May I Take a Nice Hot Shower on Yom Tov?

Although the Torah prohibits performing melacha activity on Yom Tov, it permits preparing food. As the Torah states, Ach asher yei’ocheil lechol nefesh, hu livado yei’aseh lochem: “However, that which is eaten by all people, only it may be performed” (Shemos 12:16). (We will soon discuss what the Torah means by saying that something is eaten by all people.) This verse permits cooking and other food preparation on Yom Tov, but does not appear to permit melacha for non-food purposes. If so, how can we carry machzorim and push baby carriages on Yom Tov in an area without an eiruv? Before answering this question, let us explore a Mishnah that is vital to this topic:

“Beis Shammai says, ‘One should not heat water for washing one’s feet on Yom Tov unless it is appropriate for drinking, whereas Beis Hillel permit this. One may kindle a bonfire to warm oneself” (Beitzah 21b).

The Mishnah implies that both Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai forbid heating water on Yom Tov to bathe one’s entire body, and dispute only whether one may heat water to wash one’s feet. Beis Shammai rules that one may heat water on Yom Tov only for food purposes – to cook or to heat drinking water. In their opinion, if one needs to heat water on Yom Tov for washing, there is only one way: Prior to heating drinking or cooking water, one may place more water in the pot than one needs, planning to use the surplus hot water for washing (Tosafos, Beitzah 21b s.v. lo).

Why is this permitted?

MARBEH BESHIURIM

This action is permitted because of a law called marbeh beshiurim, literally one increases the quantities, which means that, while preparing food on Yom Tov, one may include a greater quantity with one’s action, provided no additional melacha act is performed. Based on this principle, one may place a large pot of water on the fire rather than a small one, since he is performing only one act of heating water. However, this is prohibited if one performs any additional melacha action. Similarly, one may not add extra water to a pot already on the fire, unless he needs more water for cooking purposes.

Here is an example:

One may not bake on the first day of Yom Tov for the second. However, one may fill a pot with meat on the first day of Yom Tov, even though he needs only one piece for the first day. Similarly, one may boil a large pot of water on the first day, even though he needs only one cup of hot water. On the other hand, under most circumstances one may not bake more than one needs for the day (Beitzah 17a).

Why is baking different? The difference is that adding water or meat before putting the pot on the fire simply increases the quantity cooked, but does not increase the number of melacha acts. However, preparing extra bread entails shaping each loaf or roll separately, thus increasing the number of acts performed.

HEATING WATER FOR WASHING

Similarly, Beis Shammai rules that one may only add water for washing to the drinking water before the water is placed on the fire, but not afterwards. They strictly forbid heating water exclusively for washing or bathing.

On the other hand, Beis Hillel permits heating water even on Yom Tov in order to wash one’s feet. Why may one do this? After all, this is not for food?

MITOCH – EXPANDING PERMITTED MELACHOS

Beis Hillel’s rationale to permit this is the legal concept called mitoch shehutrah letzorech, hutrah nami shelo letzorech, which means that once the Torah has permitted any specific melacha to prepare food on Yom Tov, one may perform this melacha even for Yom Tov purposes that are not food related (Tosafos, Beitzah 12a s.v. hachi; cf. Rashi). This is why one may carry a machzor to shul on Yom Tov, even in an area without an eiruv. Since one may carry to prepare food, one may carry for a different Yom Tov purpose, such as davening properly or taking the baby for a stroll, even though these activities have nothing to do with food.

The same reason permits building a fire on Yom Tov to warm oneself — once the melacha of burning is permitted for cooking, it is permitted for other Yom Tov reasons. (Note: one may not ignite a flame on Yom Tov but may only kindle from a preexisting flame. The reason for this prohibition is beyond the scope of this essay.)

Similarly, Beis Hillel rules that one may heat water to wash one’s feet on Yom Tov. Although this use is not food related, once one may heat water for cooking, one may also heat water for a different Yom Tov purpose.

Why does Beis Shammai disagree with Beis Hillel and prohibit heating water for the purpose of having a bath? Because Beis Shammai rejects the concept of mitoch; in their opinion, one may not perform any melacha on Yom Tov unless it is food preparatory. Indeed, Beis Shammai prohibits carrying on Yom Tov, except for food-related needs (Beitzah 12a). Our practice of carrying on Yom Tov for non-food needs is because we follow Beis Hillel’s opinion that accepts the concept of mitoch.

HEATING BATH WATER

Despite Beis Hillel’s acceptance of mitoch, they forbid heating water on Yom Tov to bathe one’s entire body (Mishnah Beitzah 21b). Why did Beis Hillel prohibit this activity if mitoch permits other Yom Tov activities? The answer to this question involves a fascinating dispute with major practical ramifications.

RAMBAM’S REASON

Chazal prohibited bathing in hot water on Shabbos, even if the water was kept hot from before Shabbos, out of concern that bathhouse attendants might heat water on Shabbos, claiming that it had been heated before (Shabbos 40a). This prohibition is called the gezeiras merchatz, literally, the prohibition on the use of a bathhouse, although it is not restricted to bathhouses, but includes almost all instances of bathing in hot water on Shabbos.

Similarly, the Mishnah (Shabbos 38b) describes how the residents of Teverya ran a cold water pipe through hot springs so that they could have hot bath water on Yom Tov. The Sages prohibited using this water for bathing, since it was warmed on Yom Tov, notwithstanding the fact that it was heated automatically.

The Rambam’s understanding is that Beis Hillel prohibits heating bath water on Yom Tov as an extension of the gezeiras merchatz, even though no Torah violation can possibly result on Yom Tov (Rambam, Hilchos Yom Tov 1:16). In his opinion, Beis Hillel’s prohibition against heating bath water on Yom Tov is rabbinic, whereas according to Beis Shammai it is forbidden min hatorah.

TOSAFOS’ REASON

Others dispute the Rambam’s conclusion, contending that heating bath water on Yom Tov is a violation min hatorah, even according to Beis Hillel (Tosafos, Beitzah 21b s.v. lo). This approach requires an introduction.

SHAVEH LECHOL NEFESH – EVERYONE APPRECIATES

Although the concept of mitoch sanctions non-food-preparatory melacha activity on Yom Tov, this authorization is limited to activities that most people appreciate, called shaveh lechol nefesh. However, mitoch does not sanction a benefit that only some people appreciate and others do not (Kesubos 7a).

Let me explain why this is so, and then provide some clarifying examples. When the Torah permitted melacha activity on Yom Tov, its words were: However, that which is eaten by all people, only it may be performed. By emphasizing by all (in Hebrew lechol), the Torah implied that only universally appreciated benefits are permitted. However, the Torah did not permit melacha activities not universally enjoyed.

A few examples will explain this concept. One may kindle fire on Yom Tov, because that is how people cook. As I explained above, the concept of mitoch authorizes burning wood to heat the house, since everyone appreciates being warm on a cold day (Mishnah Beitzah 21b). However, not everyone enjoys the aromatic fragrance of burning incense; it is not shaveh lechol nefesh. Therefore, one may not kindle incense on Yom Tov (Kesubos 7a).

Similarly, many contemporary poskim rule that smoking on Yom Tov desecrates the holiday [see Shulchan Shelomoh, Refuah Vol. 2 pg. 221; Nishmas Avraham, Vol. 1 pg. 278 ] (in addition to the other prohibitions violated for endangering one’s health and that of others). They contend that most people today do not appreciate the pleasures of smoking, and therefore, it is not shaveh lechol nefesh (see also Shaarei Teshuvah 511:5; Bi’ur Halacha 511:4).

DOESN’T EVERYONE BATHE?

How does this compare to bathing on Yom Tov?

Until fairly recently, frequent bathing was uncommon. Therefore, Tosafos explains that warming bath water is not shaveh lechol nefesh and is therefore proscribed on Yom Tov min hatorah, even according to Beis Hillel. As I explained above, the Rambam disagrees, maintaining that heating bath water is prohibited only miderabbanan, as an extension of the gezeiras merchatz.

Thus, these authorities dispute whether heating bath water on Yom Tov is forbidden min hatorah or only miderabbanan. Is there any practical difference between these two opinions?

HEATING BATH WATER BEFORE YOM TOV

There is indeed a practical difference between these two approaches: May one bathe on Yom Tov using water heated before Yom Tov? Let me explain.

Earlier, I mentioned the gezeiras merchatz banning bathing on Shabbos even with water heated before Shabbos, out of concern that the bathhouse attendants might desecrate Shabbos. Does the same concern exist on Yom Tov? The Ran (Beitzah 11a) explains that resolving this query depends on the dispute between Tosafos and the Rambam. According to Tosafos, heating bath water on Yom Tov violates Torah law; therefore, bathing on Yom Tov entails the same concerns as bathing on Shabbos. Just as Chazal banned bathing on Shabbos, they banned bathing on Yom Tov (Tosafos, Shabbos 40a s.v. lemotza’ei).

However, according to the Rambam, since heating bath water on Yom Tov is itself prohibited only miderabbanan, there is no reason to prohibit bathing on Yom Tov using water heated before Yom Tov. Indeed, the Rif (Beitzah 11a) and other early authorities rule explicitly that one may bathe on Yom Tov using water heated from before Yom Tov.

Thus, whether one may bathe on Yom Tov using water heated before Yom Tov is subject to dispute, the Rif and the Rambam permitting it, whereas Tosafos and others ban it. Since the Shulchan Aruch (511:2) rules like the Rif and the Rambam, a Sefardi may be lenient, whereas an Ashkenazi cannot be lenient, since the Rama rules like Tosafos.

As I mentioned above, all authorities prohibit bathing on Yom Tov with water heated on Yom Tov, even if the water was heated automatically.

WASHING PART AT A TIME

Although the Rama concludes that one may not bathe on Yom Tov, even using water heated from before Yom Tov, halachic consensus permits washing one’s entire body this way, provided one does not do so all at one time (Rashba, Ritva and Ran to Shabbos 40a; Elyah Rabbah 511:1; Mishnah Berurah 511:15, 18). This is called washing eiver eiver, one limb at a time. Thus, theoretically, one may stand in a shower stall —  not beneath the water flow — and place different parts of one’s body under the hot water, one after another. Ashkenazim may not stand directly under the water flow, because this washes most of one’s body at one time, but may splash water onto the body by hand. According to the approach accepted by the Sefardim, one may stand directly under the flow of hot water.

However, all of this is permitted only if both of the following specific conditions are fulfilled:

1. One must be certain that one is using only water heated before Yom Tov. As I mentioned above, all authorities prohibit bathing in water heated on Yom Tov, even if it was heated automatically.

Furthermore, hot water generally mixes with cold water before emerging from the faucet. If the hot water heats the cold water to yad soledes bo (for these purposes, usually assumed to be 113 degrees Fahrenheit), this involves heating bath water on Yom Tov, which is prohibited; and furthermore, one may not bathe in this water. Thus, one would need to guarantee that mixed water does not heat to this temperature.

Showering in a hotel or dormitory may be even more problematic, as most of these facilities use a coil system that heats the water as you turn on the faucet. This would be prohibited according to all opinions, because one is using water heated on Yom Tov and would involve a Torah prohibition according to Tosafos, since one is heating water to bathe one’s body.

2. Most North American household water heating systems operate with a boiler that automatically replaces hot water with cold, as you use it. This means that when one bathes or showers, one is heating cold water not for the purposes of Yom Tov use. There is a complicated rationale behind permitting heating of the new water. If the heating is indirect and unintentional, some permit it on Yom Tov (Tosafos, Beitzah 22a s.v. vehamistapeik; Shaar Hatziyun 514:31; however cf. Magen Avraham 514:5 and Mishnah Berurah 514:20. Also see dispute between Magen Avraham 314:5 and Terumas Hadeshen; see also Ritva, Eiruvin 88a).

WHAT ABOUT A COLD BATH?

According to what we have said until now, it should be permitted to take a cold shower or bath on Yom Tov. For that matter, what is wrong with taking a cold shower on Shabbos? Indeed, according to the conclusion of the Gemara, there is nothing wrong with bathing in cold water on Shabbos. However, early Ashkenazic poskim record a custom not to bathe in cold water on Shabbos due to a variety of reasons, including that one might carry (if one bathed outdoors in an area without an eruv) or squeeze water out of one’s hair or towel (Magen Avraham 326:8). This is established Ashkenazic custom: except for tevilah in a mikvah, one does not bathe on Shabbos. Sefardim never accepted this minhag, and may therefore take a lukewarm or cold bath or shower on Shabbos and certainly on Yom Tov. They should, of course, be careful not to squeeze out hair or a towel. Even following Ashkenazic practice, it is prohibited only to bathe all or most of one’s entire body, but one may wash less than half one’s body.

WHAT ABOUT A COLD SHOWER?

Even though Ashkenazim accepted the custom not to bathe in cold water on Shabbos, some poskim rule that the prohibition includes only bathing on Shabbos, but not showering. In truth, some of the reasons quoted by the Magen Avraham apply to cold showers also, since one might squeeze out one’s hair or the towel whether one is bathing or showering, whereas the other reason mentioned, that one might by mistake carry on Shabbos, applies only to someone who bathes outdoors, and applies less to someone who showers indoors.

In his teshuvah on the subject, Rav Moshe Feinstein concludes that, although some authorities may permit cold showering on Shabbos, one should not follow this leniency, since it violates accepted practice (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:75). However, one who is mitzta’eir may take a cold shower, since the custom mentioned by the Magen Avraham does not apply. Furthermore, Rav Moshe permits taking a cold shower on Shabbos during a heat wave (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:74: rechitzah: 3). Certainly, one may be lenient to take a cold shower on Yom Tov when one is uncomfortable. One should be careful not to squeeze one’s hair or the towel.

In practice, each person should discuss with his rav whether and how to take a hot shower on Yom Tov. Whatever your decision, I wish you all a happy, kosher, and comfortable Yom Tov.

Note: For insights into the permissibility of showering on Shabbos, see “May One Shower on Shabbos?”

Writing the Wrong Way

Question #1: Writing in the Air

“May I communicate with someone on Shabbos by making the motions of writing the letters?”

Question #2: Frosty Writing

“May I write my initials on a frosty window on Shabbos?”

Question #3: Asking a Gentile to Write.

Elisheva plans to attend a seminar related to the latest advances in her profession as a speech therapist. Part of the seminar will be given on Shabbos. May she ask one of the non-Jews attending the class to take notes for her?

Writing and erasing are two of the thirty-nine melachos of Shabbos that were performed in the building of the Mishkan. Each board used in constructing the Mishkan was marked so that it would be returned to its correct place when the Mishkan was reassembled (Rashi, Shabbos 73a; Gemara, Shabbos 103b). (The Talmud Yerushalmi [Shabbos 12:3] emphasizes the importance of each board being kept in the same place.) The numbers written on the boards were also sometimes erased, if a mistake was made. Thus, both writing and erasing are included among the melachos, since any important activity performed while constructing the Mishkan defines a category of work prohibited on Shabbos (Bava Kama 2a).

It is important to note that the erasing performed in the Mishkan was done specifically with the intention of rewriting. For this reason, erasing is a violation min haTorah only if one intends to rewrite or intends to effect some other direct, positive result (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 11:9; however, cf. Tosafos, Shabbos 73a s.v. hakosheir.)

Other writing was performed in the Mishkan when the names of the shevatim were engraved on the choshen, and also when calculating the donations and where they were used (Shu’t Avnei Nezer, Orach Chayim 199:10). Since our parsha discusses the donations and the construction of the Mishkan and also discusses the writing on Luchos, we will avail ourselves of this opportunity to discuss some of the halachos that pertain to writing and erasing.

Writing, when it is written with a permanent ink or dye on a surface that will hold the writing permanently is prohibited on Shabbos min haTorah. If the writing will not last permanently, the prohibition to write or to erase is only miderabbanan.

WHAT IS CONSIDERED PERMANENT WRITING?

Some poskim contend that writing is permanent if it will last until after Shabbos (Rambam and Magid Mishnah, Hilchos Shabbos 9:13). Others contend that it is considered permanent if it lasts the length of time people usually write notes (Rashba, Shabbos 115b, cited by Bi’ur Halacha 340:4, s.v. Bemashkin). According to both opinions, writing that disappears after a few hours is prohibited only miderabbanan.

Writing on one’s hand is prohibited min haTorah, even though it eventually disappears (Mishnah, Shabbos 104b). This is because the writing, itself, would be permanent, if it were not for the body’s warmth dissolving the ink. It is therefore treated as if it has been written permanently and then subsequently erased by body temperature.

IS IT PERMITTED TO WRITE ON A FROSTY WINDOW?

Although the Torah’s prohibition is violated only with permanent writing, Chazal prohibited temporary writing. Therefore, it is prohibited to write in spilled liquid that is lying on the table, in sand, or in the frost on a window (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 340:4 and commentaries).

IS IT PROHIBITED TO WRITE LETTERS IN THE AIR?

This is permitted, since no letters are being formed at all, even temporarily (Rama 340:4).

DISAPPEARING INK

Question: I was once told that there is no Torah violation in writing a message on Shabbos with ink that appears now, but will disappear shortly. Is this true?

As we mentioned above, there is no Torah violation in writing with ink that will disappear within a few hours. This halacha has major ramifications when dealing with the needs of a Jewish hospital. Recording data is necessary, but if disappearing ink is used until after Shabbos, the prohibition is only miderabbanan. Poskim rely on this, if a hospital cannot employ sufficient non-Jewish staff.

INVISIBLE INK

Does writing with an ink that cannot be read violate Shabbos?

Although it would seem that this is a modern shailah and a modern invention, we will be surprised to discover that this shailah is at least 1,800 years old. The Gemara tells us the following story, “Rabbi Chiyah bar Abba said ‘The people who live in the East are very clever. When they want to send a secret, they write the message with “Mei milin” (an ink that is not automatically legible). Subsequently, they pour a specially formulated ink on the paper, and presto! The message becomes legible!’” (Yerushalmi, Shabbos, Chapter 12).

The Gemara then asks, “If someone wrote this way on Shabbos, has he violated a Torah prohibition?” The Gemara concludes that pouring the ink violates a Torah prohibition on Shabbos because this makes the writing legible. Whether the first step violates Shabbos is disputed by the poskim. Shu’t Har Tzvi (Yoreh Deah 230) rules that it is prohibited min haTorah, whereas Pri Megadim (340:3 in Mishbetzos Zahav) rules that it is prohibited only miderabbanan.

This dispute has an interesting ramification. If this writing is prohibited only miderabbanan, writing that cannot be read immediately does not violate a Torah violation. Therefore, taking a photograph on film or recording information on a computer disk does not violate Shabbos min haTorah (Har Tzvi).

PHOTOGRAPHY ON CHOL HAMOED

Another difference in halacha between these poskim would be whether taking photographs is permitted on Chol HaMoed. In general, one is prohibited on Chol HaMoed from doing activities considered melacha unless they fulfill some Yom Tov or Chol HaMoed need, or they will avert financial loss. These rules notwithstanding, it would appear that according to Pri Megadim, one would be permitted to take photos on Chol HaMoed, since there is no melacha being performed. It would seem that this leniency would not exist according to Har Tzvi, and photography would be permitted on Chol HaMoed only if it somehow enhances the Yom Tov. According to both opinions, developing the photographs would not be permitted on Chol HaMoed, unless Yom Tov was thereby enhanced.

LET THEM EAT CAKE

Is it permitted on Shabbos to eat cake that has icing in the form of letters on top, since I am erasing the letters when I eat it?

Again, a seemingly very contemporary shailah goes back hundreds of years. The rishonim record a Shavuos celebration, for which cakes were decorated with the letters of the alef-beis and certain tefillos and words of bracha. In a special Shavuos ceremony, these cakes were served to the young children who were just beginning to learn Torah. The children would read the letters and the brachos, and then they would be rewarded by being served the special cake (Rokei’ach #296). The question was why eating the letters does not violate erasing on Yom Tov, since writing and erasing is prohibited on Yom Tov, just as it is on Shabbos (Mordechai, Shabbos #369).

Various reasons are suggested why this minhag does not violate the halacha. Some contend that eating is not considered an act of erasing (Taz 340:2), whereas others contend that the melacha of erasing does not apply to food (Shu’t Maharshag 2:41).

Others permit eating the cake for a more complicated reason that requires an introduction. Although eating the cake must result in the erasure of the letters, the person eating did not have intention of erasing. This is halachically categorized as a situation of a “psik reisha,” meaning that a prohibited consequence will definitely result from an act that is otherwise permitted. A psik reisha is usually prohibited; thus, in this case, although eating the cake would otherwise be permitted, its consequence, the erasing, is problematic.

Although a psik reisha is usually prohibited, when combined with other mitigating factors it is sometimes permitted. In this instance, there are several different reasons why no melacha min haTorah applies. Although the activity should still be prohibited miderabbanan, when several such mitigating factors combine, we are lenient.

The rationale behind this “heter” is that Chazal forbade certain activities to prevent one from violating, chas veshalom, a Torah law. However, when there are several different reasons why the Torah law is not violated, there is no need to prohibit this activity.

When someone eats letters, there are three different mitigating factors, each of which, on its own, removes the erasing from being a Torah violation.

First, the Torah law of erasing on Shabbos is violated only when one intends to write on the erasure, as mentioned above. Obviously, someone who eats letters cannot subsequently write on the “erasure.”

Second, Torah laws are violated only when the melacha has a positive result. In the case of erasing, a positive result would be that one can now write on the erasure, or that a mezuzah is rendered valid by the erasure. However, eating the cake does not result in any positive results from the erasure.

Third, this is not the way one usually erases. The halacha is that doing any melacha in an atypical way lessens the prohibition from a Torah violation to a Rabbinic injunction.

Therefore, since the erasing is unintentional, performed not in order to write, destructive, and an unusual way to erase, the resultant indirect erasing is permitted. This is the rationale applied by many poskim to explain the Shavuos custom cited above. According to this approach, it is permitted to eat the icing on a cake that includes lettering, without concern over whether one is changing or rendering the letters illegible in the process.

However, others rule that, although one should not eat these pieces of cake, it is permitted to serve the cake to the children and allow them to eat it themselves (Mordechai, Shabbos #369). Halachically, I need not prevent a young child from doing a prohibited activity for his own benefit (Yevamos 114a). According to this approach, only a child would be permitted to eat the letters on the cake, but not an adult (Rama 340:3).

Mishnah Berurah follows a compromise position between these two opinions, permitting someone to eat the cake while disregarding where the letters are, but suggesting that, when slicing the cake, one should cut between the letters and not through a letter. As we will explain, cutting between the letters is not considered erasing according to most opinions.

MAKING AN IMPRINT IN LIFE

Most shoes and boots have a manufacturer’s trademark or name engraved on the heel. Is it permitted to traverse snow or mud on Shabbos, knowing that I am making an imprint while I walk? Isn’t this writing on Shabbos?

The contemporary poskim discuss this shailah, and permit it for the same reasons that one was permitted to eat the lettering on the cake. For one thing, I am not intending to write; and for a second, it is not the normal way of writing letters; and for a third, most people consider the imprint in the mud or snow to be “damaging.” There is another mitigating factor here, in that the writing is temporary. Since walking is more of a necessity than eating cake, the poskim rule that one is permitted to walk on snow or mud and ignore the imprint made by the shoe or boot.

WHAT AN EXQUISITE MOUTH-WRITING YOU HAVE!

The following tshuvah shows up in early sixteenth century halachic literature. A scribe was writing exquisitely beautiful sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos. Unfortunately, this scribe had lost his hand in an accident and had taught himself how to write beautiful graphics with his quill in his mouth. Certainly, the he was an incredibly talented individual, and many people were using sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos written by this scribe. However, the shailah was raised as to whether these were kosher.

A great posek of the era, Rav Menachem Azaryah of Fanu (Shu’t # 38) ruled that all the sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos written by this scribe were invalid. His reasoning is that halacha recognizes only items written with one’s stronger hand. For this reason, someone who places a quill in his mouth on Shabbos and writes has not violated a Torah prohibition, since this is not the way people usually write (Mishnah Shabbos 104b). (It is prohibited miderabbanan to write this way on Shabbos.) Thus, even if someone has taught himself how to write beautifully by holding the pen in his mouth, it is not considered writing by the Torah, and does not fulfill the mitzvah of “writing” sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos.

Similarly, writing done by a right-handed person who writes with his left hand is not considered writing. For this reason, the Gemara rules that someone who writes with his left hand has not violated a Torah prohibition of writing on Shabbos (Shabbos 103a). (Again, this is prohibited miderabbanan.)

A WRITING COURSE

At this point, I would like to address the last of our opening questions: Elisheva plans to attend a seminar related to the latest advances in her profession as a speech therapist. Part of the seminar will be given on Shabbos. May she ask one of the non-Jews attending the class to take notes for her?

According to most poskim, this is prohibited on Shabbos or Yom Tov, since a Jew may not ask a non-Jew to do work for him that would be prohibited min haTorah for a Jew. This is because the non-Jew becomes your agent, and you are not permitted to have an agent work for you on Shabbos, even if the agent is not Jewish. Thus, it appears that Elisheva will not be able to have notes taken for her by her non-Jewish colleague.

However, according to the Minchas Yitzchak, there is a very simple solution to this problem. If Elisheva pays the non-Jew to do the work and specifies that it makes no difference whether the non-Jew performs the work on Shabbos or a weekday, then there is no halachic problem at all, even if the non-Jew did the work on Shabbos or Yom Tov. The reason is that once you pay the non-Jew, he is no longer working as your agent, because he has his own interest in doing the work. I am still not permitted to ask him to do the work specifically on Shabbos, but as long as he has the option to do the work on a different day, there is no problem if he actually does it on Shabbos (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 5:36).

CONCLUSION

Creating a beautiful Shabbos entails much planning and organization. The melachos of writing are a prime example of how a person must be fluent in all the halachos of Shabbos in order to understand its far reaching ramifications. Studying all the melachos of Shabbos helps us appreciate Shabbos more, and to get the maximum joy out of this special day.

May One Shower on Shabbos?

Question #1: May someone soak an infected toe in hot water on Shabbos?

Question #2: May I take a quick dip in the pool on a Shabbos when it is 105 degrees in the shade?

Question #3: Is bathing on Shabbos permitted to alleviate a minor skin condition?

Answer:

Although most people assume that one may not shower on Shabbos, there actually are some situations when one may. Factors one must take into consideration include:

I. Is one taking a bath or a shower?

II. Is the water hot or cold?

III. Does one want to ease a medical need or a degree of discomfort?

IV. How does the water heating system work?

V. Is one a Sefardi or an Ashkenazi!

The interplay of all these factors makes this a highly interesting subject.

WHY YOU SHOULD NOT TAKE A BATH!

The Gemara (Shabbos 40a) records a dispute between the early Amora’im (Talmidei Chachamim of the period of the Gemara), Rav and Shmuel, concerning bathing on Shabbos. Although both scholars agree that one may not bathe in the regular manner on Shabbos, Rav permits bathing on Shabbos, as long as one does not submerge his entire body at once, but only part at a time. Shmuel disagrees, contending that one may not wash more than half of one’s body (as explained by Magen Avraham 326:2). (Most poskim contend that one may wash on Shabbos only with water heated before Shabbos [Magen Avraham 326:6; Gra to 326:5; Aruch HaShulchan, Orach Chayim 326:2. However, Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:126, disagrees.])

One might ask:

Since bathing is not one of the 39 melachos that the Torah prohibited on Shabbos, why can’t one take a relaxing Shabbos bath?

HISTORY OF A TAKANAH

Although Torah law permits bathing, Chazal prohibited bathing in hot water on Shabbos, because it could lead to Shabbos desecration. The Gemara (Shabbos 40a) narrates the following historical account of the ban:

Initially, one was permitted to bathe in water that was heated before Shabbos. Then, the bathhouse owners began to heat water on Shabbos (to generate business), claiming that the water had been heated before Shabbos. In order to stop this practice, the Sages prohibited bathing in hot water on Shabbos, but permitted entering a steam bath on Shabbos. However, people who did not listen to the Sages began to take hot baths on Shabbos, claiming that they had only used the steam bath. (In those days, both activities were performed in a commercial bathhouse.) To enforce their ruling, the Sages then prohibited entering a steam bath as well, but permitted bathing in natural hot springs. When some people continued to violate the instructions of the Sages by bathing in hot water and claiming that they had used water from hot springs, the Sages then banned bathing in any hot water, even hot springs, but permitted bathing in cold water. After a while, the Sages realized that this was an unbearable hardship and rescinded the ban against bathing in hot springs, while retaining the prohibition against steam baths and bathing in hot water (Shabbos 40a).

In conclusion, we see that the Sages banned bathing on Shabbos, even in water heated before Shabbos, lest bathhouse owners and managers encourage business by heating water on Shabbos. In order to maintain this initial injunction, Chazal initially prohibited attending the steam bath and bathing in hot springs, but eventually rescinded the latter prohibition. Thus, one may not bathe or steam bathe on Shabbos, even with water heated before Shabbos. The authorities dispute whether one may enter a steam bath if one is not intending to bathe there even if one will begin perspiring while there, the Shulchan Aruch ruling leniently, whereas the Rama rules stringently (Orach Chayim 326:12).

Rav and Shmuel, whom we quoted above, interpreted the above takanah against bathing in different ways, Rav limiting the ban to washing one’s entire body at one time, because this is the usual way of bathing. However, he permits bathing in an unusual way such as by not submerging oneself completely in water and washing only part of the body at a time. Shmuel feels that since he is still bathing his entire body, this is included in the ban, although he agrees that washing less than half one’s body is permitted. The halacha follows Shmuel, and therefore one may bathe only part of one’s body in preheated hot water on Shabbos.

DEFINE BATHING

What about pouring water over yourself? Is this included within the category of bathing that is prohibited, or is it permitted (Rashi, Shabbos 147b s.v. dilihishtateif)?

The Gemara (Shabbos 39b) records a three-way dispute among Tanna’im (earlier halachic authorities of the time of the Mishnah) regarding this question. Rabbi Meir prohibited pouring either hot or cold water over oneself; Rabbi Shimon permitted both; whereas Rabbi Yehudah, the compromise opinion, permitted cold water but prohibited hot. The poskim dispute precisely what case these great Sages were debating. According to some opinions (Baal HaMaor), the Gemara is discussing someone who heated himself to a sweat in front of a fire, similar to taking a sauna, and then rinsed himself off. Only then did the Tanna’im dispute what is prohibited.

According to this approach, all three Tanna’im permit pouring cold water over oneself on Shabbos, if one did not first warm himself. In addition, all three Tanna’im permit standing in front of an open fire in order to develop a healthy sweat on Shabbos. Although Chazal prohibited entering a steam bath on Shabbos, they did not prohibit standing in front of an open flame where no steam is created. Presumably, this was not a common method of steam bathing, and therefore no concern existed that it would cause bathhouse attendants to desecrate Shabbos. The dispute among the Tanna’im is whether one may stand in front of a blaze until one develops a sweat and then rinse it off on Shabbos. According to Rabbi Meir, this rinsing violates the prohibition against bathing since one is washing off sweat. Rabbi Yehudah prohibits this rinsing if performed with hot water but permits cold, whereas Rabbi Shimon permits even a hot rinse, and certainly a cold one. According to this interpretation of the dispute, all three Tanna’im permit a cold shower on Shabbos.

However, most authorities explain the dispute among the Tanna’im somewhat differently, contending that it includes any case where someone is rinsing himself on Shabbos and is not limited to someone rinsing off sweat (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 326:1). According to this approach, Rabbi Meir prohibits rinsing in either hot or cold water; Rabbi Yehudah prohibits rinsing with hot water but permits cold; and Rabbi Shimon permits even a hot water rinse. Thus, according to Rabbi Shimon, one may take a hot shower on Shabbos, because the prohibition against bathing was limited to someone sitting in a bath; according to Rabbi Meir, even cold rinsing is included in the prohibition and certainly hot; and according to Rabbi Yehudah, one may take a cold shower, but not a hot one.

May we follow Rabbi Shimon’s opinion and shower on Shabbos in hot water?

No! Halacha follows Rabbi Yehudah’s opinion prohibiting a hot rinse, but permitting a cold one (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 326:1, 4).

Nevertheless, we should at least be permitted to take a cold shower on Shabbos! Isn’t that a great way to begin the Shabbos day! Yet we know that the custom is not to shower on Shabbos. We will soon explain the basis for this custom. But first, I must digress to discuss an exception to the ban against bathing on Shabbos.

MITZTA’EIR – ALLOWING A SUFFERER TO BATHE

Based on some insightful analysis, several prominent authorities demonstrate that someone who is suffering may bathe on Shabbos even in hot water, provided the water was heated before Shabbos (Shu’t Divrei Yosef #64; Rabbi Akiva Eiger in his comments to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 307:5 and 326:1). This is based on the halacha that although one may not usually ask a gentile to perform prohibited work on Shabbos, one may do so under certain extenuating circumstances. For example, one may ask a gentile to do something for the sake of a person ill enough to be bedridden (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 328:17).

When the Rambam lists activities that one may ask a gentile to perform on Shabbos, he includes having him transport hot water so that a person who is suffering may bathe (Hilchos Shabbos 6:9-10). The Divrei Yosef and Rabbi Akiva Eiger raise the following question: “What can the sufferer do with the hot water, seeing that Chazal prohibited bathing in hot water on Shabbos?” Obviously, although Chazal banned bathing on Shabbos, they only prohibited pleasure and hygienic bathing but permitted bathing to alleviate suffering. Thus, someone who is suffering or has a medical condition that is alleviated by bathing may ease his or her discomfort on Shabbos with a hot bath.

TWO MODERN HOT WATER PROBLEMS

I. MODERN HOT WATER BOILERS

However, this psak halacha does not help most North Americans, since most household water heating systems operate with a boiler that automatically replaces hot water with cold as you use it. This means that when one bathes, showers, or simply turns on the hot water on Shabbos, one is heating new water. Although some authorities permit using these systems on Shabbos because they consider it to be indirect heating of the water (grama) and unintentional (eino miskavein) (Divrei David, Chapter 87), most halachic authorities do not permit turning on the hot water on Shabbos. Nevertheless, someone who is suffering and would like to take hot baths on Shabbos may consider installing a heating system that does not heat new water when operated.

(By the way, many hotels, hospitals, dormitories and similar facilities use a coil system to heat water that is even more problematic, since it heats the water that you are about to use when you turn on the faucet. This system constitutes a clear Torah violation of cooking on Shabbos.)

II. MIXING HOT AND COLD WATER

Nowadays, using the hot water generally means turning a faucet dial that draws both hot and cold water which mix in the faucet or pipe. If the hot water heats the cold water to yad soledes bo (usually assumed to be 113 degrees Fahrenheit), one has violated Shabbos by cooking the cold water. Thus, anyone taking a bath must also be certain to avoid heating cold water to this temperature on Shabbos.

At this point, we can discuss some of the questions asked above:

If someone has an infected toe, may he soak it in hot water on Shabbos?

May someone bathe on Shabbos to alleviate a minor medical condition?

Soaking an infected toe or finger can be accomplished with water from the urn or kettle and certainly may be performed on Shabbos. Bathing or showering for a medical reason may be performed as long as one does not heat any new water in the boiler, the pipes or the faucet. If the person is ill enough to be considered bedridden, one may ask a non-Jew to turn on the water for the bath or shower, and the patient would now be permitted to bathe in the water. (One should ask a shaylah whether he may turn off the water afterwards by himself [see Orchos Shabbos, Chapter 1 footnote 199].) One may certainly bathe or shower in cold water for a medical reason, even if not bedridden.

WHY DID YOU SAY ONLY FOR A MEDICAL REASON?

As mentioned above, the halacha follows the opinion of Rabbi Yehudah who permitted rinsing oneself in cold water on Shabbos. Therefore, it should be permitted to take a cold shower or bath on Shabbos. Indeed, according to the conclusion of the Gemara, there is nothing wrong with bathing in cold water on Shabbos. However, early Ashkenazic poskim record a custom not to bathe in cold water due to a variety of reasons, including that one might carry (if one bathed outdoors in an area without an eruv) or squeeze water out of one’s hair or towel (Magen Avraham 326:8). This is established Ashkenazic custom, that, except for tevilah in a mikvah, one does not bathe on Shabbos. Why should this be true if the Gemara is lenient?

THE POWER OF MINHAG

The term minhag, usually translated as custom, actually includes many different categories, some of relatively minor halachic significance, and others of major importance.

The following story (Pesachim 50b) demonstrates the power of minhag: “The people of Beishan (a town in the north of Israel) had a custom that they did not travel from Tyre to Sidon on Friday, even though it was the local market day. They asked Rabbi Yochanan whether they were still required to observe this practice, claiming that the earlier generation who established this custom was wealthier and could manage without the income from Friday’s market day, whereas they were now hard-pressed financially and unable to support their families without this additional income. Rabbi Yochanan required them to continue observing the minhag established by their parents, citing the pasuk, Shma bni musar avicha ve’al titosh toras imecha, “Listen my son to the discipline of your father and do not forsake the teaching of your mother” (Mishlei 1:8): Once a community accepted a practice, even those born after the custom was established are obligated to observe it.

Another example is the observance of two days of Yom Tov in chutz la’aretz. This is actually a minhag, although one who violates it is strictly censured. Similarly, an Ashkenazi who eats kitniyos on Pesach violates a severe prohibition, even though he is technically violating only a minhag. According to many poskim, violating a minhag of this nature incurs a Torah violation, since it is halachically equivalent to a vow (Aruch HaShulchan, Orach Chayim 453:4; 551:23).

Similarly, Ashkenazic Jews accepted a minhag to not bathe even in cold water on Shabbos because of the above-mentioned concerns. (Even following Ashkenazic practice, it is prohibited only to bathe all or most of one’s entire body, but one may wash less than half one’s body.) Sefardim never accepted this minhag, and may therefore take a lukewarm or cold bath or shower on Shabbos. They should, of course, be careful not to squeeze out hair or a towel.

WHAT ABOUT A COLD SHOWER

Even though Ashkenazim accepted the custom not to bathe in cold water on Shabbos, some poskim rule that the prohibition includes only bathing on Shabbos, but not showering. In truth, some of the reasons quoted by the Magen Avraham apply to cold showers also, since one might squeeze out one’s hair or the towel whether one is bathing or showering, whereas the other reason mentioned, that one might by mistake carry on Shabbos, applies only to someone who bathes outdoors, and applies less to someone who showers indoors.

In his teshuvah on the subject, Rav Moshe Feinstein concludes that, although some authorities might permit cold showering on Shabbos, one should not follow this leniency, since it violates accepted practice (Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:75). However, one who is mitzta’eir may take a cold shower, since the custom mentioned by the Magen Avraham does not apply. Furthermore, Rav Moshe permits taking a cold shower on Shabbos during a heat wave (Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:74:rechitzah:3).

Thus we can answer the following question also:

May someone bathe or rinse themselves on Shabbos because they are uncomfortable, such as on a Shabbos when it is 105 degrees in the shade?

Someone who is mitzta’eir from his current physical condition may take a cold bath or shower if it will alleviate his discomfort. A Sefardi is permitted to take a cold shower or bath on Shabbos under any circumstances.

Conclusion:

These halachos include three levels of halachic observance: Torah law (not to heat water on Shabbos), Rabbinic Law (not to bathe in hot water lest it cause Shabbos desecration), and minhag (not to bathe in cold water, also lest it cause Shabbos desecration). This provides us with an opportunity to observe Shabbos on many levels, expressing our appreciation for its kedusha.

Note: For a discussion of the permissibility of showering on Yom Tov, see “May I Take a Nice Hot Shower on Yom Tov?”

Playing Scrabble on Shabbos

Writing is counted among the melachos prohibited on Shabbos, because each board of the Mishkan was marked in order to return it to its correct place whenever the Mishkan was reassembled. Erasing is a melacha because the numbers written on the boards were sometimes erased when a board was improperly marked (Rashi, Shabbos 73a).

Permanent writing is prohibited min haTorah, while temporary writing is prohibited only miderabbanan. “Writing” is permitted when no letters are formed at all. Thus, one may form letters in the air and one may communicate in sign language on Shabbos. Writing in an unusual way, such as with one’s weaker hand, is prohibited miderabbanan, although erasing with one’s weaker hand is prohibited min haTorah, since it is not difficult to do so. Writing on frosty windows and using disappearing ink or invisible ink on Shabbos is prohibited miderabbanan. The poskim discuss whether eating icing in the form of letters is considered erasing; the Mishnah Berurah rules that although one may bite through the letters, when cutting the cake, one should preferably slice between the letters and not through them. I will shortly explain the distinction between slicing between the letters and biting through them.

MAY I PLAY SCRABBLE ON SHABBOS? IS THIS CONSIDERED WRITING AND ERASING?

Discussing the halachic issues as to whether or not one may play the game of Scrabble on Shabbos provides an opportunity to address some other aspects of the laws of writing. As we will see, there is not only a question as to whether or not this constitutes writing, but an additional concern as to whether it could potentially cause one to write.

Two potential writing issues are involved with Scrabble. First, is placing existent letters to form words considered writing? Perhaps writing requires actually forming the letters and not merely placing letters next to one another.  Similar shaylos exist with educational toys or puzzles that form words, or combination locks that open by sliding numbers or letters into a certain sequence. In all of these cases, the question is whether forming a word or a code by moving letters together constitutes writing. Similarly, if this is considered writing, does separating the letters constitute erasing?

Scrabble also involves a second shaylah: May one play games on Shabbos where the score is usually kept by writing? Is this prohibited because of concern that one might forget and write on Shabbos?

BREAKING LETTERS

One of the early poskim, the Levush, ruled that it is a Torah violation to open and close a book on Shabbos that has words stamped on the edge of its pages (Levush 340:4). In his opinion, opening the book and thereby breaking the letters in this way violates a Torah prohibition of erasing; closing the book and reconstituting the letters violates writing.

Similarly, assembling or disassembling letters of puzzles and games is prohibited according to the Levush, since one is “writing” by moving the puzzle pieces together and “erasing” by separating them. Other poskim add that the Levush would also prohibit opening and closing a book where the page edges are decorated since this is considered erasing and redrawing the decoration (Machatzis HaShekel 340:6). According to this analysis, it is prohibited to assemble or disassemble a jigsaw puzzle or a child’s picture puzzle on Shabbos, since doing so creates a picture, which is “writing” according to this opinion.

THE DISPUTE

Other poskim disagree with the Levush for two reasons:

(1) There are divergent opinions as to whether moving letters or parts of letters together is considered writing. Writing is forming letters of communication. These authorities contend that bringing existent letters or parts of letters together is not considered writing and is permitted on Shabbos.

The Levush, who contends that creating letters or words is considered writing, even if one creates them from existent letters, disputes this exact point.

(2) Opening or closing the pages of a book is not a melacha, since the book is meant to be opened and closed, just as opening or closing a door is not considered destruction and construction (Shu’t Rama #119; Taz 340:2). Opening and closing a door is considered using the door and not the building or destruction of a house. Similarly, someone opening and closing the pages of a book is using it; this is not considered erasing and writing the words on the edges.

Presumably, the Levush contends that there is a major difference between opening and closing a door, which is using it in a normal way, and opening a book with writing on its edges. The writing and erasing that takes place on the edge of the book cannot be considered the normal, integral usage of a book (because it happens incidentally to opening the book), and therefore it is an act of writing and erasing on Shabbos.

Although some poskim agree with the Levush (Magen Avraham 340:6; Chazon Ish 61:1), the majority rule leniently. The Mishnah Berurah concludes that, although the halacha is not according to the Levush, one should preferably be stringent, if one has a different book available (340:17). The same ruling might be applied to puzzles on Shabbos. An adult should preferably not play with a puzzle on Shabbos, if he has an alternate diversion. According to all opinions, one is not obligated to prevent a child from playing with a puzzle on Shabbos, although one should preferably not help him assemble the puzzle (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 443).

Rav Pesach Frank and others contend that even the Levush agrees that bringing together two complete letters does not constitute writing, because his whole argument concerns joining and separating letter fragments. The letters on the side of a book are obliterated each time the book is opened and recreated every time it is shut. However, separating two letters from one another is not erasing, nor is returning letters adjacent to each other considered writing (Shu’t Har Tzvi, Tel Harim, Meleches Koseiv #4).

SOME DIFFICULT QUESTIONS

Rav Frank’s explanation resolves several questions on the Levush’s opinion. Rashi explains that erasing was a melacha in the Mishkan because the person marking the board sometimes erred and wrote the wrong number on a particular board. Since that number then needed to be erased and corrected, erasing is categorized as a melacha (Rashi, Shabbos 73a). However, if separating letters is considered erasing, then erasing was performed every time the Mishkan was disassembled and the adjacent numbers that indicated the order of the planks were separated from one another. Since this simpler case is not mentioned by Rashi, one may infer that merely separating two numbers does not constitute erasing, and that placing two numbers of letters together does not constitute writing (Shu’t Rama #119).

Another question resolved by Rav Frank’s approach requires an introduction. Someone who violates Shabbos negligently must bring a korban chatas if he wrote two or more letters. Although writing less than two letters is also forbidden min haTorah (Rashi, Shabbos 74a; however cf. Rashbam, Bava Basra 55b), it is not considered significant enough to require a korban. Yet, there is one situation where one is obligated to offer a korban for writing only one letter on Shabbos: when someone writes the last letter of a book, thus completing it, because in this instance the single letter is very significant (Shabbos 104b).

This Gemara is difficult to explain according to the Levush’s position. Since the Gemara is teaching a novel concept, it should have taught the most novel insight possible, which (according to the Levush) is that someone moving one letter closer to another thereby completing a book desecrates Shabbos. By omitting this case and mentioning the case of someone writing the last letter of a book, the Gemara implies that moving the last letter closer is not considered writing on Shabbos, presumably because moving letters together is not considered writing (Taz 340:2).

THE SOLUTION TO THE QUESTION

As we mentioned, Rav Pesach Frank answers these questions by theorizing that even the Levush agrees that bringing together two complete letters does not constitute writing. The Levush is discussing only creating or destroying letters by bringing together or separating parts of letters, such as happens when one opens or shuts a book. However, separating two letters from one another does not constitute erasing, nor does returning them so that they are adjacent constitute writing (Shu’t Har Tzvi, Tel Harim, Meleches Koseiv #4).

According to this approach, even the Levush would agree that spelling words while playing Scrabble does not violate Shabbos, since the letters are complete to begin with.  He would, however, prohibit assembling a puzzle where letters are created, but he would be unconcerned about assembling a puzzle in which each letter is on a different piece of puzzle.

Incidentally, this may be the reason why the Mishnah Berurah distinguishes between slicing cake between the letters and through the letters. He may hold that slicing between the letters is not an act of erasing and therefore is permitted, since the letters are not obliterated in the process. However, slicing through the letters is an act of erasing, since it obliterates a letter.

IS THERE ANY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TRAVEL AND STANDARD EDITIONS OF SCRABBLE?

In the travel edition of Scrabble, the letters lock in place. Does this have any effect on the halacha?

Some poskim rule that it is prohibited to attach lettering firmly to a paroches on Shabbos (Magen Avraham 340:10 as explained by Igros Moshe). According to this approach, firmly attaching a written item is also considered a form of writing. Although not all poskim agree, it seems that one should follow this approach (Minchas Chinuch; Nishmas Adam). This precludes using a game where letters or numbers snap firmly into place, and prohibits playing Travel Scrabble on Shabbos.

LOCKS

Some combination locks are set up so that they lock or unlock when numbers or letters are rotated until they read a certain code. Will this be a problem according to the Levush?

According to what we explained above, these locks are permissible, even according to the Levush, since the code is formed by moving entire letters and numbers (Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 13:44).

TORN PAGES

I borrowed a damaged siddur that has letters torn through the middle. May I place the two parts of the page together on Shabbos in order to read it, or does this constitute writing, since I am “fixing” a broken letter.

At first glance, it seems that this case is dependent on the above-quoted dispute. According to the Levush it should be prohibited to place the two halves of the page together, since one then makes the word legible. However, some poskim contend that even the Levush permits moving two parts of a torn page together, if the word is legible anyway (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:75). In their opinion, the Levush prohibits only creating a letter or word that is otherwise illegible.

Until now we explained the first of the two issues involved in playing Scrabble. Now we will discuss the second shaylah — scorekeeping. May one play games on Shabbos where the score is usually kept by writing? Is this prohibited because of concern that one might forget and write on Shabbos?

PLAYING GAMES

Chazal created many gezeiros (Rabbinic prohibitions) out of concern that one may write or erase on Shabbos. For example, they prohibited selling or renting items on Shabbos, lest one record the transaction (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 23:12). Similarly, it is prohibited to weigh or measure on Shabbos (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 23:13), to marry (Beitzah 36b), to perform a pidyon haben (Shu’t Rivash #156; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 339:4), or to make financial calculations in one’s head (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 23:18). All of these are prohibited out of concern that one may jot down some of the information on Shabbos.

Incidentally, even though acquiring things is normally forbidden, someone who finds an ownerless object on Shabbos may keep it, provided, of course, that he does not violate carrying or moving muktzah (Pri Megadim, 371:7 in Eishel Avraham; R’ Akiva Eiger, glosses to Magen Avraham 339:6; Sdei Chemed Vol. 2 pg. 220). Since there is no buyer and no seller, Chazal were not concerned that he would write anything.

Chazal also prohibited reading financial documents on Shabbos because one might correct them. Similarly, Chazal forbade reading a guest list or a menu of what one intends to serve on Shabbos, because one might realize that he does not have enough food and erase an entry (Shabbos 149a; Rambam 23:19).

Among these prohibitions was a takanah prohibiting playing games where writing is part of their regular activity (Chayei Adam 38:11). Therefore, one may not play Scrabble or any other game where people usually keep score. Poskim permit playing chess on Shabbos, even though some people write down their moves. This is permitted because most people do not write down their moves.

The melachos of writing are a prime example of how a person must be fluent in all the halachos of Shabbos in order to understand its far reaching ramifications. Who would have imagined that even after proving that Scrabble is not included in the actual melacha of writing, it is nevertheless forbidden because of a decree that one might write in order to keep score? Studying the halachos of writing and the other melachos of Shabbos help us to appreciate Shabbos more, and get the maximum joy out of this special day.

Open, Sayeth Me!!

Dateline: Friday Evening, Seudah Dessert

A Bitter Tasting Shabbos

Question #1: Daniel asks you on Monday morning, “We spent last Shabbos at a hotel bearing a proper hechsher, and the coffee was served with small packets of sugar, sweetener, and pareve ‘creamer.’ I always thought that one may not open these packages on Shabbos, so I drank my coffee unsweetened – a bitter experience. What was the hotel relying on?”

Dateline: Shabbos Morning, Bright and Early:

A True Family Crisis

Question #2: The Klein family is in crisis this Shabbos morning! Someone finished the box of Sweetios before everyone ate breakfast! May they open a new box this morning, or are they condemned to a Sweetios-less Shabbos?

Dateline: Shabbos Late Afternoon

Forgot the Flats

Question #3: Judith knocks on the rav’s door Shabbos afternoon. “I purchased very expensive disposal flatware for a sheva berachos/seudah shlishis, but forgot to open the package before Shabbos. May I open the package on Shabbos? Would it help if I recite the magic formula, nicht garet on Shabbos, before doing so?”

Answer:

Daniel, the Kleins, and Judith are all raising very common questions regarding the opening of packaging on Shabbos. None of the scenarios above is unusual, and occasionally the entire Shabbos day is filled with such interesting predicaments. As usual, our goal is not to resolve everyone’s halachic issues; that we leave for one’s rav. Our purpose is to present the background material so that our readers understand the halachic issues much better. In a different article (listed on rabbikaganoff.com as Uncanny Shabbos Regulations, or available from me as an e-mail), I discussed the questions involved in opening cans on Shabbos. Since many of the subjects covered then apply here as well, let us first review some points mentioned there that are germane to today’s topic.

Is making an opening permitted on Shabbos?

In that article, we discovered that the laws of Shabbos prevent making a nice opening in a vessel, such as boring a hole in a storage drum (Shabbos 146a). I noted that Rav Moshe Feinstein prohibits opening a milk or juice carton on Shabbos, since creating the spout constitutes making a nice opening (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:78). Does opening a single serve package, a cereal box, or a package of disposable tableware constitute making a nice opening? Does it involve any other Shabbos prohibitions?

Ruining

The previous article also analyzed the law of mekalkeil, literally, ruining, and noted that an act whose direct result is destructive is prohibited only miderabbanan. For example, digging a hole in the ground when one needs the earth but is not interested in the hole is halachically defined as a destructive activity and is therefore prohibited only miderabbanan.

Razing

Razing or demolishing a building in order to renovate violates a Torah melachah called Soseir. As we learned in the previous article, many authorities understand that demolishing a container is included under this melachah; however, since this activity is usually mekalkeil, it will be prohibited only miderabbanan. For example, although smashing a barrel to obtain its contents constitutes Soseir, since the smashed barrel is mekulkal it is prohibited only miderabbanan. Some authorities permit smashing a barrel to obtain the food inside, but most prohibit this (Bi’ur Halachah 314:1). Some conclude that one should not admonish those who do, provided they do not make a nice opening in the process (Aruch Hashulchan 314:8).

All authorities agree that one may break open a mustaki to obtain the food inside. A mustaki is a barrel that was previously broken and then reconstructed in a feeble way using resin as glue. Since a mustaki is not considered a proper vessel, smashing it open to obtain the food inside is permitted, provided one does not make a nice opening in the process (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 314:1).

Are any of the packages that Daniel, the Kleins, and Judith asked about comparable to a mustaki, which would permit them to tear the packaging open for its contents?

Lulav Baskets”

The previous article also cited the Gemara that permits ripping open a chosal, a type of basket made of lulav branches, in order to access the unripe dates or dried figs stored inside. Although one may not smash open containers on Shabbos, one may tear apart a chosal because it is considered an artificial peel or shell around the fruit, and not a vessel (Kolbo, quoted by Beis Yosef and Shulchan Aruch 314:8). Just as one may remove the natural peel or shell of a fruit on Shabbos, and it is not making or destroying a vessel, one may remove an artificial “peel” or “shell” on Shabbos. Do any of the above-mentioned packages constitute chosalos? Do non-edible items, such as paper goods, have a halachically-recognized artificial peel?

Tearing through Letters or Designs

In addition to the above questions, several other halachic concerns may arise while opening packages on Shabbos. Erasing, Mocheik, is one of the thirty-nine melachos of Shabbos performed in the building of the Mishkan. Each board used in constructing the walls of the Mishkan was marked in order to identify its correct place when the Mishkan was reassembled (Shabbos 103b; Rashi, Shabbos 73a). Sometimes a board was mislabeled, requiring one to erase the numbering and re-mark it. When the result of the erasing is that one can now write in its place, this erasing creates a positive result and therefore incurs a Torah violation. Thus, erasing a blackboard is prohibited min haTorah since the primary purpose in doing so is so that one can write anew on the board. (Some contend that this is prohibited only miderabbanan because the writing with chalk on a blackboard is not considered permanent. This is a topic for a different time.)

Erasing that does not create any direct positive benefit is prohibited only miderabbanan since it is mekalkeil. It is unclear whether erasing because one wants the board to be clean is prohibited min haTorah or only miderabbanan.

Tearing through a letter is also prohibited as Mocheik (see Magen Avraham 519:4), since one obliterates the lettering. However, since tearing through the lettering does not make the communication any clearer, this latter type of Mocheik usually constitutes a mekalkeil and involves only a rabbinic prohibition. Thus, tearing lettering or a design on a package entails a rabbinic prohibition of Mocheik and must be avoided.

Mocheik can be avoided by tearing in a way that one is not deliberately attempting to tear lettering and that tearing of lettering or a design is not inevitable.  This involves the subject of aino miskavein, which is beyond our current topic and will be left for a different time.

Cutting Him Down to Size

Another melachah called Mechateich involves cutting items to a very precise size or shape. Mechateich was performed in the Mishkan when a hide was trimmed to a requisite size, and is also involved when cutting leather to make shoes or when cutting material for a pattern (see Rashi, Shabbos 73a).

If a sugar packet includes markings to advise someone how to open it, does tearing it there violate Mechateich?

Tearing, Korei’a

One of the 39 melachos of Shabbos, Korei’a, tearing, was incurred while weaving the Mishkan’s elaborate tapestry. Artisans sometimes repaired a curtain by tearing the woven material and then re-sewing or reweaving it (Shabbos 75a). Thus, tearing material on Shabbos as a step in manufacturing or repairing involves a Torah prohibition. Is opening packages prohibited because of tearing?

Wine or Brine

Understanding the melachah of Korei’a presents us with many challenges and certainly requires an article of its own. In this article, I will simply note two cases mentioned in Talmudic sources that appear to involve tearing and yet do not violate the melachah of Korei’a. In one instance, the Tosefta permits ripping a leather cover attached to a barrel of wine or brine (Tosefta, Shabbos 17:9 and Beitzah 3:9). Also, there is a Gemara that implies that tearing a piece of papyrus in order to grill food on it does not violate Korei’a (Beitzah 32b). (The Gemara’s word niyar means papyrus and not paper. Paper was unknown in the Mediterranean Basin and Western Asia at the time of the Gemara.) Why does neither of these cases involve the melachah of Korei’a? Without going into all the discussion about this melachah, I will share two answers offered to this question:

Some contend that the prohibition of Korei’a applies only to woven material and therefore does not apply to paper or leather (Gra’z 340:17; Ketzos HaShulchan 145:4). This compares favorably with the source for the melachah of Korei’a in the Mishkan, which was tearing clothing that requires repair or re-sewing. Others maintain that Korei’a applies only when both sides of the ripped item will subsequently be used (Bi’ur Halachah 340:13 s.v. ein shovrin). According to either of these approaches, no prohibition of Korei’a is involved when tearing the leather cover off a barrel, either because one does not intend to use the cover or because leather is not woven, nor does it apply when tearing papyrus or paper to grill on it when one has no use for the part torn off. Similarly, one would not violate Korei’a when opening the sugar and cream packets Daniel asked about, or the Sweetios cereal box, or the package of disposable tableware. Nevertheless, there are other authorities who prohibit tearing any of these items on Shabbos (Pri Chodosh, Yoreh Deah 118:18).

Did Shabbos’s Coffee need to be Bitter?

Now that we have mentioned many of the basic principles involved, let us discuss Daniel’s question:

“Last Shabbos, the coffee was served accompanied by small packets of sugar, sweetener, and pareve ‘creamer.’ I was under the impression that one may not open these packages on Shabbos. Could I have opened the packets?”

We now know that several halachic issues must be analyzed carefully in order to resolve Daniel’s question.

1. Is opening these packets equivalent either to creating or to destroying a vessel?

2. Is tearing the top of the packet comparable to creating a spout or opening?

3. Does this violate Mechateich, cutting to size, particularly since one usually opens these packages along a premarked dotted line?

4, Can there be any concern of erasing or tearing?

Sugar Bags

The authorities debate whether one may open a bag of sugar on Shabbos. Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah prohibits opening such a bag because it is creating a new, serviceable vessel and/or a nice opening. He permits access to the sugar only if one rips the bag in a way that destroys it and then one empties the contents into a different container. On the other hand, Rav Moshe Feinstein contends that opening a bag of sugar is not deemed creating a new vessel (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:122). In his opinion, a sugar bag is considered a chosal (“peel”), which he defines as any packaging that is not reused for any other product; once its product is used, everyone disposes of the chosal. As mentioned above, a chosal is considered to be a “peel” for its contents. Just as one may peel a fruit or vegetable without it being considered making or destroying a vessel, so too, opening a chosal is not considered making or destroying a vessel.

Single Serve Packets

Regarding single-serve packets, many authorities feel that these are considered chosalos, since they are certainly not meant for reuse after the contents are emptied, and the small packets themselves are flimsy and do not lend themselves to any type of reuse. Those who are lenient feel that there is also no problem with Mechateich even if one opens the packets along their perforations, since one is not interested in having a packet that has such a specific shape or size. The line is there simply to facilitate opening the packet without spilling sugar all over the place.

Erasing

When opening these or any other types of packets, one must be careful to try not to tear any lettering, which would involve a rabbinic prohibition of Mocheik. Should lettering tear notwithstanding one’s best efforts, one need not be concerned; Shabbos was not violated.

Korei’a

In our above discussion, we noted that, according to many authorities, there is no concern of Korei’a.

However…

Despite his conclusion that no Shabbos violations are involved in opening any packaging that is disposed of when its contents are finished, Rav Moshe concludes that one should always open these packages before Shabbos, since people might misunderstand the laws and mistakenly open packaging that is prohibited (Shu’t Igros Moshe 1:122:10). Many other authorities quote similar positions (Kaf HaChayim 314:38; Minchas Shabbos 80:164:9; Minchas Yitzchak 4:82:38). However, if someone is making a sheva berachos or has invited guests and finds, to his embarrassment, that he does not have enough food to serve, Rav Moshe permits having a gentile open the packages on Shabbos (Shu’t Igros Moshe 1:122; for a similar approach, see Shu’t Chelkas Yaakov 3:8). Presumably, having a gentile open them under these circumstances will significantly reduce the risk of error.

Other authorities are less concerned about the human error problem and permit opening such types of packets on Shabbos (Shulchan Shelomoh). Thus, the hotel that served these condiments in unopened single-serve packages held that they could allow its guests to rely on these opinions.

The Kleins’ Cereal Box

At this point, we can try to resolve the crisis at the Kleins’ breakfast table. May they open the new cereal box or may they not?

Opening the box is presumably not creating a new vessel – the box existed before it was glued shut. Here, the question is whether tearing the glue that seals the box violates Shabbos.

One may not glue items together on Shabbos, and therefore, ripping apart a glued item also violates Shabbos (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 10:11). Thus, some authorities contend that opening the cereal box tears apart two parts glued together, as does opening the bag inside the box. This author feels that this applies only if one uses a very strong permanent paste such as that used in binding, not the type used to close the top of the box (Nimla Tal, Meleches Korei’a #17).

On the other hand, if we consider this box and the bag inside as chosalos, whose entire purpose is to be a “peel” for the cereal, one may open them. It may be prohibited to make a nice, neat opening, but this is not a major concern for five-year-old Yanki Klein, who is only interested in accessing his Sweetios and pays no attention to the condition of the bag. Again, one should try not to tear any lettering in the process. Also again, many authorities still rule that one should avoid doing this on Shabbos, since the laws are very complicated, and people may err. I refer the Kleins to their posek to get halachic guidance on this issue.

By the way, many packages are stuck together with very light glue. My wife mentioned that this is common practice for packages of ladies’ socks and disposable tableware. Many authorities feel that opening this type of glue is not considered Korei’a, and I refer the reader to his/her rav for guidance.

Sheva Berachos Flatware

At this point, I would like to look at our last question: “I forgot to open the packages of disposal flatware that I purchased for the sheva berachos I am making. May I open the package on Shabbos?

Personally, I would consider this kind of packaging to be a chosal that is flimsy and not meant for reuse. I also think that there is no problem of Mechateich for the same reasons mentioned above. Some authorities prohibit opening this package because of Korei’a, and others contend that there is no heter to consider this a chosal, since the product is not edible. However, many authorities permit opening packages of napkins or disposables (see Shulchan Shelomoh 314:4:4; Orchos Shabbos 12:23 and footnote 37).

Nicht Garet on Shabbos

I presume that we are all aware that there is no magic formula, such as nicht garet on Shabbos, that permits doing anything on Shabbos that is otherwise prohibited.

Conclusion

We can now understand well, why after writing a very lengthy responsum on the subject, Rav Moshe Feinstein still concluded that one should not open these packages, out of concern that people will violate the laws involved. Creating a beautiful Shabbos entails much planning and organization. It is worthwhile that one’s preparation list include opening packaging, perhaps even immediately when bringing the items home from the store, before placing them on the shelf. Studying all the melachos of Shabbos helps us appreciate Shabbos more, and to get the maximum joy out of this special day.

Carrying Nitroglycerin on Shabbos

This week’s parshah includes one of the main sources for the prohibition of carrying on Shabbos. I therefore decided to send the following article, the original of which I wrote almost thirty years ago.

The Torah’s concern for the protection of life and health is axiomatic. In virtually all instances, Torah restrictions are superseded when a life-threatening emergency exists. If the situation is extenuating, but not life-threatening, then the rule of thumb is that the Torah restriction remains in force. Sometimes, however, mitigating factors allow the overriding of a rabbinic injunction because of extenuating circumstances.

A contemporary halachic question which relates to this issue is as follows: Is there a way whereby a person suffering from angina or other heart disease may carry his medication on Shabbos through a public thoroughfare? In case of a sudden attack, there would indeed be a life-threatening need that permits procurement of such medication through any necessary means. However, there is no medical reason that compels the patient to leave his home where his medicine is kept. Is there halachic basis to allow him to leave his house with his medication, since the possible medical emergency can be completely avoided by staying home? Granted that this would result in a great hardship by making the patient housebound on Shabbos, yet this deprivation would not constitute a life-threatening emergency and would not be grounds for overriding a Torah-proscribed Shabbos prohibition.

The halachic question is two-fold: Can carrying the medicine be considered a rabbinic violation, as opposed to a Torah violation, thus making it more acceptable? Does halachic basis exist to permit overriding a rabbinic prohibition because of hardships?

The same principles can be applied to other medical situations. For example, the diabetic who receives insulin injection is usually medically advised to carry with him some food items containing sugar as a precaution against insulin shock; and certain asthmatics and other allergy sufferers are advised never to go anywhere without their medication available. Would these patients be allowed to carry their sugar or medicine on Shabbos in a way that involves violating only a rabbinic decree?

Most contemporary authorities who address this issue base their discussion on a responsum of Rav Shmuel Engel, dated 9 Tammuz 5679 (July 7, 1919).[1] At the time of this question, there was a government regulation in force requiring the carrying of identification papers whenever one walked outside, with serious consequences for those apprehended in violation. Rabbi Engel was asked if a person could place his identification papers under his hat on Shabbos while walking to shul. Rabbi Engel’s analysis of the halachic issues involved will clarify many of the aspects of our question.

Shabbos violations fall under two broad headings: those activities that are forbidden

min hatorah (Torah-mandated), and those that are forbidden by rabbinic injunction, but do not qualify as melacha (forbidden work) according to the Torah’s definition.

Torah law is not violated unless the melacha is performed in a manner in which that activity is usually done. An act performed in a peculiar way, such as carrying something in a way that such an item is not normally carried, constitutes a rabbinic violation, but is permitted under Torah law. This deviation from the norm is called a shinui.[2]

Rabbi Engel points out that carrying identification papers in one’s hat would constitute a shinui, thus allowing a possibility of leniency. He quotes two Talmudic sources that permit melacha with a shinui on Shabbos due to extenuating, but not life-threatening, circumstances.

Rabbi Marinus said, “One who is suffering is allowed to suck milk directly from a goat on Shabbos. Why? [Is not milking an animal on Shabbos a violation of a Torah prohibition?] Sucking is considered milking in an unusual way, and the rabbis permitted it because of the discomfort of the patient.[3]

Tosafos notes that the leniency is allowed only if the suffering is caused by illness and not simply by thirst. The Talmudic text and commentary of Tosafos are quoted as halachic decision by the Shulchan Aruch.[4]

There is another Talmudic text with a similar conclusion:

Nachum of Gaul said, “One is allowed on Shabbos to clean a spout that has become clogged by crushing [the clogged matter] with one’s foot. Why? [Is it not forbidden to perform repair work on Shabbos?] Since the repair work is done in an unusual manner, the rabbis permitted it in a case of potential damage.”

Based on these Talmudic sources, Rabbi Engel concludes that the rabbis permitted the performance of melacha with a shinui under extenuating circumstances, even though rabbinic prohibitions are not usually waived in these situations. Furthermore, he points out two other mitigating factors to permit carrying identification papers: According to most opinions, the prohibition to carry on Shabbos in our cities (even in the usual fashion) is rabbinic, because “our public areas do not constitute a public domain according to Torah law.” And, carrying identification papers would constitute a melacha done without any need for the result, which would also provide a reason to be lenient, as will be explained.

Melacha She’einah Tzericha Legufah

In several places,[5] the Gemara records a dispute between Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Shimon as to whether a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah, an action done intentionally and in the normal fashion, but without a need for the result of the action, is forbidden by the Torah or if it is a rabbinic injunction. For example, carrying a corpse from a private domain into a public domain would not constitute a Torah desecration of Shabbos according to Rabbi Shimon, since one’s purpose is to remove the corpse from the private domain and not because he has a need for it in the public domain. Similarly, snaring or killing a predator insect or reptile when one’s concern is only to avoid damage is a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah. and therefore constitutes only a rabbinic violation according to Rabbi Shimon. Since one has no need for the caught reptile, Rabbi Shimon considers the violation rabbinic.

Both of these cases violate Torah prohibition according to Rabbi Yehudah, who opines that a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah is a Torah-mandated prohibition.

Although the Rambam[6] follows the opinion of Rabbi Yehudah, the majority of halachic authorities follow the opinion of Rabbi Shimon.

Rabbi Engel considers carrying identification papers in one’s hat to be a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah, because the carrier has no personal use for the papers and is carrying them merely to avoid injury or loss. He compares this to the killing of a snake, where the intent is to avoid injury. Although his point is arguable, as evidenced by a later responsum,[7] Rabbi Engel reiterates his position that this situation qualifies as a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah.

Furthermore, there is a basis to consider carrying only a rabbinic prohibition because no Torah-mandated public domain exists today. (It should be noted that notwithstanding Rav Engel’s statement on this subject, this position is strongly disputed by many authorities who contend that there is a reshus harabim today.)

Thus, because of these two mitigating reasons, Rabbi Engel permitted carrying the identification papers in one’s hat, which is an indirect method of carrying, in order to attend synagogue or to perform a different mitzvah.

As we will see shortly, some later authorities quote this responsum as a basis to permit our original question, although certain aspects of our case differ significantly from those of Rabbi Engel’s. Firstly, whereas in Rabbi Engel’s case, the identification papers had no inherent worth to the carrier, the nitroglycerin tablets do have intrinsic value to the patient. This would render them a melacha hatzericha legufah, a melacha performed with interest in the results being done, which constitutes a Torah forbidden melacha. Thus, one of the reasons for being lenient is nullified.

Secondly, whereas our question includes carrying medication for social or other reasons, Rabbi Engel permitted the carrying of the identification papers only for the performance of a mitzvah. Would he have allowed a greater leniency for someone who is ill and permitted it even for social reasons? Bearing in mind the case of Rabbi Marinus, where permission is based on medical needs, could leniency be extended to allow carrying with a shinui, even for social or other reasons?

Several later halachic works discuss the question of a patient carrying medication with a shinui as a precaution against a sudden attack. Rabbi Yekutiel Y. Greenwald[8] suggests that a sugar cube be sewn into the pocket of a diabetic’s coat before Shabbos, so that he would not be carrying in the usual manner on Shabbos. Rabbi Greenwald bases his opinion on the Gemara[9] which allows the carrying of an amulet on Shabbos as a medicinal item, and the responsum of Rabbi Shmuel Engel quoted above. Unfortunately, the comparison to the law of kemeiya (amulet) seems strained. The halacha clearly states that the kemeiya must be worn in the way that it is normally worn, and that it can be worn only if it is a proven remedy. Under these circumstances, the kemeiya is considered to be like a garment. There does not seem to be a basis in these considerations to allow carrying an item. However, Rabbi Greenwald allows the diabetic to go outside with a sugar cube sewn into his garment, even for non-mitzvah-related activities, whereas Rabbi Engel permitted the carrying of identification papers only when going outside for mitzvah purposes.

Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg[10] cites the responsum of Rabbi Greenwald, but disputes his conclusions sharply. In addition to the difficulty we have noted, he also disputes two of Rabbi Greenwald’s assumptions.

1. Whereas Rabbi Greenwald says that in these circumstances one could sew a sugar cube or medicine tablet into a garment in order to carry it, Rabbi Waldenberg does not feel that the circumstances justify carrying an item in this fashion.

2. Rabbi Waldenberg writes that the only situation in which Rabbi Engel permitted carrying with a shinui was when the activity would have constituted a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah. This applies to carrying identification papers, where the carrier has no personal need for the papers and is carrying them only to avoid being apprehended. It does not apply to the case for medication, where the patient wants the medicine available for his own use.

Rabbi Waldenberg concludes that the leniency proposed by Rabbi Engel does not apply in the situation at hand, and that this patient would not be allowed to carry his medication outside, even when using a shinui. A mediating position is taken by Rabbi Yehoshua Neuwirth.[11] Although he equates the situation of the person carrying identification papers to the one carrying medication, and does permit the carrying of medication with a shinui for the propose of performing a mitzvah, Rabbi Neuwirth recommends other specific guidelines which would reduce the violations. The reader is encouraged to see Rav Neuwirth’s entire ruling, and also see Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah, Volume 1 #248, who understands the Gemara’s discussion in Kesubos in a way that preempts the basis for Rav Engel’s lenient ruling.

In a responsum on this topic by Rabbi Menashe Klein,[12] he concludes that a patient is allowed to carry nitroglycerin tablets with a shinui for the purpose of going to shul or for another mitzvah. He bases himself on the following two rationales:

1. There is currently no public domain according to Torah definitions.

2. He considers this carrying to be a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah, a point which is certainly disputed by the other authorities quoted.

An interesting comment quoted in the name of the Chasam Sofer by the Levushei Mordechai[13] should also shed light on this issue. Levushei Mordechai reports that the Chasam Sofer was in the habit of carrying a handkerchief tied around his wrist outside of the eruv on Shabbos, because it is considered carrying with a shinui and is permitted because of the need for the handkerchief. The prohibition of rabbinic origin is overridden by the need for personal dignity (kavod haberiyos). No stipulation is made by Levushei Mordechai that the walking is done exclusively for the purpose of performing a mitzvah.

One would think that the discomfort of staying home on Shabbos provides greater reason to be lenient than the concept of personal dignity, and that this responsum could therefore be utilized as a basis to allow carrying of nitroglycerin with a shinui. However, few later poskim refer to the comment of the Levushei Mordechai.[14]

Having presented the background and references on this issue, I leave it to an individual who finds himself in these circumstances to discuss the question with his or her individual posek.

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos in order to provide a day of rest. This is incorrect, he points out, because the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melachah, which implies purpose and accomplishment. On Shabbos, we refrain from constructing and altering the world for our own purposes. The goal of Shabbos is to emphasize Hashem’s rule as the focus of creation by refraining from our own creative acts (Shemos 20:11).


[1] Shu’t Maharash Engel, 3:43

[2] See Shabbos 92a, 104b

[3] Kesubos 60a

[4] Orach Chayim 328:33

[5] Shabbos 12a, 31b, 73b etc.

[6] Hilchos Shabbos 1:7

[7] Shu’t Maharash Engel, 7:20

[8] Kol Bo on the laws of Aveilus, Volume 2, page 20

[9] Shabbos 60a, 67a

[10] Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 13:34

[11] Shemiras Shabbos KeHilchasah, Chapter 40 #7

[12] Shu’t Meshaneh Halachos 7:56

[13] Shu’t Levushei Mordechai #133

[14] It is quoted by Shearim HaMetzuyanim BaHalacha 84:13 and by Lev Avraham Volume 1, Chapter 6.

Uncanny Shabbos Regulations

 

clip_image002Question #1: A CANDID QUESTION!

Chayim calls me on the phone:

“Prior to our marriage, I was taught that one may open cans on Shabbos, provided one does not reuse the can, whereas my wife was taught that this is strictly forbidden. Since I was taught by someone very knowledgeable and observant, there is something inconsistent here that I would like to understand.”

Question #2: DON’T PULL THE RING!

“I was eating at someone’s house for Shabbos where they served soda in cans and opened them. I thought that this desecrates Shabbos, and was uncertain whether I could trust their kashrus. Could I?”

Answer:

Analyzing the laws of Shabbos properly is a very enriching experience. In this article, I will touch on some aspects of the following melachos germane to the issues involved:

(1) Boneh, Construction

(2) Soseir, Destruction

(3) Makeh Bepatish, literally, striking with a hammer

We also need to explain an important principle of the Shabbos laws called mekalkeil – literally, ruining. In general, a melachah activity is prohibited min haTorah only when the direct results are beneficial. An act whose direct result is destructive is not prohibited min haTorah but only miderabbanan. For example, digging a hole in the ground when one needs the earth but is not interested in the hole is considered a destructive activity and therefore prohibited only miderabbanan.  The need to acquire dirt notwithstanding, the dug hole that results is not a positive development, but a negative one. This renders the burrowing mekalkeil and relegates it to a rabbinically prohibited activity. However, digging a hole to plant or to create a posthole is a positive benefit and therefore prohibited min haTorah.

In a similar vein, smashing a barrel to obtain its contents is prohibited only miderabbanan, regardless of the need to obtain the food inside, since the smashed barrel is a negative result.

Boneh

The Torah violation of Boneh includes performing any type of home repair or enhancement, even only a minor repair (Shabbos 102b). Thus, it is prohibited min haTorah to hammer a nail into a wall in order to hang a picture (Rashi, Eruvin 102a s.v. Halachah). Similarly, one may not smooth the dirt floor of a house, because this enhances the “structure” (Shabbos 73b).

Constructing Movable Items

Does the melachah of Boneh apply only to items connected to the ground, or does it also apply to the construction of implements and other movable items?

My desktop dictionary defines “construct” as “to build or form by putting together parts.” Clearly, in English “construct” includes manufacturing implements, just as it includes building on the ground. Do the laws of Shabbos similarly recognize that assembling implements violates this melachah?

The Gemara (Beitzah 10a) cites a debate regarding this question. In halachic conclusion, we find the following basic approaches:

(1) The melachah of Boneh includes only building on the ground and does not include movable items (Rashi, Shabbos 47a s.v. Chayov; Beitzah 11b s.v. De’ein).

(2) Major construction of small movable items is prohibited min haTorah, but minor improvement is not (Tosafos, Shabbos 74b and 102b). What is considered “major construction”? Assembling something in a way that involves strength and skill constitutes Boneh. Therefore, manufacturing implements is prohibited min haTorah, since it involves both strength and skill to do the job properly, whereas making a minor repair to an implement is not included under Boneh.

Large = Connected

According to many authorities, there is another factor to consider: the size of the movable item (Rashi, Eruvin 35a s.v. Umasnisin). In their opinion, one may not perform even a minor repair or enhancement to a utensil so large that one does not usually move it when it is full to capacity. Thus, even a small repair to a refrigerator or a bookcase is prohibited min haTorah according to this opinion, since an item this large is halachically equivalent to something attached to the ground.

Soseir

Soseir, demolishing or razing, is also one of the 39 melachos, since the Jewish people disassembled the Mishkan whenever they moved it from place to place (Shabbos 31b).

Thus, removing something from a structure, such as removing a nail from a wall, or lifting a window or door off its hinges, is prohibited on Shabbos.

Destructive is Constructive?

Many acts of Soseir ruin something, and according to the rule of mekalkeil mentioned above, are prohibited only miderabbanan. Of course, this leads us to ask:

How can Soseir be prohibited min haTorah as one of the 39 melachos; is not demolishing always a destructive act? The answer is that Soseir is prohibited min haTorah when the destruction is constructive, despite the apparent contradiction in terms. The disassembly of the Mishkan was an act of demolition, yet it was constructive, since Hashem wanted the Mishkan (and the Jewish people) to move to a new location. Similarly, demolition of a building is prohibited min haTorah, if the ultimate results are beneficial, such as razing part of a building in order to renovate it, or razing a building in order to build anew on the site. In such cases, the demolition provides an immediate benefit, since it clears the site for the new construction.

In cases where there are no immediate benefits from the demolition, it is still prohibited miderabbanan. Thus, wrecking a house to save someone trapped inside does not involve a Torah prohibition of Soseir, since the act is itself destructive. (The activity is, of course, permitted in any case, because of the life-threatening situation involved.)

The authorities dispute whether someone who destroys something out of anger violates Shabbos min haTorah or only miderabbanan. According to most Rishonim, this incurs only a rabbinic desecration of Shabbos, since there is no positive benefit from the destruction (Pri Megadim 314:11 in Eishel Avraham). Of course, this act is prohibited for a variety of reasons, including bal tashchis (unnecessary destruction) and damaging one’s character development (Shabbos 105b). There is a minority opinion of the Rambam, who holds that wrecking something out of anger incurs a Shabbos violation min haTorah. He rules that performing an act that makes its perpetrator feel better incurs a Torah violation and is not considered mekalkeil, even though the act is extremely damaging both to the object of his wrath and to himself.

Does Soseir apply to Portable Implements?

Having established that Soseir is prohibited min haTorah only when it creates a direct positive result, we now want to understand whether destroying a vessel is included under the melachah of Soseir. Note that I discussed earlier whether the melachah of Boneh applies only to items connected to the ground, or whether it also applies to the construction of movable items. I noted that the Gemara debates this issue, and that the Rishonim provide the following conclusions:

1. Some contend that the melachah of Boneh includes only building on the ground.

2. Others contend that major construction of small movable items is prohibited min haTorah, but a minor improvement is not.

3. Many authorities contend that this previous dispute refers only to small, easy to move implements, but that a large implement is definitely included min haTorah within the melachah of Boneh, even to perform a minor repair or enhancement.

Since Soseir is the opposite of Boneh, if constructing an item constitutes Boneh, according to the opinions above, then destroying it is Soseir.

Makeh Bepatish

Before we analyze the Gemara texts that impact on our original questions, we still need to discuss one other prohibition: the melachah of Makeh Bepatish, which includes a general prohibition of completing items, such as smoothing a surface to finish an item. One aspect of this melachah is that it prohibits making a nice opening in a vessel, such as boring an outlet hole in a storage drum (Shabbos 146a; Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 10:16). The Gemara teaches that it is prohibited min haTorah to make an opening that is to be used in both directions, whereas making an opening to be used only in one direction is prohibited miderabbanan. As an example of the first type of opening, the Gemara mentions an opening made in a chicken coop, which allows ventilation of its fumes and also allows light and/or air into the coop. Boring an outlet hole in a storage drum, the case I just mentioned above, is a classic example of something prohibited only miderabbanan, since the opening is intended only to remove the product, but not to return it to the vessel. However, creating a new opening that is meant both to remove and return product incurs a Torah prohibition.

The Can Opener

With the principles we have learned, we can now examine the Talmudic sources that directly affect our original questions: May one open a can or other package on Shabbos to obtain its contents?

The Mishnah (Shabbos 146a) permits smashing open a barrel of figs on Shabbos to reach the food inside, provided one does not try to make a proper opening. As I noted earlier, attempting to make a proper opening certainly desecrates Shabbos. The question is whether one can simply break the barrel to reach its figs without attempting to make a nice opening. This Mishnah states that this is permitted.

However, in another discussion (Eruvin 34b) the Gemara rules that one cannot break open a container to obtain the food inside. Since manufacturing a proper vessel, even a small one, is prohibited min haTorah, smashing it remains prohibited even when one is smashing the vessel to obtain food. Although I explained above that this act is mekalkeil and therefore not prohibited min haTorah, it is still prohibited miderabbanan.

If so, how can the Mishnah permit smashing a barrel to obtain its contents?

There are two major approaches to answer this question. Tosafos explains that the Mishnah that permits smashing to obtain food is not referring to a proper vessel, but to one that was previously smashed and then feebly repaired by use of resin as glue. Reconstructing this type of container, known in Aramaic as a mustaki, would not violate a Torah violation of Boneh since it is not considered a proper vessel. As a result, smashing this barrel does not really violate Soseir, and therefore, one may do so in order to obtain the figs. However, the Gemara in Eruvin is dealing with a regular vessel and therefore forbids smashing the vessel to obtain the food inside. This approach of Tosafos is followed by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 314:1), who concludes that one may smash open a mustaki to obtain food on Shabbos, but not a proper vessel.

Other authorities distinguish between the two cases in a different way and therefore reach a different halachic conclusion. In their opinion, the Mishnah in Shabbos is describing a small vessel (as defined above) and the Gemara in Eruvin a large one. They conclude that in order to enhance the pleasures of Shabbos, Chazal permitted smashing a small vessel to obtain food, but they prohibited smashing a large vessel. According to this approach, one may smash open any “small” container on Shabbos in order to obtain its contents.

How do we Rule?

The Mishnah Berurah concludes that it is prohibited to smash open even a small vessel to obtain food on Shabbos, following the conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch (Bi’ur Halachah 314:1). Other authorities rule that one should not admonish those who smash vessels to obtain their contents, since this common practice is based on a bona fide opinion (Aruch Hashulchan 314:8). All agree that one may not open the container in a way that creates a nice opening.

However, this approach does not satisfactorily explain those who permit opening cans on Shabbos, since neither of these opinions permits being mekalkeil to obtain food on Shabbos. They only dispute whether one should correct those who do smash small vessels. Is there any basis for those who allow the opening of cans on Shabbos?

Enter Chosalos

There is another basis to permit opening packaging on Shabbos. The Gemara mentions a halachah of chosalos, which are a type of basket made of palm branches (also known as lulavim) in which one places unripe dates to ripen or where one stores dried figs. The Gemara rules that one may rip these chosalos open on Shabbos. The question is why this is not considered destroying a vessel, which we concluded before is prohibited, at least lechatchilah.

The Kolbo explains that chosalos are considered an artificial peel or shell around the dates or figs. The rationale is that the chosal is tafeil, secondary, to the food it contains and therefore it is not considered to be a vessel. Just as one may remove the natural peel or shell of a fruit on Shabbos and it is certainly not making or destroying a vessel, so one may remove an artificial “peel” or “shell” on Shabbos. Thus, anything included under the heading of chosalos may be opened on Shabbos. The Magen Avraham states that the permission to open chosalos does not permit the breaking of a regular vessel.

Can our contemporary packaging be compared to the law of chosalos? To answer this we need to have a clear definition of what defines a regular vessel and what defines chosalos.

Opening Cans

In a lengthy teshuvah on the subject, Rav Moshe Feinstein defines a chosal as any item that is not reused for any other product; everyone disposes of the chosal once its product is used up. A “regular” vessel is one that people reuse for another product. According to this definition of a chosal, even a tin can is a chosal, if everyone disposes of the can after finishing the original contents, and certainly if everyone disposes of the can immediately after opening it. Following this analysis, opening cans on Shabbos does not violate the melachos of Shabbos, since tin cans are not reused for other products. (In Rav Moshe’s teshuvah on the subject, he implies that this halachah is true, even if one returns the original product to the chosal.) Rav Moshe himself concludes at the end of his teshuvah that one should open these packages before Shabbos, explaining that people might misunderstand the laws and mistakenly open packaging that is prohibited. However, in the case of someone who made a sheva berachos or who invited guests and finds, to his embarrassment, that he does not have enough food to serve, he permits having a gentile open the cans and other containers on Shabbos (Shu’t Igros Moshe 1:122; for a similar approach, see Shu’t Chelkas Yaakov 3:8).

On the other hand, other authorities contend that any strong vessel is not considered a chosal.

We must note that in another responsum, Rav Moshe rules that one may not open a milk or juice carton on Shabbos, since this creates a spout (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:78). Why is this not similar to opening a chosal, which Rav Moshe permits? It seems that although he permits opening a chosal on Shabbos, he does not permit opening it in a way that forms a nice opening. (By the way, we should note that, according to what I have just explained, Rav Moshe would prohibit opening cans with pull up rings  since pulling the lid off forms a nice opening.)

Soda Cans

Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach permits opening soda cans on Shabbos (Shulchan Shelomoh 314:7:4). He makes no mention of the concerns voiced in Rav Moshe’s closing paragraphs (that people might err and exceed the perimeters of his leniency) and therefore concludes that even Jews may open them on Shabbos.

On the other hand, the Chazon Ish (Orach Chayim 51:13) contends that opening any cans violates the Torah prohibition of making an opening. He explains two different reasons why opening cans is prohibited min haTorah:

1. The opening is meant to be used both ways: it allows air inside the can to break the vacuum and it allows the product out.

2. Opening a can is like creating a new vessel, since the closed can is useless, and opening it creates a serviceable vessel. Although he acknowledges that few people reuse cans, they can be reused, particularly by resourceful people (Orach Chayim 51:11).

Rav Shelomoh Zalman disputes the rationale that a soda can opening is considered “two-way”, since the entire purpose of allowing the air in is to enable the product to exit. Also, he does not consider the resultant opening a “nice opening”, since it is simply a means of removing the product from the container.

In conclusion, the intent of this article is not to provide a definitive pesak regarding these issues – every person should ask his posek. Our goal is to give people a better understanding of the issues involved and an appreciation of their rav’s ruling, whatever it may be.

Shabbos Emergencies

clip_image002The last sentence of the haftarah we read this Shabbos is the basis for our daily beracha Refa’einu. This provides us with the opportunity to review the laws that we need to know about Shabbos emergencies.

I once received the following communication:

“As an active member of Hatzalah, but not speaking on behalf of any specific Hatzalah organization, I suggest that you cover a topic that would benefit many frum communities, especially those where, Boruch Hashem, new branches of Hatzalah have recently been established. In many instances of our responding to Shabbos emergencies, we discover that the patient, family, and bystanders do not know the basic halachos of pikuach nefesh; thus, they do not understand why we do certain things, such as using our radios or driving to and from an emergency. Although occasionally different branches follow different protocols (such as whether we drive back from a call) depending on different piskei halacha that each branch received, the basic rules are the same, and the differences in psak halacha among the different branches rarely affect what the patient does.

“Another phenomenon that I see is simply baffling. People call Hatzalah on Shabbos, with no intention of allowing us to transport the patient to a hospital if we deem it necessary. They tell us, ‘We can’t go to the hospital; it’s Shabbos.’ Guess what? You called us and it’s Shabbos for us too. People need to be taught that if Chas V’Shalom they need to call Hatzalah on Shabbos (or any other day), they MUST listen to our advice.

“We are trained to recognize problems that are not obvious to the untrained individual. If we say the patient needs to be transported to the hospital on Shabbos, please don’t argue with us!

“My understanding of the halacha is that it is the responsibility of the Rabbonim of a community to educate people what to do on Shabbos if someone is endangered.

“Thanking you in advance,”

The Hatzalah volunteer who addressed this letter requested that we withhold his name, and we are honoring his request.

Although I have never been involved in Hatzalah’s holy work, I would like to introduce my comments with the following tragic story: Yuddie, a hard working, mid-fifties, proud Jew, was feeling unwell on a Shabbos afternoon. His concerned children called the local ambulance service, who felt he should go to the hospital immediately. Yuddie refused to go on Shabbos. To bring the story to its abrupt end, Yuddie died a few hours later from coronary arrest.

This is only part of the tragedy. Imagine what probably happened when Yuddie arrived for final judgment in the court of the Olam HaEmes. Certainly the Satan charged him with manslaughter for bringing about his own demise by violating the halachos of pikuach nefesh. Maybe the Beis Din shel Maalah had rachmonus to mitigate his crime and judge him as a shogeg, someone negligent in his violation because he was unaware of the halachos. Certainly, Yuddie will receive some punishment for his serious breach of halacha since he should have studied the halacha.

To make sure such tragedies don’t reoccur, we will review the basics of these halachos.

The Gemara (Yerushalmi, Yoma 8:5) teaches: “Someone who was asked a shaylah (whether to desecrate Shabbos in the case of a life-threatening emergency) is disgraced and the one who asks is guilty of bloodshed.” We understand the second part of this statement — that someone busying himself with asking whether he can save someone’s life is wasting precious minutes that literally may be the difference between life and death, but why is the rav who was asked the shaylah considered disgraced?

The answer is because he is responsible to teach these halachos publicly so that people should always know these laws thoroughly. If people are asking what to do it this indicates that the rav has not adequately taught them, which is negligence on his part (Korban HaEidah ad loc.).

Let us quote the words of Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 328:2): “It is a mitzvah to desecrate Shabbos for a dangerous illness. He who does so swiftly is praised; the person who goes to ask what to do is a shedder of blood!” and again: “Whoever is swift in desecrating Shabbos in a matter that involves danger is praised!! (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 328:13)

By the way, this rule obviously applies equally on weekdays! If someone is uncertain whether a particular situation is life threatening or not, he/she is required to immediately seek proper medical attention. Delaying might be shedding blood!

IS THIS AN EMERGENCY?

But what if I do not know whether this is a life threatening emergency? Am I required to be a doctor to know what is and what is not? After all, only a life-threatening emergency supersedes Shabbos!

No, there is no halacha requirement to be a physician. However, this is the rule that one should follow:

“One must desecrate Shabbos even if there is only a slight possibility that the situation is dangerous. One does not need a professional opinion or an expert physician. Whenever one is uncertain whether the situation is dangerous, he is required to desecrate Shabbos (Shu’t Tashbeitz 1:54).”

Thus, Yuddie’s children were absolutely correct in calling the emergency service and certainly could have driven him to the hospital themselves, even if it would have turned out to have been nothing but indigestion from too much cholent. Certainly, I have only praise for the Hatzalah volunteers who drive on Shabbos to attend emergencies.

The source for this halacha is the following statement: “An uncertainty whether the situation is life-threatening supersedes Shabbos. Not only if it is uncertain whether the situation is immediately dangerous, but even if there is no danger now and the situation may create a danger for the future (Gemara Yoma 84b).” The last clause teaches that we supersede Shabbos for someone when inferior care received now may affect his future health, such as a person suffering from an apnea condition which, left untreated, may eventually cause permanent heart damage. The same applies to kidney conditions or diabetes.

In short, the Torah demands that when you are uncertain whether a situation is dangerous or not, be mechaleil Shabbos first to get proper medical care, and ask questions later.

Years ago, I was visiting a physician friend of mine when a well respected member of the frum community, who lived quite a distance from the house, arrived on Shabbos afternoon to determine whether his child’s illness was life-threatening. They had just walked with the child forty minutes to have a frum physician evaluate whether the situation warranted chillul Shabbos! To this day I am astonished at how little this yeshiva-educated man knew about pikuach nefesh. When uncertain whether a situation is life threatening or not, assume that it is until someone knowledgeable informs you that it is not.

WHAT IS CONSIDERED MEDICALLY KNOWLEDGEABLE?

The halachic definition of a physician for these purposes certainly includes a trained Hatzalah emergency medical technician. I can prove this from an anecdote concerning Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky, zt”l. Rav Yaakov’s first rabbinic position was in a small Lithuanian village that had no physician. Thus, living there violated the psak of the Rambam (Hilchos Dayos 4:23) that a talmid chacham may live only in a town that has a physician. Rav Yaakov needed a solution to accept this position and move into the community. He resolved the problem by reading through medical books until he felt he met the halachic requirements of being a local doctor (Reb Yaakov, page 106). Thus we see that someone who knows enough to treat commonplace medical problems is halachically qualified as a physician.

One can conclude that a Hatzalah volunteer has sufficient training to be considered halachically a physician for the emergencies with which he deals. Therefore, a lay person who disobeys the instructions of a Hatzalah volunteer to desecrate Shabbos is a shofeich domim!

WHAT IF THE SITUATION IS NOT LIFE THREATENING?

If a medical authority, such as a Hatzalah volunteer, tells you that the situation is not life-threatening, a Jew may not perform any activity that involves violating a Torah prohibition, although depending on circumstances, rabbinic takanos may often be set aside.

It is beyond the scope of this article to detail what one may do under these circumstances, but I will supply two rules of thumb that one should usually follow under these circumstances:

1. If the person is ill (even not seriously) or uncomfortable, one may ask a gentile to do whatever is necessary (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 307:5).

2. If the patient and his family do not include any talmidei chachamim, and the Hatzalah volunteer tells you that based on his experience of asking shaylos from Rabbonim, you should be able to do something yourself, you may rely on this information until one has the opportunity to ask a shaylah what to do.

May we always merit that to perform mitzvos in good health and in the way that Hashem wants us to.

Knotty Situations II

Mrs. Goldstein ties her tichel on Shabbos the way her mother always did. Her son Yankie explains that she should not tie or untie her tichel this way since it is a double knot. Must Mrs. Goldstein tie her tichel differently? And may she untie the knot that is holding the tichel on her head?

Yankie’s older brother Reuven returns from yeshivah and tells his mom that it is okay to tie the baby’s shoes with a double knot. Mom has never done this, always assuming that one cannot tie a double knot on Shabbos, even though baby Rivka’s shoes almost never stay tied on Shabbos as a result. Of course, Yankie does not miss the opportunity to disagree with Reuven and emphasize that one may not tie the shoes on Shabbos just as one may not tie the tichel.

What’s a mother to do?

She calls the Rav, who continues his explanation ….

In our last article we learned that some knots are prohibited min haTorah, others are prohibited midirabbanan, while others are completely permitted. Any knot that may not be tied may not be untied either. If tying it involves a Torah prohibition, then untying it is forbidden min haTorah (Mishnah Shabbos 111b). If tying the knot is only midirabbanan, then untying it is midirabbanan. If one is allowed to tie a particular knot, one may also untie it (Rambam Hilchos Shabbos 10:7). We learned that according to Rashi and most Rishonim, it is prohibited min haTorah to tie a permanent knot, midirabbanan to tie a semi-permanent knot, and that it is permitted to tie a temporary knot. Everyone agrees that Rashi permits tying any knot that will be untied within 24 hours from when it is tied (Beis Yosef 317). On the other hand, everyone agrees that Rashi forbids tying a knot that is left untied for a week or more. Authorities dispute whether Rashi prohibits tying a knot meant to last more than 24 hours but less than a week, some viewing this knot as semi-permanent and others as temporary (Rama 317:1). One may follow the lenient opinion under extenuating circumstances (Biyur Halacha 317:4 s.v. she’einam kevuim).

According to Rambam, a knot that is permanent is prohibited min haTorah only when it is a type of knot that a craftsman would use, called a “kesher uman.” A permanent knot that would not be used by a craftsman is only midirabbanan. In addition, a knot that a craftsman would tie but is not permanent is also only midirabbanan, whereas a knot that is neither permanent nor used by a craftsman is totally permitted. There is some uncertainty as to what is considered a “craftsman’s knot.” Because of this question, some poskim rule that one should not tie any knot very tightly even though one intends to untie it shortly (Shiltei HaGibborim).

According to both Rashi and the Rambam, one may tie a knot that will be untied within 24 hours if it is not extremely tight. Thus according to all opinions, one may tie a gartel on Shabbos or the belt on a bathrobe or any other garment that is usually untied as it is removed and is not tied very tightly. Similarly, a woman may tie her tichel in place because a woman always unties this knot when she removes it so that she does not dishevel her hair.

TYING A KNOT IN A PIECE OF STRING

Tying a knot with a piece of string or length of rope around itself so that it does not slip through a hole or unravel is usually prohibited min haTorah according to all opinions (Gemara Shabbos 74b; Rama 317:1). This knot usually remains permanent and thus is certainly a Torah violation according to Rashi. Even according to the Rambam that only a craftsman’s knot incurs a Torah transgression, this is a very tight knot that a craftsman would use for this purpose. (It is interesting to note that some people call this “a stevedore’s knot,” implying that it is a craftsman’s knot.) Thus, tying a knot on a threaded needle to hold it in place is prohibited min haTorah.

For the same reason, making a knot on the end of one’s tzitzis to prevent them from unraveling is prohibited min haTorah. Similarly, it is prohibited min haTorah to tie a balloon on Shabbos. Therefore, some authorities prohibit blowing up a balloon on Shabbos because of the possibility that one may mistakenly tie it.

WHAT IS CONSIDERED A CRAFTSMAN’S KNOT?

The definition of a craftsman’s knot is difficult to ascertain. Obviously it has to be very tight, but are there other requirements? Because of this uncertainty, a custom developed not to tie any knot on Shabbos that involves tying one knot on top of another (Shiltei HaGibborim; Rama 317:1) which is how most knots are tied. Thus, one might assume that Mrs. Goldstein may not tie her tichel with a double knot as Yankie told her.

However, most poskim permit tying the tichel as Mrs. Goldstein has been doing and as her mother did before her. This is because of a combination of several reasons:

Several poskim contend that the custom not to tie a double knot is only when one ties a knot very tightly (L’vushei S’rad and Pri Megadim on Magen Avraham 317:4; also see

Chazon Ish 52:17) whereas a tichel is tied fairly loosely. Other poskim contend that the custom not to tie a double knot is only if one intends to leave it tied for more than a day (Aruch HaShulchan 317:10). Thus there is substantive reason to permit tying a tichel with a double knot (Shmiras Shabbos K’Hilchasah 15:ftn 167).

It should be noted that many poskim permit double knotting a child’s shoes for the same reason since the knot is not very tight. Others prohibit it because the reason for the upper knot is to make the lower knot and bow very tight and that is considered tying a double knot tightly (Shmiras Shabbos K’Hilchasah 15:53).

ANIVAH

The Gemara concludes that it is permitted to tie an “anivah” on Shabbos. What is an anivah?

Any knot that can be untied without undoing the original knot by pulling on one side of the knot is an anivah and is permitted. This includes tying bows (without additional knots, see below) and slipknots (Mordechai, Halachos Ketanos #940). A slipknot is so called because it slips easily along the cord on which it is made.

The poskim dispute whether one may tie a temporary knot and then a bow on Shabbos. Does the bow make the knot more permanent and therefore a problem? Most poskim prohibit tying a bow onto a temporary knot, considering the knot thus created a semi-permanent knot that is prohibited (Rama 317:5; Taz; Magen Avraham ad loc.).

TYING RIBBONS AND BOWS

According to what we have explained, one may not tie a ribbon around a package on Shabbos in the usual fashion because this involves tying a double knot. However, one may tie the ribbon without a knot by making two bows even if one ties the bows very tightly (Mishnah Berurah 317:29; Biyur Halacha 317:5 s.v. anivah).

If someone forgot to tie the aravos and hadasim to the lulav before Yom Tov, one cannot tie with a knot and bow on top of it unless it is a type of knot that one unties every day. One may tie it with a bow on top of a bow (Taz 317:7).

SUMMARY OF KNOTS

We have learned that one may not tie a permanent or semi-permanent knot or a craftsman’s knot, and also that one may not tie one tight knot on top of another. According to many poskim, one may tie a loose knot on top of another loose knot and therefore a woman may tie her tichel with two knots one on top of the other. Tying a bow or slip knot is permitted since the knot is taken apart without undoing it but by pulling it apart. Thus, Mrs. Goldstein may continue to tie her tichel and there are poskim who even permit double knotting baby Rivka’s shoes. (Although others prohibit double knotting shoes.)

PERMANENT BONDING

Tying knots in a permanent way not only affects halacha but also has hashkafic ramifications. When Moshe Rabbeinu asked to understand Hashem’s ways, Hashem told him that as long as he was alive he would only be able to recognize Hashem “from behind.” Chazal explain that Hashem showed Moshe the knot of His tefillin, which represents the permanent attachment that exists between Hashem and the Jewish people.

Just as tefillin are tied with a permanent knot, so too Hashem’s relationship with the Jewish people is a permanent bond. And just as the tefillin straps tie what is below to what is above, so too their knot connects our mundane world below to the Heavenly world above.

Knotty Situations

clip_image002Mrs. Goldstein ties her tichel on Shabbos the way her mother always did. Her son Yankie explains that she should not tie or untie her tichel this way since it is a double knot. Must Mrs. Goldstein tie her tichel differently? And may she untie the knot that is holding the tichel on her head?

Yankie’s older brother, Reuven, returns from yeshivah and tells his mom that it is okay to tie the baby’s shoes with a double knot. Mom has never done this, always assuming that one cannot tie a double knot on Shabbos, even though baby Rivka’s shoes almost never stay tied on Shabbos as a result. Of course, Yankie does not miss the opportunity to disagree with Reuven and emphasize that one may not tie the shoes on Shabbos just as one may not tie the tichel.

What’s a mother to do?

She calls the Rav, who begins to explain….

As we see, these and many other shailos in regards to knots affect our weekly observance of Shabbos. We must learn these halachos thoroughly to be certain that we are keeping Shabbos correctly.

Tying and untying knots are two of the 39 melachos prohibited on Shabbos. Several types of knots were tied in the course of constructing the mishkan, which is our source for what is forbidden on Shabbos. For example, it was necessary to tie and untie the nets used to catch the chilazon that provided the techeiles dye. Also, the weavers of the mishkan curtains had to tie knots whenever a thread tore (Gemara Shabbos 74b).

KNOTTING MIN HATORAH

The Mishnah and Gemara teach that some knots are prohibited min haTorah, others are prohibited midirabbanan, while others are completely permitted. They also state that any knot that may not be tied may not be untied either. If tying it involves a Torah prohibition, then untying it is forbidden min haTorah (Mishnah Shabbos 111b). If tying the knot is only midirabbanan, then untying it is midirabbanan. If one is allowed to tie a particular knot, one may also untie it (Rambam Hilchos Shabbos 10:7).

Although several examples of prohibited and permitted knots are mentioned in the Mishnah and Gemara, exactly what defines a “prohibited knot” is never discussed. This issue is left for the Rishonim to discuss, who have two approaches to define the issue, that of Rashi and that of the Rif.

RASHI’S DEFINITION

Rashi and most Rishonim contend that it is prohibited min haTorah to tie a permanent knot, it is prohibited midirabbanan to tie a semi-permanent knot, and that it is permitted to tie a temporary knot.

But where does one splice between a prohibited semi-permanent knot and a temporary knot that is permitted? Although there are different opinions concerning this, everyone agrees that Rashi permits tying any knot that will be untied within 24 hours from when it is tied (Beis Yosef 317). A knot of such short duration is considered temporary and is permitted (Mishnah Berurah 317:6, quoting Pri Megadim).

On the other hand, everyone agrees that Rashi forbids tying a knot that remains for a week or more. This is long enough to be considered semi-permanent and tying it on Shabbos was prohibited by Chazal.

What Poskim dispute is whether Rashi permits tying a knot meant to last more than 24 hours but less than a week, some viewing this knot as semi-permanent and others viewing it as temporary (Rama 317:1). One may follow the lenient opinion under extenuating circumstances (Biyur Halacha 317:4 s.v. she’einam kevuim).

JUMPROPES AND SHOELACES

Thus, according to Rashi, tying two lengths of jump rope together to make a longer jump rope may be prohibited min haTorah since one might leave the knot permanently. Tying a knot attaching a boat to a pier is prohibited midirabbanan since it may be left for a long period of time. It is not prohibited min haTorah since it will definitely be untied eventually (Gemara Shabbos 111b with Rashi). One may tie shoes since they will be untied later the same day. (It should be noted that one may not put a new shoelace into a shoe on Shabbos because it is considered completing a vessel, see Magen Avraham 317:7).

RIF’S DEFINITION

The Rif and Rambam present a different approach why one may tie some knots on Shabbos but not others. In their opinion, a knot that is permanent is prohibited min haTorah only when it is a type of knot that a craftsman would tie, called a “kesher uman.” A permanent knot that would not be used by a craftsman is only midirabbanan. In addition, a knot that a craftsman would tie but is not permanent is also only midirabbanan, whereas a knot that is neither permanent nor used by a craftsman is totally permitted.

In the Rif’s opinion, there is no intermediate category for semi-permanent knots. According to most interpretations, he considers any non-permanent knot as temporary even if it remains tied for a long time. Thus, tying a knot and leaving it for several months will be permitted so long as it is not a craftsman’s knot according to these interpretations of the Rif’s opinion (Pri Megadim; Aruch HaShulchan 317:3; Avnei Nezer #178; Mishnah Berurah 317:5; However, compare Taz 317:1 and Graz 317:2).

Furthermore, according to this approach, tying a craftsman’s knot with intent to untie it after several months will only be midirabbanan according to the Rif because it isn’t permanent.

WHAT NOT TO KNOT

Here are some examples of knots that are prohibited min haTorah. In the time of the Mishnah, boatmen would tie a knot at the prow of a boat or ship that was never removed. Such a knot is prohibited min haTorah on Shabbos. According to Rashi, this is because the knot is permanent while according to the Rif it is only forbidden min HaTorah because of the additional factor that it is tied by trained boatmen.

Similarly, knots tied by shoemakers or sandal makers of Talmudic times were prohibited min haTorah (Gemara Shabbos 112a), since they were tied permanently (and according to the Rif because they were also craftsmans’ knots).

Tying knots of tefillin and tzitzis is a Torah violation since these are craftsman’s knots and permanent (Gemara Eruvin 96b; Shabbos 131a). Tightening the knots of one’s tzitzis may also violate a Torah prohibition.

Suturing stitches is prohibited min HaTorah because the knot tied after each stitch is a permanent skilled knot (Nimla Tal Kosheir #16). Therefore, whenever possible, a non-Jew should perform this suturing on Shabbos (see Rama 328:12).

WHAT KNOT TO KNOT

According to both Rashi and the Rif, one may tie a knot that will be untied within 24 hours. Thus according to all opinions, one may tie a gartel on Shabbos or the belt on a bathrobe or any other garment that is usually untied when the garment is removed. Similarly, a woman may tie her tichel in place because a woman always unties this knot when she removes it so that she does not dishevel her hair.

MAY I KNOT THIS KNOT?

In conclusion, there are three disputes between Rashi and the Rif.

PERMANENT, BUT NOT CRAFTY

1. According to Rashi, a permanent knot is prohibited min HaTorah even if it isn’t a craftman’s knot, since permanence is the only criterion for the Torah’s prohibition. However, the Rif will consider such a knot to be prohibited only midirabbanan if it is not a craftsman’s knot.

We should note that a knot that will never be untied is considered permanent even if one does not need the knot anymore. Rashi explains that the knot used to bind the aravos and hadasim to the lulav is considered permanent since one never bothers to untie it. This is true even though this knot will not be needed for more than a few days and then the lulav will be discarded.

Thus, knotting a bag of garbage on Shabbos violates a Torah prohibition according to Rashi since the knot will never be untied (see Rashi Sukkah 33b), whereas according to the Rif it is only midirabbanan unless one used a craftsman’s knot.

SEMI-PERMANENT, BUT NOT CRAFTY

2. We mentioned that tying a semi-permanent non-craftsman’s knot is prohibited according to Rashi, but permitted according to the Rif. Therefore, Rashi would prohibit tying a plastic bag with a simple single knot that is meant to last for more than a week (and possibly even for more than a day) since this knot is semi-permanent although it is certainly not a craftsman’s knot. The Rif would permit this since it is neither a craftsman’s knot nor a permanent knot.

However, we should note that the exact definition of a “craftsman’s knot” is uncertain. Because of this question, some poskim rule that one should not tie any knot very tightly even though one intends to untie it shortly (Shiltei HaGibborim).

CRAFTY AND TEMPORARY

3. A temporary craftsman’s knot is prohibited according to the Rif, albeit only midirabbanan, but is permitted according to Rashi (who considers a craftsman’s knot no different from any other knot). Thus, securing a rope in order to rappel down a hill is prohibited midirabbanan according to the Rif since one would certainly use a craftsman’s knot for this purpose. Rashi permits tying this knot if one intends to untie it after a few hours.

HOW TO WE PASKIN?

Most poskim rule that we should be stringent like both opinions (Rama 317:1). Therefore, one may not tie a craftsman’s knot even if it is temporary (even though Rashi permits this), and it is also prohibited to tie a semi-permanent knot even if it is not a craftsman’s knot (and would be permitted according to the Rif). Therefore, one may not knot a bag closed with a semi-permanent knot, nor may one tie a craftsman’s knot even for a few hours’ use.

Under extenuating circumstances, one may tie or untie a temporary knot even though it qualifies as a craftsman’s knot and rely on Rashi, or tie a non-permanent knot that is not a craftsman’s knot and rely on the Rif (Maamar Mordechai; see Avnei Nezer #178:6). In both of these situations the dispute is only whether tying the knot involves an issur dirabbanan. Although we usually rule stringently, as explained above, in an extenuating situation one may rely on the lenient opinion.

INTERIM SUMMARY OF KNOTS

We have learned that one may not tie a permanent or semi-permanent knot or a craftsman’s knot, and also that one may not tie one tight knot on top of another.

For the remainder of this discussion, see Knotty Situations II.

 

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