08 Nov Celebrity Selfies on Shabbos
I. Celebrity Selfies
This past Motza’ei Shabbos, Jewish social media was buzzing because a famous non-Jewish comedian posted a
selfie with Jewish students walking in Manhattan, with a note that they could not take the picture themselves
because of the Sabbath. We later learned that the picture was taken after Shabbos but we can still ask whether in
theory they could have posed for the picture on Shabbos.
We will accept here as a given that taking a picture on a phone constitutes at least a rabbinic violation of Shabbos.
However, what if the person who takes the picture isn’t Jewish? If the Jews do not ask him to take the picture, can
they pose for it?
II. Asking and Permitting
Rav Shlomo Zalman Braun (She’arim Metzuyanim Ba-Halachah 80:54) quotes a responsum on the subject sent to
him by Rav Yonasan Steif. Rav Steif points to the rule in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 252:2) that even in cases
where you arrange with a gentile before Shabbos to do work for you on or after Shabbos, so it is up to his
discretion whether to do it on Shabbos, if you see him doing it on Shabbos then you have to ask him to stop. The
reason is that it looks like he is doing it for you specifically on Shabbos.
Rav Steif concludes that any time a photographer needs your permission to take your picture, and even more so if
you pose for him, effectively you are asking him to do that work for you on Shabbos. Posing constitutes asking,
which is rabbinically forbidden. Rav Steif only permits posing for a picture in those special cases when you can
outright ask a gentile to do work for you on Shabbos.
We live in a world full of security cameras and satellites capturing images. Those are not a problem because we do
not pose for the cameras or satellites. We go about our business without asking for our pictures to be taken.
However, we may not look into a security camera and wave, because that is posing and forbidden.
III. Using the Selfie
The general rule is that if you ask a gentile to do work for you on Shabbos improperly (i.e. not in special cases when
it is allowed), then you cannot benefit from the work until sufficiently after Shabbos to do that work (Shulchan
Aruch, Orach Chaim 307:20). You cannot gain any time advantage by asking a gentile on Shabbos. Perhaps a
picture taken by a gentile may be shared after Shabbos ends and a sufficient amount of time passes.
However, the Mishnah (Shabbos 151a) says that a Jew should not be buried in a grave dug, or a coffin made, on
Shabbos. The Gemara (ibid.) explains that these were done in public and therefore may never be used. While some
commentaries believe that burial is unique, Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Shabbos6:5) seems to hold that any
public work done on Shabbos by a gentile for a Jew may never be used. Mishnah Berurah (307:72; 325:73)
and Aruch Ha-Shulchan (307:30; 325:31) rule that if a gentile did the work for you in public, even without being
asked, you never may benefit from it (although in extenuating circumstances there is room for leniency).
Additionally, taking a picture is different from most other work. If there is no future opportunity for taking the
picture, then there is no sufficient amount of time to wait — the picture is always forbidden to look at and
share. Orchos Shabbos (23:37) quotes Rav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv as ruling this way. Piskei Teshuvos (276 n. 34) rules
similarly, although leaves room for leniency in cases of need. Meeting with a celebrity is unusual and the
opportunity for the picture is rare. Based on the above, we should never be allowed to share the picture.
IV. For Whom?
Perhaps one could argue that the people in the picture may not enjoy it but others may feel free to do so.
The Aruch Ha-Shulchan (325:31) explicitly says that a gentile’s public work on Shabbos for a Jew may never be used
by that Jew, but others may use it. The conclusion all depends on the target audience for the picture.
I think that, while Jews in the picture are a celebrity’s primary audience, his millions of followers are also the
audience. A celebrity doesn’t post a selfie to his social media account merely to please the people with whom he
posed. He posts it to show his entire audience. He is being generous to his fans and wants other fans to see that.
Effectively, it is a free, reusable promotional item to give away to fans. I don’t see that as morally problematic.
However, for our purposes, that means that the Shabbos work was done for the entire audience but particularly
for Jews. Therefore, no Jew may benefit from it (Mishnah Berurah 325:27). We may not look at it nor share it with
friends. I admit this is debatable but even without this assumption, there is room for concern.
Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein (Me’ah She’arim, no. 56) was asked about a bar mitzvah held in a hospital for a sick boy.
Services were held in the hospital’s chapel and the bar mitzvah boy was called to the Torah. Security cameras
recorded the whole service. Can they print out pictures from the recording to create a commemorative album?
Rav Zilberstein replied that if people posed for the security cameras, this poses a problem. Even if they did not, and
only realized afterward that everything was filmed, they still may not use the footage because it constitutes a
Chillul Hashem. It gives the impression that the bar mitzvah was intentionally filmed on Shabbos. Similarly, sharing
a selfie taken with a celebrity on Shabbos is a Chillul Hashem because it gives the impression that we may pose for
selfies on Shabbos.