I have been notified by my USPS Tracking that my package will be delivered to my door this Shabbat. Am I allowed to open it on Shabbat?
Note: If someone could help me out with the tags, that would be great.
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The basic halacha is that this is normally muktza (because of Nolad) and should not be brought in on Shabbos. If the nonJew puts it down in your house, you should leave it until after Shabbos to open it.
Is it permissible to open mail or packages that were delivered to one's home on Shabbat?
Rav Shemuel Pinhasi (contemporary), in his work VeDaber Davar (p. 111), rules that if mail was delivered to the mailbox outside the door to one's home, he should Le’chatchila not bring it into his home until after Shabbat. If the mail was delivered into his home, it is forbidden to open any letters or packages. In fact, it appears from a comment of the Peri Hadash (commentary to the Shulhan Aruch by Rav Hizkiya Da Silva, 1659-1698), in Yoreh De'a (118), that opening letters or packages on Shabbat constitutes a Torah violation. Although many other authorities dispute this position, all agree that this is forbidden on Shabbat, at least on the level of Rabbinic enactment.
Nevertheless, Rav Pinhasi rules (listen to audio recording for precise citation) that one may ask a gentile to open a letter or package for him on Shabbat, provided that he expresses his request in the form of a "Remez" (a subtle allusion). He might say, for example, "I would like to read this letter but it's closed." Once the non-Jew opens the package, it is permissible to make use of the items. Even though the letter or package had been brought from outside the "Tehum" (area beyond which one may not travel on Shabbat), Halacha nevertheless allows one to handle these items on Shabbat.
Of course, this assumes that the material he would like to read is permissible and appropriate for Shabbat, such as Torah educational journals and the like. Furthermore, Rav Pinhasi notes, one must ensure that the envelope or package does not contain any Mukseh items. But assuming the items are not Mukseh, one may indirectly ask a non-Jew to open the package on his behalf on Shabbat. Thus, for example, if a person received food items or jewelry in the mail on Shabbat, and he would like to use the product on Shabbat, he may allude to his non-Jewish housekeeper that he wishes her to open the package for him.
Summary: Mail delivered to an outdoor mailbox should not be brought inside the home on Shabbat. If the mail was brought inside the home, one may not open the envelope of package, but he may hint a request to a non-Jew to open it for him, assuming, of course, that the contents are not Mukseh or otherwise inappropriate for Shabbat.
Given that @sabbahillel’s answer to this question quotes a somewhat one-sided view it is only fair to present the opposing opinions. As always, CYLOR for practical guidance.
The issues at play are 1) muktzeh 2) tearing [open the delivered item] and 3) tehum.
1) Needless to say if the item delivered falls under one of the categories of muktzeh, say a computer, it is indeed prohibited. But if it’s a necktie (that one might want to wear for Shabbos) or a piece of mail which is permitted to read on Shabbos muktzeh is not at play (specially if the recipient was intentionally not maktseh the item m’daato), cf. Magen Avraham 307:20.
2) Pri Hadash, cited in the above linked answer, discussed the tearing of an item in order to get to its contents and, basing his argument on Rambam (Shabbos 10:11) who writes that disconnecting papers on Shabbos is prohibited, explains that it’s because the splitting is not done for a destructive purpose (על מנת לקלקל) rather to get to the contents which is constructive (על מנת לתקן). Hacham Zvi (resp. §39, end) disagreed with him (and added that he “refuted PH’s claims when they met and the latter didn’t retort”; although it should be noted that R. Yehoshua Perahia [Vayikra Yehoshua, 20b] maintains that PH’s silence is not proof of acquiescence).
Tel Oros (Mohek, p. 348 beginning on right column) also disagrees with PH arguing that this action (tearing) is not the doer’s primary purpose (melachah she’enah tzrichah legufa) and no constructive result is being done to the item being torn. As a result he opined that such an act certainly isn’t a biblical transgression as PH would have. TO further attempts to demonstrate from a Tosefta (Beitzah 3:9) that tearing in such a fashion, for a different purpose, is permissible. In regards to Rambam, authorities explain his ruling that it is only when the papers were initially joined together to remain in a permanent state, not so when a letter, for example, is closed with intention to be unsealed, cf. MB (440:45) and ROY (Hazon Ovadiah - Shabbos vol. 6 62ff.) who cites all the above.
Others argue from the Mishnah (Shab. 146a) proving that such an act of tearing (opening) is permitted as it’s not considered constructive when intending to get to the item’s contents. Indeed, Darke Moshe (§519) cites the Maharil who allowed opening a letter brought on a holiday by a gentile. Elia Rabbah (307:32) notes that the Maharil permitted opening by [the Jewish recipient] himself.
3) If the recipient were able to verify that the item delivered was already within the techum when Shabbos began then this issue would not be applicable. Standard USPS items, for example, are typically already at their local distribution center the day prior to their delivery. Not being familiar with all courier methods it’d be safer to suggest a simple solution: track the package/mail before Shabbos and check where it is located.
I intended this to be a comment on Oliver's excellent post, but it's too long.
I'd like to add a "snif l'hakel" regarding the issue of tekhumin that Oliver mentions in their post. Their advice to verify whether the item was within the tekhum before Shabbat implicitly assumes the halakha that an item brought from outside the tekhum on Shabbat is assur to use on Shabbat, at least for the item’s intended recipient (for the details of this halakha, see Tur/SA OC 307:13-14 and 515 with mefarshim). The Arukh Hashulkhan (307:5) explains that the issur applies only when the delivery is done specifically on behalf of the recipient, e.g., a Jew sending an item via a gentile messenger, or a gentile gifting an item to a Jew (SA OC 515). The Arukh Hashulkhan explains that for this reason, the issur does not apply to the modern mail system: in following their mail route, the mailperson is not a personal messenger for any specific item or person! If I am understanding the Arukh Hashulkhan correctly, there is no need to ensure that the item was within the tekhum before Shabbat.
Here is the relevant text of the Arukh Hashulkhan:
גם בזמנינו כשמביאין מהבי דואר אין זה בכלל דבר הבא מחוץ לתחום בשביל הישראל, דהבי דואר הולכת שלא בשביל כונת מכתב זה
Addendum: Shortly after I wrote this, I was happy to see this analysis employed elsewhere, apparently found in the Piskei Teshuvot (Shabbat Vol. 2, 307:20) though I have not verified this as of yet as I do not own the Sefer.