25 – Melakha Performed by a Non-Jew

01. Asking a Non-Jew to Do Melakha on Shabbat

Shabbat belongs to Jews alone, as the Torah states: “For it is a sign between Me and you throughout the ages, that you may know that I the Lord have consecrated you” (Shemot 31:13). In addition, the Sages go so far as to say that “A non-Jew who observes Shabbat is liable for the death penalty” (San. 58b). In other words, if a non-Jew were to invent his own religion and establish a “Shabbat” for himself, during which he would refrain from engaging in melakha and in developing the world, he would be liable for death at the hands of heaven (see Rashi ad loc. and MT, Laws of Kings 10:9).

Although a non-Jew may do melakha on Shabbat, the Sages forbade a Jew to ask a non-Jew to do melakha for him on Shabbat. This includes even rabbinically prohibited activities. The Sages found support for this from the wording of the verse: “No melakha shall be done on them” (Shemot 12:16). The verse does not use the active “Do not do melakha,” but rather the passive “No melakha shall be done.” Thus we see that it is proper that no melakha is done for a Jew on Shabbat or Yom Tov. As the Midrash elaborates: “‘No melakha shall be done’ – neither by you, nor by your friend, nor by a non-Jew” (Mekhilta ad loc.).[1]

If the melakha will be done with a Jew’s property, one may not ask a non-Jew to do a melakha even for the non-Jew’s benefit. For example, one may not tell a visiting non-Jew: “Turn on the light for yourself.” Similarly, one may not say to a non-Jew: “Cook my food for yourself.” However, if the meat belongs to the non-Jew, one may tell him to cook it for himself. Since the non-Jew is performing the melakha with his own possessions for his own benefit, the Sages did not forbid such speech (SA 307:21; MB ad loc. 73).

The Sages decreed that a Jew may not benefit from a melakha performed by a non-Jew for the Jew’s benefit. For example, if the lights in one’s home went out, and a non-Jewish neighbor came and turned the lights on, neither the Jews living in that home nor any other Jews may benefit from these lights, since they were turned on for a Jew on Shabbat (SA 276:1). If the melakha undertaken by the non-Jew is time-consuming, a Jew may not benefit from it immediately after Shabbat either. Rather, he must wait until enough time has passed so that the melakha could have been done after Shabbat. For example, if a non-Jew picked fruit or fished for a Jew on Shabbat, the fruit or fish may not be eaten after Shabbat until enough time has passed that they could have been picked or caught then (SA 325:5-6).[2]

If the melakha performed by the non-Jew for the Jew is only prohibited rabbinically, then only the Jew for whom the melakha was performed may not benefit from it on Shabbat. Other Jews may benefit from the melakha even on Shabbat. Once Shabbat is over and enough time has passed so that the melakha could have been done after Shabbat, even the Jew for whom the melakha was performed may benefit from it (SA 325:8; MB ad loc. 41).


[1]. Smag, Lo Ta’aseh §75, indicates that this Mekhilta means that the prohibition of asking a non-Jew to do melakha is a Torah law. Beit Yosef §244 quotes this. However, the overwhelming majority of poskim maintain that the prohibition is rabbinic, and the verse is not the law’s source but merely a support for it. This is stated by Rambam (MT 6:1); Ramban, Shemot 12:16; SAH 243:1; and SHT 243:7. There are two reasons presented for this prohibition. Rashi (Shabbat 153a) writes that if one requests that a non-Jew perform melakha for him, it is as if the non-Jew is acting as the Jew’s proxy. Alternatively, Rambam suggests that if one asks a non-Jew to do melakha for him, he will take Shabbat less seriously and thus may come to do melakha himself (MT 6:1). Either way, the rabbinic prohibition is an extension of the Torah’s command that servants rest on Shabbat, as explained above in 9:10.One may not even ask a non-Jew on Shabbat to do melakha for a Jew after Shabbat (MB 307:9) or ask him before Shabbat to do melakha for a Jew on Shabbat. However, one may hint to a non-Jew to do melakha in the future. For example, one may say: “Why didn’t you turn off the extra light in my house last Shabbat?” The non-Jew will realize that the Jew would like him to turn out the light the next Shabbat (SA 307:2).

[2]. The prohibition on benefiting from melakha done by a non-Jew on Shabbat is explained in Shabbat 122a, while the need to wait after Shabbat is explained in Beitza 24b. According to Rashi and Ran, the reason for the first prohibition is so that one will not benefit from melakha done on Shabbat; while according to Tosafot and Ramban, it is so that a Jew will not desecrate Shabbat by asking a non-Jew to do melakha for him (MB 325:29). If the melakha is undertaken publicly so that everyone knows that it was done for a particular Jew, that Jew may never benefit from it (SA 325:14; MB ad loc. 73).

02. Benefiting from a Melakha That a Non-Jew Performed for Himself

The prohibition on benefiting from a melakha done by a non-Jew on Shabbat is limited to a case where the non-Jew undertook the melakha for the benefit of a Jew. However, if he did the melakha for himself or for another non-Jew, then a Jew may benefit from it. For example, if a non-Jew turned on a light because he wanted to read a book, a Jew may benefit from this light (SA 276:2). Moreover, even if the non-Jew intended to turn on the light for both himself and a Jew, the Jew may benefit from it since in any case the non-Jew needed to turn on the light for himself (Ĥayei Adam; AHS 276:8; BHL 276:2 s.v. “ve-im” is inclined this way as well, in contrast to MA).

Therefore, if the lights went out in a Jew’s home, he may not ask a non-Jewish neighbor to turn on the light, but he may arrange things so that the non-Jew will turn on the light for himself, after which the Jew may benefit from the light. For example, he can invite the non-Jew to come over and eat something. When the non-Jew arrives and sees that the house is dark, he will realize that he should turn on the light. Since the non-Jew is turning the light on for himself, so that he can see the food that is being served, the Jew may benefit from the light as well (AHS 276:9).

Similarly, if a Jew has non-Jewish household help, one may send him to wash dishes in the kitchen even if it is dark there. Upon entering the kitchen, the non-Jew will turn on the light for himself, after which the Jew may benefit from the light. The Jew may even request that the non-Jew leave the light on after finishing his work (MB 276:27; SSK 30:57). However, if a Jew needs to walk somewhere in the dark, he may not ask his non-Jewish domestic worker to come along so that he will turn on a flashlight for himself. In this case, it is clear that the non-Jew is actually doing the melakha for the Jew (SA 276:3).

If a non-Jew heated water for himself on Shabbat and some extra water remained, a Jew may not use it, since the non-Jew may have heated the extra water with him in mind. Even if this was not the case, if the non-Jew sees the Jew using the remaining water, he may decide to add extra water for the Jew on future occasions. However, if the non-Jew does not know the Jew, then the Jew may use the extra water, because there is no concern that the non-Jew added the water for him or will add water for him in the future (SA 325:11; MB ad loc. 66). If a non-Jew picked fruit, caught fish, or milked cows on Shabbat for his own use, a Jew may not eat or drink the products on Shabbat, even if the non-Jew is a stranger. Since these food items were not edible when Shabbat began, they are muktzeh (SA 325:5).[3]


[3]. However, after Shabbat a Jew may benefit from these products immediately, since the non-Jew picked, caught, or milked them for his own use (SA 325:5). According to some, a Jew may not benefit from bread that was baked by a non-Jew on Shabbat, for two reasons. First, it is muktzeh. Second, there is a concern that the Jew will end up requesting that the non-Jew bake for him on Shabbat in the future. Others permit benefiting from the bread, maintaining that since a non-Jew may bake on Shabbat, the bread is not muktzeh. One may rely upon this opinion under pressing circumstances or for the sake of a mitzva (SA 325:4).In 17:9 above, we explain that if one forgot to remove the light bulb in the refrigerator, he may suggest to a non-Jew to take some food for himself from the refrigerator. Even though the light will turn on when the non-Jew opens the refrigerator, the request is permitted because he is not telling the non-Jew explicitly to perform a melakha. Afterward, one may ask the non-Jew to remove the light bulb. Since turning off a light is only rabbinically prohibited, removing the bulb is a shvut di-shvut for the sake of a mitzva, as explained below in section 5.

03. Making Use of a Melakha Performed on Shabbat for a Jew

If a Jewish home was dimly lit – enough to allow the household members to eat, clean up, and wash the dishes, but not enough to allow them to read – and a non-Jew came and turned on an additional light for them, a Jew may use its light to eat, clean up, and wash the dishes, but not read. They may only do what they could have done without the additional light, but activities that were impossible to do without the additional light may not be done (SA 276:4; MB ad loc. 32).

If a non-Jew turned off a light to help a Jew sleep, the Jew may sleep in that room. Even though the non-Jew turned off the light on his behalf, and had he not done so the Jew would not have been able to sleep, the Jew is not benefiting from anything substantive created by the non-Jew’s melakha but from the absence of light.

Even though a Jew may benefit in the above situations from the light or darkness that a non-Jew contributed to a room, a Jew may not ask a non-Jew to turn the lights on or off. However, he may hint at such a request. He must be careful with his formulation, though. It may not include anything that might be taken as a command. For example, if there is not enough light, one may not say to a non-Jew: “Do me a favor – there is not enough light in the room.” Pointing to the light is also forbidden, because this is considered a hint that resembles a command (Ĥayei Adam 62:2). Similarly, if the light is on and is keeping one from sleeping, he may not say to a non-Jew: “Do what needs to be done” or “Do me a favor – I cannot sleep here,” nor may he point to the light.

In contrast, one may hint by way of description. Thus if one needs more light, he may say to a non-Jew: “It is difficult for me to clean the house or to read when the light is so dim,” or “The house is not well lit because only one light is on.” These descriptions do not comprise a request that the non-Jew act; he is simply reporting the facts. The non-Jew then decides on his own to help the Jew by turning on an additional light. Similarly, if light is keeping a Jew from sleeping, he may say: “It is hard for me to sleep with the light on.” The non-Jew will then figure out on his own that if he wants to help the Jew, he should turn off the light.

If no toilet paper was cut before Shabbat, this also may be reported to a non-Jew in descriptive form: “I have no toilet paper.” The non-Jew will then cut toilet paper for him. This is not considered benefiting from a melakha that a non-Jew performed, because it is possible in a pinch to use toilet paper even when it has not been cut. However, he may not formulate his statement as a command, such as “Do me a favor – I have no toilet paper.” Similarly, if the oven was left on accidentally, one may say to a non-Jew: “What a shame that so much electricity is being wasted.” The non-Jew will understand the hint on his own and turn it off. However, one may not include a command in the hint, such as: “Whoever turns it off will not lose [i.e., will be rewarded].”[4]

In short, one may benefit from the actions of a non-Jew on Shabbat as long as he is careful to avoid two rabbinic prohibitions. First, he may not tell the non-Jew to perform a melakha, but must hint at it by reporting the facts. Second, one may not benefit from melakha performed by a non-Jew if it makes it possible for him to do something that he could not have done otherwise. Thus one may hint one’s request to a non-Jew by means of a description, and one may benefit from light that a non-Jew added where there was already enough light to manage in a pinch. In addition, one may benefit from a non-Jew’s act of turning off a light or an oven, since this does not involve direct benefit from the melakha he performed.[5]

All the methods presented here are permitted le-khatĥila. When none of these methods are sufficient, then for a great need or for the sake of a mitzva, the Sages permitted asking a non-Jew to perform a rabbinically forbidden melakha. Sometimes one may even ask him to perform a melakha that is prohibited by Torah law, as will be explained in the upcoming sections.


[4]. In a case where there is a possibility of major financial loss, such as a fire, the Sages permitted saying to a non-Jew: “Whoever puts it out will not lose” (SA 334:26). This is because in such a case, it would likely be ineffective to say: “Too bad about the house,” because the non-Jew cannot be expected to expend effort to put out the fire if he does not expect to be rewarded. If the Jew hints that a reward is involved, this will motivate the non-Jew to expend major effort to help the Jew. Therefore, the Sages permitted hinting that the non-Jew will profit, even though this is the type of hint that is generally not permitted because it encourages the non-Jew to take action and is thus considered a kind of command.

[5]. If one sinned by explicitly asking a non-Jew to turn on a light in a room where there was already some light, then even though the Jew has transgressed, since there was some light was there prior to his request, a Jew may benefit from the additional light (MB 276:20).

04. For the Sake of a Mitzva or for a Great Need

The Sages permitted asking a non-Jew to do a rabbinically forbidden melakha in cases of great need, such as to prevent suffering or loss, or for the sake of a mitzva. Such cases are a shvut di-shvut, a combination of two rabbinic prohibitions: the action itself is prohibited rabbinically, and the entire prohibition of asking a non-Jew to perform melakha on Shabbat is rabbinic.

In contrast, one may not ask a non-Jew to perform a melakha that is prohibited by Torah law, even for the sake of a mitzva. One may do so only for the sake of settling Eretz Yisrael or when there is a pressing communal mitzva need. Additionally, if not doing the melakha would entail suffering a very large financial loss, the Sages permit asking a non-Jew to do it. This is because they were afraid that if they were to prohibit this, the person suffering the loss would end up desecrating Shabbat himself on account of his great anguish. These laws are detailed above (9:11-12; 16:5 and n. 1).

Let us illustrate this principle. One may ask a non-Jew to remove a shofar from a tree in order to use it on Rosh Ha-shana, since the prohibition of using a tree is rabbinic (SA 307:7; above, 19:7). Similarly, one may ask a non-Jew to bring wine for kiddush or siddurim for the synagogue through a karmelit, as carrying there is rabbinically prohibited (MB 325:60; 21:3 above). One may also ask a non-Jew to bring food that is essential to the Shabbat meals through a karmelit, as this food enables people to fulfill the mitzva of oneg Shabbat. However, one may not ask a non-Jew to carry food that is not essential to the meal (MB 325:62).

One may ask a non-Jew to move muktzeh items in order to prevent a loss. For example, one may ask a non-Jew to collect scattered money, so that it will not get lost or stolen. One may also ask a non-Jew to bring bags of cement from the yard into the house so that they are not ruined in the rain (SA 307:19; see MB ad loc. 69).

If a door is squeaking so loudly that it is difficult to sleep, one may ask a non-Jew to oil the hinges. The relevant prohibition is rabbinic, since the door can be used even if the hinges are not oiled (Melakhim Omnayikh 6:1 and n. 1). Additionally, if mosquitoes are buzzing around in a room and disturbing one’s sleep, one may ask a non-Jew to spray and kill them. Since mosquitoes are not being killed to use their bodies, the prohibition is rabbinic (20:8 above).

If it is uncertain whether a particular action is prohibited rabbinically or by Torah law, one may ask a non-Jew to undertake the action for the sake of a mitzva or a great need. The prohibition of asking a non-Jew to perform melakha is rabbinic, and in general when there is uncertainty pertaining to a rabbinic rule, we are lenient.

If the lights went out in a synagogue or in a beit midrash, one may ask a non-Jew to turn them on using a shinui, since doing so is only prohibited rabbinically. If using a shinui is not feasible, as long as there is a pressing need that relates to a communal mitzva, one may ask a non-Jew to turn on the light even without a shinui. If possible, it is preferable to give him something to eat there, so that he will be turning the light on for himself, which is permissible even if it is not for the sake of a mitzva.

05. A Non-Jew’s Melakha for Someone Sick or Suffering (and Air Conditioners)

Under normal circumstances, one may not ask a non-Jew to perform melakha on Shabbat. However, for the sake of a sick person, one may ask a non-Jew to perform melakhot, even those that are prohibited by Torah law. These leniencies apply even to one who is not dangerously ill. If one is dangerously ill, then even a Jew must desecrate Shabbat in order to help him, as saving a life overrides Shabbat (SA 328:17). The laws pertaining to sick people will be explained below in chapters 27 and 28.

A child who needs something very badly has the same status as a sick person, and one may ask a non-Jew to do even melakhot that are prohibited by Torah law on his behalf. Therefore, one may ask a non-Jew to cook for a child who has nothing to eat or to turn on a light in the home of children who are very scared of the dark (Rema 276:1; MB ad loc. 6; Rema 328:17; 24:6 above).

In the cold areas of northern Europe, keeping homes warm on Shabbat was an ongoing struggle. Since homes were generally heated by coal- or wood-burning stoves, by Shabbat morning the fuel supply would be depleted and the fire in the stove would go out. Since all people are considered ill when it comes to extreme cold, the rabbis permitted asking a non-Jew to come and light the stove on Shabbat morning (SA 276:5). The non-Jew who did this was known as the “Shabbos goy.” Nowadays, however, when heaters are powered by electricity or gas and do not run out during Shabbat, there is no justification for using a “Shabbos goy” on a regular basis. Only if, by chance, the heater went off and it is extremely cold, may one ask a non-Jew to turn on the heat. One may do this even if there are no small children. In a home with children who truly need the heat, one may ask a non-Jew to turn on a heater even if it is not extremely cold (SSK 23:28; see n. 87 ad loc.).

Permission to ask a non-Jew to do melakhot that are prohibited by Torah law is limited to the needs of the ill. For one who is suffering but not ill, one may ask a non-Jew to perform a rabbinically prohibited melakha but not one that is prohibited by Torah law. Based on this, some maintain that on a hot day one may ask a non-Jew to turn on an air conditioner, claiming that turning on an air conditioner is only rabbinically prohibited. Accordingly, for the sake of the mitzva of oneg Shabbat, and in order to alleviate great suffering, one may ask a non-Jew to turn on an air conditioner. However, since others maintain that turning on an air conditioner is prohibited by Torah law (17:2 above), it is proper to ask the non-Jew to turn it on using a shinui (for example, using a teaspoon to depress the air conditioner’s on button), which renders the action a shvut di-shvut.

If the air conditioner is running and has gotten too cold, one may ask a non-Jew to turn it off. Preferably, one should simply tell him that it is too cold, and allow him to figure out on his own that he should turn off the air conditioner. If he does not take the hint, one may tell him directly.[6]


[6]. According to y. Sanhedrin 10:5 and Tosafot (Ketubot 30a, s.v. “ha-kol”), heat causes more suffering than cold but does not cause as much illness as the cold. Therefore, the Sages permitted asking a non-Jew to do a rabbinically prohibited activity in order to avoid the heat, but not one that is prohibited by Torah law. For those who say that turning on an electrical appliance without a heating element is only rabbinically prohibited, asking a non-Jew to do so is a shvut di-shvut; accordingly, one may alleviate great suffering, and even more so when the mitzva of oneg Shabbat is involved as well. Many rule accordingly (SSK 13:39; Minĥat Yitzĥak 3:23-24; She’arim Metzuyanim Ba-halakha 90:20). In contrast, according to those who maintain that using electricity is prohibited by Torah law (17:2 above), asking a non-Jew to turn on the air conditioner is only a single shvut. Therefore, one should ask the non-Jew to turn it on using a shinui. Then all would agree that the case is a shvut di-shvut. If it cannot be turned on using a shinui, one may ask the non-Jew to turn it on normally rely on the opinion that turning on an air conditioner is only rabbinically prohibited when asking a non-Jew to do a melakha, which itself is only rabbinically prohibited. Furthermore, we can take into account the opinion of Itur that one may ask a non-Jew to do even a melakha that is prohibited by Torah law for the sake of a mitzva, as explained in 9:11 above. As for turning off an air conditioner, all poskim agree that it is only rabbinically prohibited, so one may ask a non-Jew to do this for the sake of the mitzva of oneg Shabbat or in order to alleviate great suffering, since such a case is a shvut di-shvut. Thus Igrot Moshe, OĤ 3:42 permits asking a non-Jew to turn off the air conditioner in the synagogue, so that the congregants can remain there.

06. Employees, Sharecroppers, and Renters in Fields and Factories

A Jew may not hire workers to do work for him on Shabbat, as a Jew may not ask a non-Jew to do anything for him on Shabbat that he may not do himself. Therefore, a Jew may not hire a non-Jew to work in his field, factory, or store. However, one may hire a non-Jewish worker to help serve food or wash dishes on Shabbat. Since a Jew may do these activities on Shabbat, he may hire a non-Jew to do them. In this case, it is not necessary for the Shabbat payment to be subsumed within a weekday payment (Tehila Le-David 243:1; SSK 28:63; and above 22:14).

If a non-Jew did some work for a Jew on Shabbat, the Jew may not benefit from it on Shabbat. After Shabbat he may benefit from it, but only once enough time has elapsed so that the melakha could have been performed after Shabbat. If the melakha that the non-Jew did for him was done publicly on Shabbat, such as building a home, the Sages decreed that he may never live in the house. However, he may sell it to another Jew. Under pressing circumstances, the first Jew may live in the house the non-Jew built for him (SA 244:3-4 and MB ad loc. 19-20; SA 325:14 and MB ad loc. 73).

All of the above applies to a wage earner. In contrast, a non-Jewish sharecropper or tenant farmer in a Jew’s field may work on Shabbat. Since he shares in the profits, he is working for his own benefit.

Therefore, a Jewish factory owner or store owner may allow a non-Jew to run his business over Shabbat if the non-Jew receives a percentage of the earnings. Even though the Jew is profiting from the work of the non-Jew on Shabbat, since the non-Jew is working to earn money for himself, he is not viewed as working on behalf of the Jew. The Jew may profit from a percentage of this work.[7]

Similarly, a Jew in Israel who owns a field, factory, or store abroad may rent them to a non-Jew in return for a set fee. The non-Jew may then keep the establishment open on Shabbat. Since the Jew gets his rent money in any case, the non-Jew who works on Shabbat is viewed as working for himself. This is on condition that the non-Jew is not only renting on Shabbat, because then it would be clear that the Jew wants the non-Jew to work on Shabbat. Rather, he should rent out the store on a weekly, monthly, or yearly basis, so Shabbat is subsumed within the total.


[7]. Noda Bi-Yehuda 1:29 is permissive even if the non-Jew is an employee with a regular salary, as long as he also gets a small commission for each sale. In this case too, the non-Jew is viewed as working for himself. This is a possible solution for owners of factories and telemarketing firms. If their employees receive a commission for each sale, they can be viewed as working for their own benefit. Ĥatam Sofer requires that this commission be a significant amount. If it is minimal, then an employee’s primary motivation remains his regular salary paid by the Jewish owner (OĤ 59).

07. Marit Ayin and Causing a Jew to Sin

Every case where we have learned that a Jew may rent his store or factory to a non-Jew or give his field to a non-Jewish sharecropper applies only where there is no marit ayin (“appearance” of transgression). However, if the site is known to be Jewish-owned, and those who see it operating on Shabbat are liable to suspect the owner of hiring non-Jews to work for him on Shabbat, such rental or profit-sharing arrangements are prohibited.

This is what the Sages meant when they forbade a Jew to contract his bathhouse to a non-Jew to operate on Shabbat. Since generally bathhouses were run by day laborers, people who saw the bathhouse open on Shabbat would suspect that a Jew had desecrated Shabbat by hiring non-Jews. This could breach the boundaries of Shabbat, as others might begin hiring non-Jews to work for them on Shabbat. However, if it was publicly announced that the Jew rented the bathhouse to a non-Jew, it is permitted. So too, if the widespread local custom is to operate bathhouses under profit-sharing arrangements, the custom may be followed (SA 243:1-2).[8]

The same applies to a store. If it is known that a store is Jewish-owned, one may not rent it out to a non-Jew who will open it on Shabbat, because of marit ayin. However, if it has been publicly announced that the store has been rented to a non-Jew, it is not prohibited.

Even if there is a possibility that Jews who do not observe Shabbat will enter this store and shop there on Shabbat, the Jew is not viewed as aiding their transgression, since they could buy what they need in a different store. However, if most prospective customers are Jews, and keeping the store open breaches the boundaries of Shabbat, then the arrangement is prohibited (see Tzitz Eliezer 13:39).[9]


[8]. The Sages distinguished between different cases: If a melakha is performed outside the teĥum, one need not be concerned about marit ayin (SA 244:1). It is important to be aware that big businesses stand to lose large amounts of money if they do not operate on Shabbat. In such cases, even if the business is known to belong to a Jew, a profit-sharing arrangement can be made with a non-Jew. The Jew may even buy the business le-khatĥila with such an arrangement in mind (SA 244:6). One may be lenient to prevent a large potential profit from being forfeited (Igrot Moshe, OĤ 4:53). One may rent a business to a non-Jew for all Shabbatot (Rema, ad loc.). It is preferable to rent it for a few hours on Friday as well, so that the Shabbat rent can be subsumed within the weekday (see BHL ad loc. s.v. “de-vimkom” and MB 243:16). Additionally, when dealing with big businesses, there is less concern about marit ayin, because whatever the companies do is generally public knowledge.At first glance, it seems problematic to forbid certain arrangements because of marit ayin, as doing so would seem to violate the principle that we do not make a protective fence around a protective fence (“gezeira li-gezeira”). After all, the prohibition of asking a non-Jew to do melakha is already rabbinic. So why disallow these arrangements? Pri Megadim (Mishbetzot Zahav 244:1) explains that the prohibition of asking a non-Jew to do melakha is supported by a verse and therefore treated more stringently than regular rabbinic rules.

[9]. Binyan Tziyon §15 and Meshiv Davar 2:31 permit a Jew to assign work to a non-Jewish contractor who has Jewish employees who might work on Shabbat, because even without him they would desecrate Shabbat; thus, the Jew does not transgress lifnei iver (“Do not put a stumbling block in front of the blind” – Vayikra 19:14). If he were to assign them the work on Shabbat, he would be viewed as aiding (mesayei’a) their violation. However, when it is assigned before Shabbat, there is no prohibition. This point is made in the book Amira Le-nokhri 77:16. Along the same lines, Maharsham 2:184 permits renting one’s home to Shabbat desecrators. However, if most customers of a rented store will be Jews, R. Eliezer Waldenberg forbids the rental (Tzitz Eliezer 13:39). It seems correct to be stringent when such an arrangement will breach the boundaries of Shabbat.

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.

09. Partnerships, Stocks, and Banks

If a Jew and a non-Jew have joint ownership of a store or factory, they must agree when they enter into the partnership that the non-Jew will be responsible for the store on Shabbat and all of that day’s earnings will be his, while the Jew will be responsible for the store on a designated weekday and all of that day’s earnings will be his. For the remainder of the week, they may split the earnings evenly. This assumes that the owners keep track of the store’s daily earnings so that these calculations can be made. If each day’s profit is roughly similar or cannot be determined, they may split all the profits evenly. Then it is assumed that each partner collects the earnings of the day when the store is his sole responsibility (SA 245:1; SAH ad loc. 5; MB ad loc. 5-6; Igrot Moshe, OĤ 2:65).[12]

This is all, of course, on condition that it is known that they are partners, so there is no concern that observers will think that the non-Jew is working for the Jew. Alternatively, the partnership is permissible if it is common to have profit-sharing arrangements in this type of business.[13]

One may purchase stock in a company that is managed by non-Jews and does business on Shabbat, because the non-Jews running the company on Shabbat are doing so for their own profit. The Jew’s profit is a byproduct (SA 245:4). Even when it is likely that the company employs Jews who desecrate Shabbat as part of their work, a stockholder is not responsible for this. Those Jews are desecrating Shabbat in any case, so buying stock does not directly abet their Shabbat desecration (see above, n. 9). However, if the company is run by Jews, or if the majority of its work is done by Jews who are desecrating Shabbat, a stockholder would become a partner in Shabbat desecration. Thus, one may not purchase stock in such a company.[14]

If a bank is under Jewish ownership and has non-Jewish clients, it may enter into an agreement with a bank under non-Jewish ownership specifying that on Shabbat the non-Jewish bank will take care of all necessary transactions for the Jewish bank’s non-Jewish clients. The non-Jewish bank is not viewed as working for Jews on Shabbat; since it profits from each transaction, it is viewed as working for its own profit (Melamed Le-ho’il 1:33).[15]


[12]. What if they did not initially make this agreement? When they come to divide the profits, the Jew may not say to the non-Jew, “You take the profits from Shabbat, and I will take the profits from one of the weekdays.” The non-Jew would then be considered the Jew’s shali’aĥ on Shabbat, because the Jew would receive the profits from the given weekday as a direct result of the non-Jew’s Shabbat work. If they wish to split the profits equally, without stating explicitly that the Jew has worked on a weekday to make up for the non-Jew having worked on Shabbat, they may not do so according to Rambam and SA 245:1, but according to Rosh it is permitted. Rema permits as well if one would otherwise incur a major financial loss.All of this is relevant to a business in which the two partners do not generally both work at the same time and thus the non-Jew’s work on Shabbat is in addition to the evenly-divided work during the week. In such a case, the non-Jew is considered the shali’aĥ of the Jew, which is prohibited. However, if it is a business in which they do generally work at the same time, and the non-Jew wants to work alone on Shabbat, the Jew may split the profits with the non-Jew, as the non-Jew is considered like a sharecropper in this case. Since he is working for his half of the profits, he is not viewed as the Jew’s shali’aĥ (Rema 245:1; MB ad loc. 9-11).

If the store’s sales on Shabbat are double the volume on weekdays, the partners should agree from the outset that Shabbat profits will belong to the non-Jew, while the profits from two of the weekdays will go to the Jew.

[13]. If it is impossible to publicize the fact that the non-Jew is a contractor or sharecropper, then as long as the non-Jew is a minor partner in addition to being a contractor or sharecropper, marit ayin is not a problem (Responsa Maharam Schick, OĤ 97). This is also quoted as the ruling of R. Yosef Shalom Elyashiv in Orĥot Shabbat ch. 23 n. 376. However, Orĥot Shabbat qualifies this, explaining that it works only when the business does not need the non-Jew to work on Shabbat. Nevertheless, as we saw in n. 10, many disagree with this and are lenient. In a time of need, one may rely upon them. When a major financial loss is involved, all would allow leniency, as explained in n. 8.

[14]. See Minĥat Yitzhak 3:1, 3:31:2, and Amira Le-nokhri ch. 67. Yalkut Yosef vol. 2, p. 130 permits the purchase of stock in a Jewish company that does business on Shabbat, on condition that the stocks are bought after they have already been traded, i.e., from a previous shareholder. Since the company is open on Shabbat in any case, buying its stock did not cause it to do any additional work. In contrast, buying initial shares is forbidden. Even though the company will work on Shabbat in any case, this purchase aids in the commission of a transgression. In my humble opinion, one should be stringent even about buying shares from a shareholder, as shareholders are in some sense partners in the company. Accordingly, if the company is Jewish, the shareholder is a partner in Shabbat desecration. In any case, under pressing circumstances, the lenient opinions may be used in combination with others.

One may place a limit order (an order to buy or sell stocks when they reach a certain price), even though non-Jewish brokers might end up buying or selling the stocks on Shabbat. Since the stocks could hit the threshold at any time, he has not specified that the non-Jews work for him on Shabbat. Therefore, the brokers are making the purchase in order to earn their percentages. See Amira Le-nokhri 67:6, which rules stringently in this case.

[15]. One may receive daily interest on money that is held in a Jewish-owned bank (assuming the bank uses a heter iska – a method of restructuring a loan as an investment). Even though one’s account receives interest on Shabbat, this is not considered earning money on Shabbat. Since the bank considers a day to start in the afternoon, the interest accrued on Shabbat is subsumed within the interest accrued from Friday and Saturday night (aee above, 22:14 and n. 9.) If one signs a standing direct deposit or direct withdrawal order at a non-Jewish bank in which the money will be transferred according to secular dates and occasionally on Shabbat, it is preferable that he let the bank workers know that he does not need the transaction to take place on the exact date, and that from his perspective it is acceptable if they do it a day earlier or later. Then, even if they execute the transaction on Shabbat, they are doing so for their own convenience (Ĥeshev Ha-efod 3:51).