by R. Daniel Mann
Question: Asked by an American rabbi: A congregant of mine is trying to sell his house. His non-Jewish real estate agent suggested doing an open house on Shabbat, a good time for many buyers. If the owner goes away for Shabbat, may he do that?
Answer: I leave to you to deal with communal implications of an event done to attract specifically non-Shabbat observant buyers and the possibility it will cause non-observant Jews to violate Shabbat. Those issues require familiarity with the local situation.
It is difficult to know if the agent, who provides services for the Jewish seller, will need to do melachot in showing the house. When it is not necessary, then even if he does melacha, it does not relate to the Jew for whom he is doing the job (Orchot Shabbat 23:54-58). However, even assuming the agent will not take any steps of formal transactions for you at the open house, just trying to promote a future deal is forbidden on Shabbat (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 306:1). One may not ask a non-Jew to do even a Rabbinic prohibition such as that, without special grounds (Shulchan Aruch, OC 307:5).
A major factor that often permits amira l’nochri (asking a non-Jew to do work for him) exists here, namely, katzatz. When the non-Jew gets paid by the job, as opposed to as a worker paid by time, it is permitted for him to do melacha for the Jew (Shabbat 19a; Shulchan Aruch, OC 244:1). The logic is that in such a case, he is acting not because the Jew asked him to but to receive the money that the result earns him (see Mishna Berura 244:2). Realtors are almost always paid only if and when they succeed in facilitating a sale and their rate is unrelated to the amount of time it took, but to the result.
However, there are two problems with using this leniency in this case. One is that even regarding katzatz, the non-Jew must not be told explicitly or otherwise realize that it is necessary that at least some of the work must be done specifically on Shabbat (Shulchan Aruch, OC 252:2). Here, the plan the Jewish owner accepts is for the open house to be held specifically on Shabbat. It does not help if the realtor thought of the idea, as it is still a plan to work on the Jew’s behalf specifically on Shabbat. If this were the only problem, one could look for leniencies to alleviate the problem (details are beyond our present scope.)
The second problem, which applies if we are discussing a home in the midst of a community that includes Jews, is marit ayin. The gemara (Avoda Zara 21b) says that one may not let a non-Jew work on his property even if he does so for his own profit because it is known as a Jew’s establishment and some people will assume the type of business arrangement with the non-Jew was one that is forbidden. While this can apply even when the non-Jew is working on a Jew’s movable object (e.g., fixing his car), if it is clearly a Jew’s, the prohibition is broader and sterner when it is related to land/house (Shulchan Aruch, OC 244:1-2). While the problem should not apply when it is known that this type of work is paid by the job (as is the case for realtors), this does not help when the work is done in the Jew’s known, accessible house (ibid.). The concern is that although people will figure he is paid per result, they may suspect that the Jew asked him to do the job specifically on Shabbat (Mishna Berura 252:17).
Therefore, writing about a case where the owner does not live in the house and hands over the job of showing the home to the realtor alone, Orchot Shabbat (23:158) forbids allowing the non-Jew to show the house on Shabbat if it is known to be a Jew’s house and is accessible to a Jewish community. Our case, where the owner takes part in making the open house on Shabbat, is more clearly forbidden. In many communities, this will not only be “technically” forbidden but may be seen as a scandalous affront to Shabbat.
May the concern for the honor of Shabbat help provide the seller with merit to succeed in finding his buyer, during the week.