May One Who Owns a Vending Machine Allow it to Operate on Shabbat?

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If a person owns a vending machine that is stationed in a public place, such as an airport, from which people can purchase snacks or drinks, may he allow it to continue operating on Shabbat? If it runs on Shabbat, the owner will be earning money on Shabbat, which would perhaps be in violation of the Rabbinic enactment against profitable work on Shabbat. The profits from the purchases made from the machine are being earned by the owner on Shabbat, and should thus seemingly be forbidden.

In truth, however, the Halachic authorities rule that it is permissible to allow one’s vending machine to run on Shabbat, for various reasons. Primarily, it is not considered Sechar Shabbat (earning money on Shabbat) because the owner is not doing anything on Shabbat to earn money. The prohibition of Sechar Shabbat applies only to working on Shabbat for pay, whereas in this case, one earns money without work. Therefore, as long as the machine is not in one’s property, his name does not appear on the machine, and it is not located in a place where Jews are likely to use it, one may allow the machine to run on Shabbat and keep the money received from purchasers during Shabbat. This is the ruling of several leading Halachic authorities, including Rav Yitzhak Weiss (1901-1989), in his Minhat Yitzhak (3:34), and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (1910-1995), cited in Shemirat Shabbat Ke’hilchatah (chapter 29, note 70). This is also the ruling of Rav Yisrael Belsky (contemporary).

Adopted from the class of Rabbi Eli Mansour