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AMIRA LE’NOCHRI – TELLING A NON-JEW TO PERFORM A MELACHAH ON SHABBAT

By: Rabbi Daniel D. Levy

1

 

                      What are the basic guidelines
               of Amirah Le’nochri?

In general, a Jew may not instruct a non-Jew to perform any activity that he is forbidden to perform on Shabbat. This includes telling a non-Jew to:

A) Perform an activity forbidden by the Torah, such as turning on an oven (known as maveer-kindling a fire) or washing clothes (known as melaben– laundering).

B) Perform an activity forbidden by the Rabbis, such as turning an oven or a stove off.

C) Move a muktzehitem such as a radio that may not be handled on Shabbat.

D) Perform any activity on Shabbat for Motzei Shabbat, such as washing dishes that are not needed on Shabbat, so as to avoid the need to wash them after Shabbat.

E) Perform a melachahon Shabbat with the Jew’s belongings, even if the melachahwill not benefit the Jew. For example, it is forbidden for a Jew to tell his housekeeper to use his cellphone to make a call. He may tell her that she can use her phone for her own needs, though.

2

 

               What are some of the reasons
               for Amirah Le’nochri?

Although the prohibition against instructing a non-Jew to perform a melachahon Shabbat was enacted by the Rabbis, halachic authorities have nevertheless treated it with particular stringency. There are three basic underlying reasons for this prohibition, and even if only one reason applies, the prohibitionstands:

A) “Sheluco Shel Adam Kemoto” – This means, “a person’s agent is like himself.” When one assigns another to act on his behalf, that “messenger” is legally equivalent to the person himself. Therefore, when a Jew instructs a non-Jew to perform a given melachahfor him (such as cooking or laundering), it is as if he himself has done the melachah. Halachah considers the non-Jew an extension of the Jew in this situation (Shulchan Aruch O.C. 243:1).

B) Maintaining proper reverence for the Shabbat – The Rabbis felt that if a melachahwas performed on Shabbat through the actions of a non-Jew, one’s sense of reverence towards Shabbat would be diminished. Eventually, this lack of respect could lead to a Jew himself performing a melachahon Shabbat, Heaven forbid. (Rambam Hilchot Shabbat 6:1).

C) “Ve’daber Davar” – or discussing forbidden matters (Yeshayahu 58:13). The Rabbis derive from this part of the verse that it is forbidden to speak on Shabbat of melachahto be performed on or after Shabbat, even if it is only to instruct a non-Jew to do the melachah. (Rashi Avodah Zarah 15).

3

 

               Is it permissible to tell a non-Jew before
               Shabbat to do melachah on Shabbat?

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 307:2) clearly states that one may not instruct a non-Jew before Shabbat (essentially anytime during the week) to perform a melachahon Shabbat. The non-Jews in this scenario include domestic helpers who perform work in the home, hired workers who may work on a property the Jew owns elsewhere and factory workers that the Jew employs. As such, one may not instruct a non-Jewish house cleaner to turn the lights off after the Shabbat meal, or ask a gardener to come and mow the lawn on Shabbat.

4

 

               On Shabbat, may one instruct
               a non-Jew to perform a melachah
               for him after Shabbat?

One may indirectly instruct a non-Jew on Shabbat by using terminology that implies the need to do a melachahafter Shabbat. For example, one may say to a housekeeper, “You should have vacuumed the carpet last week after Shabbat!” indicating that she should certainly vacuum that night, once Shabbat ends (O.C. Ramah 307:29). The Mishnah Berurah (307:29) explains that by hinting indirectly, one is merely revealing what he desires to be done after Shabbat, not desecrating the Shabbat.

 

5

 

               Regarding the laws of muktzeh, what
               can a non-Jew do for a Jew on Shabbat?
               What can a Jew do for himself on Shabbat?

Halachah permits one to handle a keli shemelachto l’issur(an object which is primarily used for an activity that is forbidden on Shabbat) such as a hammer or pen, if one needs the item for a permissible purpose (such as opening a walnut), or if one needs the space for some other object. (So for example, one could remove a hammer to make room for the Shabbat food). However, moving the object for the purpose of protecting it is forbidden. Nevertheless, a non-Jew may be instructed to move such an object on Shabbat for the purpose of protecting it (Mishnah Berurah 308:15, which contradicts the opinion of R’ Akivah Eiger 279). Normally, halachah forbids handling objects on Shabbat that have no purpose directly in and of themselves. This is called muktzeh mechamatgufo and applies even for a permitted purpose, such as using a rock to hold down a piece of paper or extracting money inorder to use the space it’s occupying. However, one may instruct a non-Jew to move the money or rock if the space is needed. One may not ask a non-Jew to move such an item for the purpose of protecting it, though.

6

 

               In what instances would it be  permitted for
               a non-Jew to turn on  the heat on Shabbat?

Turning on a heater constitutes a Torah violation. However, one can ask a non-Jew to turn on the heat if there are very young infants or elderly adults in the home, who may take ill as a result of the cold temperature. He may also be asked if the house is so freezing that others may get sick as a result of the cold conditions in the home.

7

 

4            On Shabbat during the summer,
               may a Jew  ask a non-Jew to turn on
               the air conditioning?

If a Jew experiences either considerate discomfort or a minor ailment as a result of the heat, he may ask a non-Jew to turn on the air conditioning (A.C.) for him. However, if one does not truly suffer from the heat, and is only mildly uncomfortable, one may not ask a non-Jew to turn on the A.C. Likewise, one may not ask a non-Jew to turn off an A.C. unless it becomes so cold that someone might get sick. (Iggeret Moshe O.C. 3:42). If the A.C. is already on, one may ask the non-Jew to lower or raise the thermostat. It is also permitted to ask a non-Jew to unplug an A.C. before it goes on, or to leave it on after it had been turned on for the non-Jew’s own purposes.

8

 

               May one ask a non-Jew to turn the
               lights  off in the bedroom so that one
               can sleep on Shabbat?

Turning a light off on Shabbat is forbidden me’derabanan(via rabbinic enactment rather than Torah law). In contrast, turning on a light is forbidden from the Torah. Therefore, asking a non-Jew to turn off a light to avoid considerable discomfort, (i.e. being unable to sleep through the night), would be permitted according to many halachic authorities. The same permission would be granted to a sensitive child who has the halachic status of a sick person. However, if it will just be slightly inconvenient for the light to be on and take the Jew only a few extra minutes to fall asleep, he may not ask a non-Jew to shut the light.

 

9

 

                      May one ask a non-Jew to perform
               an act that entails a Pesik Reishah?

Pesik Reishahrefers to an action that inherently involves no Shabbat violation, but will inevitably result in a melachahbeing performed. Generally, such actions are halachically forbidden. A classic example would be opening a refrigerator door. Although the act in itself doesn’t constitute a Shabbat violation, it is forbidden to open the refrigerator if it will automatically cause the light to go on. (To avoid such halachic issues, it’s advisable to shut the refrigerator light before Shabbat, allowing non-problematic access to the refrigerator on Shabbat). A non-Jew may perform any action forbidden to a Jew on Shabbat due to the laws of “Pesik Reishah.” Therefore, if the refrigerator light was left on at the start of Shabbat, one may ask a non-Jew to open the refrigerator to retrieve an item for him, even though this will cause the lights to go on in the refrigerator (Yalkut Yosef 304:24).

 

10

 

                 In what instances would it be permitted
                to ask a non-Jew to turn on the lights
                on Shabbat?

Since opening the lights on Shabbat constitutes a Torah prohibition, one may not ask a non-Jew to do so, even for the purpose of a mitzvah. Even if the non-Jew voluntarily offers to turn on the light, one must object to their generosity. If a non-Jew opensthe light specifically for the Jew, he may not eat or read in that room if it would have otherwise been too dark for eating or reading. However, if the non-Jew opened the light for his own personal use, a Jew may derive full benefit from the light (and even ask him/her to leave it on according to some authorities.) If there had been ample light by which to eat or read and the non-Jew turns on an additional light to allow for more comfort, one may derive some benefit but not full benefit from it. In such a case, a Jew may not perform an action that he wouldn’t have been able to do without the additional lights (such as reading small print). However, a non-Jew is permitted to turn on a light for one who is bedridden due to illness (such as fever or the flu). In fact, the prohibition of Amirah Le’nochriis suspended when dealing with the needs of such an individual.