10. Keeping Websites and Vending Machines Open on Shabbat

If a Jew owns a vending machine, and most of its users are Jewish, he must disable it for Shabbat in order to avoid aiding their desecration of Shabbat. If most of the customers are non-Jews, he need not disable it (see SSK 29:28-29 and n. 75). The money that the non-Jews put in the vending machine is not considered payment for work done on Shabbat, since they are paying primarily for the product and not to operate the machine itself.

Some maintain that websites designed for a Jewish audience must be disabled on Shabbat so that they do not aid transgression. Since this is difficult practically, the site owner is not obligated to take them down; after all, the site visitors can easily desecrate Shabbat by visiting other sites, and as long as the site owner has done nothing to promote his site on Shabbat, there is no prohibition. However, if the site is primarily commercial, and most prospective customers are Jews, it means that the owner of the site benefits from the Shabbat activity, so he must make efforts to disable it for Shabbat. If this is very difficult, it is not obligatory. Since those who access the site are already desecrating Shabbat knowingly and regularly, some maintain that the prohibition of aiding someone’s transgression does not apply. In contrast, if most of the customers are non-Jews, it is not necessary to disable the website for Shabbat. The purchases made on Shabbat are not considered payment for work done on Shabbat since the work to set up the site was done during the week.[11]

[11]. See also Orĥot Shabbat 22:41. In n. 55, it states that a commercial website has the same status as a vending machine. It is true that some are stringent, as discussed in Kedushat Ha-Shabbat vol. 2, p. 15f. Nevertheless, what I wrote in the main text seems most reasonable. This is also the conclusion of Responsa Be-mar’eh Ha-bazak 5:37-40. I will now explain the underlying principles. According to Responsa Maharil Diskin (Kuntres Aĥaron §145), one is not obligated to spend money to avoid violating lifnei iver, even though it is a Torah prohibition. According to Atzei Ĥayim (YD 5), one need not spend money to avoid mesayei’a, as it is only a rabbinic prohibition (though one would need to spend to avoid lifnei iver). In any case, leaving a website up is certainly no more than mesayei’a, as there are always alternative websites. According to Shakh, there is no prohibition at all of aiding a mumar’s violation of halakha. Therefore, if it is difficult for one to take down his website for Shabbat, he is not obligated to do so. Furthermore, the owner of the website is not transgressing the prohibition of buying and selling on Shabbat, since he is not doing anything. Rather, what takes place on the site is a commitment to complete the transaction. The money is not collected from the customer’s account until after Shabbat. If a site earns money based on page views or subscriptions, we can say that the payment is for setting up the site and publishing content, which is how we permit paying rent or for use of a mikveh on Shabbat. It is assumed that the payment is for the cleaning and heating of the premises, which takes place before Shabbat (Noda Bi-Yehuda, OĤ 2:26; see above, 22:14 and n. 9). We may also take into account the position of BHL 244:6, which permits accepting money for work done on Shabbat if one would otherwise sustain a major financial loss. One need not worry about marit ayin, since everyone understands that no Shabbat desecration on the part of any Jew is necessary in order to keep a website open on Shabbat.

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The Laws of Shabbat (1+2) - Yocheved Cohen
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