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Safe Shabbat Journeys: Halachic Precautions and Practical Advice

הרב שי טחןט אייר, תשפד17/05/2024

when departing for Shabbat to spend it away from home, whether with family, friends, or alone in a rental house or hotel, one must come prepared in various ways

When departing for Shabbat to spend it away from home, whether with family, friends, or alone in a rental house or hotel,
one must come prepared in various ways. For example, it's essential not to depart without ensuring there's ample time to prepare food for Shabbat. One can either take food along or make arrangements with their hosts beforehand(שולחן ערוך סימן רמט ס״א) .
Another crucial preparation involves leaving the house with sufficient time to reach the destination well in advance. While there's no precise time measure for departure, one should factor in potential unforeseen circumstances such as heavy traffic or common emergencies, ensuring sufficient time to arrive at the destination before sundown(חוט שני לרב נסים קרליץ ח״א סוף פרק ח’) .
Rav Ben Tsion Aba Shaul(שו״ת אור לציון פרק טז אות ו) advised ensuring arrival at the destination at least an hour before the onset of Shabbat. This provides ample time to address many unforeseen challenges that may arise during the journey.

Traveling Into the Shabbat.
Given the paramount importance of avoiding any violation of Shabbat, whether by driving or crossing the techum of Shabbat (meaning one may not leave their designated place of dwelling by more than approximately 6/10 of a mile from the last house in the city), if a person finds themselves in a situation where they are riding in a car and it becomes apparent that they won't reach their destination before Shabbat begins, especially if they are not far from their home, they should turn back. Even if there's uncertainty, it's advisable to return home and not take any risks. This holds true even if the GPS indicates that they will arrive on time, as there's a chance that traffic may build up unexpectedly, as often occurs.
If it's not feasible to return home, one should endeavor to find alternative accommodations, such as a hotel along the way. Alternatively, if there's a Jewish community nearby, they should contact the local rabbi and attempt to arrange for a place to stay. Despite potential discomfort, there is no permission to violate Shabbat to avoid such inconvenience.
If one finds themselves in an unsafe area while driving, they should continue driving to reach a safe place, such as a hotel in a secure city. Alternatively, if the next safe destination is their intended stop, they should proceed there, even if it involves a violation of Shabbat, as pikuach nefesh takes precedence over observing Shabbat(אורחות שבת ח״ג עמוד רצה) .
Another scenario of danger might arise if one is traveling with little children who lack food or with individuals who cannot endure staying in a place without air conditioning in the summer or heat in the winter.
To accurately assess how to apply this halacha to the situation, it's highly advisable to consult a competent halachic authority (posek) rather than making independent decisions regarding actions that may entail desecration of Shabbat.
In such case if one anticipates arriving at their destination after Shabbat begins, they should consider arranging for a taxi to transport them or asking a non-Jew to drive them in their car, offering compensation for their time and effort. Although using a gentile driver is normally subject to a rabbinical prohibition known as shvut, the argument that the passenger's actions, such as pressing the gas pedal, cause the driver to use more fuel is not prohibited due to its negligible impact (אגר״מ או״ח ח״א סימן קלב). Therefore, in this case, it’s preferable to use a gentile driver rather than driving oneself.
If those options aren't available and they reach a safe neighborhood, they should exit the car and proceed to walk to their destination or to the nearest hotel or Jewish community.
If Shabbat begins while they're en route, they should leave their belongings in the car. However, if they have valuables that may be at risk of theft in the car, one should entrust them to a gentile or a minor child (under bar mitzvah) to carry. If a child is not available, they should carry the items themselves, walking and pausing for a moment every less than 4 amot (about 6 feet), or hand them to a friend walking alongside, repeating this process every less than 4 amot.
If there's nothing within walking distance, they should then proceed to a location where they can secure a taxi.
In a scenario where the city is not within walking distance, one should preferably enter the taxi before Shabbat begins. When a person enters a taxi with a gentile driver before Shabbat, they may continue driving into Shabbat, even crossing the techum, as it is the driver who is performing the action (ספר חשוקי חמד – שבת דף קנג ע“א).
According to this reasoning, one may also take a ride in a taxi during ben hashmashot, provided they refrain from opening or closing the door (which then turns on and off the light), since the Shulchan Aruch (ס״א סימן רסא ) states that during ben hashmashot, one may ask a non-Jew to perform urgent tasks (כן פסקו במראה הבזק ח״ה תשובה ל’).

Flighting into Shabbat.
If you frequently travel by air, you're likely aware of the potential for flight delays. Therefore, it's advisable to book flights either before Friday or at least on Friday morning for domestic travel. However, if you've already booked a flight and it's delayed, with the possibility of landing on or close to Shabbat without enough time to reach your accommodations, you should depart the airport before the flight takes off and book another flight for after Shabbat, even if it means incurring additional expenses.
If you find yourself on a flight that lands close to Shabbat without the opportunity to disembark before departure, you must arrange to stay in the airport or, if accessible, a nearby hotel before Shabbat begins. In this situation, one should not use a taxi to travel home unless remaining in the airport poses a safety concern, in which case using a taxi would be permissible.
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