maybe those categories were all generally strenuous. I fail to see how specifying which sorts of activities are included in the prohibition, tells us whether or not not strenuous activity may be forbidden.
    – mevaqesh
    Dec 12, 2016 at 2:43
  • 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 is a nice derasha. In general halakha does not recognize the original derashot of unknown internet users. Do you have any source for this in Hazal?
    – mevaqesh
    Dec 12, 2016 at 2:44

See Shut Har Tzvi Vol. 1 O"C 171 Oth 2 where HaGaon HaRav Tzvi Pesach Frank writes explicitly it's an Issur DeOraita of Mavír - lighting a fire on Shabbat. Therefore its Assur.

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  • Seems like he is talking about electric tramways (not combustion engine cars) and when he says "מעביר" he is talking about carrying an object 4 amoth in reshuth harabim: hebrewbooks.org/… Did I miss something or misunderstand something? yesterday
  • see the last line: "לענין אוטו שהוא נוסע על ידי אש ממש ויש כאן מבעיר" I don't think this can be understood in other way. Ill try to find more sources in support for my answer. : ) 7 hours ago
  • Thanks for the reply. I got hyper focused on the beginning and didn't see it through to the end. Perhaps edit the exact language he used into your answer. 7 hours ago
  • See also Chazon ovadia Shabbat vol 1 pg 132the para starting with "איברא" where chacham ovadia brings many sources on riding a bus on shabbat where it could be considered as lighting fire. 7 hours ago

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, 2011 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, 2011 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, 2011 at 16:42

Shemot (Exodus) 35:3

לֹא תְבַעֲרוּ אֵשׁ בְּכֹל משְׁבֹתֵיכֶם בְּיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת

You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwelling places on the Sabbath day.

(Translation via Chabad.org)

This verse clearly instructs us that it is forbidden for a Jew to light a fire on the Sabbath. According to the Rabbinic Tradition, which is binding, starting a car is prohibited as it lights a fire in the engine when it combusts. Electricity also falls in this category.

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 5:14

וְיוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבָּת לַיהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה כָל מְלָאכָה אַתָּה | וּבִנְךָ וּבִתֶּךָ וְעַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתֶךָ וְשׁוֹרְךָ וַחֲמֹרְךָ וְכָל בְּהֶמְתֶּךָ וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ לְמַעַן יָנוּחַ עַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתְךָ כָּמוֹךָ

But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall perform no labor, neither you, your son, your daughter, your manservant, your maidservant, your ox, your donkey, any of your livestock, nor the stranger who is within your cities, in order that your manservant and your maidservant may rest like you.

(Translation via Chabad.org)

This verse also seems to tell us that we, nor our animals or servants, should do work on the Sabbath. In my opinion, a car might actually fit into this category, since today we use a car like one would have used a workhorse or ox in previous ages.

Plus we also must remember to keep the "spirit of Sabbath" too. Just because there is a loophole in halachah does not mean it should be done. The purpose of the Sabbath is to rest in G-d's creation, taking pride in what he made, minus our human additions. Sabbath is also for family and friends, spending time together and having fun. And lastly, Sabbath afternoons should be spent over a Chumash or some other religious text, as for some it is the only day one has time to study our Holy Torah! Sabbath is not meant for a Saturday drive.

  • Which rabbinic tradition refers to cars and electricity. I an fairly certain you either made this up, or are confusing the views of individual Jews with Judaism.
    – mevaqesh
    Mar 14, 2017 at 15:08
  • In summary most of your answer seems highly debatable and sourcesless. In fact you don't quite a single source that addresses the op other than your proposed derasha.
    – mevaqesh
    Mar 14, 2017 at 15:15
  • @HaLailahHaZeh I never said he didn't answer the question. I said that he made up all the relevant parts. The op knows that lighting fires is biblically prohibited. He wants to know the parameters of such a prohibition. this post provides no sourced ones. At most it quotes some supposed rabbinic tradition that this poster seems to have made up himself.
    – mevaqesh
    Mar 15, 2017 at 1:53
  • @HaLailahHaZeh Note that my original response to you mistakenly referred to a different post. I therefore deleted it and posted the above comment which refers to the correct post. Please flag this as obsolete after you read it.
    – mevaqesh
    Mar 15, 2017 at 1:55

But it is the engine that kindles and extinguishes the fire, if we were to do it by ourselves we would be better off with horses. In fact starting a car will first run an electric motor which positions the pistons correctly and causes the fuel to be sucked to the combustion chamber and only when the pistons are correctly loaded and positioned the engine sparks the fuel/air mixture. So all of the igniting and extinguishing happens by the engine controller's deference not the driver's. And if it is a diesel engine it won't even produce a spark, the fuel ignites spontaneously when it is pumped at high pressures into the chamber. Botton line starting the engine is the same as giving a command (to a machine, not even a human or animal) to kindle the fire not doing it directly, and as such it is akin to ask a non-Jew to drive you to your destination, only with one less layer in the chain of command. And if the reason is to attend to the Synagogue we can agree it's a very good one.

Links for the workings of Diesel and Otto engines http://auto.howstuffworks.com/engine1.htm http://auto.howstuffworks.com/diesel.htm

  • Welcome to Mi Yodeya Rafael! Consider reading this short Beginners' Guide to the site. Note especially that (as described there), this site differs from others sites in its emphasis on sources.
    – mevaqesh
    Dec 11, 2016 at 15:25
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    [cont.] Thus, in our particular case, we might ask, it is true that the combustion in an engine takes place via a mechanism, rather than by hand (a link to the workings of an engine wouldn't hurt), but who says that that makes a difference in Jewish law? One might similarly ask, that there may be a good reason to do something (go to the synagogue), but who says that that is sufficient to permit something that may otherwise be forbidden.
    – mevaqesh
    Dec 11, 2016 at 15:25
  • Apologies here are some links (the internet certainly doesn't lack in this subject)
    – Rafael
    Mar 14, 2017 at 12:05
  • I was just pointing the inconsistencies of this prohibition. Fine, your law disregards if the action was performed by human or machine, then what about leaving the elevators in auto-cycle, each time the start/stop a switch is actuated thus creating/destroying circuits just as an engine creates and destroys fire, thus breaking the law. Oh yes and what about oil powered thermal plants which can be run by huge combustion engines? Or worse, thermonuclear plants which destroy and create new elements (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_fission)?
    – Rafael
    Mar 14, 2017 at 12:47
  • If you have never studied or been exposed to halacha, then naturally much of it will not make sense to you. The problem in this case is not that a machine is kindling a fire on Shabbat, but that a Jew is performing an action on Shabbat that causes the machine to kindle a fire.
    – Matt
    May 21, 2017 at 19:26

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