Using a Refrigerator on Shabbos or Yom Tov

Courtesy of Ohr Olam Mishnah Berurah

Question: What must be done on Friday to prepare the refrigerator for Shabbos or Yom Tov use?

Discussion: Some refrigerators and freezers are equipped with a switch that automatically turns the fan off when the door is opened. This switch must be deactivated before Shabbos.

Some refrigerators have a cold water dispenser. Pressing the lever triggers a switch that opens an electronic valve to let water into a “water chilling chamber” located in the refrigerator. The pressure of the incoming water pushes the already chilled water out of the chilling chamber, allowing it to flow out the door to the user. Pressing the lever on Shabbos is forbidden since one is directly switching on an electric valve or motor.[i]

Automatic ice makers are common features on newer model refrigerators/freezers. It is clearly forbidden on Shabbos to activate the automatic ice maker mechanism which produces the ice. Removing ice from the tray while the ice maker is activated is also forbidden, since taking ice from the tray can simultaneously cause the ice maker to switch on. This is certainly true for those models that have an infrared sensor which measures the volume of the ice bin.

On some refrigerator models a digital readout may be illuminated to indicate the cabinet temperature and the setting, or an alarm is set to warn that the door has been left open for too long or that the temperature is rising too high. Some top of the line models may have a sensor that illuminates the refrigerator when someone approaches it, sensing motion or even body heat. Obviously these enhancements would have to be disabled for Shabbos or Yom Tov use.

All refrigerators have a light bulb that goes on when the door is opened. The bulb must be loosened or removed before Shabbos. Alternatively, one could stick a piece of strong adhesive tape over the control knob, which will prevent the light from being switched on when the door is opened.

If the fan switch or bulb was not disconnected before Shabbos, one may not open the refrigerator on Shabbos even if all of one’s Shabbos food is stored inside. Although one does not intend to turn on the light or to switch off the fan, since these devices will necessarily be activated,[ii] it is forbidden (pesik reisha).[iii] Similarly, if the refrigerator was opened and it was discovered that one had inadvertently turned the light on or the fan off, the refrigerator door may not be closed, since closing the door will shut the light or activate the fan.

Question: Are there any solutions for one who forgot to disconnect the light or switch before Shabbos?

Discussion: If there is a non-Jew available, one may ask the non-Jew to open and close the refrigerator. This is permitted because one may instruct a non-Jew to do an action which is only prohibited to the Jew because it is pesik reisha.[iv] Preferably, the non-Jew should not be told that the light will turn on or off when he will open or close the refrigerator door.[v]

The non-Jew may not be instructed to remove the bulb from the refrigerator or to shut off the switch which regulates the fan. One may, however, hint to the non-Jew that if the bulb or switch is left in its present state, the Jew would not be able to open the refrigerator door for the rest of Shabbos.[vi] When the main foods prepared for Shabbos are in the refrigerator and the non-Jew failed to follow the hint, it is permitted to instruct the non-Jew to deactivate the bulb or the switch or to unplug the refrigerator.[vii]

If a non-Jew is not available, in the case involving a light bulb there are Poskim who allow instructing a minor to unplug the refrigerator while the motor is not running.[viii] Although this particular solution cannot be employed in the case of the running fan, there is another possible solution – endorsed by some Poskim – which will apply in all cases: Ask a minor, who is unaware that the bulb will turn on when the door is opened, to open the door so that he can take out food for his own consumption. Once the door is opened, the rest of the food can be taken out as well.[ix]

Question: Barring all of the aforementioned concerns, is there any restriction on opening the door of the refrigerator on Shabbos to remove the food?

Discussion: There is a widespread and unresolved debate among many Poskim regarding opening a refrigerator door on Shabbos. When the refrigerator door opens, warm air enters the cabinet, causing the refrigeration cycle to begin earlier than it would have had the door remained closed. Some Poskim prohibit opening the refrigerator unless the compressor motor is already running,[x] while others permit opening it at all times.[xi] Some Poskim recommend avoiding the problem by opening the door in an unusual manner (shinui), such as using one’s elbow. Another suggestion is to put the refrigerator on a timer and have it go off at times when one frequently needs to open it. As there is no clear-cut ruling or binding custom,[xii] each individual should conduct himself according to the ruling of his rav.[xiii]

[i] Some of the technical information in this Discussion is based on Kashrus Kurrents.

[ii] This is forbidden even if one is uncertain whether or not he disconnected the switch or the bulb; Rav S.Z. Auerbach in Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 10:15, footnote 45, Shulchan Shelomo 316:6-2 and Orchos Shabbos 26:12.

[iii] This is considered pesik reisha d’nichah lei, since had it not been Shabbos, one would definitely want the light bulb to go on; Minchas Shlomo I, 91.

[iv] Igros Moshe, Orach Chaim II, 68, based on Mishnah Berurah 253, note 99; 259, note 21; 277, note 15; 337, note 10. There are minority opinions that are more stringent; see Sha'ar Hatziyun 253:104. See also Mishnah Berurah 253, note 51.

[v] Rav S.Z. Auerbach, quoted in Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 31:1, footnote 1; Shulchan Shlomo 253:31.

[vi] Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 31:1.

[vii] Igros Moshe, Orach Chaim II, 68.

[viii] Har Tzvi (Harari Basadeh) I, 151; Rav S.Z. Auerbach in Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 10:14.

[ix] Rav S.Z. Auerbach in Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 10:14, footnote 41. Rav Y.S. Elyashiv (Meor HaShabbos, IV, pg. 223) does not agree with this leniency. See Orchos Shabbos 24, note 36.

[x] See Har Tzvi I, 151; Igros Moshe, Orach Chaim II, 68; Chelkas Ya'akov III, 179; Minchas Yitzchak II, 16.

[xi] See Minchas Shlomo I, 10:1; Tzitz Eliezer VIII, 12; XII, 92. Rav M. Feinstein is quoted (The Shabbos Kitchen, pg. 222) as ruling leniently on this issue.

[xii] Rav Y.Y. Weiss (Kol HaTorah, XLII, pg. 14) rules that a child under bar mitzvah may be asked to open the refrigerator at all times even according to those who forbid an adult to do so. See Mishnas Rav Aharon, Orach Chaim 4.

[xiii] Our Discussion covers electric refrigerators that operate on a compressor system. The halachah is more stringent concerning gas-powered refrigerators, such as the ones found in recreational vehicles or trailers.