|The Traveler's Halachic Guide to Hotels
Rabbi Zvi Goldberg, Kashrus Administrator
Yosef chose the particular hotel he was staying in for its many amenities, not the least of which was the free Continental Breakfast it offered its guests. Surely, when kosher symbols on products are becoming more and more prevalent he wouldn't starve! The breakfast menu included cereals, pancakes, waffles, muffins, pre-cut fruits and vegetables, hardboiled eggs, as well as hot coffee and juices. Can Yosef eat anything offered on the Continental Breakfast menu, or should he prepare his own breakfast using the microwave and coffeemaker in his hotel room?
Chana's brother's bar-mitzvah, held in a hotel during Shabbos, turned out to be a real nightmare! The closet light went on automatically when she opened the closet door; the housekeeper had turned off the light in her room, preventing her from reviewing her Parsha notes; she drank a bottle of water from her room's "refreshment bar" which unbeknown to her set off an electric sensor; and her bathroom's toilet and sink were controlled by an electric eye. These were just some of the many Shabbos issues Chana faced. How could she have prevented them?
We live in a time in which keeping a kosher home is relatively easy. However, when travel plans interrupt our regular routine, we frequently encounter situations we do not normally experience at home. In this article, we will outline how to deal with some of the challenges facing Jewish hotel guests.
Our discussion focuses on hotels in the U.S. that are not kosher certified.1 Staying at a kosher certified hotel alleviates many of the issues mentioned here. However, the consumer should be aware that while some kashrus agencies ensure that the entire hotel experience is "kosher," including the food, other agencies may certify the food only. They may not feel it is their responsibility to ensure that the eruv around the hotel, the swimming pool or other amenities are halachically acceptable.
Continental Breakfast - Many hotels offer a variety of foods for breakfast. Prepared foods (e.g. pancakes, waffles, or bakery items) may not be eaten due to the ingredients and preparation utensils used; however, fresh whole fruit2 or any sealed item bearing a reliable kosher symbol may be eaten. Plastic cutlery may be available upon request for guests to cut their produce. Pre-cut fruits or vegetables should be avoided, since they may have been cut with a knife that was used for non-kosher food.3 Cooked eggs, even in their shells (hard/medium/soft boiled), are forbidden due to Bishul Akum.4 Unflavored coffee is acceptable, as is milk (for those who drink milk that is not Cholov Yisroel).5 Hot water from an urn may be used.
Kosher Meals - Hotels may be able to order kosher frozen "airline meals"upon request. Some hotels keep them in their inventory, should the need arise. The hotel must leave the wrapping intact for the guest.
Microwave - One must assume that hotel room microwaves have been used for non-kosher food products. Therefore, any kosher food that is heated within them must be enclosed in two separate leakproof wrappings.
Refrigerator - One may use a clean refrigerator in which to store kosher food. Meat, fish, and non-mevushal wine require a proper seal if they are left alone while the guest is away and the room is to be cleaned.6
Coffeemaker in Room -Many hotel rooms provide a coffeemaker and kosher coffee; however, it is suggested that one should not use the coffeemaker. Although most people who stay in hotels do not pack food to heat up in the carafe (this is generally a kosher traveler phenomenon), it is still possible that it was used for non-kosher products. Therefore, it is recommended that one refrain from using the carafe.
Some hotels now have coffeemakers without carafes. The hotel provides individual hot cups into which the coffee drips. The machine is used for coffee only and, therefore, one may make coffee in this type of machine.7
Ice Maker - One is allowed to use the ice in the hotel, as the ice machines are dedicated to making ice.8
Passover - A hotel kitchenette requires the same method of kashering for Passover as a home kitchen. Please consult the Star-K Passover Guide for more information. Kosherization must be completed before Passover.
One who is staying at a hotel and did not bring any chometz into the room should perform bedikas chometz without a brocha.9 Some hotel rooms have a "mini-bar" that is pre-stocked with drinks and snacks by the hotel. If there are food items in the mini-bar which are not kosher for Passover, one should ensure that the staff removes those items. Alternatively, the mini-bar should be sealed off and the staff informed that the guest bears no responsibility for those items.10 Ice from the icemaker may be used, but the ice bucket in the room should not be used. The coffeemaker also may not be used.
SHABBOS (includes Yom Tov unless otherwise noted)
One must check with the hotel prior to his Shabbos stay, in order to assess whether or not he will encounter any of the issues described below. He should then devise a course of action through which he can avoid or circumvent their occurrence. Upon arriving at the hotel, he should meet with the personnel to discuss his special needs. Oftentimes, staff is very willing to cooperate when approached in a friendly manner. For example, housekeeping should be asked not to turn on or off the lights in the hotel room on Shabbos morning; rather, they should leave the lights as they found them upon entering the room. (Putting out the "Do Not Disturb" sign should prevent the staff from entering the room.)
Sensors for Lights and Heating/Air-Conditioning - Guests tend to leave the heating and air conditioners running while they are away from the room; therefore, some hotels are installing energy-efficient thermostats. When it senses that the room is unoccupied, the thermostat adjusts the climate to an energy-efficient setting. When the guest opens the door to re-enter the room, the thermostat readjusts to the original setting. The sensor may also turn the lights on or off, depending upon whether or not someone is in the room. It can also alert housekeeping that the room is empty and may be cleaned. One may not stay in such a room on Shabbos unless these sensors are disabled by the staff prior to Shabbos.11 Opening a balcony door may turn off the air-conditioning, and if so, one must avoid opening the balcony door on Shabbos.
Pre-stocked Refrigerator - The hotel room may have a pre-stocked "mini-bar". The hotel charges a per item fee for each refreshment product that is used by the customer. Generally, the housekeeping staff is responsible for monitoring these items. In this case, it would be permitted to remove a product from the bar during Shabbos, since such assessment would not be performed at that time.12 The purchase is recorded and charged whenever the staff checks the room.
Some hotels now use electronic sensors which confirm each sale at the time of purchase and automatically post charges to the guest's account. In this case, since the customer is directly initiating the purchase, as well as the electronic recording, no product may be removed during Shabbos.
One must also ensure that a light in the refrigerator does not illuminate upon opening the refrigerator door.
Hot Food - It is a mitzvah to eat hot food on Shabbos, especially for the daytime meal. If the hotel is amenable, one may use a hotplate in his room and place cooked food on it before Shabbos.13
Many hotels offer morning coffee to their guests. If the hotel caters to non-Jewish clientele, then we may assume that the coffee is prepared for them and nothing is added for the Jews who comprise the minority of the guests. In this case, one may partake of the coffee even on Shabbos.14 However, if there is a contingent of Jews staying at the hotel, and there is a special place such as a "Kiddush room" set aside for them, then the coffee there would not be permitted to those individuals on Shabbos; however, it would be permitted on Yom Tov.
Electronic Locks and Doors - Although electronic door locks have become commonplace, certain hotels, especially near large Orthodox communities, still have a few rooms set aside that use a key and it is worthwhile to attempt to find these. Although electronic card keys may not be used and are muktza on Shabbos, guests may leave them at the front desk before Shabbos, and then on Shabbos ask non-Jewish staff members to open their door.15
When walking into or out of the hotel, one should use manual non-electronic doors. Service or staff doors are likely to be non-electronic, and may be available to guests with special authorization. If there are no manual doors, one should wait until a non-Jew opens the electric-eye door with his movement and then proceed through the doorway. Due to the difficulty of coordinating one's movements with those of another person, caution should be taken to avoid unwittingly activating the door.
Bathrooms - Hotels may be equipped with sinks and toilets that are controlled by an electric eye, particularly in the lobby. The bathroom may have automated lights that are activated when the door is opened or one walks into the room. We suggest avoiding hotels on Shabbos that do not offer a different system.16
As always, toilet paper should be prepared before Shabbos. Boxes of tissues should be checked to ensure that the tissues are separated from one another (some might be perforated but not separated).
Security Cameras - There may be security cameras in the hotel. It is best to avoid being videoed by such cameras on Shabbos, since the image is projected onto a screen. However, if this is difficult to avoid and one has no interest in being seen by the cameras, then he is permitted to walk past them.17
Shabbos Candles - Even if one lights many candles at home, common custom allows the lighting of two candles while away.18 If one will be eating in the hotel's dining room, he should arrange to light the candles near the table where he will be dining.19 An electric light should also be left on in the hotel room (or bathroom, if it can shed light in the room) so that one will not stumble in the dark.20 If it is not possible to light candles in the dining room, or if one is eating in his own room, then he should light the candles in his sleeping quarters. (Do not leave the candles unattended.) If the hotel does not allow the lighting of candles in the room due to the potential fire hazard, then Halacha prohibits one to light there.21 Instead, one should light, with a brocha, an electric incandescent lamp or an incandescent flashlight22 in his room.23
A man who is away from home in a hotel room cannot rely upon his wife's lighting candles at home, and is obligated in hadlakas neiros with a brocha.24
Carrying - An Eruv Chatzeiros25 might be necessary to permit carrying within the hotel premises (e.g. from a room to an enclosed hallway) on Shabbos. One should check with his Rav.26 However, if there is only one Jew or Jewish family among the hotel guests, an Eruv Chatzeiros is not needed.27 A motel is usually comprised of rooms that open up to the outdoors. Since there is no proper enclosure, one may not carry outside of his room.
Elevators - Hotels are often comprised of many floors. Use of an elevator involves a number of issues, including:28
1. Elevator doors are equipped with a mechanism which prevents them from closing when people are in the elevator entranceway. One who triggers this mechanism is transgressing a Shabbos prohibition.
2. One generally presses a button to reach a specific floor. This starts the elevator and may cause the button to illuminate.
Therefore, if at all possible, one should book a guest room on a lower floor so that he does not require use of the elevator on Shabbos. If there is no alternative, he may use the elevator by entering immediately after a non-Jew to avoid activating the door through the electric eye. (This is not easily accomplished since due to limited space, the electric eye might unfortunately be triggered.) He should not ask anyone to press a button for him; rather, he should exit on the nearest level and walk to the desired floor.
In some elevators, a buzzer sounds every time a person breaks through the electric eye. Therefore, entering after a non-Jew is not a viable solution since the buzzer will sound as the Jew enters. One who requires use of this type of elevator may ask a non-Jew to stand in the doorway.
In case of need, one may use a "Shabbos elevator" which stops on each floor and remains open for a short while. One should enter or exit the elevator as soon as the door opens. He should not block the elevator doorway, as this will activate the electric eye.
Escalators - May be used on Shabbos.29
A man should try to arrange his hotel stay in an area where he will be able to attend a minyan. If there is a minyan within 18 minutes of his hotel, then he is obligated to attend that minyan. If he does daven by himself, he should daven Shemona Esray at the same time as the local minyan.30 One should face towards Jerusalem. If he cannot determine the proper direction, then he should mentally gear his thoughts towards Jerusalem. One should not daven facing a mirror or painting. According to some authorities, if there is a Gideon Bible in the room, it should be placed in a drawer prior to davening.31
We eagerly await the days of Moshiach, when "each man will rest securely under his grape vine and palm tree".32 At that time, people will not need to vacation in a hotel for pleasure, as the home will provide complete spiritual and physical contentment.
The author thanks Abby Fitzpatrick of Sheraton Hotels
To comment on this article, email Rabbi Goldberg at firstname.lastname@example.org
10. Otherwise he may have achrais, responsibility, for the chometz should it be damaged or stolen, and one may not take responsibility for chometz on Passover.
16. Handicapped rooms have different toilets than regular rooms and may possibly be non-electric. Inquire with the staff. It should be noted that some closets have an automatic light that is activated when the closet door is opened.