By: Rabbi Tsvi Heber
I was walking home from shul after beautiful leil Shabbos tefilos on a seemingly ordinary Friday night. As I approached the door of my house, I realized that there was a perfect stranger holding a package who was walking towards me. No, it wasn’t a surprise Shabbos guest or even someone approaching to ask a shaila. He was the Amazon delivery man. Before I had a chance to say anything, he knowingly nodded at me and said, “I know it is your Sabbath, sir. Don’t worry, I will place the package inside your house in a spot that is not in your way.” I thanked the Amazon man, showed him where to put the box down, and closed the door behind him as he left. My family was quite startled to see a perfect stranger walk right through the door. I explained, “He must deliver a lot of packages on Shabbos and has been told that the packages are muktzah. He wanted to make sure our package would be safe and secure inside the house and out of the way.”
The purpose of this article is to clarify some of the halachos that pertain to Amazon deliveries on Shabbos and Yom Tov.1 While we have chosen not to discuss the halachos that relate to selling through Amazon on Shabbos, which is a topic unto itself,2 we will endeavour to answer questions that relate to consumer deliveries. 1) Is it permitted to specifically order a package to be delivered on Shabbos? 2) Are all Amazon packages muktzah or does it depend on what is inside the box? 3a) Can food, clothing, and other inherently non-muktzah items that are delivered on Shabbos be used upon arrival? 3b) If not, can they be used immediately after Shabbos? 3c) Are there any differences between Shabbos and Yom Tov?
In order to answer these questions, we must first understand how Amazon works. Once a consumer places an order in his “shopping cart,” there will generally be several options for delivery, including same day or one-day delivery. Some of the shipping options might be free of charge while other options carry charges. Sometimes there is a range of dates for delivery while other times an exact and guaranteed date and time is provided.
There are two types of orders that are facilitated through Amazon. There are third-party sellers whose sales are fulfilled through Amazon, and there are orders that are direct sales by Amazon. Orders from third-party sellers are routed to Amazon, which takes a cut of those sales. However, most orders go through Amazon's warehouses, which are spread out across the world. They are stocked based on algorithms that predict the types and quantities of products being ordered in that region. Then Amazon routes the order to the nearest fulfillment centre where a picker locates it. The product is packed and then placed in a waiting delivery truck, depending on the chosen shipping option. The entire process may only take minutes from when the customer gives a final order confirmation before it is placed in the delivery truck.3 The nearest Amazon fulfillment centre to my home in Toronto is located at 6363 Milcreek Avenue in Mississauga just off of Exit 336 on the 401 West and just west of Peel Regional Road 1. In my personal experience, the packages generally have the Milcreek fulfillment centre return address on them.4
Q: Is it permitted to choose a delivery option whose timeframe is Shabbos or Yom Tov?
A: Concerns related to mekach u’memkar and amirah la’akum make such an order problematic. Amazon consumers are advised to avoid choosing a delivery option that specifies that the product should be delivered on Shabbos or Yom Tov.5
The Amazon website notes that if an order for an item sold by Amazon is placed with a credit card, it will not charge the card until the order enters the shipping process. If the order is from a third-party seller, the credit card may be charged at the time of purchase.6 This means that placing an order for an Amazon product on Friday afternoon and selecting a shipping option for Shabbos will most likely result in the kinyan taking place on Shabbos.7 With some exceptions,8 chaza”l prohibited any kinyan or transfer of ownership from one party to another, including selling, buying, or rendering an item hefker, on Shabbos.9 It is even forbidden to tell a gentile to perform a kinyan on your behalf on Shabbos. That said, if the purchase is not specifically required to take place on Shabbos then it is permitted.10 In our case, by clicking the purchase button on erev Shabbos, you are essentially instructing Amazon personnel to process your order which will ultimately end in a kinyan. If it is technically possible that your order can be fulfilled in a matter of minutes then there would be no problem of mekach u’memkar even if the purchase was made late Friday afternoon. If it is not possible for the order to be fulfilled before Shabbos, then you are essentially asking for the kinyan to be made on Shabbos. It would be most difficult to ascertain whether the order item can be procured in the short amount of time available prior to Shabbos or whether that item needs more time to be processed. Therefore, from the perspective of mekach u’memkar, choosing the option that allows for the item to be shipped after Shabbos is preferable11 because, while it is still most likely that the kinyan will take place on Shabbos, it can technically be made after Shabbos.12
We are prohibited from instructing a gentile to do melachah on our behalf on Shabbos, even if the melachah is only rabbinically prohibited.13 Choosing the delivery option for Shabbos is akin to asking a delivery man to violate, on your behalf, the prohibitions of hotza’ah14 (problematic on Shabbos only) and possibly bringing an object from outside the techum (problematic both on Shabbos and Yom Tov). Arguably, while a journey by foot from the Amazon fulfillment centre in Toronto can technically be made in approximately six and a half hours,15 the fact that the delivery person would obviously be driving on Shabbos in order to facilitate the delivery should be considered as if you asked him to do so on your behalf as well.16
In our case, since there is a set fee17 for delivery, which does not fluctuate based on the length of time it takes to complete the order, Amazon and its delivery personnel are considered kablanim – contractors, who are permitted to perform their work on Shabbos.18 Since a kablan is not paid by the hour, the day, or even the week, but rather by the job, no matter how short or long it takes him to perform that job, he is considered working for his own benefit and not for the benefit of the Jewish person who hired him.19 Choosing a delivery time which allows the delivery to be made on chol is therefore permitted. But choosing a timeframe that is specific to Shabbos or perhaps more commonly, a timeframe that is specific to a two-day Yom Tov and which does not allow the delivery to be made on chol, would violate the prohibition of koveah melachto b’Shabbos and is prohibited except under extenuating circumstances.20
Q: Are Amazon packages delivered on Shabbos or Yom Tov considered muktzah or does it depend on what is inside the box?
A: Although Amazon packages are possibly brought from outside the techum Shabbos and carried four amos in a reshus harabim (public domain) and from a reshus hayachid (private domain) to a reshus harabim, a violation of the melachah of hotza’ah, this does not render the package muktzah. Therefore, the package is muktzah only if the item inside is inherently muktzah. If it is brought into a place which is surrounded by an eruv then the package can be moved anywhere within that eruv.
The laws of techumin act to limit freedom of travel on Shabbos and Yom Tov.21 It is forbidden to travel more than two thousand amos, approximately 3,050 feet or 960 metres, outside the city limits.22 It is also forbidden to move an object outside of its techum, even where there is no prohibition of hotza’ah such as on Yom Tov or even on Shabbos with clothing which are worn and not carried.23 The southern boundary of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is Lake Ontario. On the west side, officially, Marie Curtis Park, Etobicoke Creek, Eglinton Avenue and Highway 427 together create a boundary which extends all the way from Lake Ontario in the south to Steeles Avenue in the north.24 Defining the border of the city for the purpose of techumin, however, is a difficult endeavour, and it is especially difficult in a large city such as the GTA. There are many intricate halachos that govern how we must perceive city limits for the sake of techumin.25 Even after careful examination of an aerial map and initial consultation with Poskim, there is still much work that must be done in order to reach a definitive psak for the western boundary of the GTA. It is quite possible that the city limits for the purpose of techum Shabbos is east of the Amazon fulfillment centre.26 A package that has travelled from the Amazon fulfillment centre at 6363 Milcreek Ave should, for now, be treated as if it has travelled from outside the techum.27
Shulchan Aruch writes that it is “tov” not to touch a letter that has come from outside the techum on Shabbos.28 Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of Poskim believe that a package that was brought from outside the techum is not muktzah.29 Therefore, unless we are dealing with an item which is inherently muktzah, thus making the delivery box muktzah as well,30 it would be permitted to move an Amazon box on Shabbos. If the box contained both muktzah and non-muktzah items, then it may only be moved if the non-muktzah items are more important or valuable than the muktzah items.31
There is another important factor relating to techumin that must be considered. If a package is brought from outside the techum, while not muktzah, its movement may yet be restricted by the halachos of techumin. If a gentile brings a package from outside the techum and puts it down inside a reshus hayachid then it can be moved within that entire reshus hayachid but not outside of it. The same applies if the object was put down within the boundaries of a chatzer – a courtyard – and even a city which is surrounded by an eruv; the object may be moved within that entire reshus but not outside of it.32 But if the gentile initially places the object outside of a reshus hayachid or a reshus enclosed by an eruv then the object must not be moved outside of four amos.33
On Shabbos, it is forbidden to carry an object from a reshus hayachid to a reshus harabim and from a reshus harabim to a reshus hayachid.34 It is also forbidden to carry an object in a reshus harabim from one place to another when the distance between them is four amos or more.35 In order to bring a package from the Amazon fulfillment centre to a home in Toronto on Shabbos, there would certainly be a violation of the melachah of hotza’ah. Technically speaking, since it is possible to avoid major thoroughfares such as Highway 401,36 it may be possible to avoid a Biblical prohibition of hotza’ah, but it would not be possible to avoid a rabbinic prohibition.37 That said, the item upon which the prohibition of hotza’ah has been transgressed is not rendered muktzah. On Yom Tov, the prohibition of hotza’ah is not violated.38
Q: Can food, clothing, or other non-muktzah items that are delivered by Amazon on Shabbos be used upon delivery? If not, can they be used immediately after Shabbos? Are there any differences between Shabbos and Yom Tov?
A: Non-muktzah items that are delivered by Amazon from outside the techum or even if they are carried on Shabbos inside the techum become assur b’hana’ah such that deriving benefit from them on Shabbos is prohibited, at least for the person that ordered it and his household. Regarding the question of whether the issur hana’ah extends after Shabbos b’kday sheya’asu – the amount of time it takes to deliver the package after Shabbos – there are grounds to be lenient and to use the package immediately after Shabbos. Similarly, a package delivered on the first day of Yom Tov from outside the techum cannot be used that same day – on Yom Tov Rishon - but may be used immediately on Yom Tov Sheini Shel Galuyos.39
Hana’ah Mi’meleches Akum
It is forbidden to derive benefit from a gentile’s melachah which was performed on Shabbos for a Jewish person.40 There is a difference, though, between a melachah d’oraysa and a melachah d’rabbonon – if the melachah performed by the gentile was of Biblical or rabbinic nature. If it was a melachah d’oraysa then it is assur b’hana’ah to everyone on Shabbos; the person it was done for, his household, and everyone else. If it was a melachah d’rabbonon then it is assur b’hana’ah to the person that the melachah was done for and his household, but not anyone else.41 It should be noted, that while the melachos involved in carrying the package as well as bringing it from outside the techum are not performed directly on the object, they still create an issur hana’ah.42 Accordingly, there would be an issur hana’ah levied on an Amazon delivery made on Shabbos, since there are several melachos that have been transgressed.43
There is generally a further requirement to wait, on Motzai Shabbos, the amount of time that it would take to do the melachah in a permissible fashion. By waiting this amount of time called b’kedai sheya’asu, we ensure that no practical benefit is derived from the melachah and that there is no incentive to persuade a gentile to perform a such a melachah in the future.44 If there would be no way to perform the delivery on Motzai Shabbos, then many Poskim hold that the requirement of b’kedai sheya’asu applies until such time that it could practically be brought Sunday morning.45 Yet, since the issue of techumin on the west side of the GTA is unclear and the delivery person is considered a kablan as explained above, there may be sufficient grounds to waive the requirement of b’kedai sheya’asu on Motzai Shabbos depending on the specifics of the situation.46
Regarding Yom Tov, while there is no issue of carrying, there is still an issue of bringing an object from outside the techum and the same issur hana’ah would apply to the person who made the order and his household. That said, since techumin is d’rabbonon, the issur hana’ah applies only on the day of Yom Tov that the object was brought. The exception is Rosh Hashana when the object would be prohibited from the time of delivery until the end of the two days of Rosh Hashana. Similarly, if a Yom Tov falls out on Friday, the object is prohibited until the end of Shabbos.47 There would not be a requirement to wait b’kday she’ya’asu on Motzai Yom Tov.48
Originally published in The Kosher CORner Pesach Magazine 2020/5780