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Shabbat Parashat Bereishit 5776

Ask the Rabbi: Shabbat Cruises

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: I signed up for an Israeli round-trip pleasure cruise to European destinations. The ship will be “covering ground” at sea on Shabbat? Is there a heter to be in such a situation? 


Answer: We will all but ignore halachically complicated issues about pleasure cruises for which there are legitimate lenient opinions. One is setting sail within three days of Shabbat (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 248:1-2; Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 30:66; Yalkut Yosef, Shabbat I, pp. 48-52). We will focus on seeing if there are cases where we cannot find any legitimate leniency.

Operating the motor is among full melachot that are done while sailing. If a Jew is performing these actions, it is forbidden to benefit from them, and so if that may be the case, one may not go on the cruise (see Yalkut Yosef ibid.). What if the relevant crew includes no Jews?

There are two issues with using a non-Jew’s work on Shabbat. 1) Telling the non-Jew to do the work. 2) Receiving benefit from the work a non-Jew did on behalf of a Jew (Shabbat 122a). There are more possible ways around the former, and we will focus on the latter.

The gemara (ibid.) says that if a non-Jew does melacha on behalf of a group including Jews and non-Jews, we consider it as being performed on behalf  of the majority. Thus, if the majority of a ship are Jews, it forbidden to benefit from the sailing done on their behalf. Now, let us clarify two points. First, regarding each melacha done, we have to consider who the beneficiaries are. Some (e.g., putting on the cabin air-conditioning) are done for all aboard, including staff. However, the sailing, as opposed to docking or anchoring at sea, is done because the vacationers want to arrive at a good time at the next destination. The second point is that when the benefit comes, it is too late for the individual, who cannot change the itinerary mid-cruise or jump ship, to do anything. Therefore, if he knows he will get forbidden benefit, he must not get on the ship.

There is a legitimate albeit surprising leniency (depending on how far one takes it – see Orchot Shabbat, vol. II, p. 457). The Magen Avraham (276:6) has a stringency that even with a majority of non-Jews, if we know that the work was done also on behalf of the Jews, it is forbidden to benefit. The Tiferet Yisrael (Kalkalat Hashabbat , Melechet Shabbat 9) says that if this were so, any Jew who paid to be on a ship would be forbidden to be on it on Shabbat. He argues with the Magen Avraham and also says that the Magen Avraham would agree if the ship would proceed even without the passengers (e.g., they anyway must sail to transport cargo). It is unclear if the Tiferet Yisrael meant that in the latter case, it is permitted even if the Jews constitute a majority of the passengers (which was rare in his time). Nevertheless, the Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata (30:66) says that if the ship sails on set schedules even without passengers, it is permitted even for a majority of Jews to go (see Shevitat Hayam (Waldenberg) 5). Similarly, Igrot Moshe (OC, IV:64) says that if an electric company is required to provide electricity even for a single customer, then it is permitted to benefit from their work even if a majority of the area’s residents are Jews.

Presumably, a round-trip pleasure cruise from Israel would not set sail without passengers or plan to continue sailing on Shabbat if all prospective Jewish passengers objected to it. The problem comes up when many of the passengers are unaware of the halachic issues and others are not Shabbat observant and are thus unwilling to sacrifice “covering ground” to keep Shabbat. I heard a suggestion that, statistically, some of the Israelis must not be Jewish. However, it is hard to believe that there are enough non-Jews on a round-trip Israeli cruise to be able to implement the above leniency. (Also, who will check lineage or cancel the cruise if too many clearly Jewish people participate?).

Therefore, we do not see a legitimate heter for going on the standard cruise that fits your description.

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