Religious rules over what can and cannot be done on the Sabbath – God’s mandated day of rest in the Ten Commandments – have led to a holy war of sorts in New York City involving, as strange as it may sound, an elevator.
At issue is whether a “Sabbath elevator,” a lift which automatically stops on all floors to preclude Sabbath-keeping Jews from having to push any buttons on the holy day, should be in operation inside a six-story apartment building on Manhattan’s upper west side.
The Fourth Commandment from the Bible specifically states: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. (Exodus 20:8-10)
Another instruction from the Old Testament states: “Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.” (Exodus 35:3)
Many Orthodox Jews consider the act of pushing an electronic button to be work or creating a spark in violation of one or both of these commands.
Touro College, the landlord of the building at 10 West 65th Street, rents many of its units to Jewish students. The school has been looking to help them abide by their custom of not working or operating machinery on the Sabbath.
With two elevators inside the building, Touro wants one of them programmed to stop on each of the six floors from Friday sunset until Saturday sunset.
Unfortunately, the constant stopping and opening of the doors creates a delay of 83 seconds for those riding in the lift, and that has enraged the elderly tenants of the complex, who dwell in 33 of the 86 units.
“We only have two elevators in the building and Saturday is usually the day when most of the tenants do their laundry and do their shopping,” James Berry, president of the Tenants Association, told WINS Radio.
“That would just take away one elevator that we use to get all that done. And the tenants, most of them, are not able to use the stairs.”
In April, the state authority that regulates rents ruled in favor of the elderly residents, thus shutting the door on the Sabbath elevator service.
In response, Touro College is now suing the agency, claiming the decision violates civil-rights laws.
The lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court states: “New York City is a bastion of tolerance – except where the 10 W. 65th Street Tenants Association and Division of Housing and Community Renewal are concerned.”
The Tenants Association alleges Touro has turned the building into a dormitory in violation of its certificate of occupancy.
“They have not amended their certificate of occupancy since 1938. So we don’t know what this building is – is it a dormitory or is it a residential building?” Berry said. “If it’s a residential building then why would you have a Sabbath elevator unless all the tenants want it?”
Touro College issued a statement reading:
“It is unfortunate that the state’s Department of Housing and Community Renewal chose to intervene at the request of some of the tenants – who, in the most offensive and discriminatory way – objected to this practice.”
“We therefore are seeking relief through a judicial proceeding to allow us, as property owner, to operate the building in a manner that is compatible with the religious practices of its student tenants and which poses minimum disruption to other residents.”
“Ultimately, we believe this matter can be resolved to the satisfaction of all parties in an amicable manner. Our aim is for all residents to live in and enjoy this building.”
Sabbath disputes are not just limited to the Jewish faith.
As WND previously reported, Christians have also been involved in a centuries-old clash over Sabbath observance, disagreeing over which day of the week is, in fact, God’s commanded day of rest.
Many believers claim the Sabbath was either completely done away with or changed to Sunday, while other Christians today still hold to the tradition of resting on Saturdays.