Monday, June 12, 2006

Cars trucks buses

I don't spend money on Shabbat.
I ride trains, buses, and cars on Shabbat. (No airplanes.) (I think I'm the only person who has read the Mar'ot Chayim, an illustrated commentary to Masechet Kelim, on a bus on Shabbat.)

Don't ask me to justify this by reference to the 39 melachot. That's not the system I'm operating under. The philosophical underpinnings of this practice can go in another post. This post is about the wacky practical consequences.

Because this is an unusual combination of practices, I get into all sorts of crazy adventures. When I went to Boston on Friday, I knew that if I Funged Wah after work, the bus would arrive after sundown, and then I'd have to get from South Station to my destination. Plus, the place I was staying was out of walking distance from the places I was hanging out. Fortunately, I still had a stash of T tokens from the days when I used to make this trip more often. So I did extensive research beforehand to confirm that these tokens would in fact work for all three types of transportation: T stations that still take tokens, T stations that have switched to CharlieTickets (the machines let you convert tokens into CharlieTickets), and buses that take change. The Boston locals I had asked didn't understand why I was so insistent about the questions I was asking. ("If you don't have change, just give them a dollar bill." "Just take a taxi.")

Past experiences include:
  • Driving around Chicago in a non-I-PASS-equipped car and going out of the way to avoid toll roads.
  • Unlimited MetroCards make it very easy to get around NYC.
  • Four summers ago, I went to visit my brother at Kutz. For some reason, visitors are only allowed during the day on Shabbat. I don't have a car. I found a bus to Warwick, purchased a ticket before Shabbat, and called the camp office asking for advice on getting from downtown Warwick to the camp. They said I could call when I got there, and someone would come and pick me up. Uh....ok. Isn't the office closed on Shabbat? I arrived in bustling downtown Warwick, dialed the camp's number on my cell phone, and sure enough, no one answered. Taxis existed, but were out of the question. I went into a store and asked for directions to the camp, and started walking, periodically calling again just in case. I ended up walking the whole 5 miles. It was a beautiful day, and beautiful scenery.
  • I've made kiddush on a number of moving vehicles, and not just Fung Wah trips as discussed above. I had a beautiful Shabbat lunch with NAF and SBN on a MetroNorth train in fall 2003.
  • Then there was the trip to IT. The doors opened Friday morning, and the shows were on Saturday and Sunday nights. We decided to be foolish and go to the Camden show on Thursday night, then drive all night and arrive in the (temporary) largest city in Maine sometime Friday afternoon (or so we planned it). Did I mention that Maine is a really big state? Also, we didn't anticipate that the last 20 miles would take over 12 hours. I had packed a challah and a bottle of grape juice, planning to do Shabbat with any other Phish phans who were interested. When it became clear that we weren't going to arrive before sundown, I thought to myself "Fine, so this will take another hour or two, and then when we get there, we can settle down and welcome Shabbat." And then midnight rolled around. I don't know if you've ever been in a 12-hour traffic jam before, but the way it works is you sit for 20, 30 minutes with the car turned off, maybe you're outside the car strolling around, and then you see the car 10 cars in front of you turn its lights on, and that's the sign to get back in your car and turn the engine back on, and then all the cars start moving, and you move forward maybe a half mile, then hit the brakes, and then all the cars shut off again. Lather, rinse, repeat. Very slowly. So midnight rolled around, and we were hungry, and I said "let's make kiddush." As it happened, all four people in the car were Jewish, but I was the only one who was so gung-ho about making all this portable Jewish stuff happen. Bechol makom asher azkir et shemi, baby. But everyone was hungry, and I think some of them also wanted some spiritual sustenance after all these hours in the car. So we made kiddush, drank the grape juice out of the bottle (we didn't have cups. oops!), and immediately the cars started moving again. It was a sign! Unlike Shabbat itself, this sign did not last forever. The cars stopped yet again. "Ok, now let's do motzi." Before we said the beracha, I was fumbling to get the plastic bag open, and before I could get it open, the cars started moving again! One of my traveling companions said "God appreciates the gesture." And so it went throughout the night. We arrived in the morning, slept all day, and went to some amazing shows. I made havdalah during the set break between the second and third sets.
  • Then there was Shabbat at Coventry. This time around, we weren't stupid, and left on Thursday and arrived on Friday morning (after a similarly awful traffic jam), well before Shabbat. We did kabbalat shabbat in the rain, and had a sumptuous tailgate Shabbat dinner on the hood of the car. Others weren't so lucky (or didn't plan ahead), but this story (involving the disciples of Rav Shmuel) deserves its own post.


  1. You were in Boston this Shabbat?!?! I was in Boston [well, Brookline really] this past Shabbat.

    You should check out minyan Shalem. They're an independent traditional egal minyan with lots of singing and they let guest people [like me] lein.

    And I probably was at Kutz when you visited your brother there, depending on whether it was first or second session...

  2. This post makes me smile, especially the description of making kiddush and motzi in the 12-hour traffic jam. (Oy.) I've always been a fan of the notion that we can make holiness, can make Shabbat, no matter where we happen to be; your story is a lovely illustration of that!

    Incidentally, if you feel like posting at some point about the philosophical underpinnings of your transportation practice, I'd love to read that.

  3. Whoa... crazy stories.

    Let me tell you about the time I went to a RPG con in Upstate New York and walked back and forth 45 minutes or so each way through dark spooky woods, and stripmalls (cemetary included) to the hotel i was staying at... after making sure before Shabbos that my [pencilless] sheets and dice would be kept in the backpack of the one Non-Jewish friend who came with us. Woops, just did. ;-)

    So how come you don't consider I-PASS, metrocards, etc. to be money? What about credit cards?

  4. MetroCards, tokens, etc., are ok because they're paid for in advance, and they're just presented as proof that the ride has already been paid for.

    I don't use credit cards (though I see why you're asking, since the money is actually paid at a later time), since we generally use them the same way we use money, and I don't want to incur the debt on Shabbat. Pre-paid debit cards are an interesting question, but I probably still wouldn't use them.

  5. as I recall, we also made "kiddush" over beers along the side of Rt. 1 in northern maine at 5 AM watching the first sunrise in North America

  6. I think it was just the first sunrise in the US; the first in North America was probably in Newfoundland.

  7. Even with a pre-paid debit card you'd still be acquiring things with it (= kinyan on Shabbat).

    Do you think there's a difference between unlimited and regular Metrocards? You are sort of acquiring/buying something with the regular kind, even if it's paid for in advance. You're choosing to acquire one of your limited number of rides at at that particular moment, and not some other time. With an unlimited card, you have, well, an unlimited number of rides, at least within a particular time span.

  8. One of my friends once bemoaned the fact that there was no shabbat addition to birkat haderech (the prayer said when going on a journey). We all laughed-- but she had a point.
    In terms of using a Metrocard and not a credit or debit card, I think that for me the difference is one of intention and planning ahead/ not making transactions on shabbat. For example, as long as I get a ticket beforehand, I am happy to attend a play or concert on shabbat. Much of shabbat for me is about making the necessary transactions ahead of time so I don't have to think about or concern myself with money on shabbat. Using a credit card to pay for a ticket on shabbat is a transaction that involves the exchange of money, however removed from actual cash, whereas presenting my ticket to the ticket-taker at a theater is not a transaction; he or she is just confirming that I've already paid for admission.

  9. You're choosing to acquire one of your limited number of rides at at that particular moment, and not some other time.

    Does this mean that one shouldn't eat (pre-Shabbat) leftovers on Shabbat? You're choosing to consume them at that particular moment, and not some other time.

  10. Upon further reflection, I retract my statement that pre-paid debit cards are an interesting question. They're not an interesting question. They're money for all practical purposes. (Yes, they've been "paid for" in advance, but by the same logic, I can go to the bank with 5 $20 bills and "pay for" a $100 bill in advance.) Evidence: When I bought my current cell phone, Cingular sent the $50 mail-in rebate in the form of a $50 prepaid debit card, rather than a check. (Why? I don't know.) Since we don't use bullion anymore, money is just something that has a value assigned to it that can be used as a medium of exchange, and this is equally true for a $50 Federal Reserve Note and a $50 prepaid Visa card.

    However, I still think pre-paid MetroCards are different. Even though they have a dollar amount on them, you can't buy anything with them besides subway/bus rides. Owning a MetroCard with "$12" on it is the same as owning 6 subway/bus rides. It's no longer currency.

    Gift certificates for a store? In between, but I probably wouldn't use it, because within that store it acts just like money.

    The current borderline case for me as of today: cashing in a buy-5-burritos-get-1-free card at Burritoville to get a free burrito (assuming the other 5 have been purchased in the past). I don't know the answer there.

  11. Just thought to let you guys know of this interesting site
    Cool Jewish Tshirts
    Pass it around... some are quite funny...

  12. BZ! How come you haven't updated in over a week?! You spoiled us over the Omer by posting (almost) daily...Come back to the blogosphere!

  13. Sorry, I have an Institute to plan. But I have a longer post in progress, which should be up soon.

  14. I think that in this age of global warming, it should be a mitzvah in general to take mass transit/public transportation. Too bad the gov't doesn't see fit to make it free. People always site that proverbial city where the street cars are free and Jews ride on shabbat. They had it right.

  15. Lol, great post. kiddush and motzi in the jam lol!