Shabbat Parashat Tazria| 5766
Ask the Rabbi
Question: I want to buy vending machines, which will be used by non-Jews. May they operate on Shabbat? Is there a problem of receiving s’char Shabbat (earnings from Shabbat)?
Answer: This topic is too broad to explain clearly in this forum, but we will deal briefly with the major issues and the bottom line. We dealt with the topic more deeply in our series of responsa, B’mareh Habazak V, 37, regarding the related topic of maintaining an internet site, which automatically engages in commercial activity with those who visit the site on Shabbat.
Lifnei iver (causing someone to sin)- Although you speak of a machine to be used for non-Jews, it is not clear whether you refer to a place where at least some Jews will probably use the machines on Shabbat, or to a place where it is unlikely that any Jew will use them. Even in the more stringent scenario, there is ample room for leniency for a combination of factors. (Each factor should not be relied upon independently). They include: it is likely that the Jew would be able to buy the same product from a non-Jew; the main intent is for the non-Jewish majority; any Jew who would use the machine on Shabbat would do so knowingly and regularly desecrates Shabbat; you perform the actions of placing and filling the machine at a time that it is permitted to use the machine.
Commerce on Shabbat- It is forbidden to buy, sell, hire workers, etc. on Shabbat (even with a non-Jew) out of fear that one involved in commerce may come to write, even if he does no physical action (Rambam, Shabbat 23:13-14). Some poskim say that one cannot even do a transaction before Shabbat that will take effect on Shabbat (Shut R. Akiva Eiger 159). At first glance, through your machine, you will have a sale take effect on your behalf on Shabbat. However, others say that if the Jew is not involved in any act of commerce on Shabbat, it is permitted (Maharam Shick OC 131), as is the case here. Furthermore, you are not doing anything to single out Shabbat as the day for transactions to take effect, as you would presumably be happy if your machine sold out from purchases before or after Shabbat (see Chelkat Ya’akov, OC 67). Some suggest that you should have in mind that the formal transaction not take place on Shabbat, as you can intend that whoever puts money in the machine can take the item he desires without formally receiving ownership (ibid.) or by giving a present before Shabbat to whoever will put in money of the item he will select (Minchat Yitzchak (III, 34). You can intend to take ownership of the coins after Shabbat. These poskim add that the machines should not be located in your domain or be publicly known as yours, although it is not clear why that is important in this case (see B’mareh Habazk, ibid.).
S’char Shabbat- The primary prohibition of receiving pay for that which occurs on Shabbat is that one should not be paid for work he does. If he receives money without doing anything on Shabbat, one could argue that it is not problematic. However, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 246:1) says that a Jew may not receive profits from renting out an object for Shabbat, even if he does nothing on Shabbat. However, in this case, the payment is primarily to buy objects found in the vending machine. The prohibition of s’char Shabbat does not forbid receiving the value of an object that one gave to another, even if it was given on Shabbat (Noda B’yehuda II, OC 26, accepted by Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 28:51 and Minchat Yitzchak III, 34). (One has to solve the problem of doing commerce on Shabbat, as we did above). Even if one argues that besides the value of the object, one pays for the service of providing a vending machine, that extra payment is considered “swallowed up” in the non-problematic payment (havla’ah). Havla’ah of Shabbat pay is permitted (Shulchan Aruch, OC 306:4). (Parameters of that rule are beyond our present scope.)
In the final analysis, there are sufficient grounds to allow you to put a vending machine in a place where most of its use on Shabbat will be for non-Jews.
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