Different practices have emerged in the observant Jewish community regarding closing websites for Shabbat and Yom Tov. Many businesses do close their websites for Shabbat (I have been informed that the necessary programs are readily available and relatively easy to implement) and yet others do not close their websites for Shabbat. In this essay we will survey six issues involved in this controversy.
The Mishnah (Shabbat 17b) records a debate between Beit Hillel and Beit Shamai regarding the scope of the prohibition to work on Shabbat. The Torah (Shemot 20:10) commands that our children, slaves and even animals rest on Shabbat. Beit Shamai argues that this prohibition extends even to one’s utensils. Thus, according to Beit Shamai one cannot, for example, set a trap before Shabbat in order that an animal be caught on Shabbat.
The Halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 244:1), however, accepts the opinion of Beit Hillel and one’s utensils are not included within the scope of the prohibition to engage in work on Shabbat. Thus, the prohibition to work on Shabbat does not preclude one from allowing his website to continue to operate on Shabbat.
Gezeirat Mekach U’Memkar
Chazal (Beitzah 37a) forbade engaging in business on Shabbat (Gezeirat Mekach U’Memkar). Rashi (ad. loc. s.v. Mishum Mekach U’Memkar) explains that this is prohibited due to both concern that one may come to write on Shabbat and Yeshayahu’s exhortation (58:13) to refrain from Asot Chafetzcha V’dabeir Dvar, engaging in business and even conversing about it, on Shabbat.
It would seem that permitting one’s website to continue to function on Shabbat does not violate this prohibition since the website owner is not actively involved in the sales and marketing of his items. However, in a celebrated ruling, Rav Akiva Eiger (Teshuvot number 159) does not permit one to conduct a conditional transaction that will take effect on Shabbat, as he believes that this is included in the Gezeirat Mekach U’Memkar. This would seem to preclude operation of business websites on Shabbat as one may be acquiring money from his internet customers on Shabbat and Yom Tov. Even though Maharam Schick (Teshuvot number O.C. 131) disputes this ruling of Rav Akiva Eiger, nonetheless Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe O.C. 3:44) rules that this issue is difficult to resolve and that in practice we should be strict due to both the unresolved doubt and respect for the eminent stature of Rav Akiva Eiger.
However, Teshuvat Chelkat Yaakov (O.C. 67), Rav Shlomo Dichovsky (Techumin 22:330) and Rav Doniel Neustadt (The Daily Halachah Discussion pages 26-27 in the Hebrew section) all agree that Rav Akiva Eiger’s ruling applies only if one specifically stipulated that the transaction take effect on Shabbat. They marshal evidence from the Shulchan Aruch’s permission (O.C. 307:4) to ask a non-Jew before Shabbat to purchase an item when he has the opportunity to do so, as long as one does not specifically mention Shabbat as the day he wants him to make the purchase. Accordingly, we see that acquiring title to an item (such as the item a non-Jew purchases on one’s behalf on Shabbat) on Shabbat is not per se included in the Gezeirat Mekach U’Memkar. Thus, even Rav Akiva Eiger would not object to one’s website facilitating acquiring title to money from purchases that occurred on Shabbat, since one did not specifically stipulate that he wishes for the transaction to take effect specifically on Shabbat.
Chazal (Ketubot 64a) forbade earnings from even permitted activities on Shabbat (Sechar Shabbat). This applies, as indicated from the case described in the Gemara (ibid.), even to passive income such as income from a rental that is calculated daily (Mishna Brurah 306:19). Thus, it would seem to forbid earnings from items sold on Shabbat and Yom Tov on one’s website.
However, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (cited in Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchatah chapter 29 footnote 70) and Dayan Weisz (Teshuvot Minchat Yitzchak 3:38) in the course of their discussion of permitting leaving one’s automated machines in operation during Shabbat, note that the great Rav Yechezkeil Landau (Teshuvot Noda B’Yehuda 2:26) rules that Sechar Shabbat applies only to payment for services rendered such as babysitting or tutoring. He rules that it does not apply to paying for a good provided on Shabbat.
Thus, Rav Landau permits Mikvah operators to collect payment from ladies who immersed on a Friday evening. Indeed, the Mishnah (Beitzah 29b) permits in certain limited circumstances obtaining an item from an observant storeowner on Yom Tov even though payment will be made for that item after the holiday. Thus Sechar Shabbat does not apply to payment for goods sold on the internet.
Lifnei Iveir Lo Titein Michshol
The Torah (Vayikra 19:14) prohibits causing another to sin - Lifnei Iveir Lo Titein Michshol. There is concern that a website runs afoul of this prohibition since non-observant Jews might access the website and order an item on Shabbat. Dayan Weisz (Teshuvot Minchat Yitzchak 5:14) in the context of permitting a telephone answering machine that was not set specifically for Shabbat rules that this does not pose a problem. One consideration is the fact that it is possible that a Jew will not visit the site on Shabbat and some opinions believe that Lifnei Iveir Lo Titein Michshol does not apply in case of only possible infraction.
The other consideration is that the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 6b) teaches that Lifnei Iveir Lo Titein Michshol applies only if the violator would have considerable difficulty in sinning without the facilitator’s assistance (Trei Avri D’Nahara, literally where one brings the forbidden item to another from one side of a river to another). Posting a website is hardly a case of Trei Avri D’nahara as there is hardly a shortage of competitors for each website and if the non-observant Jew does not access your website he will most likely visit another similar one.
Even though some opinions (such as Tosafot Shabbat 3a s.v. Bava) rule that even in such a case there is a rabbinic obligation to separate one’s fellow Jew from sinning (L’Afrushei Mei’issura), Dayan Weisz rules that this does not apply when there is only a possibility that a Jew may sin. Rav Neustadt notes that Rav Shlomo Kluger (Teshuvot Tuv Ta’am Vada’at 3:2:50) also rules thusly. Moreover, Teshuvot Binyan Tzion (number 15), Teshuvot Meishiv Davar (2:31), Teshuvot Maharsham (2:97) and Teshuvot Igrot Moshe (Yoreh Deah 1:72) rule that the obligation L’Afrushei Mei’issura applies only in case where the sin occurs at the time of one’s action (such as handing a non-observant Jew something he will immediately carry outside the Eruv). Thus, since the website is posted before Shabbat the issue of L’Afrushei Mei’issura does not apply.
Rav Neustadt (ad. loc. page 30) adds another lenient consideration by citing Shach (Yoreh Deah 151:6) and Dagul Meirevavah (ad loc.) who rule that the rabbinic obligation L’Afrushei Mei’issura does not apply to those who routinely and deliberately violate Torah law. Moreover, he notes that Rav Moshe Feinstein in many of his responsa (such as the aforementioned Teshuvot Igrot Moshe) rules that the Shach and Degul Meirevavah’s ruling apply even to Jews who were raised in an environment devoid of Torah (Tinok She’nishbah, see my Gray Matter 1:78-82). Rav Neustadt notes that even though the Mishnah Berurah (347:7) rules in accordance with the Magen Avraham (347:4) who does not subscribe to the view of the Shach and Degul Meirevavah, Rav Feinstein (ad. loc. Even Haezer 4:61) rules that the essential Halacha follows the Shach and Degul Meirevavah.
The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 243:1) forbids renting one’s bathhouse to a non-Jew who will operate it on Shabbat if it is known that the establishment belongs to a Jew due to concern for Marit Ayin, concern that the Jew is actually operating the bathhouse on Shabbat or that the non-Jew is operating it at the Jew’s behest. Rav Dichovsky, however, notes that this is hardly a concern regarding a website since there is no Marit Ayin when it is well-known that the activity is conducted entirely by automation.
Zilzul Shabbat – A Degradation of Shabbat
Thus far we have not found a “technical” reason to prohibit allowing one’s business website to be functional on Shabbat. However, there is concern that perhaps this constitutes a degradation of the holy Shabbat day. Indeed, Poskim of the past half century have struggled with defining the precise parameters of which automated activity is prohibited. Next week we shall explore this issue further and review the rulings of twentieth century Poskim regarding automatic food dispensers, laundry machines, answering machines, fax machines and timers and discuss the application of these rulings in the context of allowing one’s website to remain operational on Shabbat.