Automated Bank Payments; Discussing Purchases on Shabbos

 Courtesy of Ohr Olam Mishnah Berurah

Automated Bank Payments

Question: Many banks offer a service whereby customers may instruct the bank to pay their utility (or other) bills on a specific date of the month. Should one refrain from using this service since eventually a payment will be made on one’s behalf on a Shabbos (or Yom Tov)?

Discussion: There is no halachic reason not to use this service. While it is true that eventually a payment date will fall on Shabbos, and one may not instruct a non-Jew — even before Shabbos — to perform a service on one’s behalf on Shabbos,125 in this case there is no action performed by a non-Jew on Shabbos; the entire process from beginning to end is automated. The bill is actually paid through a computer transaction from one account to the other. There is no halachic restriction on having a machine perform a service on Shabbos on behalf of a Shabbos-observant Jew, if the machine is programmed in advance to do so.126

Discussing Purchases

Question: On Shabbos (or Yom Tov), is it permitted to discuss purchases, e.g., to ask someone where he bought a particular item such as a suit or a painting?

Discussion: If the questioner is interested in buying a similar item, then it is forbidden for him to ask the question and it is forbidden to answer him. If, however, the question is being asked as part of a theoretical discussion with no intent to act upon the topic being discussed, it is permitted.

The same halachah applies if the questioner wants to know how much a particular item cost. If he asks because he is contemplating buying a similar item, it is forbidden to talk about it on Shabbos. If, however, he has no interest in buying such an item but is merely asking out of curiosity, it is permitted.127

Note that while this type of conversation is not halachically forbidden on Shabbos, it is still considered “idle talk,” and Shulchan Aruch expressly urges us to minimize idle talk on Shabbos.128

125. O.C. 307:2. [Although in our case there is no direct command to pay the bill on Shabbos but rather to do so on a specific date of the month, it still would be prohibited to specifically tell a non-Jew to do so, since that date will, at one time or another, fall on Shabbos. This is halachically considered like instructing the non-Jew to make payment on Shabbos; based on Igros Moshe, O.C. 3:44, s.v. aval.]

126. O.C. 252:1.

127. Mishnah Berurah 307:27, quoting Rambam.

128. O.C. 307:1.