When is it Shabbat on the internet?

From an article by Daphne Berman

…Though seemingly theoretical, for observant people who run a Web site or an online store, the issue [when is it Shabbat on the internet?] could be potentially problematic since other Jewish people would be using and benefiting from the site during Shabbat.

After considerable research, the rabbis determined that Shabbat exists on the Internet for a particular user only in the place that he or she uses the Internet. Their ruling – which Rabbi Carmel said was like “having to invent the wheel, because there were no available sources” on the subject – meant that a person is allowed to operate an online store on Shabbat if he or she isn’t actively doing something on the site.

The rabbis also recommended that someone in New York, for example, not check an Israeli Web site on Friday afternoon, since it would be Shabbat in the place where the site operates, even if it wasn’t yet Shabbat in New York.

“Almost everything we have an answer for, except spiritual or kabbalistic questions, which we tell people aren’t our specialty,” says Carmel. When someone asked if it was true that there will be fire in hell that will consume sinners, the team of rabbis replied they didn’t know, since no one has reported back to them.

Carmel feels that people in the ultra-Orthodox camp who have shunned the Internet are missing out on a host of religious opportunities.

“There’s lots of garbage out there, but there is also a lot of important information, which people could really use for their benefit,” Carmel says.

“In just two clicks, you can get to sites that we don’t want people to go to, but in just two clicks, you can also get to wonderful places, where you can learn Torah.”

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