Using a Dishwasher on Shabbos

Courtesy of Ohr Olam Mishnah Berurah

Question: Is it permitted on Shabbos to ask a non-Jew to wash dirty dishes knowing full well that he will use a dishwasher? Similarly, is it permitted to ask a non-Jew to clean the floor knowing that he will use a vacuum cleaner?

Discussion: It is a rabbinic[i] prohibition[ii] to instruct a non-Jew to perform an act which is forbidden on Shabbos, whether the act is prohibited by Biblical or rabbinic law. It also makes no difference whether the instructions are given on Shabbos or before Shabbos.[iii] This strict prohibition is known as amirah le’akum.[iv] It should follow, therefore, that a non-Jew may not be instructed to wash the dishes or clean the floor on Shabbos if performing a forbidden act will result from this directive.

In our specific case, however, an argument for leniency can be made based on Taz,[v] who rules that one may instruct a non-Jewish maid to wash the dishes on Friday night even if one knows that she will light a candle[vi] in order to be able to wash the dishes. He explains that the Jew gains no benefit from the light, since the Jew’s only concern is that the dishes be washed. The candle is not being lit for the Jew, but for the sake of the maid. This is not an issue of amirah le’akum, since a non-Jew may perform a forbidden act for himself on Shabbos.

Based on this principle, we find several cases where some Poskim were lenient with regard to amirah le’akum:

  • It is permitted to instruct a non-Jew to “clean the floor,” even though he will use a mop and do so in a prohibited manner (squeezing the mop out, which violates the melachah of melabein, laundering). This is because it is possible for him to clean the floor in a permissible manner – by pouring water on the floor and then pushing it aside.[vii] He is performing a forbidden act only in order to make it easier for himself. This is not amirah le’akum.[viii]
  • Using makeup remover on Shabbos may be prohibited because of the prohibition of smoothing, It is permitted, however, to instruct a non-Jew to “cleanse my face” even though the non-Jew will use makeup remover to do so. This is permitted because the face can be cleansed by scrubbing it with water, which is allowed on Shabbos. The decision to use makeup remover rather than water is made by the non-Jew, for his benefit, and it is not based on the instructions of the Jew.[ix]

In the cases cited above, the Jew’s instructions, which could be filled in a permissible manner, will actually be filled in a prohibited manner. Still, it is apparent that the Poskim were lenient and did not view this as amirah le’akum. It follows, therefore, that one would be permitted to instruct a non-Jew to wash dishes or clean the floor even though he will use a dishwasher or a vacuum cleaner to do the job. This is because the dishes can be washed on Shabbos in a halachically permissible fashion, and using the dishwasher benefits the non-Jew by making his job quicker and easier.[x]

Regarding practical halachah, however, there is another issue to consider before we permit a non-Jew to use a dishwasher or vacuum cleaner on Shabbos. There is an opinion based on a ruling of Rema[xi] that preferably a Jew should not allow his windmill – or any other noisy machine – to be operated on Shabbos because of zilzul Shabbos, degradation of the Shabbos. Rema is concerned[xii] that running a noisy machine on Jewish-owned premises on Shabbos casts suspicion on the owner of the premises: Is he operating the machine? For this reason, contemporary Poskim[xiii] forbid a non-Jewish maid to operate a noisy dishwasher or a vacuum cleaner inside a Jew’s home, since the noise might cause people to suspect the homeowner of violating the Shabbos.[xiv]

The fact of the matter is, however, that many large institutions allow non-Jews to operate dishwashers on their premises on Shabbos. While this practice seems to contradict the aforementioned ruling of Rema, it is nevertheless permitted since Rema himself adds that where a monetary loss would be incurred, one may be lenient. Since it would otherwise be extremely costly for the institution to have clean dishes, they view their situation as a case of “avoiding a loss” and they are lenient. Nevertheless, individuals in their private homes should not rely on this leniency.

[i] A minority view maintains that amirah le’akum is Biblically forbidden. While the poskim generally reject this approach, it is an indication of the severity of the prohibition; see Sha’ar ha-Tziyun 243:7.

[ii] There are several reasons given for this prohibition; see Introduction to Chapter 276.

[iii]    Shulchan Aruch 307:2.

[iv]    To reinforce this prohibition, the Sages went so far as to forbid benefiting from a melachah performed by a non-Jew on Shabbos even if the non-Jew did so on his own without being told; see previous Discussion for details.

[v] Cited by Mishnah Berurah 276, note 27.

[vi] Or use hot water (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 30:24).

[vii] Although there is no permissible method for a Jew to wash a floor on Shabbos (see Shulchan Aruch 337:3, there are permissible ways for a non-Jew to do so; see Rema 337:2 and Mishnah Berurah 10, ad loc.

[viii]  Birkei Yosef, Orach Chaim 337:2, cited in Kaf Hachayim 337:21. Rav M. Feinstein (cited in The Sanctity of Shabbos, pg. 93) also allows this.

[ix]    Igros Moshe, Orach Chaim II, 79.

[x]    Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 30:24. See, however, Melachim Omnayich 9:20, who distinguishes between the case of Taz and our case. In Taz’s case, turning on the light is not directly connected to the washing of the dishes, while here the dishes themselves are being washed via a prohibited act.

[xi]    Shulchan Aruch 252:5. See Pri Megadim 21 that this is only a stringency.

[xii]   As explained in Darchei Moshe and Shulchan Aruch Harav. This explanation is also evident from Rema himself, who permits a clock to chime on the hour since everybody knows that it can be set before Shabbos.

[xiii]  Rav M. Feinstein (cited in The Sanctity of Shabbos, pg. 89); Minchas Shlomo I, 9; Eimek Hateshuvah I, 25; Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 31:10.

[xiv] See Igros Moshe, Orach Chaim IV, 70:6 who prohibits setting an alarm clock – which is normally set on the previous evening – before Shabbos if the ringing noise will be heard outside the room on Shabbos. See Minchas Yitzchak I, 107, who prohibits leaving a radio or a tape recorder on from before Shabbos because of this concern.