Overnight Shipping for Shabbos
Amirah l’nachri (telling a non-Jew [to perform prohibited work on Shabbos]) is an issur d’Rabbanan (restricted by Rabbinic decree) and is forbidden, unless there are specific extenuating circumstances.* Being kovea melachto (contracting his work) on a weekday to take place on Shabbos is an aspect of this issur.
In today’s age of internet orders and a host of shipping options, purchases can be delivered to our homes on any day of the week—and also on Shabbos. If the seller ships an item and it is delivered on Shabbos, is this considered amirah l’nachri?
Overnighted packages that will definitely arrive on Shabbos are a halachic issue. A possible heter (dispensation) applies when ordering from an e-commerce site, since in most cases the item is not being shipped directly from the seller, but through a third party. This is considered amirah d’amirah (lit., twice-over telling, i.e., one non-Jew relays instructions to another non-Jew) in which case there is more room for leniency, according to some opinions.
Some of the circumstances in carrier shipping that may also ameliorate the issur: The instructions for shipping were given before Shabbos and the workers handling the packages on Shabbos are not aware that the customer is a Jew. Whatever the rationale, all agree that this heter applies only in desperate situations. Since the details of this heter are so complex and subject to dispute—and judging the urgency of any given circumstance requires an objective view—a Rav should be consulted on a case by case basis.
Regular shipping options usually include a span of possible delivery days, so that a Shabbos delivery is only one of a few possibilities. Even when choosing “expedited shipping”, there is no guarantee that the delivery will be made on Shabbos. Many online sellers provide disclaimers about express delivery “based on availability” or limited to “business days.” Even with regard to expected “2-day shipping,” there is always another possible date of delivery (Friday or Sunday). In these cases, there is also room for leniency.
(There is a debate among contemporary Rabbanim concerning a heter for sending a package via express mail or ordering express (weekday) deliveries that entail Shabbos work for the shipping company, with its own reasoning, beyond the scope of this discussion.)
*Some of the exceptions to amirah l’nachri are discussed in Halachah "May The Janitor Mop The Shul On Shabbos?"
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