Automatic Lights on Shabbat


We have 2 non-jewish neighbors that have automatic lights on their driveway. We try to go as far off the street as possible but still end up activating the lights on our way home from shul. Is this an averah? What should we do if so?



  1. In the Halacha, there is a concept called “pesik reisha,” which means that if a person does an action which in and of itself is permitted on Shabbat but whose end result is definitely going to be an action that is forbidden on Shabbat, it is forbidden. However, the 13th Century sage, Rav Natan Baal Haruch of Rome, maintains that if the result of the act is something that is “lo nich leih,” “not pleasing or desirable” to the person, then in the case of great need it is permitted.

    Walking on the street is obviously a permitted activity, setting off the motion detector is a definite result of the permitted activity – however, it is a result that is not desired by the participant. And hence, in the case of great need (i.e. entry and exit to your own house), it is permitted. (Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim, 320) If the light will not necessarily go on, but may or may not go on, it is definitely permitted even without great need (Ibid. 337).

    Another concept on Shabbat is the concept of “grama” or causative actions. Although they are still Rabbinically forbidden, they can be combined with the above reason to be lenient since your turning on the light is not direct but causative.

    There is also the opinion of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, one that although not widely accepted, can be used as another reason for leniency. He maintains that opening or closing an electric circuit is a Rabbinic prohibition, not Biblical, and therefore can also be used as reason for leniency.

    One last piece of advice: Even if your walking past does switch on the light, you should always try to stay as far away from the sensor as you can. That way you are showing that you have absolutely no interest in setting it off.

    Best wishes from the Team