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. says

    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. says

    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. Yoni says

    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]

    Simcha Reply:

    I think your question goes to the heart of the matter. Internet currency are merely signals from server to server, something that one would be hard pressed to define as an action of any kind, insofar as the 39 melachos, shvus etc. are concerned. The only action that is noticeable in the physical world is that of the individual who, rubo d’ruba is a goy, who has decided on his own to activate his computer, which is none of your business to intervene. All of this would be true even if all the financial institutions were open on Shabbos, which they are not. We don’t even need to get into the issue of time, namely, where is it Shabbos when the transaction is happening. If you are in NY (this week, and in Uman, Ukraine the next week), but your servers are in Western Canada and your purchaser in in the UK, or Japan, when is it Shabbos? This is not even a question in need of investigation, because, first and foremost, not a single action or even movement of a keli is happening during e-commerce. Not even a printer is activated. And one more thing, that is also not even a question relating to e-commerce, when the goy in Australia uses your site and words come on his screen, they are a) dots that give the illusion of writing, and b) are temporary. Basically, it comes down to this: We are heading into an era when ecommerece will be unavoidable for anyone. In this case, not only do we not need to seek hetairim, would would be hard-pressed to find a halachik basis for being machmir. I am not entering into the issue of zilzul Shabbos. That is a stand-alone issue that may be a consideration for some instances, such as an online Judaica store open on Shabbos. Basically, most patrons would be Yidden, and even if all is muttar, it is quite obvious that it appears to be zilzul Shabbos, and melacha has nothing to do with it.

    [Reply]

  4. Moriah says

    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. says

    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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