April 12, 2024
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Benefitting From the Work of a Non-Jew on Shabbat: Bava Kamma 80b

If you, yourself, may not perform a melacha, you may not ask a non-Jew to perform it for you.

This is true both for biblically prohibited acts, melachot de’oreita, and rabbinically prohibited acts, melachot derabanan. This applies even if the non-Jew was instructed before Shabbat to perform the melacha on Shabbat.

This prohibition, known as amira lenochri, was established by the rabbis for three reasons. Firstly, they were concerned that by permitting the non-Jew to perform the melacha, the Jew might come to perform the melacha himself. Secondly, appointing a non-Jew as an agent to perform the melacha renders the Jew liable as principal. Lastly, the prophet Isaiah warns Israel to refrain from discussing melachot on Shabbat. Amira lenochri involves such prohibited discussion.

If the Jew did not request it, but the non-Jew performed the melacha of his or her own accord, may the Jew benefit from the outcome?

The answer is that if the non-solicited melacha provides direct benefit to the Jew, one may not benefit from it, unless the melacha was performed primarily for the benefit of the non-Jew.

Accordingly, a Jew may not benefit from a light turned on by a non-Jew on Shabbat, thereby enabling the Jew to read, unless the non-Jew turned it on to read himself. The Jew, however, may benefit from a non-Jew turning the light off, thereby making it easier for the Jew to sleep. This is because it is possible, though not desirable, to sleep with the light on and the benefit is therefore considered an indirect benefit.

Furthermore, a Jew may benefit from the unsolicited melacha of a non-Jew, where such melacha merely provides additional benefit to an already existing benefit, such as turning on additional lights in an already lit room.

Whenever benefit is forbidden, the prohibition lasts the entire Shabbat and continues after Shabbat ends for the duration of time it took for the non-Jew to perform the melacha on Shabbat. Accordingly, a car delivered for repair to a non-Jewish mechanic just before Shabbat, with instructions to have it ready immediately after Shabbat, and on which the mechanic worked all day Shabbat, may not be used until Sunday.

Hinting to a non-Jew to perform a melacha is permitted where such melacha causes indirect benefit or additional benefit, but not where it causes direct benefit. Hinting, in such circumstances, is permissible on condition that the language used includes no command and no mention of the melacha involved. Accordingly, one may not say to a non-Jew. “Please help me, I cannot turn off the lights on Shabbat.” One may say, however, “It is difficult for me to sleep with the lights on.”

Because the prohibition of amira lenochri is of rabbincal origin, there is considerable flexibility in its application. This is particularly the case when the act performed by means of amira lenochri is in itself only a melacha derabanan. Accordingly, the prohibition of amira lenochri is relaxed in order to prevent substantial financial loss, to enable the performance of a mitzvah, in cases of sickness, or in the case of the inevitable unwanted melacha, psik reishe.

Thus, one may ask a non-Jew to perform the following acts on one’s behalf on Shabbat: to reconnect a freezer stocked with expensive food which became disconnected from electricity on Shabbat, the case of financial loss; to reheat previously cooked food, essential for a Shabbat meal, by placing it directly on the flame; to turn the lights on in the synagogue to enable the congregants to pray, both cases of performance of a mitzvah, i.e. participating in the Shabbat meal and prayer; to cook previously uncooked food for a sick person; to turn up the heat for persons suffering from cold; to turn on a light for a child who is frightened of the dark, because, for the purpose of amira lenochri, persons suffering from cold and children who suffer are deemed to be “sick”; or to open the refrigerator door, even if this will be sure to activate a light, which one forgot to deactivate before Shabbat, the case of psik reishe.


Raphael Grunfeld, a partner at the Wall Street law firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP, received semichah in Yoreh Yoreh from Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem of America and in Yadin Yadin from Harav Haga’on Dovid Feinstein, zt”l. This article is an extract from Raphael’s book “Ner Eyal: A Guide to the laws of Shabbat and Festivals in seder Moed.” This article is intended to generally describe the laws of amira lenochri and not as a Psak Hallachah. For a psak on any practical question, please consult your posek.

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