Halacha for Wednesday 20 Sivan 5784 June 26 2024

Operating Vending Machines and Websites on Shabbat

Question: May one place an automatic snack or soda machine in a non-Jewish neighborhood on Erev Shabbat even if one is certain that the residents of this neighborhood will put money into the machine in order to purchase an items on Shabbat or is this forbidden?

Answer: We have already explained above, that in terms of leaving a machine on before the onset of Shabbat, there is no prohibition to do so, for the individual is not performing any forbidden work on Shabbat itself. It seems that the same law should apply to turning on automatic vending machines on Erev Shabbat although non-Jews (who are not obligated to observe Shabbat) will come and purchase merchandise from these machines on Shabbat.

However, there is another prohibition which may apply to such vending machines which may cause the owner of these machines to transgress a prohibition on Shabbat. Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat, Chapter 200, Section 3) states: “An individual’s vessels acquire [any object] for him anywhere one has permission to leave them; as soon as any object enters one’s vessels, one has acquired them completely.” For instance, if an ownerless object falls into one’s vessel in a place where the owner of the vessel has permission to leave it, this object immediately belongs to the owner of the vessel, for one’s vessels are like his hands in that one will acquire anything that comes within them. It seems that this idea should apply here as well, for since the automatic vending machine belongs to its owner and one it stands in the street because one has a permit from the local municipality to place it there, any money inserted into the machine immediately belongs to the owner of the vending machine and this constitutes the prohibition of conducting monetary transactions on Shabbat.

Nevertheless, even with regards to this issue, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes that this does not constitute the prohibition of performing monetary transactions on Shabbat, for the owner of the vending machine is not actually performing any action. On the other hand, Maran zt”l writes that there is only room for leniency in this regard when people are not aware whom this machine belongs to, for if everyone knows that this machine belongs to a Jew, there is no longer room for leniency. Indeed the Maharam Schick deals with a similar issue where Jews participated in a public bid on Erev Shabbat and many times, the non-Jewish judges deliberated on Shabbat who should win the tender. Several times, Jews would be granted the tender on Shabbat. The Maharam Schick writes that it seems to him that this is completely permissible, for one may begin any biblically-forbidden work before the onset of Shabbat as long as the forbidden work will conclude on its own. The same would seem to apply here in that it is permissible to leave these machines to operate in order for non-Jews to purchase items from these vending machines on Shabbat. Nevertheless, if one wishes to be concerned with the more stringent opinions, one may specifically stipulate that he only wishes to acquire whatever money is inserted into the machine on Shabbat after Shabbat has concluded, for one’s vessels cannot acquire objects for him against his will. Since one specifically stipulates that he does not wish to acquire the money until Motza’ei Shabbat, this is certainly permissible, for the transaction will only be complete after the conclusion of Shabbat.

It seems that it is likewise permissible to allow websites where one sells merchandise to continue to operate on Shabbat as long the owner of the website is unknown and the customers making the purchase on Shabbat are non-Jews, for the Jewish owner is not performing any form of forbidden work on Shabbat. Nevertheless, one should not draw an analogy from this to all other situations, for there are many details involved here and one must consult a competent halachic authority regarding each individual scenario.

Summary: According to the letter of the law, one may place an automatic vending machine in a non-Jewish neighborhood before Shabbat when the public is unaware whom the machine belongs to. If one wishes to act stringently, one should stipulate before Shabbat that one wishes to acquire the money inserted into the machine, hence completing the transaction, until Shabbat has concluded. Similarly, one may allow a website with merchandise for sale to continue to operate on Shabbat provided the owner of the website is unknown, the customers are non-Jewish, and the website requires no maintenance on Shabbat.

As a side note, we have asked Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l regarding our very own website, “Halacha Yomit,” that many times, unfortunately, we receive requests for subscriptions to receive the “Halacha Yomit” by email on Shabbat itself. The question was whether or not to honor these requests, for this will cause the individual who desecrated Shabbat by sending the subscription request to benefit directly from this Shabbat desecration by receiving the daily Halachot. On the other hand, if we were to ignore these requests, these individuals would lose the merit of Torah study that they may have enjoyed, were we to honor their request. Maran zt”l instructed us not to ignore these requests and send Halachot to these individuals with the hope that the light of the Torah would help them return to the correct path and to observe the holy Shabbat properly. In this merit, may we all merit greeting our righteous Mashiach, speedily and in our days, Amen.

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