Ask The Rabbi

Sending E-mail to a place where it is still Shabbat

The Color of HeavenArtscroll
Topic: E-Mail, Shabbat

Cheryl from Long Beach wrote:

Can you access systems that are in areas where it is Shabbat? For example, on erev Shabbat I can access via Internet the local Jerusalem time. It is not yet Shabbat in California, but Internet tells me it is already Shabbat in Jerusalem. Every time I log on locally I am drawn to pull up the time just to have that real link to Jerusalem.

Shmuel Steele wrote:

Is it permitted to send E-mail to you on erev Shabbos in America? An additional factor is that the E-mail messages are not sent out here real-time, but are collected every few hours.

Saul G. Behr of Univ. of Witwatersrand, South Africa wrote:

What is the law in the case of any sort of instantaneous communication between different time zones on or around Shabbat?

David Mitchell of SMU, Dallas wrote:

I hope there is no problem with me sending E-mail to your account while it's Shabbos by you! (correct me if I'm wrong).


Dear Cheryl, Shmuel, Saul and David:

There are two concerns here:

  1. May someone set up a machine before Shabbat to receive E-Mail (or faxes, for that matter) on Shabbat?
  2. May someone for whom it is not yet Shabbat cause "melacha" (work forbidden on Shabbat) to be done in a place where it is Shabbat?

Regarding the first point, one is allowed to initiate a process before Shabbat, even though the work will continue unattended throughout Shabbat. For example, one may program a timer to turn lights on and off at specified times during Shabbat. Other examples are setting a thermostat, or switching a fax machine to "auto-receive."

As for the second point, the question centers on whether the mail server or fax machine located in the area where it is Shabbat is:

  1. An extension of the sender (picture the sender of the E-mail having really long arms), which would be prohibited on Shabbat.

Or,

  1. Independent of the sender (the sender has nothing to do with the machine once he issues the send command).

A source that apparently supports the position that the machine is independent of the sender is found in the book Shemirath Shabbath. It states that in a place where it is not Shabbat it is permitted to phone a non-Jew in a place where it is Shabbat.

In order to receive a definitive ruling with regard to Email and faxes I asked Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg (one of the foremost Halachic authorities of our time). He ruled that it is in fact permitted to send E-mail and faxes from an area where it is not Shabbat to an area where it is Shabbat. So as the sun is beginning to lower on the horizon on erev Shabbat and you are faced with a question that just has to be answered, don't hesitate to send it to us!

Sources:

  • Rav Yehoshua Y. Neuwirth - Shemirath Shabbath, 31:26.


 
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