Birkat Amazon: Amazon & Jewish Law

It is hard to keep up with the pace in which Amazon is expanding its markets and services. These fast-changing trends are part of our everyday lives and have transformed how we shop and engage in commerce. Many want to know how this is all affected by Halacha and what the does, and the don’ts of buying online are in Halacha, so here is an outline of the common situations in which Amazon affects Jewish life:

Getting a package on Shabbat– The most common issue families and individuals face with regard to Amazon is packages that arrive on Shabbat. It goes without saying that if the package contains something that is Muktzah (“An object that it is forbidden to handle on the Sabbath and certain holidays”) arrives in the mail, that package cannot be moved or used. If one is not sure if the content of the package is Muktzah the package cannot be moved either. If, however, one knows what is in the box, yet is unsure about the permissibility of handling that specific object and is not sure if Jewish law considers it Muktzah, one can take the liberty to assume it is not Muktzah.

If the item in the box is not Muktzah and you didn’t ask for it to come on Shabbat specifically, the item can be used even though it arrived on Shabbat. What Jewish law forbids is using items which you specifically ordered to arrive on Shabbat. Since in most cases it was possible, and you were ok with the package arriving on Friday before Shabbat or Saturday night after Shabbat, and it was also possible for the package to be delivered before Shabbat, you may also use it on Shabbat.

This is especially true when ordering in New York City where in most cases the products being Shipped on Shabbat have been in the city already since before Shabbat. This is all true even if the package comes from outside the Eruv or the Techum. The only case in which you would not be able to use something you got on Amazon on the Sabbath is if you specifically requested and wanted for in to arrive on Shabbat.

Regardless of the above, one should not take the packed from the hand of the person delivering it. When opening an Amazon package on Shabbat, it is also important to be mindful of not “creating” the box by puncturing a new opening and should instead just open gently also making sure no letters or words are torn while doing so. If you can’t open the tape without tearing the words, you can open the box from the side in a destructive way that renders the box useless.

Ordering Amazon Prime before Shabbat– So can you order Amazon Prime which will arrive right before Shabbat? The answer is: you can order, but you may not be able to use it on Shabbat; depending on whether there was enough time for them to deliver it before Shabbat. If the Prime order came on Shabbat from a place that could have delivered before Shabbat you would be able to use that package on Shabbat(assuming that it’s content is not Muktzah and is permitted to use on Shabbat.

Selling on Amazon on Shabbat– Much has been written on the topic of online sales on Shabbat. See here, here, and here. While owning an online store on Shabbat can be more complicated, selling on Amazon is much simpler. Since Amazon is merely a service through which orders are placed, and all the shipping and packaging can be done after Shabbat, one need not worry from keeping their merchandise up on Amazon on Shabbat. As long as the packaging and shipping take place after Shabbat keeping your items on Amazon on Shabbat is permitted.

Mishloach Manot– today it is easier than ever to send your out of town friends or relatives Mishloach Manot. Abundant options for Mishloach Manot on Amazon make it easy to do. Can you fulfill the mitzvah this way? The answer is of course, but it sounds much easier than it is. The only way for this to work is that the package be delivered during the day of Purim(not even at night) and that the receiver receives the Mishloach Manot during the day of Purim.

Matzah– So Passover is coming, and you don’t live in the heart of Brooklyn, buying your matzah on Amazon can make life much easier. After all, why not just do it in one click?! So can you do it? The answer to this is the same as the question of buying medication online. If it comes from a verifiably reliable place then sure, you can do it. This, however, should not be taken for granted. I recently had a parent of a Bar Mitzvah boy tell me about a great deal for buying Teffilin online. After looking it up and making some phone calls, it was clear that the price they were giving online was half the price of even the cheapest Sofer would charge. Not knowing the seller and seeing such a price I advised them not to go forward with the purchase. The same goes for Matzah. If the Matzah will be double wrapped with the Kosher certification and comes from a seller you Trust, sure go ahead and buy it, but there must be a great deal of verification for that to happen. Furthermore, if ordering online, you need to check out the reviews. In many cases, people say they got all their matzahs crumbled, so that too is something to look out for.

Purchasing Chametz on Pesach– In addition to the prohibition on eating non-Kosher for Passover food (chametz) on Passover, there is a Torah prohibition on possession of non-Kosher for Passover food (chametz) on Passover. Can you order Chametz online on Passover if it arrives after Passover and can you order Chametz online before Passover if it arrives after Passover. There is no question that if Chametz arrives at one’s home on Passover, they must not allow it in and it must be disposed of and taken out one’s property as soon as possible. The question is about it coming after Pesach. With regard to the other aspects of this question, well you guessed right. It is complicated. There is a great deal of debate regarding the status of ownership of an item bought on Amazon. After all, as long as you didn’t pick it up and bring it into your home, the company takes full responsibility for it. Some say acquisition takes place only once you brought it into your home as the company is then no longer responsible for it, while others maintain that acquisition took place the moment you clicked on the final purchase. Since possessing Chametz on Passover is such a strong Torah prohibition, wait with your online purchases of non-kosher-for-Passover items until after Passover. With the speed of Today’s online selling, you will get your Chametz very soon after Pesach.

The field of online selling is rapidly changing the world around us. Knowing how it impacts and is impacted by our age-old laws and traditions helps us bring together the various aspects of who we are and what we believe in. Happy Shopping.

About the Author
The writer is a rabbi, writer, teacher, and blogger (www.rabbipoupko.com). He is the president of EITAN-The American Israeli Jewish Network and lives with his wife in New York City.
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