Pushing a Carriage or Wheelchair on Shabbos
Courtesy of Ohr Olam Mishnah Berurah
Carrying an inanimate object on Shabbos in a reshus harabbim is strictly forbidden min ha-Torah. Carrying a live person who is able to walk on his own, however, is not forbidden min ha-Torah since, in halachic terms, the person being carried aids in his own transport and is therefore considered as if he is “transporting himself.” Still, miderabanan it is forbidden to carry even a person who can walk on his own. While most poskim rule that even in a karmelis it is forbidden miderabanan to carry a person who can walk on his own,225 under extenuating circumstances it is permitted to do so. If, for example, a child is crying hysterically and cannot otherwise be quietened, it is permitted to pick up the child and carry him home.226 This leniency applies only to a child or a toddler who can walk on his own; an infant [or a handicapped child] may not be carried even in a karmelis, and certainly not in a reshus harabbim.227
It follows that an older child or a toddler who is unwell and needs to be taken to the doctor [or has any other medical need] may be carried by an adult even in a reshus harabbim, since it is permitted to transgress a rabbinic prohibition for the sake of a choleh even if he is not dangerously ill. In a karmelis, it is permitted to carry a sick baby even though a baby cannot “transport himself.”228, In the situation that it is permitted for one to carry a sick child , it is additionally permitted to transport the child via a baby stroller or carriage as well. This is true whether the child is being carried in a reshus harabbim or a karmelis. However, one must first remove all unnecessary items from the stroller or carriage.229 The pockets of the child’s clothing must be emptied of all unnecessary items as well.230
Similar leniencies apply to transporting a weak or older person who is unwell and needs to be taken to the doctor [or has any other medical need]. If he is able to walk on his own but requires a wheelchair for longer distances or prefers it simply for comfort, then it is permitted to wheel him even in a reshus harabbim. If he is unable to walk on his own, then it is only permitted to wheel him in a karmelis.231 Obviously, in a situation where the medical need might be life-threatening, everything is permitted.
[Whether or not a handicapped person - who is otherwise completely immobile - is allowed to wheel himself in a manually operated wheelchair is a subject of much dispute among contemporary poskim: Some forbid it altogether,232 others permit it completely,233 while a third opinion permits it in a karmelis but not in a reshus harabbim.234]
Apart from medical considerations, under extenuating circumstances, or for the sake of an important mitzvah, it is permitted to ask a non-Jew to push a child’s carriage or a wheelchair even in a reshus harabbim, as long as the person being transported can walk on his own. In a karmelis, a non-Jew may be asked to push a carriage or wheelchair even if the child or older person cannot walk on his own if there are extenuating circumstances, or for an important mitzvah’s sake.235
The principle of a “live person transports himself” does not apply to animals or pets.236
225. Mishnah Berurah 308:154. See Teshuvos Rav Akiva Eiger 1:28 who explains why the general rule against enacting a gzeirah lgzeirah does not apply in this case.
226. Igros Moshe, O.C. 4:91. But it is forbidden to carry the child merely for the sake of convenience, e.g., to hurry along a dawdling child; ibid.
227. It is questionable whether or not a sleeping person is considered as if he can walk on his own or not; see Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 38, note 86; Shevet ha-Levi 7:37.
228. Based on O.C. 328:17 and Mishnah Berurah 57 and 102.
229. Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 18:57.
230. Mishnah Berurah 308:154.
231. Orchos Shabbos 28:202.
232. Har Tzvi, O.C. 170.
233. Igros Moshe, O.C. 4:90; Ohr l’Tziyon 2:23-5.
234. Minchas Yitzchak 2:113; Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 34:27. See explanation in Orchos Shabbos 28, note 276.
235. Mishnah Berurah 308:154; Orchos Shabbos 28:205 and 206.
236. Mishnah Berurah 308:150.