Ask The Rabbi

Isn't there something wrong with sending mail (snail-mail) on Fridays?

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Topic: Mail, Shabbat

Josh from Chicago asked:

Dear Rabbi,

I was told that even in the USA one should not mail letters on Fridays because he is causing a non-Jew to work for you on Shabbat, which is forbidden. It makes sense to me, but I know a lot of my Orthodox friends mail their letters on Fridays. Are they breaking the (Torah) law?

Thank you,

Dear Josh,

According to Jewish Law one is allowed to mail a letter on Friday for delivery by a non-Jewish mailman. The reason: Since he is not specifically asked or required to deliver it on Shabbat, you are not asking him to work for you on Shabbat. He would be like any other contracted-worker, with whom it is permitted to do business on Fridays. It's permitted to mail the letter even if the mailman tells you he will deliver it on Shabbat, because it was his choice to deliver it then, and not per your request.

"Special Delivery" or a telegram is a different story. In this case you are requesting delivery on Shabbat, and it would therefore be forbidden. However, there are ways to send these messages in the case of an emergency -- in such a case consult your LOR (Local Orthodox Rabbi).

In a future edition of this column I intend to deal with the related topic of sending E-mail that is "delivered" on Shabbat.

  • Sources:
  • Shulchan Aruch - Orach Chaim, 247:1.
  • Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagen - Mishna Brura, Orach Chaim, 247:a,c,d.
  • Rabbi Yeshaya Neuwirth - Shmirath Shabbath Kehilchata, 31:20-21.

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