Rav Avi Zakutinsky
הַחֹ֧דֶשׁ הַזֶּ֛ה לָכֶ֖ם רֹ֣אשׁ חֳדָשִׁ֑ים רִאשׁ֥וֹן הוּא֙ לָכֶ֔ם לְחָדְשֵׁ֖י הַשָּׁנָֽה
“This month shall be to you the head of the months; to you it shall be the first of the months of the year.” (12:2)
Using Secular Dates In Halacha
1) Secular Months- There is a debate regarding the best way to identify the secular months when writing invitations, documents etc.. Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (Yabia Omer 3 YD 9) cites the Ramban (on the above verse) who stresses the importance of counting months according to the Jewish calendar. When the Torah says that Nissan is the first month of the year, it is implying that one may not consider any other month to be the “first.” Therefore, Harav Ovadia concludes, when writing the secular months one should not refer to them by number, but by name. For example, one should write January, 12, 2016 and not 1/12/2016.25 A similar ruling is expressed by Harav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach zt”l. (Shalmei Simcha page 687)
2) The Tzitz Eliezer (8:8) disagrees with the ruling of Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l. He writes that because the months are named after gentile gods, one may not mention the months by name, but should instead refer to them by number.
3) Harav Hershel Schachter shlit”a, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchonon, in a letter addressed to the author, writes that he feels that it is preferable to write the name of the month than to reference it by number. Harav Noach Isaac Oelbaum shlit”a, in a letter addressed to the author, explains that it is difficult to advance a clear hallachic ruling. However, he personally adheres to the view of Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l and refers to the secular months by name and not by number.
4) Secular Years- 1. The poskim stress the importance of using the Jewish calendar for calculating years (ex. 5774), as apposed to using the Gregorian calendar (ex. 2014). The Chasam Sofer (Drashos Chasam Sofer 7 Av year 5570) writes that by counting our years back from the creation of the world we are reminding ourselves of our Creator and of our divine rights to Eretz Yisroel.
5) It is generally assumed that the calendar system currently in use dates back to the birth of Yeshu Hanotzri. Therefore using this calendar system may not be hallachically permitted. The Maharam Shick strongly objected to using secular dates on tombstones. He explains that the Torah says (Shemos 23:13) that we may not mention the names of other gods. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 63b) understands this prohibition to include one who tells his friend to meet him near a particular avodah zara.
6) The Maharam Shick (Yoreh Deah 171), in turn, extends this prohibition to any action that would cause people to think about avodah zara, even without mentioning it by name. Therefore, he argues, since the secular calendar year is counted from the birth of Yeshu, it is biblically prohibited to use the secular calendar year. A similar stringent ruling is expressed by other poskim (see Sefer Get Pashut 127:30, Hillel Omer Yoreh Deah 62, Yayin Hatom Orach Chaim 8,Beer Moshe 8:18).
7) Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (Yabia Omer Yoreh Deah 3:9), however, proves that there exists a very strong possibility that the secular dates do not correspond at all to the birth of Yeshu Hanotzri. He argues that if the dates have nothing to do with the birth of Yeshu Hanotzri, there would be no hallachic issue with the secular date.
8) Some object to this leniency on the grounds that as long as people think the date relates to avodah zara, they will be reminded of the avodah zara, and one will then violate a Torah prohibition by bringing the avodah zara to people’s attention (Beer Moshe ibid. This is also the view of Harav Nosson Gestetner zt”l printed in Tzitz Eliezer 9:14).
9) The Tzitz Eliezer addresses this objection and explains that if the date really has no relevance to the avodah zara, and people only mistakenly equate the two, there would be no prohibition in using the secular date. One is not responsible for the thoughts of others and as long as he does not mention the avodah zara, or something related to the avodah zara, he has not transgressed any prohibition. In addition, most people are not reminded of Yeshu Hanotzri when told the date. Therefore, he rules leniently and allows others to use the secular date.
10) The Sefer Yereim(75) writes that, “There is no prohibition (of mentioning avodah zara) except when the name is given as a divine name that suggests divinity. But if it is a secular name, then even if this being is treated as a god, since the name does not suggest lordship or divinity, and it also was not given in that context, then it is permitted. For the Torah says, ‘The name of other gods you shall not mention’ – the verse is only concerned with divine names.” According to the Yereim one would be permitted to utter the name of Yeshu outright, and therefore there should be no prohibition of reminding others of his name, so long as one does not reference any “godly characteristics” of Yeshu. (Harav Azriel Hidsheimer zt”l (Yoreh Deah 180) writes, that even if the position of the Yereim is granted, this would certainly not extend to the second part of Yeshu’s title [beginning with the letter “c”], which definitely suggests a “divine status.”)
11) Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l continues to cite that many achronim, including the Shach, Chasam Sofer, and Maharm Padwa, have dated letters using the secular dates.
Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l and Harav Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg zt”l both conclude that when necessary, it is permissible to use the secular date. When possible, however, one should try to use the Jewish year. Furthermore, it would seem that one who uses both the Jewish and Gregorian years next to each other is clearly indicating that the Jewish date is meaningful to him, and that he is only using the secular dates for practical reasons.
Rav Avi Zakutinsky
וּבַיּ֤וֹם הָֽרִאשׁוֹן֙ מִקְרָא־קֹ֔דֶשׁ וּבַיּוֹם֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י מִקְרָא־קֹ֖דֶשׁ יִֽהְיֶ֣ה לָכֶ֑ם כָּל־מְלָאכָה֙ לֹא־יֵֽעָשֶׂ֣ה בָהֶ֔ם אַ֚ךְ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יֵֽאָכֵ֣ל לְכָל־נֶ֔פֶשׁ ה֥וּא לְבַדּ֖וֹ יֵֽעָשֶׂ֥ה לָכֶֽם
“And on the first day there shall be a holy convocation, and on the seventh day you shall have a holy convocation; no work may be performed on them, but what is eaten by any soul that alone may be performed for you..” (12:16)
Rashi- No work may be performed on them: even through others (non-Jews).
1) There is a rabbinic prohibition for a Jew to instruct a non-Jew to perform on his behalf any activities that are prohibited on Shabbos.
2) There are 3 reasons given for this prohibition: A) The Rambam (Shabbos 6:1) writes that it is prohibited so that Shabbos will not be taken lightly. [Parenthetically, this is the very reason that Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l was against using electrical items with Shabbos clocks, as it is included in the prohibition of the Rambam.] B) It is included in the prohibition of “V’Daber Davar”, forbidden speech on Shabbos. C) The non-Jew is your messenger to do a prohibition.
3) In addition to the prohibition to command a non-Jew to perform prohibited activities on Shabbos, it is also prohibited to benefit from the non-Jew’s action. Therefore, if a non-Jew “knows” to turn on the light for you or turn on the fire etc. without being told, one still cannot benefit from those activities (one cannot read by the light or stay warm by the fire etc.) Even though he didn’t command the non-Jew, he cannot benefit from the actions.
Leniencies in cases of Torah prohibitions (Part 1)
Under certain circumstances, it is permissible to tell a non-Jew to perform even a biblical prohibition:
4) Bein Hashmashos– Bein Hashmashos is the time between sunset and nightfall. During Bein Hashmashos on Friday night one can be lenient to ask a non-Jew to perform any activity, even biblical in nature, for any one of the following reasons- A) For the sake of a mitzvah, B) Shabbos needs (oneg shabbos), C)Avoiding substantial financial loss, D) Avoiding significant distress.
5) Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l discusses the specific amount of time one can ask a non-Jew during Bein Hashmashos and he concludes that for this discussion one can be lenient to ask the non-Jew (as per the needs above) during the 30 minute period after sunset. The leniency of Amirah L’Akum would no longer apply after 30 minutes. (Refer to Igros Moshe O.C. 4:62 and 4:64 40)
6) Some examples of the above halacha is- One can tell a non-Jew to turn on an electric stove during Bein Hashmashos in order to warm the food. (Oneg Shabbos) One can ask a non-Jew to lock one’s place of business and activate an alarm system during Bein Hashmashos if one forgot to do so. (Avoiding substantial loss) (Refer to Orchos Shabbos vol. 2 page 503 and The Sanctity of Shabbos pgs. 40-45)
7) Pesik Reisha– Pesik Reisha describes a permissible action which will inevitably result in the performance of a prohibited melacha on Shabbos. An example is opening a fridge on Shabbos when the light will go on. The desired action is to open the fridge (permissible action), however, this will inevitably cause the forbidden act of turning the light on. On Shabbos performing a Pesik Reisha is forbidden. Therefore, in the above case one cannot open the fridge on Shabbos if the light will go on.
Yet, it is permitted to tell a non-Jew to perform the permissible act even though it will result in a melacha being performed by a pesik reisha. (Magen Avraham 253:41)
8) Therefore, if something necessary for Shabbos was left in the car, one may ask a non-Jew to open the car door even though a light will inevitably go on. Similarly, one may ask a non-Jew to open the fridge, even though the light will go on. (Igros Moshe 2:68) [The non-Jew may also be asked to close the fridge because that too is a pesik reisha. If food which is essential for the Shabbos meals remain in the fridge after it is closed, the non-Jew may be asked to first uncsrew the bulb if: A) There will not be a non-Jew available to open the fridge door at a later time, and B) there is no other way to preserve the food. (Sanctity of Shabbos page 49)]
9) Public Mitzvah– If a group of people cannot perform a mitzvah a non-Jew can be asked to do even a biblical prohibition in order to facilitate the performance of the mitzvah. (M.B. 276:25 and Sanctity of Shabbos page 57)
Therefor, if the lights (even incandescent) went out in the shul and the congregants are unable to daven on learn, a non-Jew may be asked to turn the lights on.
10) Similarly, it is permissible to tell a non-Jew to do a biblical prohibition if it will save many people from sinning. Therefore, if a public eiruv broke, and many people are unaware of this and they will continue carrying, a non-Jew may be asked to repair the eiruv, even if it involves a biblical act of repairing.
11) Choleh She’ein Bo Sakana– It is permitted to ask a non-Jew to perform any action on Shabbos to cure or to ease the pain of a choleh she’ein bo sakana, an incapacitated person. (M.B. 328:47)
12) An incapacitated person is a person who is feeling so unwell that he or she would go to bed if that would help (e.g. someone with a severe cold or flu). Similarly, when an illness causes a person so much pain that he cannot function normally, that person is considered to be incapacitated. (Shulchan Shlomo 328:23)
13) Therefore, one may ask a non-Jew to drive to a drug store and buy the patient medicine; to turn on a light; to turn on the heat or the air conditioner. One may also tell a non-Jew to adjust an electric hospital bed for a sick person.
[It should be noted that if it is possible to achieve the objective treatment without asking a non-Jew, then we must do that. (Beis Yosef 330:4) Therefore, if the medication can be obtained without having a non-Jew drive to the store, one must obtain it in a permissible way.]
14) Adults must be ill to be categorized as cholim shein bahem sakana. However, children, in general, are treated as cholim shein bahem sakana even when they are healthy. Therefore, if a child has a need, that if left unfulfilled, may lead to any sickness, one may tell a non-Jew to do a biblical prohibition. (Rama 328:17) For example, if an infant will only eat a certain baby food which was not prepared before Shabbos, one may tell a non-Jew to prepare and cook that food. Similarly, a child who experiences fear of the dark is considered a choleh. Therefore, if the fuse in the house blew and the lights are off, one may ask a non-Jew to repair the fuse on Shabbos. (Sanctity of Shabbos page 53)
15) The poskim debate what age is a child still considered a choleh and has the heterim described above. According, to Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt’l, Harav Elyashiv zt”l and Harav Wosner zt”l all maintain that until the age of 3 the child is treated as a choleh. The Tzitz Eliezer extends it to 6, the Minchas Yitzchak 9 and Harav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul zt”l permits it until the child is bar or bat mitzvah. Harav Oelbaum shlit”a (Minchas Chein vol. 1 page 51) discusses this issue and after compiling all of the opinions he concludes: “All agree that a child under 3 can be considered a choleh shein bo sakana. A child more than 9 years old cannot generally be considered a choleh, according to most opinions. For children aged between 3 through 9, it is dependent on the relative strength or weakness of the child. If he is relatively weak, he may be treated as a choleh shein bo sakana, if he is relatively strong, he should not be included in this category.”
16) Question: If my house is cold can I ask a non-Jew to turn on the heat? Does it make a difference if there are elderly or children in the house?
Answer: Turning on the heat on Shabbos is a biblical prohibition. Therefore, to ask a non-Jew should only be permitted in the case of a ill person (choleh shein bo sakana) as was discussed in the previous emails. However, the poskim have determined that people who live in a house that is not adequately heated are likely to become ill. Therefore, people lacking adequate heat are treated as a choleh shein bo sakana.
17) Thus, it is permitted to tell a non-Jew to turn on the heat in a house that is very cold. (S.A. 276:5) [If the house is adequately heated for the average adult, then one would not be able to ask a non-Jew to turn on the heat. The Aruch Hashulchan does point out that it is very difficult to determine what is considered adequately heated and what is considered very cold in halacha.] Even if the house was warm enough for the average adult but there are children or elderly people present, who require additional heat, it is permissible to tell a non-Jew to turn on the heat. (Sanctity of Shabbos page 52)
18) Question: Over the last few halachos you mentioned numerous heterim to allow one to ask a non-Jew to perform even biblical prohibitions (such as pesik reisha, public mitzvah, cholim etc.). Is one allowed to outright ask the non-Jew to perform the prohibition or must one hint it to him? What is the whole inyan of hinting in general?
Answer: In short, one need not hint to the non-Jew in all those cases. When it is permitted to ask a non-Jew (such as pesik reisha, public mitzvah, cholim etc.), it is permitted to do so outright.
The whole concept of hinting is only in a very specific case, as we shall discuss below. The reason is as follows: There are 2 issues with AmirahL’Akum- 1- The prohibition to command the non-Jew and 2- benefiting from his actions. Therefore, even if one hints for a non-Jew to perform a prohibited activity (which removes the 1st issue), it is still prohibited to benefit from his actions (2nd issue). In the previous halachos one is permitted to ask and benefit from the activities of the non-Jew.
When then does hinting apply? Hinting only applies when one is not directly benefiting from a non-Jew. The poskim describe 2 instances where one does not benefit from his actions (and when hinting would be effective). A) Indirect Benefit- Indirect benefit is where the actions of the non-Jew merely removes an obstacle rather than giving direct benefit. For example, putting out a light in the bedroom does not directly enable a person to sleep. It merely removes the obstacle of light. Therefore, one may hint to a non-Jew to turn off a light in the room. B) Additional Benefit- Addition benefit is where the melacha only makes it easier to do something which was possible even without his actions. For example, additional lights in an already lit room. Therefore, one may hint to the non-Jew to turn on a light in an already lit (albeit dimly lit) room.
In these 2 instances there is no prohibited command (1st issue), since one is hinting and there is no issue of benefiting from the non-Jew (2nd issue) as there is no benefit from his actions in this case. In all other cases hinting is not effective and not relevant.
19) Question: If I need to overnight a package for work on Friday am I allowed to do so or is it Amirah L’Akum since I am asking the UPS workers to work for me on Shabbos.
Answer: Sending a package express overnight on Friday is a problem in general do to the issues of Amirah L’Akum. However, in case of great need and financial loss one can be lenient to overnight the package. A rabbi should always be consulted to determine if this case is considered “a great need” and warrants a lenient ruling.
The reason for the lenient view is that the poskim debate whether one may ask a non-Jew to ask another non-Jew on shabbos to perform an activity for the Jew. This is called “Amirah L’Amirah“. The Chavos Yair 53 rules that one may tell a non-Jew to tell another non-Jew to perform a melacha on Shabbos. However, the Avodas Hagirshuni rules stringently on the matter. The Mishnah Berurah 307:24 cites both views and rules that one may rule leniently in case of great financial loss. Overnighting a package is indeed a case of Amirah L’Amirah because the Jew does not directly commission the non-Jew who will deliver the package. The Jew merely interacts with a clerk in the UPS store who in turn tells the other non-Jew to deliver the package.
Yet, this case is a little bit better than the case of the Mishnah Berurah since the command is happening during the week. The Chasam Sofer 60 rules that Amirah L’Amirah is allowed if the command happens before Shabbos. The whole debate is whether one may tell a non-Jew to tell another non-Jew on Shabbos, however, before Shabbos is more lenient. (See Biur Halacha 307 for a dissenting view) Based upon the above reasoning one may be lenient only in a case of great need.