Can you put a child who is not yet old enough to understand (lo higyah lichinuch) Shabbos in front of a light switch in order that he or she turn the light off or on? Is there a difference between the two: turning the light off versus turning it on? (This question is about lights in particular.)


2 Answers 2


The following is based wholly on Children in Halacha by Rabbi Simcha Bunim Cohen (Artscroll, 1st ed.), chapters 1 and 4:

The age of chinuch for forbidden activities is from when a kid will not do something later if you tell him now that it's the kind of thing he can't do. This is about age four. From that age, you cannot allow your kid to do any m'lacha on Shabas. Until that age, it's okay if your kid does (and even if you encourage your kid to do) m'lacha d'rabanan, not d'oraysa, provided he's (to his mind) doing it for his own benefit.

Turning off an incandescent bulb is a d'rabanan; turning one on is a d'oraysa.

  • "Turning off an incandescent bulb is a d'rabanan; turning one on is a d'oraysa." - Please explain. Mechabe is d'oraysa (turning off the light reduces the flame at the power generator). Perhaps you were thinking of the building a circuit part?
    – Ariel
    Dec 6, 2011 at 7:58
  • כיבוי here is melacha Sheena tsricha legufa
    – kouty
    Jan 6, 2020 at 10:44

One cannot do an Issur D'Rabbanan by means of a child(Shulchan Arukh 309:1 also see Mishna Berurra there), such as carrying muktze, kal v'homer one can not violate an Av Malakha(Kindling or Extinguishing both are Av Malakhot) by means of a child. A light may be extinguished for the sake of an ill person for whom there is danger(Shulchan Arukh 278:1)

It is muter to extinguish a candle to enable a sick person at risk to fall asleep.

However Mishnah Berurra 1 says that this only applies after all other options have been exhausted. Also in that particular vein of thought one must consider what is written in the Shulchan Arukh 328:12

When violating the Shabbos for the sake of pikuach nefesh, gentiles, children and women should not be used, rather it should be violated by adults and mature males. RAMA Some are of the opinion that if it is possible to make a shinui without causing any delay, one should. If it is possible to use gentiles without causing a delay, one should use a gentile, and such is the custom. When there is room to believe that the gentile will dally then a gentile must not be used.

The Halakha is quite clear for Sephardim and all of the major poskim hold verbatim by the Mechaber. By Ashkenazim it gets a little more complicated, however the Mishnah Berurrah 37 and Rav S.Z. Auerbach, as brought in Shmirat Shabbat Kehilchata 32:28 rule in accordance with Mechaber.

As far as having a child extinguish a fire in any case there are the Mishna Berurrahs brought on the Shulchan Arukh 334:26, as well as the Kaf HaChaim there, and the Yalkut Yosef 334:18.

In short using a child to perform an Av Melakha even in a case of Pikuach Nefesh is highly problematic.

  • I am guessing based on your answer 2 things it is only good for off and only when you need it to sleep? Dec 28, 2010 at 13:17
  • Considering that both extinguishing and kindling are Av Malakhot of Shabbat, I don't know that it makes a difference in that respect. This issue is relieving the tza'ar of the child, who is considered al pi halakha to be ill until a certain age. Dec 28, 2010 at 14:29
  • I meant somthing along the lines of I want to Read in A room and the light is off so I hold a kid next to switch for him to turn it on? Dec 28, 2010 at 22:06
  • That would definitely be a problem. Dec 29, 2010 at 6:58
  • many see extinguishing an incandescent lightbulb as not the melacha d'oraita of extinguishing. This is likely based on melacha sh'eino tzricha l'gufa. He is not turning off the light to create a coal that will light easier later. Turning on the light is more similar to the purposes for which the av melacha of igniting was performed. It is on this basis that people say turning on is a d'oraita and off is not. Jun 30, 2011 at 16:18

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