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Building Renewal - Halachic Considerations

The Narayever defines itself as a traditional-egalitarian synagogue. While our membership is diverse in its Jewish practice, our constitution stipulates that “the laws of Shabbat and Yom Tov will be observed on the premises of the shul.” Traditional Jewish law (halacha) forbids the use of electrical appliances or devices on Shabbat or festivals. Indirect methods, however, are permitted. For example, Jews may set a timer before Shabbat or yom tov in order to passively initiate the operation of a light or appliance on the holy day.

This is a complex area of rabbinic law and its application in specific cases is not universal even in the observant Jewish community. However, overall, one of the key distinguishing features of traditionally observant Jewish communities as opposed to more religiously liberal ones is the degree to which the laws around electricity and halacha are observed in the shul. Narayever has historically fallen on the more traditional side of this spectrum. Lights in our building were turned on prior to the onset of Shabbat and left on. Same for the oven. When an electric access keypad was installed at the front door, the mechanical opener on the side door was preserved so that the building could be accessed by non-electric means. We ask members and visitors to refrain from using cell phones, cameras, and other electric devices on Shabbat or yom tov in our building.

The initial and main driver of our Building Renewal project has been the imperative to make our heritage building accessible to those with mobility impairments. Our inability to provide safe and dignified access to our services and programs to those who could not use stairs was a limitation which we could not allow ourselves to perpetuate. The time had come to fix this problem.

The modern world has provided many technological solutions to problems of accessibility. All of these solutions involve the use of electricity. From the beginning of our planning process around this project we understood that our ability to provide access would require us to reconcile our strict policies around Shabbat and Yom Tov observance with the installation of electrical devices intended to provide access.

We are of course not the first or only Shabbat-observant Jewish institution to confront this challenge. Institutions often use “indirect” methods like timers or automatic settings, and many also engage non-Jewish staff to operate devices.

Narayever has historically endeavoured not to use non-Jewish staff or attendees at our services as a way to address this challenge.

However, we are comfortable with the use of timers and automatic settings, and these will be extensively deployed in our new building. The most important and conspicuous example of this will be our new elevator. The elevator we are installing in our building, which is so central to achieving our goal of enabling access to our services and programs, will be set to run automatically on a cycle which will take it to all the floors in use on Shabbat and yom tov. Members and visitors will step on to the elevator when it arrives and it will take them to where they need to go without them having to press a button. A Shabbat elevator is one of the most conspicuous features of a contemporary halachically observant Jewish building.

Not all the devices that are necessary for a fully accessible building can be operated like a Shabbat elevator, however. Knowing that, our community debated and in 2017 adopted a policy on Halacha and Accessibility. This policy provides a framework for incorporating devices which require the use of electricity into our building in order to enable accessibility. Examples would be the electric door-openers, which do require someone to initiate the action to make the door swing open, and the automatic tap and toilet in the handicapped washrooms.


Below please find a table which summarizes various features of our renewed building, and halachic issues related to each.

I trust that our work on this issue will enable us to both continue to honour Shabbat/yom tov as we have always done in our communal life, and live up to our aspiration to provide the highest standard of accessibility and inclusion that we can.

If you have any questions about the issues discussed here, please feel welcome to contact me at rabbi@narayever.ca.

New building features and related halachic issues

Elevator 

Weekday: The elevator will be available to all on demand and button operated for destination floor 

Shabbat: The elevator will be equipped to be programmed for Shabbat mode.  It will stop at every floor on a regular cycle.  Once in service there will be an evaluation to determine if the Shabbat service should include a stop on the 2nd floor based on whether there will be programming on that floor.

Main Front Entry

and

Main Sanctuary Entry


 

The main entrance to the shul will have double doors.  Opening the left-(north) side door can be automatic by using wave button, or it can be opened manually (although it may be heavy).

The right-(south)side door will be manually operable only.  As it is not equipped for automatic opening it will be lighter, easier to open than the left.

Signage indicating that the automatic doors are intended for those who need them will be installed.

Side Entry doors 

The side doors at the front and back on the south side will be operated manually on Shabbat.

Internal Doors 

The two entries at the back of the sanctuary will have doors that auto-close as they did before the renovation. 

All doors into the stairways will be auto-close.

Lights 

The lighting in the shul will be programmable on a timer.  The lights can be programmed to go on and off before during and after Shabbat as well as during the week.

Security System 

Cameras tracking movements in and out of the shul will be located at each door (as before renovation).

There will be no camera for movement inside the shul.

The security system is designed to operate 24/7 but can be turned off at any time 

All entry doors will have electronic locks and video intercoms.

The side doors will have in addition mechanical keypad locks (as the shul did before renovation) for use on shabbat.

On Shabbat:  

For Rabbi entry: Security system monitor will be programmed to permit rabbi to enter through side door using mechanical lock. 

For others: Security system monitor will be programmed to unlock front doors at a time before services. 

Washrooms 

One washroom on the lower and the washroom on the 2nd floor level will be accessible with automatic doors, faucet and toilet flush

 

 

Fri, July 30 2021 21 Av 5781