Shabbat and The Refrigerator Light

Taken from Daily Halacha by: Rabbi Eli Mansour

Today, we discuss one lesson from the latest volume of Yibia HaOmer, Chelek 10 from Chacham Ovadia Yoseph. It’s quite common that people have in their refrigerators a light. When they open their refrigerator, a light goes on. And it’s also very common that people forget to disengage the light before Shabbat. So the question is asked what one should do if he forgets to shut the light from before Shabbat? How can he can get into the refrigerator, and can he shut it?

According to the Halacha, there’s no way he can open up the refrigerator himself. However, there is leniency to allow him to ask a Goy open the refrigerator. Even though the light would go on automatically, it nevertheless is permitted, because it is by a Pesik Reshe (inevitable result) which does not apply by a Goy. His Kavana is not to open the light, and neither is it your intent to open the light. You are just telling him to open the refrigerator. So that is the way you can get in.

The next question discussed is about a case where if by mistake you opened a refrigerator on Shabbat and its light went on. In such a case, are you permitted to shut it? So of course you can take out whatever you want, but can you now shut the refrigerator? By a Goy there would be no question and he can close it. The Chidush (new lesson) by Chacham Ovadia, is that it would be permissible even to shut it yourself, but Al Yide Shinui (a changed method). Meaning you should either kick the door closed, or use your body to shut it.

There are several explanations for this. First is the logic that shutting the light in this case is only forbidden from the Rabbinate, for you are just putting out a filament. Next is the fact that you do not derive a positive from shutting the light. So closing the light in such a case would be considered forbidden from the Rabbinate. Now, shutting it in a different way, which for example would be by kicking it or by using your body, would be considered a Shinui, a change. So since we have 2 DeRabannans (from the Rabbinate), and since we have a Shinui, and since this is a case of Pesik Reshe, where you are not shutting the light directly, but rather it is just happening, so therefore Chacham Ovadia says that surely Maran would have been lenient, and therefore it is permissible to shut the door. Again, it would be permissible by closing it in a different way. It would also be permissible to ask a minor, (about 3-4 years old) to shut the refrigerator.

To review, the Halacha permits opening a refrigerator whereby the light would go on, only if it is by a Goy. But the Halacha regarding closing a refrigerator and its light that was mistakenly opened, it would be permissible for a Jew so long as it is done in a way that is not common. But of course that does not allow you to open it again another time. You made a mistake once and you should be careful not to make the mistake again. And of course, you should try and be careful to remember on Friday to disengage the light.