Question about Sabbath, particularly Orthodox Jews

I’d be interested in the answer for any religion that takes a very strong stance on the observance of the Sabbath, but the question has come up for me in relation to Judaism, so I am particularly looking for that.

Strict observance of the Sabbath requires that you do absolutely no work during that time.

Is it ok for one who takes the strictest view of the Sabbath to schedule work that this person knows someone else will have to do during the Sabbath?

Hypothetical: An observant lawyer has a bankrupcy filing that needs to be delivered to the court. For maximum financial benefit to the company, this filing should be made first thing Saturday morning. Obviously, the lawyer can’t do it himself. Can he give the filing to his paralegal and have that person do it?

Does it matter whether the paralegal is also Jewish?

If the paralegal is Jewish, there is absolutely no question that it is forbidden.

Even if the paralegal is not Jewish, it is forbidden as well if the firm is owned completely by Jews.

However, if the firm is owned in partnership, it can be done PROVIDED that the profits from any said venture would belong strictly to the non-Jewish partner(s).

(N.B. The above is only a guideline and should not be used in an actual situation. In such a case, please consult your local Orthodox Rabbi).

Zev Steinhardt

Thanks zev!

I read in the NY Times about a group of Orthodox Jews who were setting up a kosher, organic farm. They decided to hire gentiles to do the milking on the Sabbath, so as not to cause the cows pain (from not being milked for a day).

I believe that Jewish farmers can do minimal chores on the Sabbath if those chores are neccesary to avoid suffering for the animals. Animals can and must be fed and watered and kept warm, cows must be milked, etc. And any chores neccesary to protect a life must be done as well. So Jewish firemen, policemen, doctors and soldiers can also work on the sabbath.

First, a reminder that we are discussing the traditional rules. Modern Reform or Conservative Jews have modernized these, to various degrees.

The traditional rules are very complicated, as to what is allowed and what is not. The definition of “work” is fairly well defined, based on Talmudic interpretations of biblical laws. For instance, while one cannot start a new fire, one can cook with an ongoing fire (such as an oven burner left on.) Merely speaking is not “work”, so a rabbi could deliver a sermon on sabbath, even though it is part of his contractual job description (he is being paid for this, among other duties.) A lawyer could speak before a judge, but could not write anything down.

I guess I raise the question for Zev: it is not obvious to me that a lawyer couldn’t deliver a filing to a court. There would need to be a number of conditions around it:

  • He couldn’t carry the papers to court (although there are ways around this, such as if there were a “fence” around the area in which he was carrying the documents)
  • He couldn’t take the elevator to the third floor (although there are ways around this, such as kosher-for-sabbath elevators that go automatically, stopping at each floor, without any button-pushing by the riders)
  • He couldn’t write anything or sign anything
  • He couldn’t receive payment for the act

While I certainly admit that I do not have Zev’s level of learning, I do raise the question of why the stated example is inherently forbidden. And I want to make the point that the common definition of “work” is NOT the same as the Talmudic definitions of activity prohibited on sabbath.

has the enlightened jew moved from the mosaic to the rabbinic interpretation of the ‘law’
its not wise to move the markers of your forefathers unless you are going the ‘different route’?
its the spirit of the law which should be kept?


That is correct. Cows can be milked on the Sabbath if not doing so will cause them pain. However, the milk cannot be used.

It should be pointed out that one can only violate the Sabbath for a human life.

While doctors, etc. can perform actions that would otherwise violate the Sabbath, they should:
(1) try not to work a Sabbath shift to begin with (just becuase one can perform forbidden actions if one finds oneself in certain situations, does not mean that he can purposely put himself in those situations)
(2) perform any forbidden actions in a “different” manner, if possible. For example, a doctor who must write a perscription should do with his left hand (if a righty), if possible.

Zev Steinhardt


I’m afraid this isn’t correct, CK. Cooking is one of the forbidden 39 labors and is forbidden whether or not the flame existed before the Sabbath began.

What I believe you are getting at is how one can, under certain circumstances, heat up fully-cooked food on the Sabbath. Those laws are complex and beyond the scope of this conversation.

It would still be forbidden for two reasons:
(1) There is a rabbinic prohibition against doing chores for wages on the Sabbath. Your hypothetical lawyer would fall into that category.

As for the rabbi you mentioned, I can’t address. However, I am a ba’al kriah in my shul. It is my job to read the Torah and I get paid for it. How, you may ask, do I do this since the Torah is read on the Sabbath? The answer is that I am paid for my preparation during the week. I prepare the reading during the week and it is for this work that I am paid. I wouldn’t be surprised if most rabbis work with a similar understanding.

(2) There are certain actions that are prohibited under the concept of shvus – resting. For example, moving furniture around your house is not technically forbidden and you could spend all day working up a sweat doing so. However, such actions that are not in the “spirit” of Shabbos are forbidden under the concept of shvus. Your hypothetical lawyer would be covered under this rule as well.

Zev Steinhardt

Thanks for the correction and modification, Zev.

Yes, I was thinking of the dishes that are heated by a burner that is kept on.

My point about the wages is that one can find ways around that, as you do. Similarly, one could set up a case where our hypothetical lawyer is not paid for submitting the filing, but only for preparing it – which was done before shabbat starts. Obviously, no writing would be permitted on shabbat under any interpretation.

And the general “spiritual” violation is, of course, vague. One could argue equally that the rabbi delivering a sermon is a spiritual violation (although they always put me to sleep, so I guess that’s contributing to my rest.)

A lawyer I know had an Orthodox client who was expanding his business from a personal affair, run by his family, to something much larger, which would have to be open on a Saturday. The client instructed the lawyer to structure the new corporation so that the client would not receive any profit from the Saturday activities - that would go to his Gentile business associates. So that client neither worked on the Sabbath, nor took any profit from the business’s Sabbath activities, which I assume complies with the “spirit” that Zev mentions.

Zev - writing a prescription left-handed - I’d be afraid that the hand-writing would be so poor that the pharmacist might make a mistake, endangering the patient! :smack: