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The first time you open a fridge on Shabbat, you notice the light is on. Your intention is to take out food, not turn on the light. Is closing the fridge a problem? Can I open it again? Is it better to just unscrew the light once rather than turn it on and off each time you open and close the fridge the rest of Shabbat?

(Of course, CYLOR.)

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As far as intentions are concerned, this is a perfect case of "p'sik reishei". –  HodofHod Oct 31 '11 at 18:06
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An option you didn't mention is to put a wedge in the door so it doesn't close far enough to turn off the light, and then use plastic garbage bags and/or towels to keep the cold air from escaping. Quite messy, but better than nothing. –  Dave Oct 31 '11 at 18:17
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Messy is the word. It could even be unaesthetic, depending on the colors of the bag on one side, and the kitchen walls on the other side ... –  user987 Oct 31 '11 at 19:51
    
Anyone have any insight into why this question got so many views, so quickly? –  Isaac Moses Nov 2 '11 at 16:55
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@PhilippeGrondier, my previous comment contains a link to a question on meta.judaism.stackexchange.com. –  Isaac Moses Nov 3 '11 at 13:53
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4 Answers

Source: The Weekly Halacha Discussion

Per Igros Moshe Orach Chaim 2:68, and Shmiras Shabbos K'Hilchoso 31:1 a non Jew may open the fridge for you due to Psik Reishei.

Closing the fridge will cause the light to go off and is therefore prohibited. In a case where that it is a "Hefsed Meruba" large loss if the fridge remains open you are allowed to get a non Jew and have him close the fridge for you.

You may not ask the non Jew to remove the bulb, however you can say that I will be unable to open it for the rest of Shabbos, and if he does it on his own then it is fine.

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Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchoso (Edition published in 5770) Ch 10 (16) says that the food in the fridge is not forbidden to eat but you have to ask a shaaloh about closing the fridge. In note 48, he discusses the issues involved in closing the fridge.

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"Your intention is to take out food, not turn on the light."

Unfortunately good intention only gets you so far. The Gemara says all agree you can't say "oh I just wanted to cut off the chicken's head because my kids like playing with chicken heads; my intention wasn't that the chicken should die!" (This argument is known as psik raisha, or "severed head").

There's some discussion whether it's prohibited if the unintended consequence is one that's irrelevant to you or disadvantageous to you (psik raisha d'lo ichpat lei, psik raisha d'lo nicha lei), but here, having the light in the fridge is helpful (hence the manufacturers put one in!), and when you close the door, having it off is helpful (saves energy, cuts down on a lot of heat that would otherwise be in the fridge.)

Agreed that if someone had to choose (let's say that someone's life depended on taking medicine in the fridge, then putting it back in, three times over shabbos), it would be only one violation to unscrew the light bulb, vs. repeated ones to open and close it.

As Gershon said, the best bet here is to find a non-Jew; depending on the circumstances and the degree of need, you may be able to ask him/her directly, rather than just hint to it.

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I don't have a source for this, but I have heard that in such a situation, it would be permissible to ask a child to hold the refrigerator door open so that the light would not be turned off on Shabbos. Naturally, it is expected that the child will eventually run away and the door will close. You still wouldn't be able to open the refrigerator again that Shabbos, though.

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+1. This wouldn't work with a refrigerator that does not close of its own accord. –  msh210 Jul 30 '12 at 6:52
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