A discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the
week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.
A DISHWASHER or VACUUM CLEANER SHABBOS
QUESTION: Is it permitted on Shabbos to ask a non-Jew to wash dirty dishes
knowing full well that he will use a dishwasher? Is it permitted to ask a
non-Jew to sweep the floor knowing that he will use a vacuum cleaner?
DISCUSSION: It is Rabbinically(1) prohibited(2) to instruct a non-Jew to
perform a forbidden - either Biblical or Rabbinic - Shabbos Labor. It makes
no difference if the instructions are given on Shabbos or before Shabbos(3).
This strict prohibition is known as amirah l'akum(4). It should follow,
therefore, that a non-Jew may not be instructed to wash the dishes or sweep
the floor, since a forbidden Shabbos Labor will result from this command.
In our specific case, though, an argument for leniency can be made based on
the ruling of the Taz(5). The Taz rules that one may instruct a non-Jewish
maid to wash the dishes on Friday night even if he knows that she will turn
on the lights(6) in order to be able to wash the dishes. He explains that
the Jew gains no benefit from the light, since the Jew's only concern is
that the dishes be washed. The light is being turned on not for the Jew, but
for the sake of the maid. This is not amirah l'akum, since a non-Jew may
perform a Shabbos Labor for himself on Shabbos.
Based on this principle, we find several cases where the poskim were
lenient concerning amirah l'akum:
It is permitted to instruct a non-Jew to "clean the floor," even though he
will use a mop and do so in a prohibited manner (transgressing the Labor of
Squeezing). This is because it is possible for him to "clean the floor" in a
permissible manner - by pouring water on the floor and then pushing it
aside(7). He is performing forbidden Shabbos Labors only in order to make it
easier for himself. This is not amirah la'kum(8).
Using makeup remover on Shabbos may be prohibited because of the prohibition
of Smoothing, memareiach. It is permitted, though, to instruct a non-Jew to
"cleanse my face" even though the non-Jew will use makeup remover to do so.
This is permitted because the face can be cleansed by scrubbing it with
water, which is permitted. The decision to use makeup remover rather than
water is made by the non-Jew, for his benefit, and it is not based on the
instructions of the Jew(9).
In the cases cited above, the Jew's orders, which could be filled in a
permissible manner, will actually be filled in a prohibited manner. Still,
it is apparent that the poskim were lenient and did not view this as amirah
la'kum. Accordingly, it is permissible to instruct a non-Jew to wash dishes
or sweep the floor even though he will use a dishwasher or a vacuum cleaner
to do the job. This is because the dishes can be washed on Shabbos in a
halachically permissible fashion, and using the dishwasher benefits the
non-Jew by making his job quicker and easier(10).
As practical halachah, though, there is another issue to consider before we
may permit using a dishwasher or vacuum cleaner on Shabbos by a non-Jew. The
objection is based on a ruling of the Rama(11) that preferably a Jew should
not allow his windmill - or any other noisy machine - to be operated on
Shabbos because of zilzul Shabbos, degradation of the Shabbos. The Rama is
concerned(12) that running a noisy machine on Jewish owned premises on
Shabbos casts suspicion on the owner of the premises: Is he operating the
machine? [It is permitted to have a machine running in one's home only when
it is clearly evident that the machine making the noise was set or turned on
before Shabbos; e.g., a grandfather clock; or when it is common knowledge
that such a machine is usually activated by a Shabbos clock, e.g., electric
lights, or by a thermostat, e.g., an air conditioner(13). In these
instances, no suspicion will be cast on the owner of the premises and they
are, therefore, permitted(14).]
For this reason some poskim(15) forbid a non-Jewish maid to operate a
dishwasher or a vacuum cleaner inside a Jew's home, since the noise might
cause people to suspect the homeowner of violating the Shabbos(16).
The fact of the matter is, however, that many yeshivos and camps allow
non-Jews to operate dishwashers on their premises on Shabbos. While this
practice seems to contradict the aforementioned ruling of the Rama, it is
nevertheless permitted since the Rama himself adds that where a monetary
loss would be incurred, one may be lenient and not concern himself with
zilzul Shabbos. Since it would otherwise be impossible for the yeshiva or
camp to have clean dishes, they view their situation as a case of "avoiding
a loss" and they are lenient. Nevertheless, individuals in their private
homes should not rely on this leniency.
1 A minority view maintains that amirah l'akum is Biblically forbidden.
While the poskim generally reject this approach, it is an indication of the
severity of the prohibition; see Sha'ar ha-Tziyun 253:7.
2 There are several reasons given for this prohibition; see Rambam Hilchos
Shabbos 6:1; Rashi, Avoda Zarah 15a and 22a.
3 O.C. 307:2.
4 To reinforce this prohibition, the Rabbis went so far as to forbid one to
derive direct benefit from a non-Jew on Shabbos even if the non-Jew
performed the Labor on his own without being told; O.C. 276:1.
5 Quoted by Mishnah Berurah 276:27.
6 Or use hot water - Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 30:23.
7 Although there is no permissible method for a Jew to wash a floor on
Shabbos, see O.C. 337:4, there are permissible ways for a non-Jew to do so;
see Rama 337:2 and Mishnah Berurah 10.
8 Birkei Yosef O.C. 333:2, quoted in Kaf ha-Chayim 337:21. Harav M.
Feinstein is also quoted (The Sanctity of Shabbos, pg. 93) as allowing this.
9 Igros Moshe O.C. 2:79.
10 Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 30:23. See, however, Melachim O'mneich 9:20
who makes a distinction between the case of the Taz and our case, since in
the Taz's case, turning on the light is not directly connected to the
washing of the dishes, while here the dishes themselves are being washed
while transgressing a prohibited Shabbos Labor.
11 O.C. 252:5. See Pri Megadim 21 that this is only a chumrah.
12 As explained in Darkei Moshe and Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav. This explanation
is also evident from the Rama himself who permits a clock to chime on the
hour since everybody knows that it can be set before Shabbos.
13 See Rama O.C. 252:5, Igros Moshe O.C. 4:60 and Shulchan Shelomo 252:14.
Shulchan Shelomo adds that concerning electric lights there is no problem of
zilzul Shabbos in any case since there is no noise involved.
14 Similarly, one is not required to shut off his telephone ringer since a
ringing phone does not cast suspicion on the homeowner that he is violating
the Shabbos. It is also permitted to leave the phone attached to an
answering machine or to a fax machine, as it is well known that these
machines are set to operate before Shabbos.
15 See Kol ha-Torah # 42, pg. 255 where Harav Y.Y. Neuwirth amends that if
the noise of the dishwasher is heard by others it may be prohibited because
of zilzul Shabbos. Harav M. Feinstein is also quoted (The Sanctity of
Shabbos, pg. 89) as prohibiting the use of a dishwasher because of zilzul
Shabbos. See also Shulchan Shelomo 252:13 who prohibits setting a time clock
to turn on a dishwasher because of zilzul Shabbos. See Shemiras Shabbos
K'hilchasah 12:35 who adds another reason why a dishwasher may not be used
with a time clock.
16 See Igros Moshe O.C. 4:70-6 who prohibits setting an alarm clock - which
is normally set on the previous evening - before Shabbos if the ringing
noise will be heard outside the room on Shabbos. See Minchas Shelomo, pg. 81
who prohibits allowing a non-Jew to use a washing machine on a Jew's
premises because of zilzul Shabbos. See Minchas Yitzchak 1:107 who prohibits
leaving a radio or a tape recorder on from before Shabbos because of this