Shabbos and Automatic Toilets

Q. Some toilets have an optical sensor and flush automatically when one walks away from the toilet. What should a person do if they find themselves on Shabbos in a place that only has automatic toilets?
A. Rav Belsky, zt”l (Shulchan HaLevi 7:7) discusses this question and rules that if there is no other option, it is permitted to use such a toilet. He explains that activating the toilet by movement of one’s body is referred to in halacha as kocho (literally, one’s power.) For example, if one tears a cloth with their hands, that is a direct melacha, but if one shoots an arrow through a cloth, that is kocho. On a Torah level, one is liable in both cases, but regarding Rabbinic prohibitions there is a difference. The Gemara (Shabbos 100b) permits pouring waste water onto the side of a boat and letting it run off into the sea (kocho). The Ritva (Shabbos 100b) explains that pouring waste water directly into the sea is a rabbinic violation (carrying from a private domain to a karmalis). Nonetheless, Chazal permitted this due to the consideration of “kavod habriyos” (human dignity), so long as it is done indirectly, by means of kocho. Similarly, in the case of one who must use an automatic toilet, it is permitted because of kavod habriyos, since it is activated indirectly by means of kocho. One must be mindful that if lights turn on when one enters the bathroom, then it is forbidden to do so. One cannot violate a Torah prohibition even in a situation of kavod habriyos.
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