Shabbos 150-151 לפני עור, work done by a non-Jew on shabbos, and שבות דשבות re-examined

On the previous daf, the Mishna taught us that it is forbidden to hire workers on shabbos or to ask one’s friend to do so on one’s behalf.

Although hiring workers does not involve any specific melacha as such, Rashi explains that it goes against the passuk in Yeshayahu (58) which tells us to honor the shabbos and refrain from weekday activities and discussions, namely a “rabbinic” prohibition.

The Gemara ask why it is necessary to forbid asking one’s friend to do so- after all, he is equally obligated in the laws of shabbos!

Rashi understand that because he is equally obligated not to engage in weekday conversation, telling him to do so goes under against the prohibition of “putting a stumbling block in front of the blind,” interpreted by chazal among others things to refer to causing someone to sin)A.Z. 6b.)

It requires some analysis to determine whether one can transgress the biblical command against causing someone to sin by causing him to do something that is only rabbinically prohibited.

It could be argued that a rabbinical sin is not a stumbling-block on a biblical level and one can thus not transgress this prohibition if the sin one causes him to do is only rabbinical in nature.

On the other hand, one could argue that the prohibition is not specifically against causing someone to sin on a biblical level, but on putting a stumbling block in front of him on any level, and a rabbinical prohibition, once forbidden by Chazal, is certainly a stumbling block.

The irony would then be that hiring workers oneself on shabbos might only be a rabbinical prohibition but asking one’s friend to do so would be a biblical prohibition!

The way Rashi understands our Mishna seems to be a proof for this later understanding as he says explicitly that asking one’s friend to hire workers involves the prohibition of putting a stumbling block in front of the blind.

Whether the Gemara itself is a proof for this depends on whether there are any other legitimate ways of explaining why this should so obviously be forbidden.

It is of course possible that Rashi means that he transgresses the prohibition of “putting a stumbling block before the blind” on a rabbinic level, but we would need some precedent for such a thing for this argument to be convincing.

There are indeed times when chazal refer to transgressing a biblical prohibition and mean it on a biblical level (see for example Rashi Sanhedrin 82 regarding נשגז )but for Rashi to claim that this is such an example without saying so explicitly would seem unusual.

Perhaps the act of telling one’s friend to hire workers itself goes against the prohibition of weekday conversation?

However, this is not likely, seeing as the Gemara answers that the Mishna is needed to tell us that even asking a non- Jewish friend to do so is forbidden.

It answers that we already know that too, as it falls under the shvus (rabbinical prohibition) of אמירה לנכרי (asking a non-Jew to perform a forbidden melacha on shabbos.)

If telling someone else to engage in a weekday conversation was also considered weekday conversation, there should be no different between asking one’s Jewish friend or one’s non- Jewish friend


If yesterday we dealt with the general prohibition against telling a non-Jew to do melacha on shabbos, today’s daf deals with work which a non-Jew has done on his own initiative on shabbos.

The rule of the Mishna and accompanying Gemara is that if he performed it for his own benefit or for that of another non-Jew , one may benefit from it, whereas if he did it for a Jew, one may not.

The Mishna gives an example of a non-Jew who brings a reed-based wind instrument on shabbos to play during the eulogies for a Jew who died and is to be buried after shabbos.

It rules that it may only be used if it was brought from inside the techum (area in which walking is permitted on shabbos.

It then discusses a case where a non-Jew dug a grave or made a coffin on shabbos and It is now wanted for burying a Jew after shabbos.

It rules that if it was done for a non-Jew, it may be used for a Jew, but if it was intended for burying a Jew, he may not ever be buried in it.

The general rule coming out of the Mishna seems to be that it is permitted to benefit from a melacha done by a non-Jew on shabbos only if the non-Jew did it for himself or another non-Jew.

If he did it for a Jew, even without being told to do so, it may not be used.

The question is for how long it might not be used: in the first case of the reedpipes, the Mishna does not say that they may not ever be used again for a Jew (though see Rashi who does make this assumption.)

Yet in the second case of the grave/coffin, it says that they may never be used, at least for the Jew they were made for.

Perhaps the distinction lies in the fact that walking outside of the techum is only a rabbinic prohibition according to the view of this Tana (this is a dispute in various places, see Beitza 36: for example.)

On the other hand, making a coffin or grave is a biblical prohibition.

If this distinction is correct, we would conclude that if a non-Jew performs a biblical melacha for a Jew on shabbos, he may never benefit from it, but if he only performed a rabbinic prohibition , he may do so.

However, the assumption that the non-Jew who brought the reed pipe from outside the techum has only performed a rabbinically forbidden act is highly problematic for various reasons.

  1. Even if walking from outside the techum is only rabbinically prohibited, carrying an item from outside also involves the biblical melacha of הוצאה ( transferring something from one domain to another.) – If there was an eruv, there would not be an issue of the techum either.

One could answer that the Mishna is dealing with something brought through a non-built up area that is not defined as a private or public place , but a כרמלית, which too is only a rabbinical prohibition, but one would still be faced with the question why the important factor is whether it came from outside the techum and not whether a biblical or rabbinical melacha of carrying was performed. The Tosfos and other Rishonim deal further with this issue., but I will move on.

  1. We have learnt many times that according to most views, it is permitted to ask a non-Jew to perform an act that is only rabbinically forbidden on shabbos for the sake of a mitzva (שבות דשבות לדבר מצוה) .

We have seen that some later authorities understand that this principle even permits a Jew to himself perform an action that is only rabbinically prohibited for 2 independent reasons for the sake of a mitzva.

If so, seeing as the instrument is being used for the mitzva of כבוד המת (honoring the dead,) a truly great mitzva, and leaving the techum is only rabbinically forbidden, surely it would have been permitted to ask the non-Jew to bring it lechatchila on shabbos to avoid delaying the burial afterwards?

It is true that the Tosfos are of the view that this principle does not apply to any mitzva, but only certain special mitzvas mentioned explicitly such as circumcision and settling the land of Israel, and this could be a proof for this view, but this not the view of most authorities including the Rambam.

  1. In any case, the distinction we suggested between biblical and rabbinical melacha performed by a non-Jew would not survive the Gemara’s discussion of this Mishna.

The Gemara, for a different purpose ( establishing the law in a case where it is not certain if the non-Jew performed the melacha for a Jew or a non-Jew ) compares this to a different case, where a bathhouse is heated by a non-Jew on shabbos for whoever comes.

The ruling in that case is that if the bathhouse is in a place with a non-Jewish majority, we assume that it was heated for non-Jews and a Jew may bath there immediately after shabbos.

If the majority or even half the people the bathhouse serves are Jewish, then a Jew must wait כדי שיעשה (the time it takes to heat the bathhouse) after shabbos before using it.

Heating the bathhouse clearly involves at least one biblical melacha, lighting the fire and perhaps heating the water, depending on the temperature it reaches, yet the prohibition to use the bathhouse is limited to the period of כדי שיעשה and not forever.

Perhaps the real distinction lies in who the object of the forbidden action is going to serve. In a case where the non-Jew had a specific Jew in mind as the beneficiary of his actions, such as the case of the grave or coffin, that Jew may never benefit from his action.

On the other hand, other Jews, may benefit from it after the period of כדי שיעשה, and in a case where he had no specific person in mind, like the bathhouse and possibly the reed-pipes, any Jew may benefit from it after the period of כדי שיעשה .

These issues form the subject of long and major discussions in the Rishonim before the final halacha is determined- I have just come to take you through a preliminary analysis I have done on my own, in order to open the subject for further study.

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.

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