There has been a mixed response to the decision of the 92nd Street Y to begin opening on the Sabbath this month after more than a century of being closed on Saturday.
"The people of my congregation were dismayed that the Y should change its policy after so many years," said Rabbi Michael Shmidman, spiritual leader of Congregation Orach Chaim, an Orthodox congregation at 1459 Lexington Ave., just down the street from the Y. "I also am disappointed."
But Rabbi David Lincoln, spiritual leader of the Park Avenue Synagogue, a Conservative congregation on the Upper East Side, said simply: "I don’t think it is so serious. In the Middle Ages, there were rabbis from the Italian rabbinate who encouraged sports on Shabbos. And many very ultra-Orthodox rabbis certainly played cricket in their backyards [in England]. The only problem is [the prohibition against] carrying, but sports in general is not forbidden as long as other aspects of the Sabbath are kept."
Thus, Rabbi Lincoln said, although working out on an electrically powered treadmill would not be in keeping with the Sabbath, there is nothing wrong with lifting weights or running around the track.
The 92nd Street Y, which has been closed on the Sabbath since it was established in 1874, has many non-Jewish members. It is supported in part by UJA-Federation of New York. A spokesman there pointed out that there are many other Jewish Ys open on the Sabbath. And he noted that in addition to opening its gym on the Sabbath beginning Jan. 13, the Y this month plans to begin offering a variety of Jewish educational programs on Saturday.
Alix Friedman, a spokeswoman for the Y, said registration would be required in advance for Friday-night Shabbat dinners, a Torah program for children and a series of lectures for adults on Shabbat afternoons. She noted that the Y would also have a Shabbat elevator and that the Y’s box office would remain closed on Shabbat.
The UJA-Federation spokesman noted that during the past "few years we have witnessed an intensification of Jewish education of all kinds at the 92nd Street Y and at other [Jewish community] centers. It is probably better that Jews be in a Jewish community center on the Sabbath than in Bloomingdale’s. And some, hopefully, will have first attended an early minyan."