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When May I Ask a Non-Jew for Help on Shabbos? Part II

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Each of the following questions is an actual situation about
which I was asked:

Question #1: My friend lives in a neighborhood that does not
have an eruv. She arranges before Shabbos for a non-Jew to push
the baby carriage on Shabbos. May she do this?

Question #2: “If this contract does not arrive at its
destination ASAP, I could suffer huge losses. May I mail it as an express mail
package on Friday?”

Question #3: “If a registered letter arrives on Shabbos,
may I ask the letter carrier to sign for me?”

As I mentioned last week, the topic of amira lenachri what
I am permitted to ask a non-Jew to do for me that I am not permitted to do
myself, is very complicated and often misunderstood or misapplied. As I noted
last week, these laws are not restricted to the laws of Shabbos, but
apply to all mitzvos of the Torah, and, therefore, I may not ask a
non-Jew to graft fruit trees for me, nor may I ask him to do prohibited work on
Chol Hamoed (Moed Katan 12a).

As we learned last week, these are some of the factors that
we must consider:

A. Is the non-Jew my employee or is he an “independent
contractor”?

B. What type of benefit do I receive from his work?

C. Did I ask the non-Jew directly or indirectly?

D. If a Jew were to perform the work, would it be prohibited
min haTorah or only miderabbanan?

E. Why do I want him to do this work?

F. Could I do the work myself, albeit in a different way
from how the non-Jew is likely to do it?

Last week, we discussed the difference between asking
directly from the non-Jew to do something that I am prohibited from doing,
versus, hinting this to him. May I hint to a non-Jew that I would like him to
perform a prohibited activity on Shabbos? The poskim dispute this
issue. As we learned last week, the majority of poskim rule that,
although one may not hint to a non-Jew on Shabbos, one may hint to him
on a weekday (Smag). Thus one may ask him on Friday, “Why didn’t you do
this last Shabbos? but one may not ask him this on Shabbos (Shulchan
Aruch Orach Chayim
307:2; Rema Orach Chayim 307:22). However, the poskim
agree that one may tell a non-Jewish mailman on Shabbos, “I cannot read
this letter until it is open.” What is the difference between the two types of
hinting?

The difference is that the forbidden type of hinting implies
either a command or a rebuke, whereas the permitted type does not (Magen
Avraham
307:31). Telling a non-Jew to clean something up in a dark room on Shabbos
is, in essence, commanding him to perform a prohibited activity — turning on
the light. Similarly, when you rebuke him for not doing something last Shabbos,
you are basically commanding him to do it the next Shabbos. However, one
may make a statement of fact that is neither a command nor a rebuke. Therefore
telling the non-Jew, “I cannot read this letter unless it is open” does not
command him to do anything, and for this reason it is permitted.

However, if the non-Jew then asks me, “Would you like me to
open the letter for you?” I may not answer “Yes,” since this is itself a
command. (It is as if you said, “Yes, I would like you to open the letter for
me.”) I may tell him, “That’s not a bad idea,” or “I have no objections to your
opening the letter,” which does not directly ask him. I may even say, “I am not
permitted to ask you to open it on my Sabbath.”

PUSHING THE BABY CARRIAGE

At this point, we can discuss our opening question: My
friend lives in a neighborhood that does not have an eruv. Before Shabbos,
she arranges for a non-Jew to push the baby carriage on Shabbos. May she
do this? (See Mishnah Berurah
308:154.)

Let me address this issue with the following shaylah that
I was asked recently: Someone moved to a community where the rav permits
people to have a non-Jew carry the baby on Shabbos by arranging remizah
(hinting) from before Shabbos. This means that one would tell a
non-Jew before Shabbos, “I would like to go to shul on Shabbos,
but I cannot leave the baby behind.” The non-Jew then responds, “What time
would you like me to arrive at the house?” or “What time would you like to
leave the house?” neither party ever stating that you have asked the non-Jew
what to do.

Personally, I have strong reservations about using this
suggestion, since, eventually, one will end up commanding the non-Jew directly,
such as, if the non-Jew asks, “Do you need me to take the baby’s blanket
along?” If you answer “Yes,” you have commanded the non-Jew, which is a
violation of the halacha.

EXPRESS MAIL

At this point, we can begin to discuss opening question #2:
May I mail express mail on Friday?

At first glance, it would seem that one may not send an
express mail package on Friday, since you are asking the non-Jew to transport
and deliver the package on Shabbos. You are requesting that he do the
job as quickly as possible, making this dissimilar to the case of bringing the
car to the auto mechanic or clothes to the dry cleaner on Friday. In this case,
you are insisting that he do the job on Shabbos, which is prohibited.

A similar shaylah to our express mail case was asked
in Amsterdam hundreds of years ago of Rav Yaakov Emden. The questioner wanted
to ship precious stones by asking a non-Jewish employee to deliver them to the
post office on Shabbos, reasoning that his non-Jewish agent was carrying
items within an eruv on Shabbos and therefore not doing any
prohibited activity. Rav Yaakov Emden prohibited this, pointing out that the
non-Jew would have to fill out paperwork at the post office to send off this shipment,
and this would be considered having an agent work for him on Shabbos (She’eilas
Yaavetz
2:139).

Although based on the above analysis it would seem that one
may not send express mail on Friday, there is a different reason why one may —
but only under extenuating circumstances, as I will explain.

I may not ask a non-Jew on Shabbos to hire other
non-Jewish workers (Shabbos 150a; Shulchan Aruch 307:2). Some poskim
contend that although I may not ask a non-Jew to hire workers, which is a
prohibited activity, I may ask him to ask another non-Jew to do
something that is prohibited on Shabbos. The rationale behind this heter,
usually called amira le’amira, is that asking one non-Jew to ask another
is permitted because I am asking a non-Jew only to talk, which is not
considered an activity (Shu’t Chavos Ya’ir #46, 49, 53). Other poskim
contend that just as one may not ask a non-Jew to hire workers, which is just
talk, one cannot ask him to do any other activity that involves prohibited work
(Avodas Hagershuni). Mishnah Berurah (307:24) rules that one may
be lenient in a case of major financial loss; thus, under very extenuating
circumstances, one could be lenient.

This dispute is interesting historically because the two
seventeenth-century Torah giants involved in this dispute corresponded with one
another. The Chavos Ya’ir permitted asking a non-Jew to ask another
non-Jew to work on Shabbos, whereas the Avodas Hagershuni responded
to him that this is forbidden. One can actually trace the give-and-take of their
halachic debate on the issue, together with their lines of reasoning and
proofs, simply by reading the correspondence published in their responsa. It is
almost as if we are privileged to sit in their respective batei midrash and
listen in as they each give shiur on the subject!

The dispute has many ramifications, one of which is our case
of express mail, since you place an order with one person, but a different
non-Jew does the actual traveling and delivering. Thus, we have a case of amira
le’amira,
which is permitted according to the Chavos Yair. There is
also another reason to be lenient: Since one is arranging the express mail
delivery before Shabbos, the situation is a bit more lenient than the
above-mentioned dispute between the Chavos Yair and the Avodas
Hagershuni
. Indeed, the Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Orach Chayim #60)
rules a compromise position between the two, permitting telling the non-Jew
before Shabbos to ask the other non-Jew on Shabbos. Biur
Halacha
(307:2) disagrees, quoting Rashba. Therefore, one should not
rely on this ruling unless the situation is extenuating.

The story behind the Chasam Sofer’s responsum on this
issue is worth noting. During the Napoleonic Wars, a battle took place in
Pressburg (today known as Bratislava), where the Chasam Sofer was rav,
in which much of the Jewish area of town went up in flames. It was very
important to rebuild the neighborhood before winter set in, and there was
concern that the non-Jewish contractors would not construct the Jewish houses
in a timely fashion if they were not allowed to work on Shabbos. One of
the reasons that the Chasam Sofer ruled that they could allow the
non-Jew workers to work on Shabbos was that the Jews hired a non-Jewish
contractor, who in turn instructed his employees when to work. Thus it was a
case of amira le’amira, which the Chasam Sofer permitted if the
contractor received his instructions before Shabbos.

SHABBOS PICK-UP

If I hired a non-Jew to make a delivery for me, he may not
pick up the item from my house on Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch Orach
Chayim
307:4). Thus, if I contract with a delivery service, such as UPS,
they must pick up the item before Shabbos.

Now we should be prepared to answer this last
question.  What should I do if a registered letter arrives on Shabbos?

As explained above, I may not ask the non-Jewish
delivery person to sign for me, even by hinting to him. However, I may tell
him, “I cannot sign for this today because it is my Sabbath.” If he asks me,
“Would you like me to sign for the delivery?” I may not tell him, “Yes.”
However I may answer him, “It is fine with me if you would like to,” or “I may
not ask someone else to do this on my Sabbath,” or “I do not mind receiving the
delivery, but I may not sign for it.”

In conclusion, we have discovered that in certain
extenuating instances, Chazal permitted melacha performed by a
non-Jew, but that one should not extend these heterim to other
situations. When using a non-Jew to do normally forbidden work, one should
focus that one’s intent is not, chas v’sholom, to weaken the importance
of Shabbos, but, rather, to enhance kavod Shabbos.

According to the Rambam, the reason that Chazal prohibited
asking a non-Jew to do work on Shabbos is so that we do not diminish
sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves. Refraining from having even a
non-Jew work for me on Shabbos shows even deeper testimony to my
conviction that Hashem created the world.




When May I Ask a Gentile for Help on Shabbos? Part II

While enslaved in Egypt, the Jews worked every day, and one of the special days celebrated to commemorate our Exodus is Shabbos. Observing Shabbos includes not only keeping the mitzvos ourselves, but also knowing when I may ask a non-Jew to perform prohibited activity, and when may I benefit from work performed by a gentile on Shabbos.

Each of the following questions describes a situation that people have asked me:

Question #1: A non-Jew turned on the lights for me on Shabbos. May I use this light to read?

Question #2: It is chilly in our house. May I ask a gentile neighbor to turn up the heat?

Question #3: There is problem with our electricity – the lights have gone out, and my son is terrified. May I ask a gentile electrician to repair the power on Shabbos?

Question #4: We left the air conditioning off, and it became very hot on Shabbos. May I ask a non-Jew to turn the air conditioning on?

Question #5: I did not realize that I parked my car in a place where it will be towed away. May I ask a gentile neighbor to move it?

A Jew may not ask a gentile to perform activity that a Jew himself may not do. Chazal prohibited this, because asking a gentile to work on Shabbos diminishes our sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves. Furthermore the gentile functions as my agent, and it is therefore considered as if I did melacha work on Shabbos.

One may not benefit from melacha performed for a Jew by a gentile on Shabbos even if the Jew did not ask him to do the work (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 276:1). Thus if a gentile turned on a light for the Jew’s benefit without being asked, a Jew may not use the light.

This article will discuss when I may directly ask a gentile to do melacha and when I may benefit from what he does.

BENEFITING FROM GENTILE LABOR

In general, if a gentile does melacha work for me on Shabbos, I may not benefit from what he did until enough time has elapsed after Shabbos for the work to have been performed after Shabbos (Gemara Beitzah 24b; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 325:6). Thus if a gentile baked an apple for me on Shabbos, I may not eat it after Shabbos until the time it takes to bake an apple. This way I receive no benefit from the work he performed and I am not tempted to ask him to do melacha for me at a different time (Rashi and Tosafos, Beitzah 24b).

However, if a non-Jew did work specifically for himself or for another non-Jew, I may benefit from his work even on that Shabbos itself (Mishnah Shabbos 122a). Therefore, if he turned on a light to see where he is going or to be able to read, I may read by the light. There is an exception to this lenience that I will explain shortly.

The Gemara tells us the following story: The great Amora Shmuel was visiting a man named Avin in the town of Torin, when a gentile entered the room and kindled a light. Shmuel assumed that the non-Jew had ignited the light for Shmuel’s benefit, which would make it forbidden to use the light. In order to point out the fact that he was not using the light, Shmuel turned his chair around, with his back to the light, so that it was obvious that he was not using it. Shortly thereafter, the gentile returned with a document that he proceeded to read. Shmuel now realized that the gentile had kindled the light for his own benefit and that he (Shmuel) was permitted to read by the light (Gemara Shabbos 122b).

Sometimes I may not benefit from work performed by a gentile even though he performed the work to benefit a gentile. This is in a case where there is concern that my benefiting from the activity might encourage the gentile to do more work than he needs for himself in order to benefit me. For example, if a gentile who knows me heated up a kettle of water because he wants a cup of coffee, I may not drink a cup of hot water from this kettle. The reason is that at some time in the future, he might decide to add extra water to the kettle that he is heating so that I can benefit (Gemara Shabbos 122a).

REMOVING IMPEDIMENTS

If a gentile did work that results in removing an impediment that was disturbing a Jew, I need not be concerned about benefiting from the non-Jew’s melacha activity. For example, if he turned off the light so that a Jewish person can sleep, one may go to sleep. This is not considered as receiving benefit from a gentile’s Shabbos activity, since extinguishing the light only removed an obstacle and created nothing positive.

PARTIAL BENEFIT

Another instance that is not considered as receiving benefit from melacha activity is when I could already benefit before the gentile performed the melacha, and his melacha only makes it easier to do what I wanted. For example if there is enough light to read, and a gentile turns on additional light, I may continue to read even though it is now easier to read. This is not considered as benefiting from the gentile’s melacha since I could have read even if he did not do the melacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 276:4). Similarly, one may eat a meal by the light that he provides, if one could eat even without the additional light. (Note that one may not ask the gentile to turn on the light in any of these instances.)

The poskim dispute whether in the above scenario I may continue reading after the original light burns out. Some contend that once the light has gone out, I may no longer read in the room since I am now benefiting from what the gentile kindled on Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 276:4; Bach; Magen Avraham). Others contend that since I was permitted to read when the light was kindled, I may continue to read even after the original light extinguished (Taz 276:3). Mishnah Berurah concludes that one should follow the first opinion.

I once spent Shabbos in a kosher hotel for a family simcha. I arrived early for davening Shabbos morning, intending to learn beforehand, to discover that the lights were still out in the shul. I assumed that the lights were set to go on by a Shabbos clock and sat down near a window to learn in the interim. Fifteen minutes before davening started, a gentile employee of the hotel arrived and turned on all the shul lights. This involved two prohibitions: 1. Since the gentile was an employee of the Jewish owned hotel, the hotel should not have arranged for him to do melacha on Shabbos. 2. One may not benefit from the work he did. Thus, it is forbidden to read in the shul if you need the light to read.

However, as long as enough light came in through the windows to read, I could continue to read using the artificial light, since I could in any case read near the window. However, I could not read anywhere else in the shul. Furthermore, once it gets dark outdoors and I can no longer read by the natural light, most authorities prohibit reading by the kindled light.

MUST I LEAVE HOME?

According to what we have just explained, it would seem that if a non-Jew turned on the light in a house because he wanted to benefit a Jew, one may not benefit from the light and would have to leave. However, Chazal ruled that one is not required to leave one’s house if one did not want the gentile to turn the light on. Although one may not benefit from a non-Jew’s melacha on Shabbos, one is not required to leave one’s house in order to avoid benefiting from melacha that he did against one’s will (Rama 276:1, quoting Yerushalmi). In all instances like this, one should tell the gentile that you do not want him to do the melacha.

WHEN MAY I ASK A GENTILE TO WORK ON SHABBOS?

Under certain extenuating circumstances, Chazal permitted asking a gentile to do melacha that a Jew may not do himself. I will group these situations under the following categories:

I. Situations when I may ask a gentile to perform work that would be prohibited min haTorah for a Jew.

II. Situations when I may ask a gentile to perform work that is prohibited mid’rabbanan.

I. There are a few situations where I may ask a gentile to perform something that would be a Torah prohibition if I did it myself. I may ask a non-Jew to perform a melacha for someone who is “choleh kol gufo,” literally, his entire body is sick. This means that although the person is in no danger, his illness is more than just a minor annoyance but affects his entire body (Gemara Shabbos 129a; Shulchan Aruch 328:17). For example, I may ask a gentile to drive this person to a doctor, to pick up a prescription, or to turn a light on or off. This leniency applies to someone whose illness affects his entire body, or who is sick enough to be bedridden. Later in the article, I will discuss the halachos that apply to someone who is not well, but who is feeling better than the person just described.

CHILDREN

Since children often get sick and are generally weaker than adults are, halacha considers a child as choleh kol gufo (Rama 276:1) when there is a great need (Mishnah Berurah ad loc.). Therefore if it is cold indoors, one may ask a non-Jew to turn on the heat for the sake of a child, and then an adult too may benefit from the heat.

Until what age do I consider a child a choleh kol gufo? Many poskim contend that any child under the age of nine is in this category (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchok 1:78), although other poskim are less lenient.

Halacha treats a child who is afraid of the dark as a choleh kol gufo (Ketzos HaShulchan 134:18). Therefore if the light went out and a child is afraid, one may ask a gentile to rectify the problem.

We can now answer Question #3 above: “There is problem with our electricity – the lights have gone out, and my son is terrified. May I ask a gentile electrician to repair the power on Shabbos?” Under these circumstances, one may.

COLD ADULTS

When it is very cold, one may ask a gentile to turn on the heat even for adults even if this involves doing a Torah prohibition. This is because everyone is considered sick when it comes to the cold. When it is chilly but not freezing, the poskim dispute whether I may ask a non-Jew to turn on the heat for the sake of adults when there are no children or ill people around (Shulchan Aruch 276:5 and commentaries).

Thus, we can now answer Question #2: “It is chilly in our house. May I ask the gentile next door neighbor to turn up the heat?” The answer is that it depends on how cold it is, and who is affected by the lack of heat.

WIDESPREAD TRANSGRESSION

Another situation where one may ask a gentile to do melacha that is prohibited min haTorah, is if it is necessary to prevent many people from transgressing the Torah. For example, if one discovered that the eruv is down, one may ask a non-Jew to repair it on Shabbos even though he will have to perform activities that would be prohibited min haTorah (Mishnah Berurah 276:25), such as driving his car, tying a knot, or carrying in a reshus harabim min HaTorah.

II. Situations when I may ask a gentile to perform work that is prohibited mid’rabbanan.

SHVUS DI’SHVUS

Under certain other circumstances, Chazal permitted asking a gentile to do something that would be prohibited mid’rabbanan for a Jew. The poskim usually refer to this lenience as shvus di’shvus. In general, this is permitted in any of the following situations:

(A) If a person is slightly ill.

(B) There is a major need.

(C) In order to fulfill the observing of a mitzvah (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 307:5).

I will now explain these three situations:

(A) Earlier, I noted that if someone is ill, one may ask a gentile to do something that would involve a Torah prohibition for a Jew — when the person’s illness affects his entire body, or if he is sick enough to go to bed. If the person is less ill, one may ask a gentile to do something that involves only a rabbinic prohibition (for a Jew), but not a Torah prohibition.

Included under this category is if the person is suffering from considerable pain (Gra on Orach Chayim 325:10; Aruch HaShulchan 307:18). Thus, someone who caught his finger in a door may ask a non-Jew to bring ice through an area without an eruv if he has no ice in his house. Similarly if an insect bit him, he may ask a gentile to buy medicine to alleviate the pain.

Based on the above heter, may one ask a gentile to turn on the air conditioner if it gets very hot? Does this qualify as alleviating a great deal of suffering? And is operating the air conditioning considered a Torah violation or a rabbinic violation, for which we may be lenient because of shvus di’shvus?

This question was the subject of a dispute by the last generation’s poskim. Minchas Yitzchok (3:23) permits asking a gentile to turn it on, quoting L’vush who explains that once people are unaccustomed to the cold, halacha considers them to be ill even if it is not that cold — Therefore one may ask a gentile to kindle a fire for them. However, he then quotes sources that contend that being too hot is not the same as being too cold. He concludes that someone who is accustomed to moderate weather suffers when it is very hot and humid and may therefore ask a non-Jew to turn on the air conditioning because it is shvus di’shvus bimakom tzaar (to alleviate suffering). Similarly, his mechutan, the Chelkas Yaakov (3:139) permitted having a non-Jew turn on the air conditioning because of shvus di’shvus bimakom tzaar.

On the other hand, Rav Moshe prohibited asking a gentile to turn on the air conditioner because it is benefiting from work performed by a gentile on Shabbos (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 3:47:2). Thus, Rav Moshe forbids benefiting even if one did not ask the gentile to turn on the air conditioning, but merely hinted, such as by telling him, “It is really hot here!” hoping that he catches the hint. Evidently, Rav Moshe did not consider this as a makom tzaar that permits one to benefit from a gentile’s activity on Shabbos.

Thus in answer to Question #4, “We left the air conditioning off, and it became very hot on Shabbos. May I ask a non-Jew to turn the air conditioning on?” we see that the poskim dispute whether this is permitted or not.

(B) One may ask a gentile to perform an issur d’rabbanan in case of major need. There are three opinions as to how much financial loss this must entail to be considered a major need.

(1) Some rule that one may ask the gentile even if there is no financial loss as long as there is a great need (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 307:5; Graz 307:12). According to these poskim, if one’s clothes became torn or dirty on Shabbos and he is embarrassed to wear them, he may ask a gentile to bring him clean clothes through an area not enclosed by an eruv.

(2) Other poskim rule more strictly, contending that one may be lenient only if a major financial loss will result (Magen Avraham 307:7). According to these poskim, if one discovered that the plug of one’s well-stocked freezer is disconnected, one may ask a non-Jew to reconnect it on Shabbos.

(3) A third opinion contends that major financial loss is not sufficient reason to permit shvus di’shvus unless there is some physical discomfort as well (Eliyah Rabbah 307:14). We usually follow the second opinion quoted and permit a shvus di’shvus in case of major financial loss. Furthermore, we allow shvus di’shvus even if it is uncertain that a major loss will result, but it is a good possibility (see Shaylas Yaavetz 2:139). As a result, one may ask a gentile to plug in the freezer even if one is uncertain whether the food will go bad.

Note that none of the opinions I quoted permits asking a gentile to violate a Torah law to avoid financial loss. Thus, this would answer Question #5 that I mentioned above: “I did not realize that I parked my car where the city will tow it away. May I ask a gentile neighbor to move it to avoid this major expense?” The answer is that one is not allowed to ask him. However, one may hint to the gentile in an indirect way by saying, “My car is parked in a place where it might get towed,” as I explained in a different article on this subject.

(C) I may ask a gentile to do something that is only an issur d’rabbanan in order to enable me to perform a mitzvah. For example, inviting a guest who is visiting from out of town, or a guest who otherwise would have nowhere to eat, fulfills the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim. (Inviting another family over for a Shabbos meal may be a very big chesed for the wife of the guest family, but it does not qualify as the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim [Rama 333:1]). Therefore, if one realizes on Shabbos that one does not have enough chairs for everyone to sit at the table, one may ask a gentile to bring chairs from a neighbor’s house even when there is no eruv. Other poskim are more lenient, permitting asking a gentile to bring any food or beverage that enhances Shabbos (Aruch HaShulchan 307:18).

Some authorities permit asking a gentile to perform a Torah melacha in order to allow the observance of a mitzvah. This is a minority opinion and should not be followed. However, there was an old custom among European Jewry to permit asking a gentile under these circumstances. This custom has halachic sources in the following Rama who rules:

“Some permit telling a gentile to kindle lights for the sake of the Shabbos meal because they contend that in order to fulfill a mitzvah (such as having a nice Shabbos meal) one may ask a gentile to perform even a real melacha that would be forbidden for a Jew to do min haTorah. Following this approach, many are accustomed to be lenient and command a gentile to kindle lights for the purpose of the Shabbos meal, particularly for wedding and bris meals, and no one rebukes them. However, one should be strict in this matter when there is no extenuating need since most of the halachic authorities disagree” (Rama 276:2).

In conclusion, we have discovered that in certain extenuating instances Chazal permitted melacha performed by a gentile, but that one should not extend these heterim to situations not included. When using a non-Jew to do normally forbidden work, one should focus that one’s intent is not, chas v’sholom, to weaken the importance of Shabbos, but rather the kavod Shabbos that will result.




When May I Ask a Gentile for Help on Shabbos?

Each of the following questions is an actual situation that people have asked me:

Question #1: My car needs repair work and the most convenient time to drop it off at Angelo’s Service Station is Friday afternoon. May I bring Angelo the car then knowing that he is going to repair it on Shabbos?

Question #2: A gala Shabbos sheva brachos is being held at an apartment several flights of stairs below street level, a very common situation in hilly Yerushalayim. The kallah’s elderly grandmother arrived before Shabbos by elevator, intending to return home by using the Shabbos elevator (a subject we will discuss at a different time iy’H). Indeed, the building’s elevator actually has a Shabbos setting, but we discovered on Shabbos that the Shabbos setting is not working. How does Grandma get home?

Question #3: My friend lives in a neighborhood that does not have an eruv. She arranges before Shabbos for a non-Jew to push the baby carriage on Shabbos. May she do this?

Question #4: “If this contract does not arrive at its destination ASAP, I could suffer huge losses. May I mail it as an express mail package on Friday?”

“What should I do if a registered letter arrives on Shabbos?”

Many people are under the mistaken impression that one may ask a non-Jew to do any type of prohibited activity on Shabbos. Unfortunately, this is not true. I have often seen a person ask gentiles to do work on Shabbos that is clearly prohibited. Our Sages prohibited asking a non-Jew to work for us on Shabbos out of concern that this diminishes our sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 6:1). Chazal considered the gentile to be my agent — thus, if he works for me on Shabbos, it is considered that I worked on Shabbos through a hired agent (Rashi, Shabbos 153a s.v. mai taama).

By the way, the halachos of amira linachri, asking a gentile to perform a prohibited activity, are not restricted to the laws of Shabbos, but apply to all mitzvos of the Torah. Thus, one may not have a gentile muzzle his animal while it works (see Gemara Bava Metzia 90a; Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 338:6), ask him to graft fruit trees, nor may one ask a non-Jew to do prohibited work on Chol HaMoed (Gemara Moed Katan 12a).

There are many complicated details governing when I may ask a gentile to do something on Shabbos and when I may not. These are some of the factors that one must consider:

A. Is the gentile my employee or is he an “independent contractor”?

B. What type of benefit do I receive from his work?

C. Did I ask the non-Jew directly or indirectly?

D. Is the work I asked him to perform prohibited min haTorah or only midirabbanan?

E. Why do I want him to do this work?

F. Could I do the work myself, albeit in a different way than the gentile will likely do it?

To show how these details affect a practical case, I will analyze the halachic issues involved in each of our cases mentioned above, starting with our first case – leaving the car over Shabbos at a non-Jewish mechanic. The major issue here is that I did not ask the gentile to do the work on Shabbos – I am not permitted to do this. Instead, I brought him the car and allowed him to decide whether to do the work on Shabbos or not. Is he now my agent if he works on Shabbos, which is prohibited, or is it permitted?

In order to explain the issues involved in this shaylah, we need to introduce a few concepts.

AGENT VERSUS CONTRACTOR

There is a halachic difference whether the gentile is working as my agent (or employee) or whether he is an independent contractor who makes his own decisions. If he is my agent, I may not allow him to do prohibited activity on Shabbos. But if he is an independent contractor, then under certain circumstances I am not responsible if he actually does the work on Shabbos.

When is the gentile considered a contractor? If the non-Jew decides on his own when to do the work and I hired him by the job, he is a contractor. In these cases, I may give him work that he might decide to perform on Shabbos, provided that he could do the work on a different day and that he does the work on his own premises. (Under certain circumstances, the last condition may not apply.)

What are examples of contractors? The mailman, a repairman who repairs items on his own premises, the dry cleaner are all contractors. On the other hand, a regular employee whom I ask to do some work on Shabbos is not a contractor unless I pay him extra for this job.

Thus I may drop off my car at the auto mechanic before Shabbos and leave it over Shabbos, provided I allow him time to do the work when it is not Shabbos, either on Friday afternoon or Motzei Shabbos. Even though I know that the non-Jewish mechanic will not be working Saturday night and will actually do the work on Shabbos, I need not be concerned, since he could choose to do the work after Shabbos.

However, this is permitted only when (1) he does the work on his own premises (2) I pay him for the completed job and (3) he decides whether or not he does the work on Shabbos or not. (It should be noted that some poskim prohibit doing this when the mechanic is closed Motzei Shabbos. Since I know that he is closed Motzei Shabbos, they consider it asking him to do the work on Shabbos, which is prohibited.)

In a similar way, I could bring dry cleaning in on Friday afternoon expecting to pick up the cleaned clothes Saturday night, provided enough time exists to clean the clothes before or after Shabbos.

We will now explore our second question:

An elderly woman cannot ascend the several flights of stairs necessary to get to street level. The building has a Shabbos elevator, but we discover on Shabbos that the Shabbos setting is not working. How does Grandma get home? Can we have a non-Jew operate the elevator to get her home?

Before answering this question, I want to share another story with you:

A DARK SIMCHAS TORAH SHABBOS

The following story occurred on a Simchas Torah in Yerushalayim that fell on Shabbos. (Although Simchas Torah outside Eretz Yisroel cannot occur on Shabbos, Shmini Atzeres, which can fall on Shabbos, is observed as Simchas Torah in Eretz Yisroel.) Just as the hakafos were beginning, the power in the shul went out, plunging the entire shul into darkness. The shul’s emergency lights went on, leaving the shul dimly lit — sufficient for people to exit safely and to dance in honor of Simchas Torah, but certainly making it more difficult to observe the usual Simchas Torah celebrations. The Rav of the shul ruled that they could not ask a non-Jew to turn on the lights.

Although if there was any element of danger involved, one could certainly have asked a gentile to turn on the lights, the Rav felt that the situation was not dangerous, and therefore maintained that one may not ask a gentile to turn on the lights.

One of the congregants raised a suggestion that may help illuminate the shul. The same idea may get Grandma home! Before presenting his idea, I need to explain two concepts:

BENEFITING FROM GENTILE ACTIVITY

If a gentile does melacha on Shabbos for his own benefit, a Jew may use the results. For example, if a non-Jew builds a ramp to disembark from a boat on Shabbos, a Jew may now exit the boat via the same ramp since the gentile did no additional work in order to benefit the Jew. Similarly, if a non-Jew kindled a light so that he himself could read, a Jew may now use the light. One may use the light even if the gentile and the Jew know one another (Mishnah Shabbos 122a; Rambam 6:2; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 325:11).

However, if the gentile gathered grass to feed his animals, the Jew cannot let his animals eat the leftover grass if the two people know one another. This is so that the gentile does not come to do melacha for the sake of the Jew in the future (Gemara Shabbos 122a).

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE RAMP AND THE GRASS?

Why are these cases halachically different? Why may the Jew use the light or the ramp, but may not allow his animal to eat the grass? In the first cases, no additional work is necessary for the gentile to provide a ramp or light for the Jew. Once the gentile has built the ramp or kindled the light, any number of people can benefit from them without any additional melacha. However, cutting each blade of grass is a separate melacha activity. Thus, allowing one’s animal to eat this grass might tempt the gentile to cut additional grass for the Jew’s animal, which we must avoid.

So far, we have calculated that if we can figure out how to get the gentile to turn on the light for his own benefit, one may use the light. Thus, we might be able to get lights in the shul for Shabbos, or a gentile to ride the elevator up to the main floor, and hopefully we can get Grandma onto the elevator at the same time. However, how does one get the gentile to turn on the light or the elevator for his own benefit when one may not ask him to do any work on Shabbos?

HINTING

May I hint to a gentile that I would like him to perform a prohibited activity on Shabbos? The poskim dispute this issue. Some rule that this is prohibited (Tur Orach Chayim 307), whereas others permit it (Bach, Orach Chayim 307 s.v. uma shekasav rabbeinu). Thus according to the second opinion one may ask a gentile on Shabbos, “Why didn’t you accompany Grandma on the elevator last Shabbos?” even though he clearly understands that you are asking him to take the elevator with her today. According to the first opinion, one may not do this, nor may one ask a gentile to clean up something in a dark room, since to do so means that he must turn on the light.

However, the majority of poskim hold a compromise position, contending that although one may not hint to a gentile on Shabbos, one may hint to him on a weekday (Smag). Thus one may tell him on Friday, “Why didn’t you do this last Shabbos,” but one may not tell him this on Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch 307:2; Rama 307:22). According to this last ruling, one could tell the gentile during the week, “Why did you leave Grandma downstairs without taking her up in the elevator,” but one could not mention this to him on Shabbos.

PERMITTED HINTING VERSUS PROHIBITED HINTING

However, the poskim rule that one may tell a non-Jewish mailman on Shabbos, “I cannot read this letter until it is opened.” What is the difference between the two types of hinting?

The difference is that the forbidden type of hinting implies either a command or a rebuke, whereas the permitted type does not (Magen Avraham 307:31). Telling a gentile to clean something up in a dark room on Shabbos is in essence commanding him to perform a prohibited activity — turning on the light. Similarly, when you rebuke him for not doing something last Shabbos, you are basically commanding him to do it the next Shabbos. However, one may make a statement of fact that is neither a command nor a rebuke. Therefore telling the gentile, “I cannot read this letter as long as it is not opened” does not command him to do anything, and for this reason it is permitted.

However, if the gentile then asks me, “Would you like me to open the letter for you?” I may not answer him “yes,” since this is itself a command. (It is as if you said, “Yes, I would like you to open the letter for me.”) I may tell him, “That’s not a bad idea,” or “I have no objections to your opening the letter” which again does not directly command him. I may even say, “I am not permitted to ask you to open it on Shabbos”.

How does this discussion affect our dark Simchas Torah or getting Grandma home?

The congregant suggested the following: One could create a situation whereby turning on the light is beneficial for the gentile, and then hint to him that if he wants to, he could benefit by turning the light on. One may do this because the non-Jew is turning on the light for his own use, and the Jew did not ask him directly to turn on the light. Thus, if you placed a bottle of whiskey or a gift of chocolate in the shul, and then notified the gentile that the bottle or chocolate is waiting for him there, you can show him how to turn on the lights so that he can find his present. This is permitted because the gentile is turning on the lights for his own benefit, and you did not ask him, nor even hint to him that you want him to turn on the lights. You simply notified him that if he wants to put on the lights, he could find himself a very nice present.

The same solution may help Grandma return home. Someone invited a non-Jew to the sheva brachos, and then told him that a present awaited him in the building’s entrance foyer. Does it bother him if Grandma shares the elevator with him while he goes to retrieve his present?

A word of caution: If one uses this approach, one must be careful that the gentile is indeed doing the melacha for his own purposes, such as to get the present as mentioned above. However, one may not ask the non-Jew to accompany you on a tour of the dark shul, and then he turns on the light to see his way. This is prohibited because the gentile is only interested in the light in order to accompany you on the walk, but not because he has any gain himself (see Shulchan Aruch 276:3).

And now on to Question #3: My friend lives in a neighborhood that does not have an eruv. She arranges before Shabbos for a non-Jew to push the baby carriage on Shabbos. Is this permitted? (See Mishnah Berurah 308:154.)

Recently, I was asked the following shaylah: Someone moved to a community where the Rav permits people to have a non-Jew carry the baby on Shabbos by arranging remizah (hinting) from before Shabbos. This means that one would tell a gentile before Shabbos, “I would like to go to shul on Shabbos, but I cannot leave the baby behind.” The non-Jew then responds, “What time would you like me to arrive at the house?” or “What time would you like to leave the house?” again neither party ever stating that you have asked the gentile what to do.

Personally, I have strong reservations about using this suggestion, since eventually one will end up commanding the non-Jew directly, such as, “Do you need me to take the baby’s blanket along?”- If you answer “Yes,” then you have commanded the gentile in violation of the halacha.

EXPRESS MAIL

At this point, we can begin to discuss the first part of shaylah #4: May I mail express mail on Friday?

At first glance, it would seem that one may not send an express mail package on Friday, since you are asking the gentile to transport and deliver the package on Shabbos. This is dissimilar from the case of bringing the car to the auto mechanic or clothes to the dry cleaner on Friday because in our case you are requesting him to do the job as quickly as possible. Thus, you are insisting that he do the job on Shabbos, which a Jew may not do.

A similar shaylah to our express mail case was asked in Amsterdam hundreds of years ago from Rav Yaakov Emden. The questioner wanted to ship precious stones by asking a non-Jewish employee to deliver them to the post office on Shabbos, reasoning that his gentile agent was carrying items within an eruv on Shabbos and therefore not doing any prohibited activity. Rav Yaakov Emden prohibited this, pointing out that the gentile would have to fill out paperwork at the post office to send off this shipment, and this would be considered having an agent work for me on Shabbos (Shaylas Yaavetz 2:139).

Although based on the above analysis it would seem that one may not send out express mail on Friday, there is a different reason why one may, but only under extenuating circumstances, as I will explain.

I may not ask a gentile on Shabbos to hire other non-Jewish workers (Gemara Shabbos 150a; Shulchan Aruch 307:2). Some poskim contend that although I may not ask a non-Jew to hire workers, which is a prohibited activity, I may ask him to ask another non-Jew to do something that is prohibited on Shabbos. The rationale behind this heter, usually called amira li’amira, is that asking one non-Jew to ask another is permitted because I am only asking a non-Jew to talk, which is not considered an activity (Shu’t Chavos Ya’ir #46, 49, 53). Other poskim contend that just as one may not ask a gentile to hire workers, which is just talk, I cannot ask him to do any other activity (Avodas HaGershuni). Mishnah Berurah (307:24) rules that one may be lenient in a case of major financial loss, thus under very extenuating circumstances one could be lenient.

This dispute is interesting historically because the two Seventeenth Century Torah giants involved in this dispute corresponded with one another. The Chavos Ya’ir permitted asking a non-Jew to ask another non-Jew to work on Shabbos, whereas the Avodas HaGershuni responded to him that this is forbidden. One can actually trace the give-and-take of their halachic debate on the issue, together with their lines of reasoning and proofs, simply by reading the correspondence published in their responsa. It is almost as if we are able to sit in their respective Batei Medrash and listen in to the two of them giving shiur on the subject!

The dispute has many ramifications, one of which is our case of express mail, since you place an order with one person, but a different gentile does the actual traveling and delivering. Thus, we have a case of amira li’amira, which is permitted according to the Chavos Yair. There is also another reason to be lenient: Since one is arranging the Express Mail delivery before Shabbos, the situation is indeed a bit more lenient than the above-mentioned dispute between the Chavos Yair and the Avodas HaGershuni. Indeed, the Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Orach Chayim #60) rules a compromise position between the two, permitting telling the non-Jew before Shabbos to ask the other non-Jew on Shabbos. Biyur Halacha (307:2) disagrees, quoting Rashba. Therefore, one should not rely on this ruling unless the situation is extenuating.

The story behind the Chasam Sofer’s responsum on this issue is worth noting. During the Napoleonic Wars, a battle took place in Pressburg (today known as Bratislava), where the Chasam Sofer was Rav, in which much of the Jewish area of town went up in flames. It was very important to rebuild the neighborhood before winter set in, and there was concern that the non-Jewish contractors would not construct the houses in a timely fashion if they were not allowed to work on the Jewish houses on Shabbos. One of the reasons that the Chasam Sofer ruled that they could allow the gentile contractors to work on Shabbos was that the Jews hired a gentile contractor, who in turn instructed his employees when to work. Thus it was a case of amira li’amira, which the Chasam Sofer permitted if the contractor received his instructions before Shabbos.

SHABBOS PICK-UP

If I hired a gentile to make a delivery for me, he may not pick up the item from my house on Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 307:4). Thus, if I contract with a delivery service such as UPS, they must pick up the item before Shabbos.

What should I do if a registered letter arrives on Shabbos?

Now we should be prepared to answer this last question. I may not ask the gentile delivery person to sign for me, even by hinting to him. However, I may tell him, “I cannot sign for this today because it is my Sabbath.” If he asks me, “Would you like me to sign for the delivery?” I may not tell him, “Yes.” However I may answer him, “It is fine with me if you would like to” or “I may not ask someone else to do this on my Sabbath” or “I do not mind receiving the delivery, but I may not sign for it.”

According to the Rambam, the reason that Chazal prohibited one to ask a gentile to do work on Shabbos is so that we do not diminish sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves. One who refrains from having even a non-Jew work shows even deeper testimony to his conviction that Hashem created the world.

Note: For more on this topic, see “When May I Ask a Gentile for Help on Shabbos? Part II.”