10. Children, Non-Jews, and Animals

In addition to the prohibition of doing melakha on Shabbat, we are also enjoined to allow our entire household to rest – children, servants, and animals – as is written: “You shall not do any melakha – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your ox or your ass, or any of your cattle, or the stranger in your settlements – so that your male and female slave may rest as you do” (Devarim 5:14).

Thus we see that in addition to the rabbinic obligation to educate children toward mitzva observance, there is also a Torah obligation to make sure that no melakha is done on Shabbat by a child (below, ch. 24).

Similarly, the Torah prohibits allowing one’s non-Jewish servant do melakha. In order to understand the significance of this, we must first explain that according to the Torah, a non-Jewish servant who is acquired by a Jew must undergo conversion, after which he must keep all of the mitzvot except for time-bound positive ones. Should his master decide to free him, he becomes a normal Jew, obligated in all of the commandments including time-bound positive ones. Therefore, even while he is a servant, since he has undergone conversion he is obligated by Torah law to keep Shabbat. The Torah further requires the master to supervise his servant and make sure that he does not work on Shabbat.

If a servant has not undergone conversion, he is not obligated to keep Shabbat. He may do melakha for his own benefit, but not on a Jew’s behalf. The Torah decrees that just as the Jew must rest, he must also not request that his servant perform melakha for him on Shabbat, as the Torah states: “That the son of your servant and the stranger may be refreshed” (Shemot 23:12). The Sages explain that this refers to a servant who has not undergone conversion.[7]

The Sages also forbade a Jew to ask a non-Jew to do melakha for him on Shabbat, with occasional exceptions in cases of rabbinic prohibitions (below, sections 11-12 and ch. 25).

The Torah also prohibits having melakha done by one’s animals (below, ch. 20). However, one’s inanimate possessions do not need to “rest” on Shabbat. Therefore, a Jew may lend items to a non-Jew for doing melakha on Shabbat, as long as it will not appear as if the non-Jew is acting on the Jew’s behalf (Shabbat 19a, following Beit Hillel; SA 246:1-3).


[7]. Yevamot 48b; SA 304:1; MB ad loc. 1, 15. There is a disagreement regarding the status of a ger toshav, a non-Jew who takes upon himself the seven Noahide commandments. Rashi and Tosafot Yevamot 48b, citing the verse, “on the seventh day you shall cease from labor, in order that…your bondman and the stranger (ger) may be refreshed” (Shemot 23:12), maintain that even though the ger mentioned here is a non-Jew and thus may work on Shabbat, it is forbidden by Torah law for a Jew to ask a ger toshav to do melakha for him on Shabbat. However, according to Rosh ad loc. and Rambam (MT 20:14), the Torah prohibition is relevant only if the non-Jew has been hired by the Jew to work or if he is the Jew’s servant. However, a ger toshav who is not in his employ is like any other non-Jew. Thus, according to Torah law, one may ask him to do melakha, but rabbinic law forbids it. (Smag, Lo Ta’aseh 75 is the lone voice that maintains that one may not ask a non-Jew to do melakha on Shabbat according to Torah law. Beit Yosef quotes this at the end of §245.)

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

The Laws of Shabbat (1+2) - Yocheved Cohen
The Laws of Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Women’s Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Pesach - Joshua Wertheimer
The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

Editor: Nechama Unterman