By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
What’s black and white and cold all over? A Lakewood bachur in the freezer.
It was the first Shabbos after Tu B’Shevat. Someone suggested to a Lakewood bachur that he go on a Shabbos stroll for a first date. The Lakewood bachur said, “Sorry, I don’t open a freezer on Shabbos.”
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When a freezer or refrigerator door is opened, warmer air enters. If the door is left open long enough, the compressor will turn on to bring the temperature down to the set level. Even if the freezer door is opened only briefly, the opening will make the compressor turn on sooner than it would have otherwise. May one open a freezer door on Shabbos to get his ice cream, or must he wait until Sundae? Opening the door would be causing the compressor to activate, which is forbidden on Shabbos. This question—What is the scoop on getting ice cream from a freezer on Shabbos?—was already posed to the previous generation of poskim.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt’l, opined that causing the compressor to go on would, at worst, be an issur d’Rabbanan. Further, there is usually a time delay between when the door is opened and when the compressor activates. The fact that there is a delay deems the action a gerama, indirect action. Rav Shlomo Zalman said that one may l’chatchilah cause a gerama for an issur d’Rabbanan and therefore may open the freezer door on Shabbos even though this will certainly cause the compressor to activate (or to activate earlier).
However, this may be just the tip of the iceberg. Suppose the freezer was set at 5° and its current temperature is 5.9°. As soon as the freezer door is opened, the temperature will rise to 6° and activate the compressor. In this scenario, there is no time delay. Since there is no time delay, it would be assurmi’d’Rabbanan to open the freezer. Since this may always be a possibility, is opening the freezer door on Shabbos as fraught with danger as skating on thin ice?
True, the person opening the freezer did not intend for the compressor to go on, but in this scenario it will definitely go on. When one performs an action on Shabbos and an unintended melachah will definitely occur, the action is forbidden. This is called a p’sik reisha. So must we direct the person about to open the freezer door to cool it?
The Taz and the Mishnah Berurah, not being cold-hearted, come to the rescue. The Taz discusses the following scenario: One wishes to close the door of a cabinet that may or may not have mosquitoes in it. One certainly would be happy if the mosquitoes were trapped in the cabinet. Yet that is not his intention. He merely wants to close the door for aesthetic reasons. May one close a cabinet door knowing that if it contains mosquitoes, he will definitely be violating the prohibition of trapping on Shabbos?
The Taz says one may close the cabinet door without reservation. One does not even have to check if the cabinet contains mosquitoes. Since ultimately the prohibition of trapping will not definitely be violated, it is not a p’sik reisha.
But the reasoning of the Taz received a frosty reception in the Mishnah Berurah. If the cabinet does in fact contain mosquitoes, one definitely would violate the prohibition of trapping, so how can one close the door? Yet even the Mishnah Berurah ultimately concedes that closing the cabinet door would be permitted. Mosquitoes are generally not trapped for use; they are trapped only because one does not want them. Trapping creatures that are usually trapped because they are a nuisance is only an issur d’Rabbanan. Since there is a doubt as to whether the trapping will occur—because we are unsure whether the cabinets contain mosquitoes—we can say safek d’Rabbanan l’kulah.
Based on the above, there is no need to have cold feet before opening the freezer door on Shabbos. Most of the time there will be a delay before the compressor turns on as a result of the opening. That would be a gerama d’Rabbanan, which is permitted. Although there is a possibility that the compressor will activate immediately upon opening, there is no way to know this in advance. Since this is only a possibility, the Taz would say that one need not be concerned about it. The Mishnah Berurah would be concerned if a biblical prohibition were involved, but since Rav Shlomo Zalman ruled that the halachic issues are only rabbinic, the Mishnah Berurah would concur that one may open the freezer door on Shabbos. Therefore, one need not get heated about a lack of ice cream on Shabbos.
Still, there are those who open the freezer on Shabbos only when the compressor is already running. Further, there are those who won’t open the freezer on Shabbos at all. Moreover, this article addressed only the thermostat issue. There may be other considerations, such as lights and sensors, that need to be dealt with. Perhaps with the current weather, we should just simply leave all our food outside. v
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.