- Question: [Thursday, 27th Adar, 5781]
We accidentally left the light on in our fridge and only discovered this after Shabbos began and opened up the fridge and lo and behold noticed the light was on. I let go of the door and it automatically close. I know we are allowed to ask a gentile to open up the door but we don’t have any available in our area that I know of that I can ask. My question is if it is allowed for me to ask my two-year-old toddler to open up the fridge, or can I at least put her in front of the fridge and have her open the door. I guess my same question would apply regarding lights, and forgot to turn off or on a light before Shabbos can I lift up my child and have her turn it off or on.
To tell the child to perform a prohibition [i.e. open the fridge or turn on or off the light]: It is absolutely forbidden for any Jew to tell a child of any age, theoretically even one day old, to perform a prohibition, whether Biblical or rabbinical. Thus, it is clear that it is forbidden for one to ask their toddler to open the door of the fridge which contains a light that will turn on upon the fridge being open, or tell him to close the door of the fridge if doing so will shut off the light. And it goes without saying that it is forbidden to tell him to turn on or off a light on Shabbos. However, if one does not talent directly to do a prohibition and simply places the prohibition in front of him, then there is room for discussion as to whether it is allowed as will be explained next.
To give the child an item with which a prohibition may be done without telling him to do so: It is debated amongst the Poskim, and is likewise debatable within the rulings of Admur, as to whether it is permitted to lift up a child who is below the age of 3 to a light for him to turn on or off without telling him or hinting to him anything about doing so. If the child is above the age of three, and understands instructions of his parents when they tell him that something is permitted or forbidden, then it is forbidden according to all to place the child by the light to turn on and off. Likewise, it is debated even by a child below the age of three if one may place the child by the door of the fridge and have him open it or close it. Practically, in the case of the door of the fridge that had its light left on, one may be lenient to place a child who is below the age of three in front of the door of the fridge and have him potentially open it or close it, without instructing him or encouraging him to do so in anyway, and also without hinting him to do so in anyway. One should not however actually take his child’s hands and place them by the door handle of the fridge, and the allowance is simply to place him in front of the fridge and whatever he does he does. Regarding lifting him up and having him turn on or off a light: This matter is more stringent than the previous case of the fridge, although practically one may be lenient in a time of need [i.e. light on in bedroom and can’t sleep, or will not be able to have relations as a result, or will end up eating or learning in the dark] here as well, and place the child who is under three years old on a chair next to the switch, and let him play with it and if he turns it on or off, then so be it. However, one should not hold the child up to the light and have him play with it while holding him, and may certainly not lift up an infant and have the infant kick and use reflexes to turn on and off a light.
Summary: One may never instruct, or encourage, a child of any age to turn on or off a light or open or close the door of the fridge. One may place a child below the age of 3 next to the fridge and have him open or close it, and in a time of need may place them on a chair next to the light switch and have him open or close it. If the child is above the age of three then this may not be done.
Explanation: Everyone is in agreement that it is forbidden to instruct a child of any age to do a prohibition. Likewise, everyone is in agreement that one who sees a child below the age of education performing a prohibition does not need to stop him from doing so. Likewise, everyone is in agreement that in certain cases it is permitted for one to even give the child who is below the age of education, an item with which a prohibition may be done with by him. What is debated amongst the Poskim, however, is in which cases and circumstances this latter matter is permitted to be done. May such an item with which a prohibition may be done with only be given to a child below the age of education if the person giving him the item has no intent for the child to perform the prohibition or may it be done even if the adult has intent for the child to do the prohibition? May it be done even if the prohibition benefits the adult? May it be done even if the prohibition will be transgressed once the child is given the item? May it be done even if the prohibition will occur constantly and is not a one-time thing? May be done if the only usage of the item is with performing the prohibition and hence giving the child the item is synonymous with instructing him to do the prohibition. Is lifting up a child and holding him while he does the prohibition considered as if one is instructing him to do so? Is simply placing the child in front of the item without placing the item in his hand considered more lenient and allowed to be done in all cases? All these questions are debated amongst the Poskim, and play a pivotal role in the answer to our question above. Even in the opinion of Admur, who was the first Posek to clearly spell out the allowance of giving a child below the age of education an item with which he will do a prohibition with, we find contradictions between this ruling and other rulings in other places in his Shulchan Aruch which prohibit giving children item that prohibitions may be performed with, which has led to various different ways of answering the contradictions and which carry practical ramifications to our questions above. Practically, we have ruled leniently in the above cases for the following reasons: In the fridge case there are many additional reasons to be lenient even if one were to accept the most stringent approach in the understanding of Admur as a) One is simply placing the child in front of the fridge and not giving him the item. We do not allow him to place the child’s hands on the fridge handle for the sake of him opening it. b) Some Poskim hold that we do not prohibit Pesik Reishei by a child. C) most likely the child will also receive personal benefit from opening the fridge as he will be able to eat his food. In the turning on and off the light case we were only lenient in a time of actual need, and only to place the child on a chair as opposed to lifting him up, in order to suspect for the stringent approach in Admur. However, in a time of need, we allowed following the lenient approach as so seems to be the more logical understanding of solving the contradiction in Admur, and so rule a number of today’s Poskim based on Admur that it is allowed even initially without a time of need.
Sources: See Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:230; 3:82 and Orchos Rabbeinu 1:144 who permit to have a child below age 6 to open the fridge; Piskeiy Teshuvos 343:4 who allows placing a child below age 3 in front of the fridge and in front of the light switch; See regarding the Biblical prohibition to tell or encourage any child of any age to do a prohibition: Admur 343:5; 265:10; Michaber 343:1; M”B 343:4; Ketzos Hashulchan 147:3; Kaf Hachaim 343:54; Piskeiy Teshuvos 343:4 footnote 53; See regarding the prohibition to give a child above the age of Chinuch an item with which a prohibition will be done with: Admur 343:1-2; Hilchos Talmud Torah 1:1; Rambam Tzitzis 3:9; Chagiga 4a; See Likkutei Sichos 35 p. 61; See regarding cases of allowance and prohibition to give a child below the age of Chinuch an item with which a prohibition will be done with: Admur 340:9 [It is forbidden to give any child non-Kosher food.] 343:10 [permitted to give cake with letters]; M”A 343:2; Shabbos 90b; Admur 266:10 [forbidden to give wallet to carry], 301:21 [prohibits dressing child with clothing that contain bells that make noise]; See regarding how to answer the contradiction in Admur: Tehila Ledavid 343 [leaves with Tzaruch Iyun]; Ketzos Hashulchan 147 footnote 11 [in order to solve the contradiction in Admur rules that a child even below Chinuch may only be given an object if the adult has no intent for the child to perform the prohibition with that object]; Chikrei Halachos 4 p. 54 [in order to solve the contradiction in Admur learns that by an item which a baby will do a constant prohibition with, it is forbidden to give the child that item.]; Hearos Ubiurim Ohalei Torah 831 p. 79 article of Rav Avraham Elyashvili [explains like Ketzos Hashulchan]; My own personal understanding of the contradiction is very simple, and is unlike any of the above opinions, and that is that when the only option of making a use of the item is through doing the prohibition then it is as if one has told the child to the prohibition and is similar to the prohibition against placing the cake with lettering in the mouth of the child, as it is as if one has told him to eat it, and thus in all cases that the child can make a choice of whether to do a prohibition with the item or not then it is permitted for him to be given the item, and based on this there is no problem in placing the child in front of the item without placing it in his hand as the child has the choice of taking the item and doing the prohibition or not, and hence the allowance of place in front of the fridge in front of the like will even though the intent of the parent is the benefit from his actions, and so I later found to be also the understanding of Piskeiy Teshuvos 343:4 as is understood from his ruling of allowance based on Admur and as he explains in footnote 55; Meorei Haeish 4:13 footnote 182 prohibits allowing child to turn on and off the light; See regarding lifting up the child to reach the item with which the prohibition will be done: Piskeiy Teshuvos 343:4 footnote 58 and 61 [permits, although brings opinion of Ashel Avraham Butchach who only permits placing on chair and not holding him while he does a prohibition due to Misayeia, and explains that according to all its forbidden to lift up an infant that kicks]; See regarding the definition of the age of Chinuch for a child regarding negative commands: Admur 343:3; Piskeiy Teshuvos 343:4 and 7; See regarding if we apply the prohibition of Pesik reishei even by instructing a child: Pnei Meivin 198; Beis Yitzchak 44:8; Maor Hashabbos ibid; Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:230; 3:82; Orchos Rabbeinu 1:144; Piskeiy Teshuvos 343:4