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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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Are you asking aside from issues of electricity? Or assuming that one held that electricity was mutar on Shabbos would there be any issues specific to surfing the internet? –  Curiouser Jul 19 '11 at 6:58
    
Or are you asking about leaving a computer running, much like a television, and simply watching a CPU monitor, a download rate, or a state of the union address? –  WAF Jul 19 '11 at 12:44
    
There are many issues, not just electricity - which itself is extremely complicated. The issue of writing is also far more complex than others here have made it seem. There very well could be actual Melachah (constructive labor) issues, as well as Issurei DeRabbanan (rabbinic prohibitions). There is a lot of technical expertise needed to answer this question, which isn't being displayed in the answers. –  Seth J Jul 19 '11 at 16:15
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Obviously, no section of any tractate of the Talmud (not even "the" tractate, whatever that means) discusses the Internet, which was invented by Al Gore many years after the Talmud was written. Rewording your question to indicate exactly what you mean to ask would help. –  msh210 Jul 19 '11 at 16:41
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hunterp, the new version of this question contains two distinct questions, each of which is different from your original question. (1: "How can you interpret ..." and 2: "Is there a difference ...") I recommend that you spin each of those off into a new question. –  Isaac Moses Jul 19 '11 at 17:14

5 Answers 5

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.

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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.

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Again, this addresses using a computer, not viewing the internet. –  avi Jul 19 '11 at 14:06
    
Als, regarding writing. I was under the impression that you can't write even temporarily on shabbat, as a d'rabanan. For example, playing scrabble is a problem if you use one of those boards that has fixed places for the tiles. Also, if viewing the internet on a kindle, which uses E-paper, the writing will stay there forever until forced to change. –  avi Jul 19 '11 at 14:09
    
The only thing assur about the internet is the content :-p . The real issue with using the internet on shabbat is using the only way we have available to access the internet - a computer. If we could access it directly with our brains, I don't think it would be a violation of shabbat. –  zaq Jul 19 '11 at 14:24
    
I guess a kindle could be a serious issue, but since on a computer screen the screen is constantly flickering on and off, just too fast for us to see, it it's not even temporary writing. Try to think about it like this - those scrabble letters will stay there forever until you move them, but a web page completely disappears on its own and comes back 24x each second. –  zaq Jul 19 '11 at 14:28
    
Why don't you think that nolad is an issue? –  avi Jul 19 '11 at 14:28

I would argue that yes using the internet on Shabbat is not allowed.

I would base my argument on 3 reasons:

  1. The concept of Nolad. (new things which didn't exist before friday) (90% of what you would be looking at on the internet would have been created that day)
  2. There is a general concept about not doing things which is not in the spirit of shabbat, even if it doesn't break any actual melacha. (talking about business on Shabbas for example)
  3. Looking at the internet potentially violates two melachot. Writing, and Dyeing.
  4. There is a generally accepted practice to refrain from actively interacting with eletrical devices on Shabbat, unless there is a great need for shabbat, and the action which you do is only activated via a grama. while not violating any specific melacha, this has become the minhag of shomer shabbat Jews worldwide.

I'd appreciate if anyone who knows can help me find sources.. i.e. which pages in mesechet Shabbat these topics come up.

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-1: The obvious reason not to access the Internet is I think the use of electricity, which you don't address at all. Also, a source for the application to accessing the Internet of the prohibitions on nolad, weekday activities, writing, and dyeing would be nice. –  msh210 Jul 19 '11 at 17:21
    
As of yet, 'eletricity' is not one of the 39 melachot, and none of the usual explanations of why eletricity is melecha really applies to modern access of the internet. –  avi Jul 19 '11 at 18:56
    
Gershon Gold's answer discusses circuits. I don't know computer science so really can't speak to the topic. See also Shalom's answer and the J. Hal. Contemp. Soc. article cited therein, section II. –  msh210 Jul 19 '11 at 19:01
    
J. Hal. Contemp was written in 1991, not very up to date with modern technology. You can read how various types of keyboards work. Not all create circuits when keys are pressed. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keyboard_technology#Hall-effect_keyboard –  avi Jul 19 '11 at 19:39
    
The asker didn't ask whether it's in violation of Shabas to use the Internet in the specific case that one's using more modern technology, but asked generally. If someone asked whether one's allowed to eat lasagna made of meat and cheese, would you say "The only problem is that it's bishul akum", since the asker might have meant the specific case that one's using cheese made of human milk and a label was attached to that effect? [CYLOR.] No, you'd say "it's forbidden" (maybe adding "unless the cheese is made of human milk and..."). Answers deal with general cases. –  msh210 Jul 19 '11 at 19:51

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.

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That has nothing to do with watching the internet, and everything to do with turning on a computer. Also, many computers don't use seperate circuits for everything anymore. (i.e. a touch screen phone) –  avi Jul 19 '11 at 12:24
    
@avi - What about hashma'as kol? If I am interpreting the question correctly that would seem to be a primary issue as well. –  WAF Jul 19 '11 at 12:46
    
A. There is no spark when using the internet, assuming the computer is on before shabbat. B. There is no fire and nothing is burning, so how can you be "Adding fuel"? C. The internet is usable as is... how can viewing it be makeh b'patish? Maybe if you finished a post, or comment.. but viewing it alone doesn't do that. D. A computer is not an old fashioned flashlight. All circuits are complete and active. –  avi Jul 19 '11 at 12:50
    
@WAF I don't really see how. I'm currently using the internet with no speakers, on a laptop that is more silent than my refrigerator. –  avi Jul 19 '11 at 12:53
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@avi This will all depend on the use intended by the questioner. –  WAF Jul 19 '11 at 13:04

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."

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B&H photo which is owned by Chassidim in NYC runs their website 24/7/365 –  hunterp Dec 26 '12 at 17:38
    
@hunterp Welcome back to Mi Yodeya! I hope you stick around, contribute and enjoy. –  Double AA Dec 26 '12 at 18:02
    
@hunterp, what does that have to do with this? –  Seth J Dec 26 '12 at 18:28
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@SethJ, it's directly related to the answer's "The web site is not Jewish or Israeli (so that you do not gain benefit from the Chilul Shabbat of a Jew)", which makes it sound like a Jewish-owned site runs only with chilul Shabas: B&H is Jewish-owned and runs on Shabas with (presumably) no chilul Shabas. –  msh210 Dec 26 '12 at 22:26

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