Cruising Along the Halachic way

As a Rav on various tours all over Europe and Africa, I am often asked to share some of the more substantial and frequently asked Halachic questions that come up during my travels. This overview is merely a discussion of the issues and not a final Halachic ruling. Your local Rav should always be consulted.

Can I board a cruise on any day of the week?
It is preferable to board before Wednesday morning;1 or, at least, by Thursday morning.2 If that is not possible, it is permitted to join a cruise even on an Erev Shabbos,3 even if the ship will travel on Shabbos (This is opposed to flying on a plane for a duration of over 24 hours, beginning Erev Shabbos, which the authorities have forbidden).

Is this permission unconditional?
Certainly not; if the workers on the ship are Jewish, it is forbidden.4 However, even if the ship has been leased by a company owned by Jews, as long as non-Jews do all the work it is permitted. See, however, next question, condition # 3. Unfortunately, on many “Jewish” and non-Jewish cruises, the security personnel consist of Israelis who might be desecrating the Shabbos for the Jewish passengers. This serious problem should be clarified with a competent Rabbi.

Can I make a Bar-mitzvah or any simcha on a cruise which will travel on Shabbos or Yom Tov?
You are permitted with the following conditions :

  1. The ship is a modern, state-of-the-art liner in which guests will not have nausea or sea sickness which will hamper their enjoyment of Shabbos.
  2. The staff doing work is solely non-Jews.
  3. Ideally, most of the passengers aboard the cruise should be non-Jews. (Of course, if the destination of the cruise is Eretz Yisroel, the trip becomes a “travel of mitzvah,” in which case, even if the majority of passengers are Jewish, it is permitted.5 Traveling by ferry from Spain to Morocco, for example, to pray at the gravesite of a great Tzaddik in Tangiers for a sick person who needs a speedy recovery, would also be considered a “travel of mitzvah” but one must board before Shabbos.) If the cruise company would be making the cruise as part of their regular schedule, regardless of the Jewish group on board, then the majority of passengers may be Jewish. If, however, the cruise would have been cancelled if the large Jewish contingent would not have joined for whatever reason, this presents a serious problem as the non-Jews might be considered working for the Jews,6 who are the majority on the cruise A competent Halachic authority must be consulted in this scenario.
  4. It is imperative not to use any of the hot water warmed up by the non-Jewish workers unless they fill up the samovars or urns anyway , regardless of the number of passengers on the cruise.
  5. All guests must board before the onset of Shabbos.

I would even venture to say that having a “simcha” on a cruise is Halachically much more valid than inviting friends and relatives to a Shabbos “simcha” when they will definitely arrive by car or train!

May I take a tour of the port area on Shabbos?
You may walk all around the port area but not out of its “techum”- more than 2000 cubits (966 meters) from the end of the port. Of course, if the port is connected, “Halachically,” to a town or a city, you would be able to tour all around there as well, but not outside the techum of the city. If you are unclear about the distance of 966 meters, one should simply count 2000 steps and then refrain from continuing7 and walk back.
If the ship docks on Shabbos, may I disembark?
You may disembark from the ship as long as you do not need to carry a passport or any kind of identification with you. In that case, you are also permitted to return to the ship on Shabbos. If , for whatever reason, all passengers must completely disembark from the ship on Shabbos, a non-Jew should be requested to carry all your documents and baggage.

1. habbos 19a, Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 248, 2
2. Gra in his glosses there.
3. In the case of “travel of mitzvah” ,i.e. visit to Eretz Yisrael, ransoming a captive or visiting a friend, travel is permitted, a priori, on Erev shabbos.
4. Igros Moshe, Orach Chaim, 2.63.
5. In a responsum written in 1956 to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, may his sainted memory be blessed (Igros Moshe , Orach Chaim, 1,92 ) Reb Moshe, does not seem to permit such a trip even with a non-Jewish staff Yet, in a later responsum (Ibid. 2, 63), written eight years later, he seems to permit such a “travel of mitzvah.” Apparently, in the scenario discussed in the first responsum, the captains of the ship were Jews. More importantly, the ship was owned by Jews and was not just being leased by Jews. Perhaps in this instance, the non-Jews are considered to be working solely for Jews.
6. Shmiras Shabbos K’Hilchasa, chapter 30,.n.198.
7. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 377, 2.