08. Non-Jewish Contractors

The prohibition on hiring non-Jews to work on Shabbat applies to wage-earners but not to contractors. For these purposes, “contract work” means that the worker agrees to complete a job by a specified date for an agreed-upon amount of money. It makes no difference which days the contractor works. As long as he finishes the work by the agreed-upon date, he receives payment in full. Since the non-Jew can complete the work without working on Shabbat, even if he works on Shabbat it is for his own benefit, to complete the job he contracted, and is permitted even though the Jew benefits from the swift completion of the work.

For example, a Jew may make an agreement with a non-Jew to sew clothes or make shoes for him for a certain sum. The non-Jew’s choice to work on Shabbat does not make it prohibited. However, a Jew may not ask a non-Jew on Friday to sew clothes or make shoes for him by the time Shabbat ends, since in order to do so the non-Jew would have to work on Shabbat. This is the equivalent of a Jew asking a non-Jew to work for him on Shabbat.

Similarly, a Jew may bring his car to a non-Jew’s garage on Friday, even though he knows that the non-Jewish mechanic might fix it on Shabbat. Since the non-Jew is being paid contractually, at the going rate for the job, and the Jew did not ask him to work specifically on Shabbat, he is not viewed as working for the Jew on Shabbat. Even if he informs the Jew immediately after Shabbat that he finished working on the car, the Jew may retrieve the car and use it. However, one may not arrange with the mechanic to finish the job by a time that would require him to work on Shabbat. In such a case, the non-Jew is working for the Jew on Shabbat (SA 244:1; MB ad loc. 2).[10]

A non-Jew may only do contract work for a Jew on Shabbat if it is not apparent that the work is being done on a Jew’s behalf. If it is apparent, as is the case if the work is being done in the Jew’s home, it is forbidden to contract the work to a non-Jew because of marit ayin. Therefore, the Sages instructed that one should not allow a non-Jewish contractor who is hired to build a home to work on Shabbat, since if people see the contractor working they will think that the homeowner has desecrated Shabbat by hiring a non-Jew to work on Shabbat (SA 244:1). Today, when the norm is to hire a contractor to build one’s home, it would seem that it should be permissible to be lenient. Observers will generally assume that the non-Jewish workers are working for a non-Jewish contractor, and there will be no issue of marit ayin. However, in practice, the custom is to be stringent and follow the opinion that even today people will likely suspect the homeowner of building his house using wage-earners (Ran). Furthermore, there is a concern that the homeowner, who knows that his house is being built on Shabbat, will end up supervising the construction and desecrating Shabbat. However, under pressing circumstances, for a great need, where there is a concern that if the non-Jews do not work on Shabbat the construction will not be completed, one may be lenient at the instruction of a halakhic authority.[11]


[10]. This is the opinion of MA 307:4; Taz ad loc. 3; SAH 252:4; MB 247:4 and 252:15; and Orĥot Shabbat 23:173. However, according to Beit Yosef (307:3), as long as one did not explicitly tell the non-Jewish contractor to work on Shabbat, even if it would be impossible for him to finish the job by the time specified without working on Shabbat, it is permitted. Minĥat Kohen 1:4, Beit Yehuda 1:44, Rav Pe’alim 2:43, and Yeĥaveh Da’at 3:17 concur. In a time of need, such as if one needs the car urgently on Sunday, one may rely on them.Sometimes it is impossible to agree upon a price for the work in advance, as for example when one brings a car to a garage without knowing what the problem is. In such a case, if an agreement was reached that the going rate for the job would be paid, or that a price for the job would be worked out, then since the non-Jew knows he will receive reasonable payment for his work, he is considered a contractor. But if the non-Jew is uncertain that he will receive the going rate, even if he knows he will receive some payment, he is viewed as working for the Jew, and a Jew may not arrange for him to work on Shabbat on the Jew’s behalf (SA 247:2; BHL 252:2, s.v. “im katzatz”). If the non-Jew volunteers to do the work for free, since he hopes to be rewarded, it is considered contract work. If the Jew requests that he work for free, and the non-Jew agrees, according to SA 247:4 this is also considered contract work and is permitted, while according to Rema it is preferable to be stringent.

[11]. According to Rambam, Rosh, Ramban, and others, if a non-Jew accepted contract work from a Jew, he may be allowed to work on Shabbat. Only if this type of work is generally done by wage-earners is it prohibited on account of marit ayin, so that no one will think that they are wage-earners working for a Jew on Shabbat (SA 243:1; see BHL, s.v. “she-ken”). In contrast, Ran and those who follow him maintain that even when it is common practice for a field to be contracted out, it is still prohibited to let a non-Jew work there on Shabbat. Since the non-Jew does not receive a share of the produce the way a sharecropper does, he resembles a wage-earner and it will lead people to hire day laborers. Thus, according to Ran, one may not contract the construction of a house. Although other Rishonim agree with Ran, the halakha follows the lenient position. This is the ruling of SA and Rema 244:1 as well as Noda Bi-Yehuda and R. Akiva Eger. (Additionally, there are Rishonim who maintain that even in a place where many regularly hire wage-earners one may still contract a field to a non-Jew, since people will think that he is a sharecropper. Rabbeinu Tam even considers permitting contract work indoors.) While in practice we do take the opinion of Ran into account, and the common practice is not to rely on those who are lenient to use a contractor to build a house, nevertheless one may be lenient under pressing circumstances at the instruction of a halakhic authority. Thus MB 244:13 states that if a synagogue is being built where there is a possibility that unless building continues on Shabbat it may not get built at all, a non-Jewish contractor may build it on Shabbat. Following this reasoning, in times of need the practice is to be lenient and allow a non-Jewish contractor to build homes in Judea and Samaria, if there is a chance that building there will be halted. See BHL 244:1, s.v. “o liktzor” and Igrot Moshe, OĤ 3:35. According to Yalkut Yosef 244:1, if an agreement was reached with a contractor to remove construction waste within a few days, and the non-Jew shows up on Shabbat, one need not object. Since this type of job is generally done by a contractor, there is no problem of marit ayin.

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