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Amirah L’akum Where the Melacha is Performed Adatah D’nafshey
Rabbi Dovid Cohen
Administrative Rabbinical Coordinator of the cRc
March 2008 – Updated December 2022
A non-Jew may perform melacha on Shabbos (or Yom Tov) if he is doing so for his own benefit (adatah d’nafshey), and the Jew merely has tangential benefit. There are different ways of interpreting this leniency, which hinge on the crucial question of how to decide when the non-Jew is doing the melacha for himself rather than for the Jew. Many years ago, in order to clarify the cRc position on this matter, Rabbi Eisenbach, under the direction of Rav Schwartz, instituted a very simple two-part rule about amirah l’akum at cRc events:
The following are some detailed examples of these rules, as they apply to a hotel situation.
Convection oven – A Jew may not open a convection oven on Shabbos, because doing so causes the fan and flames to turn off. Therefore, a non-Jew may not open the door of the convection oven, even though there are those who suggest that there are reasons why doing so might be considered adatahd’nafshey.1
Slicing meat – A Jew may slice meat by hand on Shabbos, and therefore a non-Jew assigned to slicing meat may choose to use the electric meat slicer to make the job easier for him. One could question this because an electric slicer can produce slices that are thinner and more uniform than most people can create with a knife, which means that the non-Jew is using the slicer to benefit the Jewish hotel guests who will appreciate the nicer slices. However, Rav Schwartz disagrees with this and held that a professional chef is capable of cutting slices as precisely, or almost as precisely, as an electric knife; therefore, the non-Jew’s choice to use the electric knife is considered melecha done adatah d’nafshey.
Washing dishes – There are ways in which a Jew may wash dishes on Shabbos; therefore, the non-Jewish kitchen staff may choose to use an automatic dishwasher to save themselves time or to satisfy the requirements of the (non-Jewish) Board of Health.
Cleaning floors – On Shabbos, Jews are permitted to clean the floor of a kitchen, ballroom or hallway by sweeping or by bending down and actually picking up the refuse left on the floor. Since there is a way for cleaning to be done without violating any issur, the non-Jews are permitted to mop or vacuum, so as to make the cleaning easier for themselves and/or so that the floor’s appearance will be clean enough to satisfy their professional standards of cleanliness. See below for an exception to this rule.
1 When one opens the door of a convection oven, the fan, and the flame (in some models), turns off in order to prevent the person who is opening the door from being blasted with hot air (as well as to conserve energy). Two suggestions have been made as to why a non-Jew should be permitted to open the door on Shabbos (or Yom Tov):
Firstly, when the non-Jew opens the door of the oven, the fan turns off so that he will be comfortable and not blasted with heat; therefore, the melacha is being done adatah d’nafshey. It is difficult to defend this line of reasoning in our case where the act is being done completely at the behest of the Jew and there is no way to fulfill the Jew’s request without turning off the fan.
Secondly, the person opening the door has no intention of turning off the fan (i.e. he is איני מתכוון for the melacha), and it is only forbidden to open the door because it is a psik reishah (certainty) that the melacha will occur. If so, a non-Jew may open the oven for a Jew because the issur of amirah l’akum does not apply to acts which are merely forbidden as a psik reishah (see Rema 253:5 as understood by Mishnah Berurah 253:99, and Mishnah Berurah 337:10). One could question this suggestion because it is not clear whether such a situation should be classified as a מתכוון (in which case the non-Jew could not do it) or a פסיק רישא דניחא ליה (in which case he could). Additionally, it is bad policy to allow non-Jews to do acts which Jews cannot possibly do, as doing so will likely lead to abuses in the halachos of amirah l’akum.
Neither of the above suggestions would permit the non-Jew to close the door of the convection oven (thereby turning the fan and flame back on) if there is still food in the oven, because closing the oven door is surely meant to heat or cook the food left in the oven. The non-Jew would only be permitted to close the door it/when it was for his own benefit (e.g. so he could walk past that area of the kitchen).
2 Shulchan Aruch 252:2 as explained by Mishnah Berurah 252:17.
3 In addition, Rav Schwartz says that it is a terrible זלזול שבת for a certified hotel to have waiters all over the dining room writing down people’s orders on Shabbos. This concern, and the one noted in the text, could be avoided if the waiter would write down the orders after he leaves the dining room and has moved into the kitchen.
4 E.g. שבות דשבות במקום מצוה .