Is it against melachos to look at the internet during Shabbat? How can you interpret the Melachos to apply to the 21st century? Is there a difference between looking at the internet for purely information purposes for example this website vs. directly communicating with another person? One way I have been trying to look at the question is read-only use of the internet vs. read-write usage. For example, if someone sends me an email during Shabat, I do not reply to it, but I know that it has been received. After the sun sets, then I reply to the email.
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Hunterp, hello and welcome to the site.
The seventh chapter of tractate Shabbat lists the 39 categories of labor, or "melachos."
Beginning in the very early 20th century, rabbis began looking at electric devices and trying to understand which category (or categories) of prohibited labor they were considered. For an excellent tracing of the issues back to the Talmud, see Rabbis Broyde & Jachter, "The Use of Electricity on Shabbat and Yom Tov", Journal of Halacha & Contemporary Society, No. XXI - Spring 91. The wikipedia page is also very informative.
The same types of actions involved in using a computer to browse the internet are those discussed in the above sources regarding using various other electrical devices, e.g. changing channels on a television set.
I've been interested in this question for a while, especially with recent emergence of "half shabat" among orthodox teens growing up in a digital world.
There are a number of reasons, but in my opinion (and, as it turns out Rabbi Auerbach's opinion too) only a couple are good ones. Here are some:
The first issue with using a computer on shabbat is electricity. Even though electricity is not fire, The Chazon Ish forbids it on account of Building through completion of a circuit. However, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (with whom I 100% agree) held that completing a circuit is no more building than closing a door is (you'd be completing a wall).
The second issue with using a computer on shabbat could be writing. However, due to a computer screen's temporary nature (the image disapears when turned off) and it's flickering of the image, typing on a screen is not considered writing. It is even permited to erase Hashem's name from a computer screen.
Third, the screen could be considered a fire. This is not the case though since while many hold an incandescent light bulb is fire, that is only because it gives off heat, a fluorescent bulb which doesn't give off heat is not considered fire, and a computer screen would fall under that category.
So, even though electricity is not necessarily assur, and typing on a screen is not considered writing, and a screen is not a fire, I still wouldn't use electricity on shabat for a couple of strong reasons.
First, even though I think it should be allowed to turn on and off non-heat-producing gagets (radio, television, cellphone) I would still prohibit these items on account of using them is not being in the spirit of Shabbat. Second, Rabbi Auerbach says it has become a custom not to use electricity on shabbat, and if I were to use electricity I would violate not-breaking a minhag. Additionally, by violating a custom, it would look like I'm not keeping shabbat (marat eyin).
In summation, even though Electricity is probably ok, since it was prohibited it became a custom we can't break. And even though using a computer probably doesn't break any melachos, it's would still be prohibited since it isn't in the spirit of shabbat.
I would argue that yes using the internet on Shabbat is not allowed.
I would base my argument on 3 reasons:
I'd appreciate if anyone who knows can help me find sources.. i.e. which pages in mesechet Shabbat these topics come up.
The possible categories:
A) Lighting a fire- when a switch is turned on there is a spark. This is similar to striking a match where a spark is created as a direct result from your action, and it is also the desired result.
B) Adding fuel to a fire- In the case of a standby switch, the electricity is present but in a different channel. When changing from standby to active it involves a relay switch changing the flow of the current. The opening of the relay for the new channel is similar to throwing wood or other fuel onto a fire.
C) Makeh b'patish - the final hammer blow - by activating the circuit, you effectively perform the final task in order to make the circuit active, the same as putting the finishing touches to an article to make it useable.
D) Boneh - building - by building the circuit and making it active.
E) Every time you hit a key you complete the circuit temporarily. In addition using a computer/internet is Uvdei Dachol and should not be done.
I've seen opinions that hold that the active use of a computer on Shabbos is prohibited.
Some rabbis will permit leaving a computer on to self-updating news or weather channels under certain circumstances. According to Rabbi Chaim Tabasky, these conditions include: (1) The web site is not Jewish or Israeli (so that you do not gain benefit from the Chilul Shabbat of a Jew) and (2) the computer buttons are covered, or you put on a sign that says Shabbos so you will not come to touch any buttons. He notes that with respect to Israeli news, it may be difficult to guarantee that the camera crew, etc, does not include any Jews. If you are reasonably certain, then you can watch, but I'm not sure if you can ascertain this. Rabbi Tabasky, however, cautions that this should only be done in circumstances where getting news updates (like during a war) would contribute to peace of mind on Shabbos. Normally, he states "the true Shabbat menucha should come from caring about the situation but allowing Shabbat to go by without involvement in the ongoing news, in order to look at things freshly after Shabbat."