Sunday, January 13, 2008

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Internet Shabbos Halacha?

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

We don't often delve into halacha here at Mystical Paths, but this struck me as rather interesting...

For some time while in the US, I've been popping over to an Israeli Jewish mystic (mekubal) site, usually Friday afternoon to gather up some Shabbos reading material. The site began instituting a Shabbos outage, according to Shabbos at the author's location, Israel. So when I went Friday to get my material, no can do, site was "offline for Shabbos".

Now halachically, this struck me as odd. We don't hold like Shammai in Mishnah Shabbos, who states that we rest our tools on Shabbos. So, for example, I can loan my rake to a non-Jewish neighbor for use over Shabbos, though I can't loan my horse (we do rest our animals). So why is the site resting their computer server over Shabbos?

Now, lets through in a bit of technical detail. If you run a web site, you usually don't run it on the computer in your office. Rather, you rent computer server space from another company, often in another part of the country or world. For example, Mystical Paths is running on Blogspot computers in Massachusetts, though I'm no where near there.

So, your web site may not physically be operating in the same time zone as you, and your reader may not be in the same time zone as you or your web server.

A little while ago, I needed to look up the cost of a sefer (Jewish holy book). I went to Artscroll, and found they are doing the same thing. The site is "offline for Shabbos" according to New York time. Being I'm connecting from Israel, it's not Shabbos here.

Now this gets technically and halachically weird. You close your store for Shabbos, but you don't cover the windows or the store sign so the merchandise can't be seen. Should a web site be up but not take orders on Shabbos? (Of course, don't forget the question above, Shabbos where, for the web site computer, for the store owner, or for the customer?)

Lets try a deeper example. You own a mail order catalog business in the US. Do you print DON'T READ ME ON SHABBOS on the catalog cover? US mail service arrives on Shabbos. Do you throw away orders that arrived on Saturday? Or maybe not ones that arrived, but ones who are postmarked Saturday (they were actually ordered on Shabbos but arrived later?)

It seems to me that people are taking very simplistic initial approaches to the problem of the Internet and Shabbos. No orthodox Jew wants any part of any business benefit from Shabbos. Yet, I don't think most approaches I've seen yet make much sense.

Correction: I just popped over to B&H Photo (a New York based photography store, probably the best in the world IMHO, which is owned and operated by orthodox Jews), and got something amazing. The site is up, but a message overlay says, "We are not accepting orders at this time. We resume full operations 6:15 PM EST Saturday. We will reopen in 0 hours and 39 minutes." You can browse their catalog, but you can't place an order on Shabbos. That makes sense to me, where the owners are and the business is, they don't accept orders during their Shabbos.

I've also seen at least one company selling web site technology that does the opposite, it attempts to determine the location of the browser, and if it's Shabbos at that location, it doesn't permit the person to access the site as it's "down for Shabbos" at the visitor's time.

This area remains unclear.

--Shavua Tov, a good week.

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1 comment:

  1. thanks for your interesting post. I am preparing to launch an online business and perplexed about how Shabbat should be handled. Looking for a source of Rabbeim who are specializing in this, such as those who specialize in medical ethics halacha etc. If you know of any, I'd appreciate a referral.

    I am in Israel- mostly - travelling to US quarterly for 3-4 Shabbatot [so where is Shabbat?] targeting US customers [not specifically Jewish] and not selling myself, but rather referring visitors via links to vendors I've arranged to work with as an Affiliate, called Affiliate marketing. These merchants will pay me a commission, monthly, for sales that take place. And most use Cookies so that sales from those who arrive via my website will be credited to me for 30 or 60 or 90 days [lots of Shabbatot!]. Looking for a source for ongoing sha'alot! thanks much


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