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On Photo.SE, mention was made of some software that had its software license fulfillment (one would think a completely automatic process) being restricted on Saturday:

Someone at B&H ... has to press a button or something to make sure that you can't get it on Sabbath or a no-work-allowed holiday accidentally. Weird choice for a sole retailer of an electronically-delivered product in my opinion, but it's the choice they made.

I do realize that there are restrictions on the activities a person may do on the sabbath. I was curious about what restrictions may be in place for automatic processes that don't necessarily require human intervention.

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Automatic processes that don't require human intervention are generally permitted. There are some exceptions for things that violate the atmosphere of Shabbos.

However, transactions may have a specific prohibition which applies even if they are automatic.

The Rambam (Hil. Shabbos 23:12) is clear that the buyer and seller are both included in the prohibition of business on Shabbos:

וכן אסור לקנות ולמכור, ולשכור ולהשכיר--שמא יכתוב

It is prohibited to buy and sell ... lest one come to write The Divrei Malkiel 4:2 explains the prohibition of the seller:

דהא עכ"פ צריך להראות לו היכן מונח הדבר וגם משגיח כמה הוא נוטל

The seller must show him where the item is, and oversee how much he takes. According to this, it would seemingly be OK by ecommerce, where the seller is completely uninvolved in the actual event of the transaction.

The Chelkas Yaakov 1:68 explains it as follows:

האיסור למוכר משום הריצוי והסכם ג"כ

This would hypothetically include the sales that happen on Shabbos with the owner's consent, however the Chelkas Yaakov goes on to explain (by vending machines) that the seller's willingness and consent to the sale are really present from before Shabbos, and therefore nothing wrong is being done on Shabbos.

However, the Eizer Lashovsim Siman 10 explains it as follows:

האיסור הוא להיות חלק ממקו"מ בשבת. וזהו גופא מה שגזרו חז"ל שלא יהא חפצים יוצאים מרשותינו או נכנסים לרשותינו בשבת ע"י מקו"מ ... דהאיסור המציאות ולא המעשה

The prohibition is to be party to a sale on Shabbos, and this is exactly what Chazal were decreeing, that there should not be objects changing ownership on Shabbos through commerce ... the prohibition is the reality of the transaction and not the act. This would include a sale even if you did not actively participate or even have active awareness of its happening.

  • One example for "violate the atmosphere of Shabbos": hashmaas kol ;-) – Shokhet Jan 8 '15 at 5:00
  • So what would happen if I have an online store and a goy logs in on Shabbat and buys something from it? Or even a Yid in a different timezone (where it is not Shabbat for him but is for me), or a non-observant Yid. Incidentally it is where the site owner is based not where the site is hosted. That I know from the same rule about Chametz. – CashCow Jan 8 '15 at 12:38
  • @CashCow What's your question? That's exactly the case under discussion - it would be prohibited. Being a seller, regardless of the buyer, is part of the prohibition. And I'm not so sure your comparison to chometz is straightforward - Chometz is about ownership, this is about something being done. – Y     e     z Jan 8 '15 at 19:31
  • The issue with chametz is that if it is Pesach for you, you are not allowed to own it, if it isn't you are. It makes no difference whether or not it is Pesach where the chametz is. – CashCow Jan 9 '15 at 11:08
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    @CashCow You can suggest whatever makes you happy. But that has nothing to do with chometz and has no bearing on the sources I brought. I don't know if you are right or wrong (it is certainly not an absolute that if you cause melacha to be done in a place where it isn't Shabbos for you that you are exempt). In any event, the problem here isn't melacha - it is a specific takana of mekach umemkar. The problem isn't the accessing of the website or the server - it is the transaction. – Y     e     z Jan 12 '15 at 21:19

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