A Shabbat elevator is an elevator which works in a special mode, operating automatically, to satisfy the Jewish law requiring Jews to abstain from operating electrical switches on Shabbat (the Sabbath). These are also known as Sabbath or Shabbos elevators.
Jewish law forbids those who observe it from undertaking various forms of "work" on the Sabbath, including that they may not create sparks or fires. In recent times, this has been extrapolated to also cover the operation of electrical equipment.
An elevator may be marked with a sign noting that it is specially configured for Shabbat observance. There are several ways the elevator works (going up and down), stopping at every floor, stopping at alternate floors, or rising to the top floor and stopping, while going down.
Shabbat elevators can be found in areas of large Jewish population in Israel, the United States, Canada, Australia, Ukraine (Dnipro), Argentina, and Brazil. They are found in hotels, hospitals and other health institutions, apartment buildings, and sometimes in synagogues.
The Israeli Knesset passed a special Shabbat elevator law in 2001, ordering the planning and building of all residential buildings, and public buildings which have more than one elevator, to install a control mechanism for Shabbat (Shabbat module) in one of the elevators.
In this mode, an elevator will stop automatically at every floor, allowing people to step in and out without having to press any buttons. Otherwise, Jewish law prohibits observers from using an elevator on Shabbat in the usual manner, because pressing the button to operate the elevator closes a circuit, which is one of the activities prohibited on Shabbat and may also indirectly lead to "writing" of the new floor number in the display.
In 2009, some Haredi rabbis, led by Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, published a religious injunction forbidding the use of Shabbat elevators.
Some interpreters believe that a non-Jew known as a "Shabbos goy" may not be employed to press the buttons and hold the door for Jews in buildings that do not have Shabbat elevators, unless the Jew has great difficulty using the stairs themselves. As discussed in that article, a non-Jew is not expected to keep the Sabbath like a Jew. Therefore, Jewish law holds that a Jew may benefit from work performed by a non-Jew only if the non-Jew performs this work for his own good and of his own free will.
A borderline case is when a Jew hints to a non-Jew that they would like them to perform a certain service without explicitly asking. These borderline cases are not considered legitimate by many Orthodox rabbis.