In general, if a Jew is forbidden to do a certain act on Shabbat, it is also rabbinically forbidden for him to ask a non-Jew to do so on his behalf (unless there are specific extenuating circumstances, such as illness, etc.). Included in this prohibition is making up with the non-Jew on a weekday to do work for a Jew on Shabbat.1

Now that online shopping is becoming not only more popular but in many places a necessity as well, the question arises: Is it permitted to place an order that is supposed to be delivered on Shabbat? And is there a difference if one orders through, for example, Amazon Prime or Instacart and Prime Now (and similar companies)?

While the laws of asking a non-Jew to do work on Shabbat (referred to as amirah lenochri) are a bit complex and beyond the scope of this article, we will focus on the specific question of placing an order that is meant to arrive on Shabbat.

(See Amirah Lenochri: Asking a Gentile to Do Forbidden Work on Shabbat for general guidelines of these laws.)

Delivery by Saturday

Perhaps the most common issue nowadays is services like Amazon Prime that have two-day shipping, which could mean that your order is guaranteed to be delivered by Saturday. However, if you read the fine print, that is really a “deliver by” date, as they have the capacity to deliver earlier and often do so (in fact, as I write this article, I’m receiving a package from Amazon Prime earlier than the “deliver by” date).

According to most opinions, as long as you order the item with enough time for it to arrive before Shabbat, and you don’t actually want it to arrive on Shabbat, it would be permitted to make the order. As the company is working on Shabbat at its own discretion and for its own convenience, your order does not obligate the company to work for you on Shabbat.2

Overnight Delivery

Placing a guaranteed overnight delivery on Friday to arrive on Shabbat is problematic. Unlike the previous scenario, to fulfill the terms of your order, the company needs to do work on Shabbat.

Now, in a situation where you don’t wish for the item to come on Shabbat, but the company has only one shipping method, “guaranteed overnight delivery,” and you are placing the order on Friday, there is room to be lenient since you never explicitly asked for the item to be delivered on Shabbat.3 However, ideally, you should let the company know that you don’t mind if the item doesn’t arrive on Saturday.4

However, it would be problematic to specifically choose to have something delivered on Shabbat, be it by choosing the expedited overnight delivery option or by some other means.

(It should be noted that in extenuating circumstances, if there is an urgent need, it may at times be permitted to have a delivery on Shabbat if the non-Jew who was asked to do the work is, in turn, asking another non-Jew to work, e.g., the company hires a delivery company to do the actual work on Shabbat. This is referred to as amira d’amirah, “asking of asking.” However, since the details of when this leniency applies are a bit complex, and it isn’t always clear what constitutes an “urgent need,” a rabbi should be consulted if the need arises. This is especially true nowadays, when companies like Amazon often make their own deliveries.5)

Instacart and Prime Now

Based on the above, it goes without saying that one cannot make an Instacart or Prime Now order that is set to be delivered on Shabbat, since in this scenario you are essentially asking the non-Jew to do work for you on Shabbat.

Procedure for Packages Arriving on Shabbat

If a package does arrive on Shabbat, one should avoid taking the package from the delivery person’s hands and instead show him or her where to put it down.6 If the package contains items that are muktzeh (items that are forbidden to be used or moved on Shabbat), then one should not move the package until after Shabbat.

If the package contains non-muktzeh items (e.g., a Jewish book or clothing that can be used on Shabbat) and it was placed in a location where you are permitted to carry it, then there are differences of opinion as to whether it may be opened in a permissible manner and even used on Shabbat. According to the Shulchan Aruch Harav, if the item is needed for Shabbat, one can be lenient and use it.7