לֹא־ט֛וֹב הֱי֥וֹת הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְבַדּ֑וֹ
“It is Not Good for a Person to be Alone” (Gen. 2:18)
Rabbi Linzer, I have a congregant who can no longer walk to shul. I have discussed the option of using the grama scooters approved by Zomet and the Star K, but they cost more than $4000. She is able to purchase a “regular” used scooter for only $400. Would the financial savings justify using a regular scooter on Shabbat (perhaps with using a shinuy)?
Thank you for your question. The cost burden that the grama scooter puts on some people has to be taken seriously. I have long felt that we need to let those in our community know that there are alternatives, when necessary.
As I’ve written elsewhere, my general approach to the use of electricity on Shabbat, when it doesn’t involve other prohibited activity (e.g., turning on an incandescent light which is considered a fire), is that it is a rabbinic-like prohibition rooted in concerns of u’vda di’chol and a breaching of kedushat Shabbat. (This is very similar to the approach of Rav Nachum Rabbinovich, z”l). Thus, in cases of need, when the u’vda di’chol elements can be minimized, there can be room to be lenient. This is particularly so when a shinuy can be used, which both lowers the act down to a double-di’rabanan–which is permitted for the sake of a mitzvah–and which also signals that this is not an activity that is normally allowed.
In our case, we are dealing with tzorkhei mitzvah—getting to shul—and the uvda d’chol is relatively minimal, as the mode of transportation is not significantly different from that of a manual scooter. To minimize it even further, I would remove the digital readout panel, if it has one. An even better option, if possible, is to cover up the digital readout with a piece of cardboard. That would create a nice visual heker/marker.
As to using a shinuy – turning it on could be done with one’s knuckle. The challenge is the handlebars – breaking, changing speed, etc. The best I can think of is that the person should wear gloves (not driving gloves, but regular gloves) – that’s a shinuy for the warm months. For the winter, I’m open to suggestions.
Even if no shinuy is reasonably possible, I would permit its use. Beyond the mitzah element here, there is a major issue of isolation, loneliness, and depression that can result from not getting out of the house and feeling immobile, all of which represent significant health issues. Preventing loneliness and isolation would warrant the same permissions that we afford a choleh kol ha’guf, someone with an illness which effects the whole body, from whom di’rabanan prohibitions may be performed on Shabbat. This would certainly extend to the use of electricity, a di’rabanan-like restriction which is rooted in uvda d’chol, especially when the u’vda d’chol is minimal.
To be clear: The person does not have to otherwise be ill. Loneliness is itself the health issue and preventing it is the overriding principle. לא טוב היות האדם לבדו.
Bottom line: Cover up the readout and use a shinuy where possible, but even when no shinuy is possible, the scooter may be used.