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Shabbat Parashat Toldot | 5769

Is it permitted to take things on Shabbat and write down the purchase after Shabbat?

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Question: In my yeshiva, someone sells baked goods in the following manner. The proprietor leaves the products in a box accompanied by a price list and a sign-up sheet. Students are trusted to take, write down their names and a tally of their purchases, and pay periodically. Is it permitted to take things on Shabbat and write down the purchase after Shabbat?

Answer: It is forbidden to buy things on Shabbat and Yom Tov, either because commerce may lead to writing or because the navi warns against “looking for your interests and speaking matters on Shabbat” (Beitza 37a with Rashi). However, the mishna (see Beitza 29a) permits acquiring a product even from a storeowner on Yom Tov and (almost unanimously- see Beit Yosef, Orach Chayim 323) Shabbat. This is permitted if the item is to be used on the holy day and the acquisition is done in a way that avoids classic signs of commerce (Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 29:17).

What must one be careful about? One of the issues, measuring quantities or perhaps even using a measuring utensil without actually measuring, does not apply assuming the baked goods are sold by unit and are not weighed. However, it is a problem to mention the purchased item’s price when discussing its acquisition (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 323:4). One also should not mention the term “buy” but something like “receive” (Mishna Berura 323:1). Here, there is obviously no explicit mention of a price. After all, as one acquires (buys?) the object on the honor system there is no one with whom one needs to interact. On the other hand, one can argue that since the price is listed and the buyer is acquiring the food in the same basic manner it is done during the week (see Beitza 29a) it may still be considered a forbidden sale by price.

In truth, though, the fact that a price is found in writing need not be a problem. In fact the Rama (OC 323:4) uses the existence of a known set price as an alleviating factor. In discussing what one should not say, the gemara mentions the idea of s’chum, which usually means a total. The Rishonim dispute whether it is permitted to mention only the measure of the specific item one is acquiring without adding it to previous purchases to arrive at a sum total. The Rif seems to go as far as to say that one can ask for a certain object at a certain price as long as he doesn’t add up various obligations (see Beit Yosef, ibid.). The Rama accepts this opinion, on provision that the price is a known one. In that case, the mention of the price is viewed not as a commercial discussion but as a means of identifying the amount of product that one wants (see Mishna Berura 323:19). Although the poskim question whether we should rely on this leniency (ibid.:20; Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 29:19), we see at least that the fact that a price is clearly known does not render the transaction forbidden. Even the Shulchan Aruch (ad loc., whose stringent opinion is accepted by Sephardim (Yalkut Yosef 323:1)), who says that a single price should not be mentioned, does not object to an object’s price being clearly known when agreeing to the transfer.

One thing one must avoid is studying the price list, as it is forbidden to read detailed written accounts of transactions, called shitrei hedyotot (Mishna Berura, ibid.). The Mishna Berura (ibid.) also points out that one should not put pins next to the name and amount of money that corresponds to the details of the transaction. (It is possible that the pin or similar system can be used for mitzva purposes such as recording pledges at an appeal (ibid.), but that is beyond our present scope).

Although issues of Shabbat do not prevent taking the baked goods on credit, one should make sure that he is allowed to take them without immediately writing down his debt. It is possible that the seller may trust him not to lie but not to remember to update the account after Shabbat.

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