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Thought for the Day: Hotel Shabbos Issues and Applied Biur Halacha

The Torah, of course, is eternal and unchanging.  Since HaShem created the Torah, time, and reality, the Torah is applicable to all times and situations; an advantage that man-made religion do not share.
A word about man-made religions: saying that Reform Judaism, Christianity, Mormonism, Islam and so forth are man-made is not at all controversial.  They all claim to be inspired by divine events, but they all freely admit that their religious practices are man-made.  You won't find anything about celebrating their god's birthday nor even his resurrection in the new testament.  You won't find  a word about oranges on the seder plate in the pentateuch.  Orthodox Judaism is unique in its claim that all aspects of observance are explicitly Divinely ordained.  It's also unique in that it can back that claim up with data; but that's for another time.
Halacha (detailed Jewish law) also doesn't change.  However, when new situations occur, then the halacha needs to be determined based on the process we have been using for thousands of years.  James Clerk Maxwell didn't have a TV, but he would have been able to understand all the details of broadcast and reception.  (Though he probably would have wondered why in the world anyone would actually want to watch network television...)

Part of the fun of living in the electronics age is working out how the Torah applies and then living it.  My wife and I spent this last weekend in a hotel that electronic door locks.  I am sure you have seen them; slide a card into a slot in the door handle, which activates an unlock mechanism and energizes a few LEDs to green.  Since the lock mechanism uses LEDs (as opposed to incandescent light bulbs), the problem of activating is knocked down to an issur d'rabanan.  It is, though, still assur to use those keys on Shabbos and, as a direct corollary, the card keys are muktza.

I first tried asking if they had any rooms that used keys.  They didn't go so far as to give me a blank stare (what's a key?), but they did affirm that they had no such rooms.  Ok... call the rabbi... just leave the room door open; leave the dead bolt extended, for example.  That worked fine for us... until the maid decided to help out by closing the door for us.  Now what?  Simply asking the maid to reopen the door for us won't work, because of the issur of amira l'akum/directing a goy to do a malacha for you on Shabbos.  The situation is even a bit worse, though, because one is not allowed to benefit from malacha done by a goy on Shabbos for your benefit -- even if the goy does it on his own -- so long as he is doing whatever for you.  Now really what?

I asked R' Fuerst (not on Shabbos, of course; he doesn't accept phone calls on Shabbos and I don't make them).  He told me to put on a show of being irritated with them; see the Biur Halacha on 276 (that was part of his answer, not my editorializing).  In the past I have just glazed over when R' Fuerst gave me sources, but: (a) I was curious about how the Biur Halacha got around to describing this situation, and (b) I sort of knew that Biur Halacha and didn't remember anything about being stern with anyone.

The last Biur Halacha discusses a goy fixing a lamp.  Apparently, they often had to extinguish it and then relight it.  The halacha allows one to benefit from the increased light that a goy brings into a room for you as long as you didn't ask him and you could have functioned with the previously existing light.  Once the goy extinguishes the flame, of course, you can no longer function; so what's the heter for him to relight it?  The Biur Halacha says that if it is his job to keep the lights bright, then he is not doing anything for you, he is doing it for himself.  R' Fuerst says that be being stern you make the goy nervous about his job and so opening the door becomes something he is doing for himself.

Ah; so that's how to learn a Biur Halacha.

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