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Is it allowed to tape a TV show over Shabbat or Yom Tov?

by Rabbi Moshe Miller

  

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Setting a timer on Friday so that a prohibited act will occur automatically on Shabbat seems at first glance to be very similar to the well-established Halachic rule that “it is permitted to start an action on Friday near sunset even though the work cannot be completed on Friday and can only be finished on Shabbat.”1

However, there are two exceptions to this rule: a) The Talmud2 states that one may not place a dish of water around a flame (which is emitting sparks) on Friday lest one shift the water on Shabbat and thus extinguish the flame; b) the Talmud3 also quotes in the name of Rava that it is prohibited to add wheat on Friday to a water mill that runs automatically on Shabbat, since the mill produces a lot of noise and this noise detracts from Shabbat.4 Furthermore, people will say that the owner of the mill is running it on Shabbat.5 Rav Yosef disagrees with Rava and permits any action done prior to Shabbat even if it creates a large amount of noise.

Early authorities disagree as to which opinion, Rava’s or Rav Yosef’s, is accepted as final Halachah. Rabbi Karo in the Code of Jewish Law rules that it is permitted to place wheat in a self-grinding water mill on Friday.6 Rabbi Isserles,7 however, adds: “There are authorities who prohibit placing wheat in the mill on Friday. We [Ashkenazic Jewry] should worry about the prohibition of creating sound. This is the proper approach from the outset (lechatchilah). In cases of financial loss, it is permitted to be lenient.”

Based on this stringency of the Rama, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein8 and Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach9 agree that this rule prohibits one from playing a radio on Shabbat even if it is left on for all of Shabbat. Rabbi Feinstein adds that the same prohibition applies to the use of television on Shabbat. Placing a radio on a timer is analogous to putting wheat into a water mill. Both cause noise on Shabbat and arouse suspicion that its owner has violated the laws of Shabbat. Hence, they rule that it is rabbinically prohibited to set a radio on a timer or to let it run the entire Shabbat.

However, it seems10 that this ruling does not apply to taping a program on a recorder or a video recorder on Shabbat when the television is left off, since that would not create any sound or image and would not cause a disruption of Shabbat.11

Footnotes

  • 1. Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim 252:1.
  • 2. Shabbat 47b.
  • 3. Shabbat 18a.
  • 4. See Rashi, ad loc.
  • 5. Rama, Orach Chaim 252:5.
  • 6. Orach Chaim 252:5.
  • 7. Rama, ibid.
  • 8. Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 4:84.
  • 9. Minchat Shlomo pp. 68-69.
  • 10. Nevertheless, since this is not stated explicitly in these authorities I would hesitate to permit it outright.
  • 11. See “Journal of Halacha & Contemporary Society,” No. XXI - Spring 91 – Pesach 5751 for a longer discussion of this issue.

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Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Halachah
Jewish Law. All halachah which is applicable today is found in the Code of Jewish Law.
Halachic
Pertaining to Jewish Law.