A discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the
week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.
WHAT IS PERMITTED FOR A NON-JEW DO FOR A JEW ON SHABBOS?
The prohibition of amirah l'akum (telling a non-Jew to do a melachah for a
Jew on Shabbos) is a Rabbinical ordinance, which has a Biblical source(1).
It is, therefore, considered a severe Rabbinic prohibition. We will attempt
to establish the parameters of this multi-faceted halachah:
In order to employ a non-Jew to do a melachah on Shabbos, there are two
separate restrictions [often confused] that must be borne in mind. Only when
neither of the restrictions applies is it permitted for a non-Jew to do work
for a Jew on Shabbos. The two restrictions are:
A. To command a non-Jew to do any work that would be prohibited for a Jew to
do on Shabbos. The command may not be made either on Shabbos or before
B. To benefit directly from work done by a non-Jew for a Jew on Shabbos,
even if the non-Jew was not commanded to do the work(3). Our Sages enacted
this prohibition so that a person will not be tempted to transgress the
prohibition of amirah l'akum and ask a non-Jew to do a melachah for him(4).
Consequently, if a) a non-Jew was not commanded to do the melachah and b)
the Jew will not directly benefit from his work, it would be permitted for a
Jew to use a non-Jew to work on Shabbos, for in this way, neither
prohibition is being transgressed.
HOW DOES ONE AVOID THE FIRST RESTRICTION - COMMANDING THE NON-JEW?
This prohibition can be avoided if the non-Jew understands what he has to
do without being explicitly commanded. The Jew may hint to a non-Jew what he
wants done, but the hint may not be in the form of a command. For example,
it is permissible to tell a non-Jew: "My bedroom lights are on and I will
not be able to sleep"; "It is a pity that so much electricity is being
wasted;" "The food on the stove is burning(5)" etc.
It is forbidden, however, to add: "Will you please help me out?" since then
the hint is accompanied by a form of a command(6). Even if the non-Jew asks:
"Should I turn the light off for you?", it is forbidden to answer: "Yes."
Hints in the form of a command are prohibited even if no words are exchanged
and one merely gestures or nods(7).
HOW DOES ONE AVOID THE SECOND RESTRICTION - BENEFITTING DIRECTLY FROM A NON-JEW?
As we mentioned before, our Sages prohibited only direct benefit, such as
turning on a light or cooking food, etc. Moreover, they prohibited new
benefit only, not indirect, or additional benefit. Let us explain those
Indirect benefit is when the benefit is not a direct result of the melachah,
but a by-product of it; when the melachah removes an obstacle which then
enables one to benefit from something. For example: Putting out a light in a
bedroom does not directly enable a person to sleep; it merely removes the
light which until now made it difficult for him to fall asleep(8).
Additional benefit is when a benefit was previously available to some
extent, but the melachah performed by the non-Jew makes it easier to do that
which was possible to do even without the melachah that the non-Jew did. For
example: Additional lights are turned on by a non-Jew in a room which is
Note: Although the restriction of benefiting from a non-Jew's melachah is
lifted when the action is indirect or additional, it is still forbidden to
command him to do the indirect or additional melachah, since the first
prohibition still applies.
SOME PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS:
1. A non-Jew, without being told, turns on a light in a dark room for the
benefit of a Jew. It is forbidden to read in that room or to derive any
other use from the light, since the benefit is new and direct. [There are
exceptions to this rule when the situation involves a public mitzvah, an ill
person - even if not dangerously ill - and other specific situations. A rav
must be consulted.]
2. A non-Jew turns off the light in a bedroom. One is permitted to sleep
there since he is benefiting indirectly. It is not permitted, however, to
instruct the non-Jew to turn the light off(10).
3. A non-Jew, without being told, turns on a light in a dimly lit room so
that the Jew can see better. The Jew may continue using the room for
whatever use he was making of it before the non-Jew turned on the light,
even though it is now much easier for the Jew to work in the room(11).
4. A room is lit by faint, natural daylight. If a non-Jew turns on an
electric light, the Jew may continue using the room as long as there is some
degree of daylight. Once it turns dark, however, the non-Jew's melachah is
producing new, not additional, benefit. It is, therefore, prohibited to
derive any benefit from the light that was turned on.
5. It is prohibited to hint to a non-Jew that it is hot in the room, hoping
that he will turn on an air conditioner, since the benefit that the Jew will
have from the air conditioner, cool air circulating in the room, is direct
Note: The illustrations above are merely samples of the general principles
governing amirah l'akum. There are many more details, exceptions and
conditions that are involved in the practical halachah, both l'chumrah and
l'kulah, which cannot be included here. A rav should be consulted.
1 Mishnah Berurah 243:7 and Sha'ar ha-Tziyon 7. See also Mor u'Ketziah O.C.
5 Mishnah Berurah 307:76; Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 30:7. According to
Harav S.Z. Auerbach, however, this is permitted only in a hotel or at the
home of the non-Jew - see written responsum published in Me'or ha-Shabbos,
vol. 1, pg. 515 and 518.
6 When the command to do work on Shabbos is given before Shabbos, or when a
command to do work is given on Shabbos for work to be done after Shabbos, it
may be given as a hint in the form of a command - Rama 307:22; Mishnah
7 Chayei Adam 62:2.
8 See Kalkeles Shabbos (Amirah L'akum 5); Mishnah Berurah 307:11; Shemiras
Shabbos K'hilchasah 30:5; 30:36; The Sanctity of Shabbos, pg. 11.
9 Mishnah Berurah 306:76.
10 According to some poskim, turning a light off is only an issur
d'Rabbanan. Accordingly, in certain situations one may even instruct a
non-Jew to turn the lights off - see The Sanctity of Shabbos, pg. 26. See,
however, Me'or ha-Shabbos vol. 1, pg. 513, a written responsum from Harav
S.Z. Auerbach who is hesitant to allow this.