Tuesday, January 16, 2007

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Internet Halacha

We don't normally get into halacha here, but this struck me as downright interesting... (warning, Jewish law discussion only, consult your orthodox rabbi for personal application)

A friend forwarded me the DailyHalacha.Com from the 14th, which read:

Allowing an Internet Business to Run on Shabbat: If a Jew sells merchandise over the internet, may he allow the site to continue running and take orders on Shabbat, and he will then process the orders and make the deliveries after Shabbat?

Rav Shemuel Pinchasi (contemporary) addresses this question in his new book (listen to audio for precise citation) and rules that it is forbidden to allow the site to run on Shabbat. Even if the majority of those accessing the site are not Jewish, and even though the site owner will process the orders only after Shabbat, he must have the site shut down during Shabbat. Rav Pinchasi cites a number of leading Halachic authorities who hold this view, including Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, Rav Chayim Kanievsky, and Rav Yonah Metzger.

I shared this with Rabbi Nati, along with the following technical information which I consider key in making such a statement, which is not discussed at all...

This is a wonderful halachic discussion and in theory a resulting psak, but would seem to be dangerous as a blanket understanding without knowing both the technology and business context (of the psak and your situation)...

1. I sit in New Jersey, my web site runs on computers in S. Francisco, and my customer is attempting to connect from Japan. WHO's Shabbos (timezone) do I observe, and why?

2. I run a mail-order business in the US, 20 years ago. According to the same standard, do I throw away all mail orders that arrive on Saturday (being US mail delivery occurs on Shabbos?)

3. I run a mail-order business in the US, 10 years ago. My toll-free number has an answering machine that takes orders after normal business hours. Do I shut it down on Shabbos (again the time zone issue, but this time more narrow, just US time zones which have a 3 hour window)? Do I shut down just the order taking, can I leave message saying "it's Shabbos, no orders today" when it may not be for the caller? If I leave it on, do I have to erase all orders that were recorded on Shabbos.

4. Adjusting item 1 above, my involvement in the 'business' / web site is merely processing orders. I created a product list and loaded it into a web site store service. I don't run the servers, I don't run the credit card processing, I don't run the order taking, I don't run the site, I have no involvement whatsoever in any aspect of the store except having created the product catalog and processing the orders (on which I must go to the site, login to the order tracking web page, and view the active orders to process, meaning if I don't virtually go there, there's nothing on my computer in any way involved in the site). Further, I can't turn the servers on or off in any way. (This is called a 'hosted web store' and is what the majority of small business's do.) I can only completely delete the store, no recovery, or leave it on. Am I obligated to have no business because it can't be turned off for Shabbos? Note that every piece of infrastructure involved is run by rov goyim.

If one is running a hebrew web store targeted at Israeli customers on a hosted or local equipment located in Israel, then this psak fits (though in the case of a hosted store, the ability to shut it down may not exist and therefore the question of shutting down the whole business would need to be taken to a rav skilled in such areas). In world-wide scenerio's, different issues apply that this BRIEF does not address.

In the more complicated case, I have no idea what the appropriate halacha is. I can only note that most famous kosher businesses and online tzedakah's do not currently "shut down for Shabbos". I have seen a small minority of Torah info sites that do so (for example, kaduri.net), and I usually find this as I'm gathering reading material for Shabbos (which goes back to the timezone issue above).

After reading this Rabbi Nati raised some additional questions and took it to his rav's rav...

We pasken (rule on halachic law) by finding historical examples that fit our current scenerio and applying them. I first noted that any discussion of physicality, such as an actual store, are not the scenerio here.

Instead, I brought these questions to my senior teacher:

Does an artist have to take down their pictures from walls in stores that happen to be open on Shabbat?

Can pictures taken by Jewish photographers be printed in newspapers? (Non-Jewish on Shabbos, Jewish before Shabbos that are read on Shabbos?)

A non-Jew enters a non-Jewish store and buys a Jewish product on Shabbos. Is not the Jewish producer deriving benefit on Shabbos?

Is a virtual store really there? Where does it exist? Is it in the reshush harabbim (the public domain) or the reshus hayachid (the private domain)? What is online?

What's open mean? It's accepting orders but not processing them. No employee's (of the Jew) are working.

What about a non-store, a web site or blog? People don't normally buy from such a place (and if it has ads for product or store, they're directed to a 'store' place). What if someone in Hawaii is reading after Shabbos here in Israel? Deny that person to read parsha hashevuah? My computer isn't running, it's off and not connected at all to the web. It's theirs that's running. Are they Jewish? Is there a a way to find out?

Is it prohibited to ask someone who is walking across town(within permitted Shabbos distance) to have them give a verbal message to a friend who lives over there? (Example: Give regards to Ploni, as him to get in touch with me some time.) In essence isn't that what a hosted store is doing?

Rabbi Nati's rav's rav told him that these issues are very unclear, and no one has yet clarified all of these technical issues in halacha, which needs to be done to create a ruling that covers the range of issues and circumstances.

Warning - This article is for discussion purposes only. Before applying to your personal situation, consult a qualified orthodox rabbi.

Tags: internet, halacha, jewish, law, torah, judaism, store, shabbos
From Mystical Paths, MPATHS.COM. Reading it somewhere else? See it there, click.


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