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Thought for the Day: When It Is Permitted to Benefit from מלאכה Performed by a Non-Jew on Behalf of a Jew

Here's another in the category of "good grief, that could only happen with you" stories.  Names changed to protect me from the guilty and their friends.  I was spending Shabbos with my daughter's family and a woman whose father was Jewish but whose mother was not Jewish that attended a synagogue of the Conservative Jewish Religion (who is not, of course, Jewish; but fancies herself a conservative Jew); we'll call her Sin.  There was also a Jewish woman who at the time was still attending a Reform Jewish temple; not out of conviction, but due to historical circumstances; we'll call her "Nice, well meaning lady who had been kidnapped as a baby and didn't know any better", or Bambi, for short.  It got late in the day and Sin was bemoaning the fact that the hot water pot was nearly empty.  I told her I didn't know why she didn't just heat herself up some water.  Bambi said, "Oh?  I can do that?"  I said, "No, I'm sorry, but you can't do that."  Sin said, "Hey, wait!  I know I am not what you call religious, but neither is she!'  I replied, in all innocence, "True, but Bambi is a Jew; which you aren't."  Sin stormed out.  Frankly, I can think of worse things than offending Sin.

Suppose, though, that she had added water to the hot pot.  Would the rest of us have been able to benefit from the work done by that non-Jew?  Even more, suppose she had noticed that some of us Jews were opining that we didn't have hot water for coffee on her on volition had added more water; could have used even that water once it became hot?  Before answering, let's review the parameters.

The Torah doesn't want a Jew to do מלאכה on Shabbos.  Chazal extended that to forbid a Jew to benefit from מלאכה done by another Jew on Shabbos.  (At least on Shabbos; but the details are not for now.)  Basically, you shouldn't benefit from the forbidden actions of another Jew.  But what if a goy does מלאכה on Shabbos?  Now things are murkier, because the goy hasn't done anything wrong.  In fact, even if he does the מלאכה for a Jew, there are cases when it is permitted for the Jew to benefit from that מלאכה.  On the other hand, we know that we are not allowed to instruct a goy to do a מלאכה for us on Shabbos.  (There are different reasons given for that decree, but the details are not for now.)

Suppose, now, that the goy does something -- even for you -- that for you would be a forbidden מלאכה (but, of course, for the goy is not forbidden at all).  In that case, says the Magein Avraham, as long as it doesn't enable you to do something you couldn't do before, you are allowed to benefit from his מלאכה.  On classic example is turning on an additional light for you in a room where you were already able to read, albeit with difficulty.  Since you could read before, you are allowed to read now; and even allowed to move closer to the light that the goy just turned on for you.

Shulchan Shlomo (clarifying notes on Hilchos Shabbos section of Shulchan Aruch by R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach) notes that this seems to give you almost unlimited leeway.  Suppose, he asks, I don't mind chewing raw meat, does that mean that if the goy BBQs up a steak for me that I am permitted to eat it? (Obviously not.)  Since it is possible to sit in a cold house, if he lights the furnace for me, am I allowed to enjoy that heat? (Again, obviously not.)  Back to our i-want-hot-water case; since I could drink cold coffee (ew), may I now drink water heated by Sin? (Again and again; nope.)

So what is the criteria?  Bringing many proofs, the Shulchan Shlomo concludes that the Magein Avraham is explaining that Chazal only meant to include actions of the goy which could be considered extensions of an existing מלאכה, but not something totally new.  Increasing the light in the room (even though he actually turned on a new light, that was for his own convenience) is ok.  Creating heat in a room that did not previously have any heat is not ok.  Putting a warm cholent that is fully cooked is ok; even though it gets better as it cooks longer.  Putting a partially cooked cholent back on the fire is not ok; even though it is edible as is.  That is, going from uncooked (even only partially uncooked) to cooked is considered a new מלאכה, whereas going from fully cooked to fully cooked but yummier is only considered the extension of an existing מלאכה.

Since we consider every heating of a cold liquid to be a new act of cooking, I am afraid that I won't be able to drink Sin's coffee.  Oh well.

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