Handling Mail Received on Shabbat

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Is it permissible to open mail or packages that were delivered to one’s home on Shabbat? Rav Shemuel Pinhasi 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 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 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 Muktzeh items. But assuming the items are not Muktzeh, 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.

 By Rabbi Eli Mansour