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Sunday, July 23, 2006

On Shabbat Elevators

This week's NY Times real estate section has a reader Q & A on the topic of Shabbat elevators:
Q. Orthodox Jews in my co-op want to make one of our two elevators a Sabbath elevator, which would stop automatically at every floor. We have only 2 elevators for more than 190 apartments on 16 floors. Dedicating one as a Sabbath elevator could cause problems. For one, it could take quite a bit of time just to get in and out of our apartments, particularly from upper floors. Can the co-op do this even if a large number of people oppose it? ... Bob Zolt, Riverdale, the Bronx

A. Arthur I. Weinstein, a Manhattan lawyer and the vice president of the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums, said that the power to decide whether to have a Sabbath elevator belongs to the board of directors of the co-op corporation.

“New York’s Business Corporation Law provides that the business of a co-op is run by its board of directors,” he said. “And the courts have held that they will give considerable weight to the board’s exercise of its business judgment and will generally not overrule a board without very strong reasons.”

Mr. Weinstein said that while state law also requires a co-op to treat all shareholders equally, it is quite likely that a court would limit that obligation to financial matters and not extend it to building policies or house rules that may benefit one tenant more than another.

“The only real course of action for the questioner is to make his arguments to the other shareholders, let the directors know the concerns about this proposal and, if necessary, at the next election, vote in board members who agree with those concerns.”

This is an interesting question. As opposed to some accommodations that are made to increase the comfort level of observing Shabbat, such as an Eruv - which does not affect the quality of life of anyone who chooses not to utilize it - the question outlines a very different scenario. If, as the letter-writer alleges, there really are such a large number of nonobservant or non-Jewish residents who would be inconvenienced by putting one of only two elevators on a Shabbat schedule for much of the weekend, then it seems to me that it would be a hard sell. And, as the answer to question outlines, this would be an issue that is entirely up to the co-op board. So the assumption is that in order to approve this request, the board must either have a majority of Orthodox members, or those who are sympathetic to giving up their free use of the elevator over the weekend to make observant resident's lives a little easier on Shabbat, though the latter would seem unlikely to exist. My assumption is that in a case such as the questioner outlined, the granting of a Shabat elevator would be a long shot until there is an Orthodox majority on the board, just from a legal perspective.

And I'm not sure why, but for some reason, my knee-jerk response to this request is an uncharacteristically ghetto-jew one. My first reaction to this question was that this is an unfair request for the building's Orthodox residents to make of their non-Orthodox neighbors - to give up one of only two elevators for 16 floors, over the probably very busy weekend period. I mean, when they moved in, they knew that the building didn't have a Shabbat elevator, right? So why should their desire not to have to walk up the stairs on Shabbat come before those of their neighbors' desires not to wait an unfair amount of time for an elevator - at the very least until there is an Orthodox majority in the building?

32 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

there is also a good chance that half of the orthodox Jews in the building won't hold of teh shabbos elevator anyway.

8:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

we all have our ups and downs

9:38 PM  
Blogger Jewish Blogmeister said...

Interesting point. I thought it was a bit odd how some modern orthodox jews on the upper east side take these elevators on shabbos and thier not even shabbos elevators. They get the goy to press thier floor and that's it. Supposedly the Rabbi from KJ allows it which I never understood at all. I had to walk 16 flights not fun I can promise you.

9:39 PM  
Blogger aj said...

IIRC, even certain YU Rabbis allow a non-Shabbat elevator if a non-Jew presses it as long as it is above the 6th floor -- or some other number identifying a very high floor (i.e. for my 90yr old grandparents on the 4th floor, that would be fine too, while for me, a young-20s guy, it should be at least 15...)

10:13 PM  
Blogger Ari Kinsberg said...

"my knee-jerk response to this request is an uncharacteristically ghetto-jew one."

no, it is the sensible one.

but to play devil's advocate, what if was a handicapped resident wanted the building to make certain changes that would inconvience of other residents and/or increases the building's expenses?

11:57 PM  
Blogger mother in israel said...

You don't have to have the Shabbat elevator running all day. It can be on a timer to coincide with shul times etc. Some can even be set to run for one trip up and down as a Shabbat elevator and then return to normal service. So it's not as big an inconvenience as you might think, especially when there is another elevator.

1:31 AM  
Blogger MDmom said...

i have seen and experienced several of those options as mentioned by mother in israel. i've seen where the elevator stops at every other floor (so you might have to walk up or down one flight if you are the "skipped" floor) or where the elevator makes all stops on the way up, but then shoots down to the lobby after the top floor... granted, shabbat elevators are not the most convenient but better than having to walk up 15 or more flights in an unairconditioned stairwell on a disgusting humid ny shabbat morning).

3:01 AM  
Blogger Pragmatician said...

Even as Orthodox Jew I'd vote against if there are a number of non Jewish residents.
It's very annoying for those who do not require it.
I remember this hotel when on Sunday they hadn’t switched off the Shabbes mode and it was terrible!

5:48 AM  
Blogger SephardiLady said...

I imagine that there will be a lot a lot of imposition, especially if the co-op board is afraid of liability.

Weekend staff is usually less competent and in the case of an emergency, they will need to know how to turn the elevator to regular mode. Boards run scared of potential mess-ups in emergencies.

9:14 AM  
Blogger joel rich said...

Interesting topic - has anyone asked an authority whether there is something to be said for not living in (or certainly moving into) a community/building that requires use of what appears to be a bdeieved(after the fact)approach to an ongoing element of their life? What was the response?
KT

9:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

when they moved in, they knew that the building didn't have a Shabbat elevator, right?

Well, someone in the family may have become unexpectedly disabled. Or perhaps a woman in her 8th or 9th month of pregnancy?
Or they became ba'al t'shuva while living in the building?

9:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just recently I was visiting someone at a hospital in NJ and they had an elevator that was for use during Shabbos. Trust me, it was extremely annoying for those who entered it unknowingly.

You should of heard the reactions of those who wanted to know what the purpose was.

Pretty comical...

Anyway, I think it's a bad idea to accomodate a small number of those who take it to such a level that they won't even press a button.

If, however, the VAST majority of users of the elevator are orthodox, then I guess it's no big deal.

10:26 AM  
Anonymous bsci said...

Just a 16 story building? It could stop at floors 4, 7, 10, 13, and 16. It would also stop at any floor where someone presses a button. That would be minimally invasive on the non-Jewish residents and a huge convenience for the shomar shabbat residents.

1:40 PM  
Blogger OrthoMomsBiggestFan said...

Give me a break - like most frum people wouldnt push the button anyways when they know no one is looking??

I was once at a wedding in an out of town city and was put on the 17th floor. I get in the 'vator in my shabbos suit, yarmulke and tallis to go up to the hospitality suite on the 24th floor (isnt that odd that they made the hospitality suite so high up??) and push the button. There was some native, who i figured never saw a jew before, looking at me cross-eyed as I pushed the button - it was PRICELESS!! The bottom line is, most "frum" people will push the button anyways - as long as no one is looking!

2:53 PM  
Blogger Ralphie said...

Many moons ago at Hebrew University I had the unfortunate opportunity to write a paper about shabbat elevators (unfortunate because I now know too much). I even paid a visit to the Institute of Halacha and Technology in Jerusalem (that place is like a low-rent James Bond lab). Anyway the bottom line is that there are many other issues than just button pushing - electronic scales, a person's weight contributing to counter-balance measures upon descent, and others that escape me.

But even if all of this is accounted for, I second the sentiment that it's not worth antagonizing the neighbors.

Also, OMBF... isn't Someone always looking?

3:17 PM  
Blogger OrthoMomsBiggestFan said...

"S"omeone always is - but when "s"omeone isnt, people feel its ok.

4:19 PM  
Blogger Halfnutcase said...

personaly i feel that it would be a chillul hashem to make a big tumul about the shabbos elevator untill either all of the origional non-orthodox ocupants are gone,

or the entire place is orthodox.

what ever it is it should not be done with a big tumul and a whole huge look at us, poor pathetic people we are kind of attitude, because we AREN"T poor pathetic people. they chose to live in a place that they have to walk that many steps. live with it.

basicaly if they're doing it, this should never, EVER reach the papers because of what people will say.

6:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read that too, and I have to say my knee-jerk response was entirely different (as a non-orthodox Jew). I thought, "what's the big deal with making one elevator do this?" Yes, it might be annoying to wait (as some people have pointed out), but get over it-it's a minor inconvience at most. If someone is disabled, or pregnant-as somebody else pointed out-than it's much harder for them to deal with stairs.

"I second the sentiment that it's not worth antagonizing the neighbors."

I think that's a really sad sentiment, and a poor commentary if it's true that it would. Why should waiting a few more minutes-or even a little more-antaganoize people, at least to the point of being antaganoized at an entire religious group (as the post implies it might)? I might not be thrilled at waiting, as I indicated, but I would try to understand, and I sure wouldn't be antaganoized. When you live in a community-and an apartment complex is one-you have a responsibility to compromise, and try to understand others' needs. And if they don't harm you (and I would argue this wouldn't), let them take priority. I would hope more people would feel the same.

And I've just realized that I've repeatedly misspelled "antagonized." Apologies to all.

9:15 PM  
Anonymous George said...

"Well, someone in the family may have become unexpectedly disabled. Or perhaps a woman in her 8th or 9th month of pregnancy?
Or they became ba'al t'shuva while living in the building?"

And what do you do in these case when you live far away from an orthodox shul, you figure out a way to deal with it. That being said co-ops have a democratic process and their board will make a decision based on what is right for their co-op constituents.

11:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Halfnutcase: I agree. Most people who aren't Orthodox are not aware of the many, many restrictions that you follow. Sure, they know about the prohibition on driving and business but if they get schooled on the whole elevator thing and not even being allowed to rip toilet paper on shabbos, it's going to paint you as BEYOND fanatical.

Anon 915: I'm sorry, but it IS antagonistic and to be honest, unfair, to accomodate those in a high rise co-op that believe pressing an elevator button is a major transgression.

This only proves my point- that those who live such a high level of observance are best suited by doing what they do best- self segregating in all aspects of life.

Gee, who would've thought that it would not only include schools, camps and restaurants, but apartment dwellings as well!?!?!?

6:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I became Balat Teshuva after years of living on a high floor. Without being really elderly, I am not at all young. I press the elevator button with the back of my LEFT hand to 'make a difference' and 'remember Shabbat'. It would be bad for my health to walk.

I am no rabbi and I have not asked one about this, on purpose. What do you say, is this "pikuach nefesh"? Is this a "shinui"?

I am a believer, believe me.

5:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WOW I can`t believe what I am reading......
Why is this question any different than the lawrence school district issue.
What was your knee jerk reaction to that subject???
When we moved in we knew there was a public school ????
HMMMM

7:22 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Anonymous said...

WOW I can`t believe what I am reading......
Why is this question any different than the lawrence school district issue.
What was your knee jerk reaction to that subject???
When we moved in we knew there was a public school ????
HMMMM


What an inane comment. Hmmm, let's see how I can answer this without wasting too much of my time:

1. The public schools have PLENTY of money to run properly - I would hardly compare the paltry services that the Private school sector here receives as compared to the public school sector as akin to an Orthodox minority splitting the elevators with their non-Orthodox neighbors 50-50. I mean, come on!

2. Um, we have a majority of votes here - at least as evidenced by the outcomes of recent elections. As I pointed out in the post, if there is a majority of people either on the board or in the building that want a Shabbat elevator vs. those that don't, then the discussion is moot - the majority will ostensibly will vote in their agenda. So you ask "Why is this question any different than the lawrence school district issue." - well, in terms of majority generally being able to vote for what they desire, it isn't.

8:52 PM  
Blogger Halfnutcase said...

well actualy come to think of it i think that probably what people should do in a large highrise is simply the same thing jews do when they have to buy houses to far from an othrodox shul.

make one.

buy an extra appartment that as many of the orthodox jews can get to, and make a shul, really it should be simple. (in NYC you already don't get green and fresh air so whats wrong with not having to walk out side?

and no not all orthodox sequester themselves. on shabbas maybe, but not the rest of the time.

10:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

and no not all orthodox sequester themselves. on shabbas maybe, but not the rest of the time.

Oh really? Could've fooled me.....

12:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oy I live in an upper income building in Manhattan and here is the clue that you are all missing: the non-Jews have weekend houses. They are all gone on Shabbos. You guys all care more than they do.

6:10 PM  
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9:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there such a thing as a shabbat bus/shuttle i.e., if a bus is making it's rounds and you don't have to pay, can you just hop aboard??

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