By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
It is generally assumed that commerce is forbidden on Shabbos and yom tov due to a rabbinic decree. If people would engage in regular buying and selling on yom tov, they might mistakenly write down details of their transaction. Writing is definitely a biblically prohibited labor on Shabbos and yom tov. Rebbe Akiva Eiger, based on a Rashi in Beitzah (36a), suggests that engaging in commerce on Shabbos or yom tov may actually be biblically forbidden.
There are, however, permissible ways to buy things on yom tov on a small scale without the use of money. Among the requirements for the leniency is that there must be a significant change from the way the sale is normally transacted on an ordinary weekday. An example of such a change is that the price should not be discussed. (See Shulchan Aruch O.C. 323.)
When one gives a present, by definition there is never a discussion of the price. (The recipient begging to know how much you paid doesn’t count!) Hence, not mentioning the price of a present would not differentiate it from a weekday transaction. The Mishnah Berurah (306:33) therefore writes that giving presents on Shabbos is not permitted.
However, this appears to be contradicted by the Shulchan Aruch. The Shulchan Aruch writes (323:7) that there is a dispute as to whether one may be toveil a brand-new utensil on Shabbos. If a metal or glass utensil owned by a Jew was previously owned by a non-Jew, and if the utensil will come into contact with food, there is a mitzvah to first immerse it in a mikveh. The rationale for those who say it is forbidden to be toveil a dish on Shabbos is that it appears that one is fixing the utensil. Before tevillah, one was not allowed to use the utensil, even temporarily, as it had no permitted function. After tevillah, it may be used normally. Rendering a utensil useful is akin to repairing or fashioning a utensil and therefore the rabbis forbade it.
Those that say it is permitted to be toveil a utensil on Shabbos would point to the fact that if one cooked food in the unimmersed utensil, the food would nevertheless be permitted for consumption. An unimmersed pot does not have the same status as a treif pot. Granted, initially one is not allowed to cook food in that utensil. However, since the food prepared in an untoveiled dish is not forbidden, the change effectuated by tevillah is not significant enough for the rabbis to forbid it.
Since tevillas keilim on Shabbos is the subject of the aforementioned dispute, the Shulchan Aruch offers the following solution: Give the utensil to a gentile as a present and borrow it back. While this may seem paradoxical, it is halachically perfectly valid. Only a utensil that is owned by a Jew and purchased from a gentile requires tevillah. A utensil that is still owned by a gentile does not require tevillah. Hence, one may drink soda from a kosher glass owned by a gentile though it has not been immersed in a mikveh. The Mishnah Berurah notes that this is a temporary solution. After Shabbos, one should toveil the item without a berachah. If the gentile gives the utensil back after Shabbos as a present, then the utensil requires tevillah with a berachah.
But according to the Mishnah Berurah, who holds that giving presents on Shabbos is not permitted, how is the Shulchan Aruch’s solution valid? It entails giving the utensil as a present to the gentile on Shabbos! Apparently, giving a present for a Shabbos need is permitted. This utensil, after being loaned back, will be used for the Shabbos meal. This is considered tzorech Shabbos and is therefore permitted.
The Machatzis HaShekel addresses the following question: The Shulchan Aruch writes that this solution is acceptable according to everyone. However, the opinion that says that one is allowed to toveil a utensil on Shabbos would seemingly say that one should not give the present to the gentile, as there is a permitted way to use the utensil without resorting to giving presents. Hence, according to that opinion, giving the utensil to the gentile does not fulfill a Shabbos need and should be forbidden. However, the Machatzis HaShekel concludes that just as one is permitted to give a present for a Shabbos meal need, one can give a present to fulfill any other mitzvah need. Here, giving the present to the gentile helps the individual extract himself from a doubtful situation of whether or not he is allowed to toveil the item. He is allowed to give the utensil to the gentile to help himself not transgress the questionable prohibition of being toveil on Shabbos.
Since all presents for the sake of a mitzvah are permitted, one may give someone a lulav as a present (matanah al menas lehachzir) on yom tov to enable him to fulfill the mitzvah of lulav. It would seem that one would be allowed to give someone a sefer on Shabbos since this helps him learn. One could argue that giving someone a new siddur will help him daven better and this would also be a mitzvah need.
To give someone a gift and say it is a Shabbos need because it makes the recipient happy on Shabbos is a flawed argument. Rebbe Nisin Karelitz said that Rebbe Akiva Eiger gave presents to a chassan on Shabbos, but only because he was fulfilling the mitzvah of gladdening a bride and groom. It seems that in other situations one may not give a gift on Shabbos simply to make the recipient happy. However, a bona fide tzorech Shabbos is permitted. Some argue that any gift that enhances one’s enjoyment of Shabbos is permitted. This would permit many gifts that the recipient will enjoy using on Shabbos. Presents such as a bottle of wine for the Shabbos meal are certainly considered a Shabbos need and may be offered to a host.
Two solutions are offered to enable one to give a gift on Shabbos or yom tov for a non-mitzvah-related and non-tzorech-Shabbos purpose. The first is that one may tell the recipient that he may borrow the gift until after Shabbos, at which point he may acquire it. The second is to give the gift to a non-family-member on Friday and tell that person to acquire it on behalf of the intended recipient. Hence, before the gift is ultimately given on Shabbos, it already belongs to the recipient.
I hope these halachos were presented well. v
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and is a rebbi at Mesivta Kesser Yisroel of Willowbrook. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.