Is Your Website Breaking Shabbos?

shabbos candlesDouble-double-triple pay won’t make me work on Saturday! That’s not negotiable for sure. But what about my websites?

While we sink into a post-cholent slumber on a Shabbos afternoon, our websites are open for business, working as hard as ever, promoting and selling our products and services, and bringing in the Parnasa!

For a while I have been very curious: is this really kosher? Is my website breaking Shabbos? Am I? Over the past week I’ve been researching the issue… with surprising results.

But first, the disclaimer: I’m not  a talmid chochom nor is this blog a recognized source of Torah knowledge. I hardly know what is the Parshas Hashavua until my kids tell me on Friday afternoon! Every time I accidently stick that fleishig spoon in that cheesy pot, I run to call up my rabbi, just like everyone else.  And yet, unlike my treifed-up spoon, I think that this shayla is very interesting to many Jewish people who make their living online.

And now, the commentary: I had heard that in general it is not necessary to shut down a website for Shabbos, but as my businesses grows, I feel I need a more in-depth answer that relates to the specific nature of my websites. My main website, MavenMall, targets religious Jewish women and so every Shabbos traffic nosedives. I was more concerned about another successful site I own, for a niche translation service that targets Jews who are researching their genealogy, and most of the visitors and clients are not religious. Almost every motzei Shabbos when I check my email, I find messages there from Jewish people who have filled out our “Contact Us” form on Shabbos.  This bothers me very much but before I did anything about it, I needed to get a clear idea of the halacha.

I asked the shayla to our Rav and Posek, Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff, shlita, of Jerusalem. He was interested in exactly how my website worked. Do we have a shopping cart? How do we accept payment? Since my site is purely informational and we have no e-commerce element, the only action that a visitor can take is fill out a “Contact Us” form. He said that it is permissible to leave the site live on Shabbos.

For a deeper understanding of the issues, Rabbi Kaganoff referred me to two English teshuvas (articles) on the topic, one by Rabbi Doniel Neustadt, Rav of Young Israel in Cleveland Heights, and one by Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, Rabbinic Administrator of Star-K. (Contact me if you want me to forward you the articles.) Both of them deal mostly with the issues surrounding e-commerce but are quite conclusive that even the fact that a website generates credit card transactions on Shabbos is not a halachic reason to shut it down.  Apparently there is no prohibition for an automated machine to do business on Shabbos, and besides, credit card payments are not processed over the weekend. The only concern might be for “zilzul Shabbos” – denigrating the sanctity of Shabbos. As Rabbi Neustadt writes:

Traditionally, a Jew was always cognizant of the fact that Shabbos was a day when business was not conducted and profits were not earned. Allowing business to be conducted on one’s behalf on Shabbos could very well be considered a pirtzah, a “breakdown” and a violation of the spirit of Shabbos. A final decision on this subject should be rendered by the leading poskim of the generation, Shlita.

I am very interested to hear what the eventual ruling may be.

Though my posek says it’s OK for me, I am still not quite comfortable with the situation on my translation website. I don’t want to shut it down fully on Shabbos unless it is halachically required because I am concerned of the impact this will have on SEO for every other day of the week. What I have considered is creating a banner that will be automatically shown on Shabbos, which asks my visitors to return on Saturday night. But I have to admit that I can’t think of any way to phrase this that won’t seem rude and judgmental to my unaffiliated Jewish visitors. During my online research I found a discussion among non-religious Israelis relating to a shopping site that was inaccessible on Shabbos. People got quite heated about the subject and the majority felt that this was some sort of religious coercion, though a few respected it and even praised the site’s owners for putting their beliefs before their profits. I would like to make a Kiddush Hashem, but I am scared of achieving the opposite affect.

What do think about running a website on Shabbos?

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Comments

  1. Adorama Camera and B&H Photo both used to have popups on Shabbos with a countdown to when their checkout system would be back online. I don’t believe it gave any reason as to why the sopping cart was turned off. Visitors were still free to browse.

    I’ve heard this has been since lifted and you can order on Shabbos from both companies now, but I haven’t tested it myself for obvious reasons :)

    I would think a simple: “Our ordering system is offline until 10pm Saturday evening. Sorry for any inconvenience”, would be more than sufficient.

    [Reply]

    Naomi Reply:

    Yes, I looked at B&H’s site and I noticed that there is some fine print that they don’t process orders on Shabbos, but there doesn’t seem to be anything stopping anyone from placing an order. Many businesses don’t process orders over the weekend, but obviously they feel the need to state that. In any case, my visit to the B&H superstore was one of the highlights of my last trip to Manhattan. I live in Israel but I’ve never seen anything like that. They do an amazing Kiddush Hashem through their business.

    [Reply]

  2. I’ve also gone over the same teshuvot by Havrav Neustadt and Harav Heineman that Rabbi Kaganoff recommended. If they permit it, then I feel there are other areas in which one can make a kiddush Hashem without stressing over this one – although I admit it does feel weird to see transactions that seem to have occured on Shabbos – although if you have very international traffic, it may not have been Shabbos where the visitor to your site was located.
    BTW – I tried to contact you through the “contact us” link on your MavenMall site and the link goes straight to your blog, not the contact form. Just wanted to say am looking forward to meeting you in person at the writers’ conference, iy”H.

    [Reply]

    Naomi Reply:

    Hi Myriam,
    Thanks for the heads up on the contact form issue. It’s very strange because no one has contacted me through MavenMall in the past few weeks and I thought it was just because of Pesach. I’ll get the problem fixed!
    Your site looks yummy – I thought I recognized you from the SBI forums. It will be nice meet at the Writers conference. I am really looking forward to it, though I am only going in afternoon because my baby is too small to leave her the whole day. Please come over and introduce yourself.

    [Reply]

  3. I’d like to understand, what is anyone DOING, and what is any machine DOING when a server receives and sends electronic signals on Shabbos? Also, not all internet business are selling merchandise. Some are conduits between people and businesses, like the priceline model. And what about sites that provide information, and have advertisements, which when clicked provide profit — to be deposited by the bank to your account on a non-weekend day. Also, one needs to clarify the definition of a transaction in the cyberworld format

    [Reply]

    Naomi Reply:

    Sounds like you have some shaylas you need to ask…

    [Reply]

  4. In my past 5 years of online presence, there were only a few Shabbos transactions conducted by non-Jews. For some reason, Hashem sends my customers to me during the week. Most of my transactions are digital downloads with no circumvention from me.

    My CONTACT form always says that I don’t conduct business on Shabbos and Jewish holidays. Perhaps this helps sway a Jewish customer from buying on these holy days.

    [Reply]

  5. Naomi,
    Please send me the two teshuvos.

    [Reply]

    Naomi Reply:

    I just sent it.
    Shana tova!

    [Reply]

  6. A solution can be found, via http://HolyClock.com. Thank you.

    [Reply]

  7. What an interesting question as well as interesting insights on your end.

    Personally, I think that what it all comes down to, in the mean time, is how comfortable you feel with it. Halachic ramifications aside, if you do not feel comfortable with it, perhaps you need to do something.

    However, as you already pointed out, you must be very careful
    Of two things :

    1) you don’t want to interupt your business model for the rest of the week.

    2) you don’t want to alienate potential
    Clients

    It’s a tough situation certainly. What about putting up a banner that states something along the lines of “due to
    Personal beliefs….” This way it is about you and no one else?

    [Reply]

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