From the Rav’s Desk: Having a gentile turn off the lights on Shabbos

  1. Question: [Thursday, 18th Elul, 5781]

On occasion it happens on Shabbos that we accidentally leave one of the lights on in the bedroom. May we ask our live-in maid who is not Jewish to shut it off at night before we go to sleep, as it is quite difficult to fall asleep with the light on?



In a time of need such as yours, it is permitted to hint to a Gentile to turn off the lights in the room. such as by telling him “I can’t sleep with the light on in my room.” This leniency especially applies if the light is a florescent or LED light. However, if it is not a time of need, then one is not to do so, and thus when the intent is simply to save money on one’s electricity bill, then one is not to do so even through hinting, unless it is a case of great loss. To ask the gentile directly to turn off the light is always forbidden.

Explanation: Although there is a general prohibition against asking a Gentile to do even rabbinical prohibitions on Shabbos on one’s behalf due to both the prohibition of Shlichus in Amira Lenachri and due to the obligation to protest his actions and the prohibition against benefiting from his actions, nevertheless, in certain cases the above prohibitions are waived, or circumvented. For example, the Shlichus prohibition only applies when one gives the Gentile a direct command, as opposed to a mere hint from which the Gentile understands on his own to do the action. Furthermore, according to some Poskim, and so is the evident understanding of Admur, the obligation to protest his actions and the prohibition against benefiting from his actions only applies when there is a direct benefit to the body as a result of his actions, such as one who warms himself up by the fire that the Gentile lit, or reads a book next to its light. However, the benefit that is received from an extinguished candle is indirect from the actual action, and is not a direct benefit of the body, and therefore is not included in the prohibition against benefiting from the actions of a Gentile. This is aside for the fact that in a time of need one is permitted to even directly ask a Gentile to perform a rabbinical prohibition, and thus if the light in the bedroom is LED or florescent, in which case it is only a rabbinical prohibition to turn it on and off on Shabbos, then one would be allowed in a time of need to even directly ask the Gentile to turn it off.

Sources: See Admur 307:7 [permits hinting]; 307:12 [permits Shvus Deshvus for the sake of a Mitzvah]; Admur 305 Kuntrus Achron 1 in explanation of Hagahos Maimanis 12:5 [permits benefiting from Kibuiy and that there is no need to protest against the gentile] and so also rules: Chayeh Adam 62:3; 63:6; Ashel Avraham Butchach 276; Tehila Ledavid 276:4 based on Tosafus Shabbos 122a; See however Shut Rav Akiva Eiger 17 [forbids asking gentile to extinguish light]; Migdanos Eliyahu 2:3; See Sefer Amira Lenachri [Levin] 32:24; Bris Olam Dinei Amira Lenachri 7:12 [permits]; Piskeiy Teshuvos 280:3; 276:2 and footnotes 22 and 25; 277:4; 278:1

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