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?