Internet Commerce on Shabbos

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In an article in the journal Techumin (link), R. Shlomo Dichovsky addressed the permissibility of keeping open on Shabbos a website that sells items. He discusses four possible halakhic issues before reaching a conclusion:

1. Assisting a sinner – By leaving the website open, you are assisting someone in purchasing an item thewreby violating Shabbos. R. Dichovsky quotes R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (cited in Shemiras Shabbos Ke-Hilkhasah, ch. 20 n. 70) as permitting leaving out soda machines on Shabbos because the machines are not inherently forbidden. You can leave them out for weekday purpose and anyone who uses them on Shabbos is commiting the violation on their own. You also aren’t doing anything yourself on Shabbos. However, you should place a notice on the website advising customers that all transactions are completed after Shabbos.

2. Earning Money on Shabbos – The Noda Bi-Yehudah (Vol. 2, Orach Chaim no. 26) rules that it is permissible for women to use a mikveh on Shabbos and pay afterwards for the wood that was burned to heat the water rather than the service on Shabbos. Similarly, suggests R. Dichovsky, customers of a website pay after Shabbos for an item and not a service they received on Shabbos (but what about websites that sell a web service?).

3. Maris Ayin – A Jew is not allowed to have a Gentile work on on his property on Shabbos because it gives the mistaken impression that the Jew is doing the work (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 243:1). However, in the case of the website the work is automatic and there is no reason to think that the Jew or one of his employees is doing the work. This has additional force when the website has a notice that all transactions are completed after Shabbos (or all weekend transactions are completed on Monday).

4. Denigrating Shabbos – There is a general concern among halakhic decisors that automatic work will detract from the spirit of Shabbos. There are no strict guidelines for what falls into this category but some acts have been forbidden for this reason. R. Dichovsky argues that this concern is inapplicable because the websites function entirely outside of the Shabbos sphere. It cannot detract from or denigrate Shabbos when it is not a part of the Shabbos experience.

Therefore, R. Dichovsky concludes that he cannot forbid keeping website open for sales on Shabbos but there is a negative “taste” to the practice.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

One comment

  1. guest 04/28/2010 10:09 PM
    For these types of questions, I always wonder: Shabbos for who? where? Shabbos time for the server? for the person using the site? for the owner of the site? What about the routers along the route from the user to the server?
    ———-
    hirhurim 04/28/2010 10:33 PM
    Regarding your Shabbos observance – Shabbos for you. Regarding assisting someone else in sinning – Shabbos for him. I don’t think it matters where the servers and routers are because we do not require shevisas keilim.
    ———-
    Dani Schreiber 04/29/2010 07:33 AM
    R. Assaf Bednarsh on Internet Commerce:
    http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/741447/Rabbi_Assaf_Bednarsh/Internet_Business_on_Shabbat
    ———-
    Shimon S 04/30/2010 01:51 PM
    What about e-bay? Can you bid in an auction that ends on Shabbos? How about sellers Shabbos – if you have no reason to assume he is a Yid?
    ———-
    sabbklyn 05/02/2010 05:52 PM
    An article written by Eliezer Ben Porat appears on the RCA website, in Hadarom, Volume 76. It is entitled ‘Internet in Halacha ‘ and contains an in depth discussion of the issues concerning keeping a webite open on Shabbat, amongst other issues. Here’s the link:

    http://www.rabbis.org/pdfs/Hadarom/Internet_Halacha.pdf

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