Shabbat Parashat Ki Tavo| 5770
Ask the Rabbi: use of a goy shel Shabbat
Question:We have a local goy shel Shabbat (Shabbos goy). I do not know how and when I am supposed to use him for things other than emergencies. Is it sufficient just to hint to him, and then he can do whatever I want?
Answer: There are two realms to discuss regarding the use of a goy shel Shabbat. One is mentchlichkeit. You are apparently talking about one who is paid by the community, whose main concern is its members’ most pressing needs. This includes taking people to the hospital, preventing large losses, and helping with a great need of individuals or groups. He is possibility not paid for helping with small inconveniences (and might ask for more money if he is bombarded incessantly). More importantly, he cannot be in two places at the same time, so if he is taking care of one person’s small need, he will be temporarily unavailable for someone else’s big needs. Sometimes that delay is crucial.
Now we will discuss the laws of Shabbat. While it is not a simple matter, we assume that some types of hints are considered as if the Jew did not make a request. The source is the Magen Avraham 307:31, who distinguishes between types of hints to answer the following contradiction. The Rama (Orach Chayim 307:22) says that whenever one may not do something, he may not hint to a non-Jew to do it for him. He contrasts that with classical sources that say that one may tell a non-Jew that he cannot read a letter, thereby hinting to open the letter. He answers that one is allowed to mention a need but not tell the non-Jew to do an action in a way that will serve as a hint to do that which he wants the goy to do. The Mishna Berura (307:76) and contemporary poskim accept this Magen Avraham, which is apparently referred to in your question.
However, there are two problems that must somehow limit use of this leniency. Firstly, when one sees a non-Jew doing forbidden work in a Jew’s home and/or using the Jew’s property on the Jew’s behalf, he is required to protest the activity (Shulchan Aruch, OC 252:2). This is because the Jew appears like one who is enlisting the non-Jew’s help in a forbidden manner. If it is necessary to protest when the goy initiated the work, how could it be permitted to hint to him to do it in the first place? The other problem is that if a goy does forbidden work on a Jew’s behalf, even without his involvement or knowledge, the Jew may not benefit from the result until enough time transpires after Shabbat for that particular chore to have been done (Shulchan Aruch, OC 276:1). Again, a hint is no better, and it should be forbidden to benefit from the result.
Thus several recent poskim limit the efficacy of hinting on Shabbat to cases such as the following: 1) a situation where the Jew could have continued doing what he was doing without the non-Jew’s action, such as eating in a room where there was already sufficient (if less than ideal) light to eat by (Igrot Moshe, YD III, 47.2). 2) The nature of the benefit provided is one of removing impediments, not one of providing something positive new (Orchot Shabbat 23:(46)). Examples include shutting a light and perhaps opening an envelope (the Magen Avraham’s case; see various opinions in article #14 at the end of Orchot Shabbat). 3) He will receive benefit only after Shabbat.
In cases of significant need, where it is permitted to ask a non-Jew to perform what would be for us a rabbinic violation, it is also permitted to benefit from whatever work was done. Therefore, if one was careful on the mentchlichkeit matter and thus the need is great, there are many additional cases where the benefit element is resolved as well. In any case, if one is not familiar enough with the halachot, he may have to ask a rabbi before going to the goy shel Shabbat. Many communities help out in the matter by having the goy keep “an instruction manual” (as it were) handy for those who seek his help.
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