- Question: [Thursday, 6th Menachem Av, 5781]
I heard that on Shabbos it is permitted to ask a gentile to perform Melacha in the form of Gerama, and hence it is allowed for one to ask a gentile to plug in electrical items on Shabbos if the socket contains a timer which will only turn on later on? Is this correct? Basically, the plug of our fridge fell out of the timer on Shabbos [we have it plugged into a timer that is in the socket as we only open the fridge when the timer is off because the fridge does not have a Shabbos mode, and is a very advanced fridge that does Melacha every time you open it], and I would like to know if I can ask a gentile caretaker next door to put it back into the timer when the timer is off, due to it being Gerama. Likewise, may I ask a gentile to play around with my Shabbos clock on Shabbos based on the allowance of Gerama, such as to make the lights turn off earlier than expected?
General stance on Amirah Lenachri with Gerama: While there are Rabbanim who make such a claim and even initially permit Amirah Lenachri if it is a case of Gerama [and therefore permit asking a gentile to alter the time of a timer which contain an electrical device so it will turn on or off sooner then set], this is not unanimous amongst Rabbanim and is not clear from the sources in Shulchan Aruch, and therefore practically, one should not ask a gentile to perform Melacha even through Gerama, unless it is a case of great need, or great loss, as is the rule by all Amirah Lenachri.
Answer to your case: Practically, regarding your specific question, based on the Heter of Shvus Deshvus, to prevent the loss of all the food in one’s fridge and freezer it would be permitted to ask a gentile to enter the plug back into a timer that will turn on later on. This, however, is only allowed if there is no other fridge available that one can place his food into, neither in their own home or by a neighbor’s house, and leaving the food in the fridge without it on will cause the food to spoil a way that will be a great loss. Otherwise, one should not be lenient at all.
Explanation: Some Rabbanim learn based on the allowance for a Jew to prevent the spread of a fire through placing a picture of water near it, being that it is considered Gerama [i.e. Geram Kibuiy], that it is therefore certainly permitted even initially to ask a gentile to do any Melacha of Gerama. This is similar to the allowance to ask a gentile to perform an action that is forbidden for a Jew to perform due to Pesik Reishei. They base this on the ruling of the Beis Efraim who seems to explicitly rule this way. However, there are several pushbacks against this ruling as, a) there are different types of Gerama with some being considered by some Poskim as containing a Biblical prohibition, and are not considered Shvus Deshvus; b) The Beis Efraim was talking about non-Shabbos prohibitions, as explicit in his response, and in his opinion non-Shabbos prohibitions are more lenient regarding the laws of Amirah Lenachri, and hence no proof can be brought from that response regarding our case of Shabbos, and indeed he never makes such a statement regarding Shabbos even though it is discussed in the response. c) No Posek [that I know of] prior to these Rabbanim have ever made such a statement that Gerama is permitted by Amirah Lenachri, and the fact that the sages allowed in the case of a fire to perform Gerama to prevent the destruction of one’s property cannot be used as a proof that it is even initially allowed with a gentile. Thus, we would return to our original law of Amirah Lenachri, that it is permitted in a time of great need or great loss to ask a gentile to perform a rabbinical prohibition on Shabbos, as Shevus Deshvus is permitted in such a case, and therefore to prevent the loss of all the food in one’s fridge and freezer it would be permitted to ask a gentile to enter the plug into a timer that will turn on later on, and then enter the timer into the socket on Shabbos. This, however, is only allowed if there is no fridge available that one can place his food into, neither in their own home or by a neighbor’s house, and leaving the food in the fridge without it on will cause the food to spoil a way that will be a great loss. To note, that even if we were to accept lenient approach that it is permitted to ask a gentile to perform Gerama, entering an item into the socket even though it will only turn on later on, according to some opinions is not considered Gerama, as in their opinion, the mere entering it into the socket transgresses the Biblical prohibition of Boneh. Now, although we do not rule like this opinion, practically, one is not to be lenient unless it is a case of great loss, as stated above.
Sources: See Michaber and Rama 334:22; Beis Efraim Y.D. 62; Poskim who permit all Gerama by Amirah Lenachri even initially and even if Biblical Melacha: Minchas Shlomo 1:10-6 based on Beis Efraim ibid; Piskeiy Teshuvos 276:10 footnotes 75-77 and 277:5 that it is permitted according to all; Poskim who prohibit as a regular Shvus: Orchos Shabbos 23:91