Monday, February 1, 2010

Shabbat module mobility scooters

Shabbat module electric mobility scooters are a very specialised item. After all, unless you are Jewish and observing the day of rest, it isn't even going to cross your mind that you cannot "work" on Shabbat, let alone look for a mobility scooter with a Shabbat module. However, I know from personal experience that there are many people out there who rely on scooters and mobility aids to keep them mobile and help them get around; and on Shabbat it is important to get to Temple to pray and then to go home and be with family. The Shabbos is about balance - a time to leave work and chores behind and contemplate, honour The Lord and embrace your family.

The Sabbath is the only ritual day commanded in the Ten Commandments. And it stretches back as far a creation (after all the Heavens and Earth were created in six days and on the seventh day, G-d rested and made it a Holy Day). The Sabbath for Jews is on a Saturday (unlike the Christians, who celebrate their Sabbath on a Sunday). Now, Shabbat is a joyous occasion - I know many people view it as a day with many rules to be followed, but really it is time to enjoy life and be thankful for our food, our family and our health. One of the restrictions of the Sabbath is that one should do no work. Think about that for a minute - and think also how radical that idea would be in an agricultural society. Office workers only do a 5 day week in modern times, but in ancient cultures, work was full time - and indeed ask farmers today and they put in long hours seven days a week. So the idea of taking a day of rest would have been very revolutionary in olden times.

There are two rules to Shabbat - observe (i.e. keep the Sabbath holy and refrain from activities that are not allowed) and remember the Shabbat with prayer, thoughts and deeds. These two rules are symbolised by the lighting of 2 Shabbat candles, which is traditionally done by the women in the house (though obviously, bachelors are expected to light their own candles) on a Friday night, eighteen minutes before the start of Shabbat.

Now, anyone who has a passing knowledge of Judaism knows that the most famous law of the Holy Day is that one should do no work. Now of course work has differing meanings to different people and indeed different schools of Judaism view this rule in differing lights. There are in fact 39 different types of work or melachah that are defined and these include lighting and extinguishing a fire, transporting an object more than a certain distance, tanning hides, trapping, sewing and many others. These basic categories are not meant to be exact items of work that are prohibited, but rather categories or type of work - so some people view the concept of extinguishing or lighting a fire to include switching on a light or turning on the oven. Orthodox and Conservative Judaism is fact considers the use of electric devices or rather turning on and off electric devices to be against the rules. So, what do we do? We use electrical timers of course - thus we do no work and do not break the prohibition. I know some people consider this a bizarre distinction, even among the various sects of Judaism and so to some schools, turning on electricity is not considered against the rules of Shabbat. More over, driving is considered taboo on the Sabbath. And that brings us to the real question of how do we get around on Shabbat if we are immobile due to an operation, declining health or some disease or paralysis that has left us reliant on modern miracles such as mobility scooters or stair lifts to help us get around.

Well, that's interesting, because we could think about when exceptions to the rules of Shabbat apply - in an emergency, or when someones life is at stake. There is an idea that if one cannot make it to synagogue to pray, one's life is at stake because one would be cut off from the Jewish community and that would lead to someone becoming lost to the community. I don't really subscribe to this idea myself, because community is important of course, but one is not Jewish because of the community around us. So do we get someone else to carry the immobile to pray? Again, they would be doing work, so this is not an ideal solution.

Well, we're not staying home just because we are wheelchair or scooter bound. Instead there is a Shabbat module for many mobility devices. Basically the Shabbat mode on a mobility scooter will disable any kind of switch or sensor that is against the rules to use on Shabbat. The Shabbat module, in general will meet the rules that are laid out Biblically, but not always those that are rabbinically mandated. Still, there is no higher authority than G-d so we take what we can get eh? So, a Shabbat mobility scooter was created by Amigo who consulted with the Zomet Institute to make sure that there is no throttle for us to operate and simply makes the scooter start moving after a preset amount of time. This goes with the 'indirect action is allowed' idea.

So, what do you think? Is it a good idea to use or are we still breaking holy law? Sometimes it's difficult to know just where to draw the line between technology and the commandments, especially in cases when one wants to remember the Shabbat and be part of one's family and part of the synagogue, but at the same time on break any of the restrictions. I like the Shabbat module mobility scooters personally. I think it's important that everyone is able to get to Temple and that everyone is able to get to their family and be with their family, and is it not a Mitzvah to help those less fortunate than ourselves?