I have a website which sells Judaica. The site is operated by an internet company which exists somewhere in cyberspace. Naturally, the site is accessible on the Sabbath and people can make purchases. Is this in violation of the laws of Shabbat?
The answer to you question has six different possible problems: 1. Putting a stumbling block before a blind man. 2. Business dealings on the Sabbath. 3. Earning money on the Sabbath. 4. Deriving pleasure from the desecration of the Sabbath. 5. Things which appear forbidden in the public eye. 6. Trivializing the sanctity of the Sabbath. According to the Rambam (1) it is clear that the Torah verse “You should not put a stumbling block in front of a blind man,” has in addition to its literal meaning, the prohibition of not doing anything that might lead a person to sin. First of all, it is forbidden to enter a website on the Sabbath for five reasons: 1. Writing is forbidden, even on a computer. (2) 2. Building is forbidded, including recording data on a hard disc. (3) 3. Creating things on the Sabbath is forbidden, including completing an electrical circuit. (4) 4. Burning is forbidden, including the lights on a computer hard drive. (5) 5. Leading a person to make a purchase on Shabbat. (6) One cannot cause a person to commit any of these transgressions on Shabbat. However, this is only considered putting a stumbling block before a person if he cannot acquire the commodity in any other fashion except on the website. (7) Also if a large expense is involved in removing the stumbling block, a person does not have to do so. (8) Regarding the transgression of conducting business on Shabbat, even though the person who enters the site and buys is violating the Shabbat, the person who owns the website is not, if he is indeed passive during the transaction. (9) The next consideration, earning money on Shabbat is more complicated. If the Jewish owner of the site does not have a gentile partner who can take the Sabbath earnings for himself, then the Jew has a real problem. However, a minority opinion states that a violation of Shabbat only occurs if the Jew actually does a physical act in making the transaction, as opposed to a process carried out automatically by a machine. (10) Regarding deriving pleasure from a transgression on Shabbat, this only applies to pleasure derived directly from the transgression – and not, for instance, receiving funds which result from the transgression. (11) Things which appear forbidden in the eyes of the public, like the operation of a sidewalk video-tape dispenser belonging to a Jew, is not a problem since everyone knows that the dispenser is automatic. The owner of the dispenser is not considered to be violating the Sabbath. (12) Finally, regarding the trivialization of the Shabbat, obviously a Jew should spend the Shabbat in Torah study and prayer and not in his everyday activities. However since the website is totally automatic, and the owner of the site is doing absolutely nothing connected with it on Shabbat, he is not trivializing its sanctity. (13) All things considered, while there is room for stringency in not having a website which operates on Shabbat, there is sufficient halachic basis for appearing virtually in cyberspace even on Shabbat. 1. Rambam, Book of Mitzvot, Negative Commandments 299. Sheveit HaLevi, Section 6:36. 2. Shmirat Shabbat, Vol.2, Ch. 66:55 in the name of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. 3. Beit Yitzhak, Yoreh Deah, Vol. 2, Index to section 31. 4. Achi Ezer, Vol.3:60. 5. Shulchan Oruch, Oruch Haim, 306. 6. Ibid, Yoreh Deah 151:1, Rama. 7. Maharil Diskin, 151: Section 145. 8. Maharam Shik, Orach Haim, 131. 9. Maharshag, Vol.1 Oruch Haim 65. 10.Mishna Berurah, 318:4. 11. Rabbi Ishon in the book “Keter” Vol.2 Pg 197, Footnote 17. 12. Helchat Yaacov, Orach Haim, Section 69. 13. Bear Moshe, Vol.6, Commentary on Electricity, section 50.