Yud Tes Av, 5774
A certain Jew in London, an ardent collector of valuable items, participated frequently in the auctions that took place in the city's auction house. One particular auction was scheduled to take place on Shabbos, and the collector wanted to participate by submitting his maximum bids to the auctioneer in advance. Would doing so constitute a violation of Shabbos?
The collector posed his question to Rabbi Chanoch Dov Padwa, Av Beis Din of London's Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations. Rabbi Padwa quoted the ruling in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 307:4; Ta"z and Magen Avraham ad loc.) that one may not give money to a non-Jew with explicit instructions to purchase an item on Shabbos on his behalf. Even if no clear instructions are given, it is forbidden to do so if the market-day is on Shabbos, because it is certain that he will purchase the product on Shabbos. One can draw a parallel from this law to our case: being that the auction is scheduled to take place on Shabbos, it would perhaps be forbidden to participate in the above manner.
However, a distinction can be made between the two cases. The Shulchan Aruch is dealing with a case where the non-Jew was instructed to actually purchase the item on Shabbos; in our case, however, the auctioneer will not be selling the item to the Jew on Shabbos. Even if no one will outbid him and he will win the right to purchase a given item, the auctioneer will merely hold on to the item for him until he will come to claim and purchase it.
Furthermore, as far as the Jew is concerned, he would have acquired the item before Shabbos; the only reason he did not do so is because the auctioneer hopes that a higher bid will be given. It thus follows that any melachah performed by the non-Jewish auctioneer on Shabbos will be against the Jew's desires and will be done solely on behalf of the auctioneer.
In order to act in the most permissible manner, Rabbi Padwa instructed the collector to do as follows: he should inform the auctioneer that he (the auctioneer) should purchase the item (if no one offers a higher price), and then he (the collector) would reimburse him afterwards (see Shulchan Aruch ibid. 307:3). Doing so avoids any potential halachic issue and is completely permissible.