Halacha for Wednesday 28 Nissan 5780 April 22 2020

A Refrigerator on Shabbat

Clarification: In yesterday's Halacha, we discussed the opinion of the Poskim who write that listening to music is forbidden during the Omer period (until Lag Ba'Omer). We should nevertheless point out that this year, given the circumstances, the great Rishon Le'Zion, Hagaon Rabbeinu Yitzchak Yosef Shlit"a, has ruled that those who are quarantined, those who have young children who are stuck at home and bored, and those who suffer from anxiety or depression may act leniently and listen to even instrumental (kosher) music during this period.

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Question: If one forgot to turn one’s refrigerator to “Shabbat mode” (or deactivate the light inside) and when the refrigerator door is opened, the light will turn on, if one mistakenly opened the door on Shabbat, may one close it?

Answer: If one turns on an incandescent light bulb on Shabbat, one transgresses the Torah prohibition of igniting a flame on Shabbat. (If the light bulb is of the LED variety, turning it on constitutes a rabbinic prohibition). If one turns off a light bulb, this constitutes a prohibition of extinguishing. (Nevertheless, turning off any kind of light bulb only constitutes the prohibition of extinguishing on a rabbinic level.)

Thus, if one has a refrigerator at home with a light inside that turns on and off when the door is opened and closed, clearly, one may not use such a refrigerator on Shabbat unless there is a “Shabbat mode” feature (or at the very least, one must deactivate the refrigerator light) which prevents the light from turning on and off when the door is opened or closed.

We should point out that nowadays, many refrigerators come standard with features that cause electronic and/or digital functions every time the refrigerator door is opened or closed, such as activating or deactivating fans or displays, and regarding such refrigerators, even if one were to deactivate the refrigerator light before Shabbat, one may not open and close such a refrigerator on Shabbat. One should take care that when purchasing a new refrigerator, it should have a “Shabbat mode” feature or at the very least, that opening and closing the door do not cause electronic functions such as fans and displays to activate and deactivate.

Since the purpose of the forbidden work of opening the refrigerator door is not meant to turn on the refrigerator light, rather, one merely wishes to remove food from the refrigerator, this is not considered a direct prohibition of turning on the light and is only considered an opening of the refrigerator door with the light turning on as a direct result. It is therefore permissible to ask a non-Jew to open and close the refrigerator door when one has forgotten to turn the “Shabbat mode” feature on or deactivate the refrigerator light.

Indeed, a great rule Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l codified for us (in his Chazon Ovadia-Shabbat, Volume 3, page 430) is that it is permissible to ask a non-Jew to perform any permissible act on Shabbat even if doing so will directly result in a forbidden work. We will explain this further.

If one opened the refrigerator door on Shabbat, one should place a towel on the inside of the door and close it in this way so that it does not close completely and turn off the light. Alternatively, one may ask a non-Jew to close the refrigerator door, as we have explained. If neither of these options are viable, there are several reasons to allow closing the door, including the fact that turning off the light is only a rabbinic enactment in addition to the fact that this prohibited action is not being carried out directly; rather, it is being done indirectly through the closing of the refrigerator door. Therefore, in such a situation, one may close the refrigerator door in an unusual manner, such as with one’s elbow, or by asking a young child to close it. However, once closed, the refrigerator door may no longer be opened unless this is being done by a non-Jew.

Summary: It is forbidden to open or close a refrigerator on Shabbat when opening and closing the door activates or deactivates lights, fans, displays, and the like. If such a refrigerator was mistakenly opened on Shabbat and cannot be left open, it may be closed with one’s elbow or by asking a young child to do so. Opening it again may only be done by a non-Jew (see Chazon Ovadia-Shabbat, Volume 6, page 115).

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