Written by Horav Yosef Yeshaya Braun, member of the Badatz of Crown Heights
Websites can generate income by hosting advertisements; when a visitor clicks on an ad, the site owner receives a small payout from the advertiser. Sometimes a person posts a video to a host site that is accompanied by ads, and each time it is viewed they are compensated.
May a Jewish person benefit from such internet traffic if it occurs on Shabbos, or is it considered schar Shabbos (revenue generated by Shabbos activity), which is forbidden? (The question of keeping websites open on Shabbos is addressed in Halachah #598.)
Halachah grants a unique dispensation for an employee to receive schar Shabbos (for work permitted on Shabbos, of course): Pay received b’havla’ah (lit., swallowed) i.e. compensation for Shabbos is combined with the money earned throughout the week. This exemption generally applies only to those employees who receive a fixed salary on a weekly or monthly basis—but not daily—independent of the actual hours or days worked. (For more comprehensive coverage of schar Shabbos, see Halachah #413; for other modern-day applications see Halachah #343.)
But income from a website is not predicated on fixed revenue—payment is received “per click” whether site traffic takes place on Shabbos or weekday. However, since the income isn’t real schar Shabbos—it’s not generated by the Shabbos observer’s work per se—it is considered mechzei k’schar Shabbos (appearing to be schar Shabbos). As such, we can adopt a more lenient definition of havla’ah: that if the dividends for the Shabbos clicks are grouped with the weekday clicks for collection, it is permissible.
Similar scenarios may contain details that alter the psak; a person who deals with questions of this nature should present them to rav for clarification.