The Lost Suitcases
Esther landed at Heathrow Airport in London early Friday afternoon hoping to spend a lovely Shabbos in Golders Green. To her chagrin her suitcases are nowhere to be found. Everything she needed for the coming few days was inside them including her Shabbos clothes, jewelery, and the gift for her hosts which she had invested so many hours tracking down.
After a high pressured three-hour wait at the airline office, Esther decided that there was no choice but to go only with her carry-on case to her destination. The suitcases definitely hadn’t arrived with the flight. Any more delay would force her to stay at the airport over Shabbos. The airline representative promised to be in touch as soon as the suitcases were located. Esther took the next taxi to Golders Green, was very upset, but decided to make the best of the situation.
One hour after candle-lighting her cell-phone started to ring. With all the rush she had forgotten to turn it off. It rang repeatedly but of course she didn’t even bother checking the little screen to see who was calling on Shabbos.
In the middle of the meal during the chicken soup, the doorbell rang. The hosts jumped up concerned that maybe it was an emergency. A moment later a smiling guy wearing an airline jacket entered with the missing suitcases in tow. He apologetically informs Esther that the suitcases were mistakenly sent on a parallel flight and since she didn’t answer the phone and they understood she was Jewish, the airline decided to deliver her suitcases to the contact address she left at the desk. The airline also gave her a free 5-star hotel voucher as a small compensation for the mishap.
After thanking the driver, Esther stared at the suitcases with a mixture of relief and confusion. What now???
She finally had the suitcases, but according to Halacha, may she open them and use the contents? After all, someone had specially driven on Shabbos to bring them to her. Would it make a difference that the driver wasn’t Jewish?
Lost Luggage Statistics
Just in case you think that a suitcase lost in transit is a rare occurrence, think again !
According to SITA (a multinational information technology company specializing in providing IT and telecommunication services to the air transport industry) there were 21.8 MILLION bags misplaced, lost or mishandled worldwide in 2013. That makes 6.96 bags lost per thousand passengers. It might not sound a lot, but its far more likely to happen then winning a lottery…
Ma’aseh Shabbos (work done on Shabbos)
According to Jewish Law one may not derive benefit from (Halachically prohibited) work done on Shabbos. For example, if a Jew cooked me a meal on Shabbos, I may not eat the food on Shabbos. This is true whether the chef cooked the food deliberately and was fully aware that it was Shabbos or whether he didn’t pay attention that Shabbos had begun (or simply wasn’t knowledgeable that cooking was forbidden).
In case of great need (for a little child or a sick adult), if the food was cooked by error, I may eat it even on Shabbos.
If a non-Jew did work for me on Shabbos (in situations when it is forbidden to ask a non-Jew to work for me), I must wait till enough time has passed that the non-Jew could have completed the entire job after Shabbos was over.
To Open or Not To Open?
In Esther’s case there are two schools of Rabbinic thought on how to proceed.
Since Esther’s suitcases were deliberately brought to her on Shabbos, she may not open or even touch the suitcases till enough time has passed that the driver could have left the airport with the suitcases after Shabbos had ended.
If the suitcases contain important medicines or things which are vital for a sick person or a small child, then she may remove these things from the suitcase for immediate use.
Esther didn’t ask the airline to deliver the suitcases on Shabbos. In fact the airline delivered them only to protect their reputation (and reduce court-claims). Therefor Esther may use all the contents of the suitcase on Shabbos without any qualms.
The laws of Ma’aseh Shabbos and the laws of a non-Jew doing work for a Jew on Shabbos, are extremely complex and one must consult with a competent Rabbinic authority. The above points are a very short and simplified summary to help travelers be aware of the issues involved, not as a definitive Halachic ruling.
- Orchos Shabbos Chapter 25
- Lecture of Rabbi Shmuel Fuerst (Dayan of Agudath Yisrael of Illinois) ”Halachos and specific cases of Ma’ase Akum on Shabbos”