Receiving Video of Personal Event on Shabbat

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by R. Daniel Mann

Question: At my son’s recent Shabbat bar mitzva, a non-Jew who is close to him came to shul. It turns out he videoed some of the proceedings on his phone (if I had noticed, I would have asked him not to) and offered to send it to me, which, of course, would be nice. May I accept the offer?

Answer: Mazal tov!! This thought-provoking question touches on important points.

A Jew is not allowed to receive benefit from the melacha a non-Jew did on a Jew’s behalf on Shabbat (Shabbat 122a). If he did it on behalf of himself or other non-Jews, a Jew may benefit (ibid.). When benefit is forbidden, the prohibition lasts bichdei sheya’asu – until the time that the result would have been available if the work had been done after Shabbat ended (Beitza 24b). In your case, bichdei sheya’asu is forever, as if the non-Jew had not videoed on Shabbat, the moments of interest would have never been available. In this context and many others, the content of the electronic recording is equivalent to an “object” from which one could be forbidden to benefit in whatever form it is now found.

So our first question is: for whose benefit did this non-Jewish guest take the video? There are four possibilities: 1. He did it for himself, due to his feelings about your son, and only afterward thought of sharing it with you. 2. He did it for your family, possibly knowing you are unable to video yourselves. 3. He did it with both himself and you in mind. 4. As is now common, people video interesting things with no clear intent about what they will do with it. If #1 or #4 is the case, there is no prohibition to benefit. If #2, it is forbidden. If #3, a discussion is required.

A baraita (Shabbat 122a) states that if a non-Jew did work on behalf of a group of people, then if the majority is Jewish, Jews may not benefit from it, and if the majority is non-Jewish, benefit is permitted. If there is an even number of Jews and non-Jews, it is forbidden. Why is it forbidden in a tie? Rashi (ad loc.) says that it is considered a doubt for whom it is considered done, and we decide stringently in the case of this doubt. Another approach (see Mishna Berura 276:16) is that in the case of a tie, we consider him to have acted on behalf of both, and when one does it for both, it is forbidden. Indeed the Rama (OC 515:6) says that when we know something was done for both Jews and non-Jews, it is forbidden even if the majority was non-Jewish.

Thus, if we really knew that it was for both of you, it would seem to be forbidden (see Bi’ur Halacha to 276:2). On the other hand, when the non-Jew who does the melacha benefits himself, we assume that he mainly has in mind for himself (Shulchan Aruch, OC 276:2; see Shabbat 122b). Yet, the Magen Avraham says that if we know that he had in mind both for himself and others, it is forbidden. Not all agree with the Magen Avraham (the Mishna Berura 276:17 basically agrees; see Bi’ur Halacha ad loc.; see discussion in Orchot Shabbat 23:(97)).

In theory, if you know or can ask the guest in a manner of meisiach l’fi tumo (he does not know his answer is of halachic importance to you) and you got the “right” answer, it could be permitted according to straight halacha to accept the video. However, we think that it would be a bad precedent to do so. As you intuited, had you known the guest was filming, you should have nicely informed him that it is inappropriate to do so in a shul or even at a private Jewish Shabbat activity. If people start seeing that involving non-Jews in their Shabbat events may bring “benefits,” a trend can develop. This can lead to not-in-the-spirit-of-Shabbat situations and to halachic abuses. For example, hinting to a non-Jew to film or addressing the camera is forbidden (analysis is beyond our scope), and few know these halachot well. We contend that in general we do not want our Shabbat moments on video. (In a shul, we anyway need the rabbi’s blessing.) Therefore, we urge to keep the precious Shabbat bar mitzva moments captured as they always have been – in the participants’ minds and hearts.

About Daniel Mann

This column is produced on behalf of Eretz Hemdah by Rabbi Daniel Mann. Rabbi Mann is a Dayan for Eretz Hemdah and a staff member of Yeshiva University's Gruss Kollel in Israel. He is a senior member of the Eretz Hemdah responder staff, editor of Hemdat Yamim and the author of Living the Halachic Process, volumes 1 and 2 and A Glimpse of Greatness.

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