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A Gentile’s Work On Shabbos – Part I


Why is it forbidden to ask a non-Jew to perform work for a Jew on Shabbos? When is it permitted? If a non-Jew did work for a Jew, can the Jew benefit from it? Should a non-Jew who came to work of his own volition be deterred from action? Can one hint to the non-Jew what needs to be done? When does the prohibition kick in – does it only begin on Shabbos, or does it extend to other days of the week as well? Of this and more in the coming article.

The Mitzva of Shabbos

In this week’s parasha we read how the newly freed Jewish nation reached Mara. There “…He gave them a statute and an ordinance” (Shemos 15:25). Rashi explains that Hashem taught them three basic mitzvos in that place: Shabbos, the Red Heifer, and the halachos of monetary matters. The Gemara (Shabbos 87b) deduces this from a pasuk in the Ten Commandments: “Keep the Shabbos day to sanctify it, as the Lord your G-d commanded you” (Devarim 5:12). Where did He command it before the Revelation at Sinai? In Mara.

In this week’s article we will provide an overview of the guiding rules of amira l’nochri –asking a non-Jew to work for a Jew on Shabbos– what, when, and how one can ask a gentile to preform work for a Jew on Shabbos. Due to the magnitude of this topic it will appear in two installments: the first this week, and the second next week.


Chazal prohibit telling a gentile to perform work for a Jew on Shabbos (Shabbos 151a).

This prohibition includes several related prohibitions:

  1. A Jew may not have forbidden work done for him on Shabbos and Yom Tov, even if it is done by a gentile. This prohibition appears in the Shulchan Aruch (OC 243-244).
  2. The prohibition of maris ha’ayin: a gentile who works for himself in a way that appears to be done for a Jew. This kind of work is also forbidden (OC 243-246).
  3. The prohibition to speak of forbidden actions on Shabbos. This includes asking a gentile to do work on Shabbos (OC 307).
  4. The prohibition to benefit from work that was done for a Jew on Shabbos (OC 247, 325).

Prohibition Source

Several sources are given for this prohibition.

  1. The Mechilta (Masechta D’Pascha, 9) learns from the pasuk about the holidays: “…No work may be performed on them” (Shemos 12:16): “You should not do; your friend should not do [for you]; and the gentile should not do [your work].” The Mechilta deduces from the passive form used by the pasuk that the prohibition is for Jewish work to be done regardless of the person actually doing the work. The Mechilta adds: “Lest one think the prohibition pertains only to a Jew while being permitted for a gentile, the pasuk has already said: ‘Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, a day of complete rest to the Lord…’ (Shemos 35:2).” This pasuk teaches that all Jewish work, whether performed by a Jew or a non-Jew, must be done only during the weekdays, not on Shabbos.
  2. The Rambam (Shabbos 6:1) explains that the prohibition was made in order to ingrain in the Jewish psyche the gravity of working on Shabbos — so that a Jew will not accidentally perform the prohibited activity himself.
  3. Rashi (Shabbos 153a) relates the prohibition to the laws of proxy – since the gentile is doing work for a Jew, and “the emissary of a person is like the person himself” (Kiddushin 42a), it is considered as if the Jew performed the work. The Hagahos Maimonios (Shabbos 6:1) explains that while only a Jew can halachically serve as his friend’s emissary, nevertheless, we are stringent in this matter, and having a non-Jew perform work is considered a proxy of sorts.[1]
  4. Rashi explains (Avoda Zara 15a) that telling a gentile to do work is included in the prohibition to speak of forbidden actions: “…And you honor it [Shabbos] by not doing your wonted ways, by not pursuing your affairs and speaking words” (Yeshayahu 58:13). From this pasuk Chazal deduce (Shabbos 113a) that “our speech on Shabbos should be unlike our speech during the week.”

Nature of Prohibition

Is the prohibition of telling a gentile to do forbidden work on Shabbos a Torah or a rabbinic prohibition?

The Yereim (304) and Smag (negative commandment 78) write that the prohibition transgressed when the gentile does work with or in Jewish property is biblical. However, a gentile doing work for a Jew on gentile property, is rabbinic. Additionally, the biblical prohibition pertains only when was told on Shabbos to work. If he was told before Shabbos (or after) the prohibition is rabbinic.

The Rambam (Shabbos 6:1) and Ramban (Shemos 12:16) maintain that the prohibition is rabbinic and the pasuk cited in the Mechilta quoted above serves merely as an asmachta.

The Levush (OC 243:1) writes that due to the disputed opinions among the Rishonim, and as a result of the pasuk’s meaning, one should be more stringent in this prohibition than other rabbinic prohibitions. Similarly, the Pri Megadim maintains (OC 243:3) that while the poskim agree that the prohibition is rabbinic, since the prohibition has an allusion from a pasuk, this halacha is regarded more stringently, almost like a Torah prohibition.

The Mishna Brura (243:5) writes that the prohibition is rabbinic and the Mechilta’s quotes are a biblical allusion to the halacha. He notes the above opinions in Sha’ar Hatziyun (243:7), and adds that according to the Ramban and Gra there is a mistake in the text of the Mechilta. The real text is that which appears in the Yelkut Shimoni (201) which indicates that the only Torah prohibition is for a Jew to preform forbidden work for another Jew. A gentile who does forbidden work for another Jew transgresses a rabbinic prohibition only.

Summary: Many poskim maintain that while the prohibition of telling a gentile to do forbidden work for a Jew is rabbinic, it is graver than other rabbinic prohibitions because of the asmachta – the biblical allusion to the halacha.

Performing Rabbinic Prohibitions

Telling a gentile to preform prohibited work is forbidden, whether the work is prohibited under rabbinic or biblical law. Therefore, one cannot tell a non-Jew to cook, write, or hire workers. There are, however, cases in which one can be lenient in telling a gentile to perform an act that only involves a rabbinic prohibition. The Magen Avraham writes (307:2) that one is permitted to tell a gentile to do actions that are permitted according to the basic halacha and are only forbidden due to  custom or are an added stringency.

Doing Work for a Jew

Generally, a gentile may not do work on Shabbos for a Jew even if he does it of his own volition. One is obligated to express his objection at any prohibited action, and if possible prevent the gentile from doing work (Shulchan Aruch OC 243:1; Mishna Brura 243:5). If the gentile fails to comply, the Jew is obligated to expel the gentile from his property (276:11).

Chazal also prohibited telling a gentile to do something that might appear as if he is performing forbidden work for a Jew on Shabbos, even if it is not true. Therefore, one is forbidden to rent out a bathhouse (or pool) to a gentile for Shabbos as it may appear that the gentile is operating under the Jew’s management. Similarly, one cannot rent his car or office space for a gentile’s use on Shabbos because when the gentile uses the car or opens the office he appears to be doing so for the Jewish management.

Where the gentile is clearly doing the action for himself, and not as the Jew’s emissary, it is permitted to hire a gentile to work on Friday, if the work does have to be done on Shabbos. Then the job can be done whenever the gentile wants, even on Shabbos, on his own premises (Shulchan Aruch OC 247:1).


An additional prohibition is benefiting from a prohibited action. If the benefit is noticeable but not completely necessary one can enjoy it. For example, a gentile who turned on the light on in a dark room: if the room had been pitch-black beforehand and could not have been used due to the darkness, one may not use the room once a non-Jew lit it. However, if the room was dimly lit beforehand and could be used for eating but not for reading, once the room is lit by a gentile, one can eat in that room but not read. If it had been possible to read, albeit with difficulty, once the gentile lit the room one can even read in it.

In addition, removal of a bothersome element is not considered an action, and therefore, benefitting from it is permitted. Therefore, if a gentile turned off the light, one is allowed to sleep in the room. The same is true for an air conditioner that was left on hot or cold in a way that made the room unserviceable, and a change of the setting made the room habitable (Orchos Shabbos II chapter 23:21). On the other hand, the pleasure of a heated or chilled room is considered an added benefit and benefitting is forbidden (Igros Moshe III 47:2).

A Jew who transgressed the prohibition of telling a non-Jew to do forbidden work on Shabbos may not benefit from the result. Therefore, if the gentile turned on a light, the Jew must leave the room or house so as not to use the light. If, however, the gentile acted on his own volition, one is not obligated to leave, and as we said, he is only forbidden to do things he could not have done without the forbidden action (Mishna Brura 276:13).

Extent of Prohibition

When does the prohibition to use the product of the forbidden action end? It ends when the timespan of the action has elapsed after Shabbos, i.e., the forbidden action could have already been entirely completed after Shabbos. Therefore, if, for example, a gentile placed a pot of water to boil on Shabbos, the hot water cannot be used until the time it woulde have taken to boil such a pot of water after Shabbos.

Protesting Shabbos Desecration

As noted above, one may not benefit from an action a gentile does for a Jew on Shabbos, and one is obligated to demand that the gentile cease the activity. Contemporary poskim are split regarding the obligation to protest the gentile’s activity.

Those who maintain that all gentile activities must be protested can only use a gentile on Shabbos for the reasons that will be detailed in next week’s article (Rav Elyashiv: Melachim Omnaich, chapter 4:4). However, those who maintain that the obligation to protest the gentile’s activities is only when he has done a complete activity from start to finish, can benefit from a partial action or one the gentile does for himself (Igros Moshe, YD III, chapter 47:2; Rav Sheinberg OC 243:5). In practical cases, I heard from my rebbe, Rav Luxemburg and from Rabbi Wiesel that the custom is to be lenient.

Demanding Action

As stated earlier, besides the prohibition for the gentile to do a forbidden action for a Jew on Shabbos, we are forbidden to speak about forbidden activities on Shabbos. Therefore, one is not even permitted to tell the gentile on Shabbos to perform an activity after Shabbos.


Chazal differentiate between hinting with a commanding tone and simply telling a story or describing a difficult situation. While obviously, telling or demanding a gentile explicitly do something is forbidden, even voicing a complaint, “Why didn’t you turn the light on last Shabbos?” is forbidden on Shabbos. However, before Shabbos, all forms of hinting are permitted, even a demanding one.

On Shabbos, the only kind of hinting permitted is describing a difficulty. For example, telling a gentile how hard it is to read in the dim light is permitted in certain situations.


No forbidden work should be done on Shabbos for a Jew. Therefore, a gentile may not be instructed neither on Shabbos nor beforehand to perform forbidden work. If the entire job is done by the gentile, we are obligated to make the gentile stop, and in any event—protest his activities when he does so of his own initiative. When the action involves removal of an obstacle or making something more accessible than it was previously, one can be lenient and benefit from the activity. Therefore, one is permitted to hint to a gentile in any manner before Shabbos, and on Shabbos — subtly.

A gentile is forbidden to perform an activity if appears as if he is doing so for a Jew, even if in truth he is doing so for himself.

Post facto, if the gentile did something not fully necessary –benefiting from his work is permissible. However, benefiting from something that would have been impossible to enjoy without the gentile’s action is forbidden. If the work was performed at the Jew’s bidding – the Jew is obligated to leave his house and not benefit from the work, but if the gentile did so at his own volition, one is not obligated to leave his house to refrain from benefiting from the work.

Speaking on Shabbos about forbidden work is also forbidden. Therefore, one cannot hint to a gentile in a commanding tone or gesture to perform forbidden work. Hinting or speaking of work for Motzaei Shabbos is also forbidden. The only form of hinting permitted is describing a difficulty so the gentile will understand it himself (when the obligation to protest work on Jewish premises is inapplicable).


This was a general outline of the prohibitions involved in telling a gentile to perform forbidden work for a Jew on Shabbos. Next week’s article will provide details of various scenarios in which Chazal permit making use of a gentile’s services on Shabbos.


[1] This is the opinion of Avodas Hagershoni (quoted in Chavos Ya’ir, chapter 49) and Shulchan Aruch Hagraz (243:1). Rabbi Akiva Eiger (OC 307:21) explains the Magen Avraham’s note: telling a non-Jew to cook for himself is permitted, because a gentile cannot serve as an emissary where he could not have been one had he been a Jew. Since one cannot eat, drink, or lay tefillin for another, even if he is a Jew, telling a non-Jew to eat, drink, or do something for himself is permitted.


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