Parshas Noach: Halacha of Traveling by Ship
Most of the time, Rabbi Ben and I travel by land or air. For long distances, air is simply fastest. For short distances, overland travel is most economical. But sometimes we do travel by water. I love the water and really enjoy taking short jaunts on boats. Most of the time, travel by water these days does not take as long as it once did. Our ships are faster and more stable. But sometimes, like on cruises, or for sailors, trips by sea take much longer.
I’ve also taken a couple of cruises through the Caribbean, although cruises are not my personal favorite. (I get what I call “golden cage” syndrome – the ship is to me like a big, fancy prison – I just want to be off and exploring!) Of course, Jews traveling on cruises have to take many factors into account. You are allowed to go on a cruise that will be afloat over Shabbat, although you should not depart too close to Shabbat – make sure it leaves on a Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday. Chazal, concerned about the possibility of seasickness, determined that it is inappropriate to leave within 3 days of Shabbat. If your trip is traveling on Shabbat, make sure the ship is neither owned nor operated by Jews, and that it runs on fixed schedules, regardless of the number of passengers.
Of course, once you’re already on the cruise, you can disembark if the ship docks on Shabbat. Just be careful – there won’t be any eruv, so you can’t carry. This applies even if you have some sort of ID badge! So if you need ID to get back on the ship, best discuss it with the staff beforehand. Don’t worry about going through metal detectors or the like – as long as you are wearing nothing that will set it off, it is fine to walk through them. And since you won’t be carrying anything, you’ll have nothing to put through the X-ray machines! But while you’re off the ship, be careful not to walk too far – only about 7/10 of a mile is permitted.
While you’re on the ship, you might encounter many of the same challenges as if you are staying in a fancy hotel. If your hotel uses electronic key cards, you will have to have staff open your door for you. If doors are electronic, you will have to wait for a non-Jew to pass through and open them up. If lighting candles is forbidden, you will have to light electronic ones (without a blessing!).
You should also plan a few things before you go. Make sure that kosher grape juice or wine and challah will be available – even if you have to bring it yourself. Also, you should either explain to the ship that you want your Shabbos lunch served cold, or you should ask them to serve you a meal that contains no liquid that might be heated. And make sure they know not to cook anything new on Shabbos! (If a non-Jew reheats a meal consisting only of solids on Shabbos without being asked, you can still eat it – but not if it includes liquids, sauces, or if it was cooked on Shabbos!) Make sure to also pack the essentials: a kiddush cup, candle(s) for havdallah, and a small sachet of besamim.
Even when it’s not Shabbat, you still have to take care on a cruise ship, especially with things like kashrus. Make sure to order kosher meals in advance. It is easiest if you don’t go with a company that cannot order them for you. Otherwise, you can always double-wrap some potatoes and veggies in foil and bake them, or maybe even get some fresh fish filleted for you. It is best, however, to make sure you turn on the oven or place it in yourself. Other than that, you can always wash and check some veggies for yourself – if they’re cut with a clean, cold knife and aren’t sharp (like onion or radish) then they’re usually okay (although check with your rav depending on how strict you are!). If the ship has a “kosher” kitchen, inquire as to the divisions and the mashgiach situation – otherwise, it might not be reliable.
This week’s parsha features a really giant ship that was at sea for 40 consecutive days and nights. Noach wasn’t bound by keeping the Torah, but it did get me thinking. Noach did not sleep the entire time the ship was afloat! He had to spend all of his time caring for the myriad animals aboard. So I guess if you find Shabbat restrictions on a cruise ship challenging or tedious, just think about poor Noach, shoveling all that elephant poo!