What Happens When We Do Something Wrong?

Since the Aseres Hadibros which include the laws of Shabbos are in Parshas Va’eschanan, we have an opportunity to discuss what happens when we do something wrong on Shabbos.

Question #1: Cholent caper

Shimon looks rather sheepish when he asks this shaylah on Shabbos morning: During the night, he tasted the cholent and decided it needed some extra spices. Without thinking, he added some pepper and garlic powder, which is clearly an act of desecrating Shabbos. Can the cholent be eaten, or is it prohibited to benefit from this melachah?

Question #2: Bad advice

“My main mutual fund has performed wonderfully over time and I am very satisfied with it. However, I recently read a transcript in which the fund manager, who is probably Jewish, referred to investment discussions with his staff on Friday night. I am concerned that I may be benefiting from chillul Shabbos that he performs in the course of researching venture possibilities for the fund. Must I pull my money out and look for another investment vehicle?”

Question #3: The unrepentant knitter

Yehudis seeks guidance for a real predicament: “I have a non-observant relative who loves to knit and is presently knitting a baby blanket for my soon-to-be. I am certain that she is doing some of this on Shabbos. If we do not use her blanket she will be very upset — and she will notice if we fail to use it. What may we do to avoid antagonizing her?”

Each of these actual shaylos involves the same halachic issue: May one benefit from work performed on Shabbos? Although we certainly discourage any type of desecration of Shabbos, the current question is whether something produced on Shabbos may be used afterwards. This question is discussed in the Gemara in several places, which cites a three-way dispute among tanna’im concerning food cooked by a Jew on Shabbos. Each of the three opinions focuses on a different issue. The question in practical halachah is whether or not we are concerned about these reasons and to what extent. Briefly put, these are the three issues:

I. Intrinsically prohibited

Some contend that food cooked in violation of Shabbos becomes a substance that we are prohibited to eat min hatorah. Those who rule this way maintain that food cooked on Shabbos is non-kosher.

II. The sinner goes to the penalty box!

Others maintain that Chazal penalized a person who intentionally desecrated Shabbos by banning that individual from benefiting from his misdeed. Although the food is still considered kosher, there are restrictions as to who may eat it and when.

III. Defer benefit!

A third opinion contends that , to avoid profiting from the sin performed, one cannot benefit from an item created through Shabbos desecration until after Shabbos.

Let me explain the differences among these three approaches.

I. Intrinsically prohibited

Rabbi Yochanan Hasandlar contends that not only does the Torah forbid desecrating Shabbos, but it also bans benefiting from something created in defiance of Shabbos. For example, food cooked on Shabbos is forbidden and will never become permitted for use by anyone. If this food subsequently became mixed into otherwise kosher food, the same laws apply as any situation when non-kosher became mixed into kosher food.

However, Rabbi Yochanan Hasandlar prohibits the food only when it was produced in intentional desecration of Shabbos. An item created through negligent violation of Shabbos (shogeig) is treated more leniently.

II. The sinner goes to the penalty box!

Rabbi Yehudah follows a more lenient approach, prohibiting the sinner from using items made on Shabbos as a penalty created by the Sages, but not because the food is intrinsically non-kosher min hatorah. Chazal created this penalty so that the perpetrator should not benefit from his misdeed. For this reason, Rabbi Yehudah prohibits the item permanently but only to the person who desecrated Shabbos. Several authorities rule that this prohibition applies also to the members of his household (Graz, 253:24; Kaf Hachayim 318:11). Furthermore, the equipment used to cook the food on Shabbos must be koshered before it may be used again, since it has absorbed taste that is forbidden to him (Magen Avraham 318:1, quoting Rashba) and his household (according to the Graz and Kaf Hachayim). Other people may use the item after Shabbos is over.

Negligent desecration

Thus far, we have discussed what happens when something was prepared in intentional defilement of Shabbos. However, what is the halachah if someone violated Shabbos Shabbos unintentionally (beshogeig)?

According to Rabbi Yehudah, one may eat the food after Shabbos is over. If the sin was performed unintentionally, no distinction is made between the person who violated Shabbos and anyone else — we do not penalize the perpetrator after Shabbos is over. But Rabbi Yehudah requires that we defer the benefit until after Shabbos.

III. Deferring use

The third opinion, Rabbi Meir, is more lenient. He agrees that no one may benefit from an item created through intentional desecration of Shabbos on Shabbos itself. However, once Shabbos is over, the item may be used. Furthermore, only something produced in intentional defiance of Shabbos may not be used. The results of shogeig,negligent, violation of Shabbos are permitted for use and even for consumption. Although violating Shabbos is a most severe desecration, the Torah did not ban benefiting from the crime. The Sages did not prohibit a product that results from a misdeed, but merely postponed using it until after Shabbos so as not to benefit from the sin, and this, only when the sin was performed intentionally.

To review, Rabbi Meir makes no distinction between the violator himself and others. He also contends that there is no prohibition at all against using an item negligently prepared on Shabbos. Thus, Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehudah are in dispute concerning two key points:

(1) Whether or not the results of negligent violation of Shabbos are permitted. Rabbi Meir permits their use immediately whereas Rabbi Yehudah prohibits their use until Shabbos is over.

(2) Whether or not food prepared in intentional desecration of Shabbos may be used after Shabbos by the desecrator. Rabbi Meir permits their use, whereas Rabbi Yehudah prohibits it.

How do we rule?

Most halachic authorities rule according to Rabbi Yehudah, although there are several who follow the more lenient opinion of Rabbi Meir (Gra, Orach Chayim 318). (Notably, the Rosh, in Bava Kamma 7:6, rules according to the stricter approach of Rabbi Yochanan Hasandlar; however, in Chullin 1:18 he seems to conclude otherwise.)

What is the legal definition of “negligent”?

Before we rule on our opening cases, we need to know what defines whether an activity is considered shogeig (negligent) or whether it qualifies as meizid (intentional).

Negligent violation (shogeig) includes someone who forgot or was unaware that it is Shabbos, or forgot or was unaware that the activity being performed is forbidden on Shabbos. Someone who was told in error that the particular activity is permitted is also considered shogeig. Even if a competent scholar was asked and he erred and permitted something forbidden, the action is still considered a violation and one may not benefit from the results until Shabbos is over (Magen Avraham 318:3). As I mentioned above, in any of these situations, one may use the item after Shabbos ends.


Devorah discovered that she prepared food on Shabbos in a way that the Torah prohibits. Since she was unaware of the halachah, this is an act of shogeig, and the food may be eaten after Shabbos, but not on Shabbos, according to Rabbi Yehudah.

An Intended Beneficiary

As I explained above, Rabbi Yehudah maintains that a person who desecrated Shabbos intentionally may never benefit from the result, while others may benefit after Shabbos. Is the halachah different when the item was made to benefit someone specific? For example, if a Jew cooked for a guest on Shabbos, may the guest eat the food after Shabbos is over?

Why should the intended beneficiary be treated more stringently than anyone else?

To understand the background behind this question, we need to clarify some related issues. I mentioned above that Rabbi Yehudah prohibits the sinner from ever using an item that resulted from his desecration. This rule is not limited to Shabbos, but also applies to other areas of halachah. Here is an example:

Ein mevatelin issur lechatchilah

Although prohibited substances that spill into food are sometimes nullified,this applies only when the mixture occurred inadvertently. One may not deliberately add prohibited food to kosher food in order to nullify the banned substance. This prohibition is called ein mevatelin issur lechatchilah. Bitul is something that happens after the fact and cannot serve as a premeditated solution.

What happens if someone intentionally added a proscribed ingredient? Is the food now prohibited?

Indeed, the person who added the forbidden component may not consume it. This law is derived from the rules of Shabbos. Just as the intentional Shabbos desecrator may not benefit from his misdeed, so, too, the deliberate contaminator of kosher food may not consume the mixture (Gittin 54b). Therefore, if the CIA (Cashrus Intelligence Agency) detects the misdeed, the perpetrator will be banned from benefiting from the resultant product.

Already Added

Because of the above rule, if an amount of non-kosher food too great to be nullified fell into food, one may not add extra kosher food or liquid in order to nullify the prohibited substance. This act is also prohibited under the heading of ein mevatelin issur lechatchilah. Here, too, someone who knows that this act is prohibited and intentionally added permitted food to nullify the forbidden component may not consume it because he violated ein mevatelin issur lechatchilah (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 99:5). However, if he did this negligently, he may use the finished product.

All these rulings derive from the laws of Shabbos that we discussed before. The person who added the product intentionally, knowing that this is prohibited, is comparable to someone who knowingly desecrates Shabbos, and may not benefit from his misdeed. However, the person who was unaware that his act is prohibited qualifies as a shogeig and may use the product. (Note that although on Shabbos we sometimes make a distinction between using the food on Shabbos and using it after Shabbos, no such distinction applies in the case of ein mevatelin issur lechatchilah.)

The following case explains this last situation more clearly. Mrs. Smallminded discovers that she inadvertently added a non-kosher ingredient to the huge pot of soup she is preparing for a family simcha. Realizing her error, she calls her rav, who concludes that the ratio of kosher to non-kosher in her soup is insufficient and that therefore the soup is not kosher. Unwilling to discard all her efforts and ingredients, Mrs. Smallminded adds water to the soup until there is sufficient kosher product to nullify the non-kosher ingredients. As mentioned above, this act is prohibited as a violation of the rule ein mevatelin issur lechatchilah. If Mrs. Smallminded was unaware that she was forbidden to add water, she qualifies as shogeig and may eat the soup. However, if she was aware that this was prohibited and she intentionally ignored the halachah, she may not eat the food, for this would allow her to benefit from her deliberate misdeed.

What about Her Guests?

Let us assume that Mrs. Smallminded realized that she was not allowed to add water, but did so anyway. Later, she has pangs of conscience about her misdeed. As I mentioned above, Mrs. Smallminded may not eat the soup. What about her guests? May they eat the soup because the non-kosher ingredient is indeed bateil, or are they also prohibited from eating it?

The halachah is that the intended beneficiaries may not eat the soup. Since all of Mrs. Smallminded’s family members and guests are intended beneficiaries, none of them may eat the soup (Rashba, Toras HaBayis 4:3, page 32; Tur Yoreh Deah 99). However, some authorities contend that this applies only if those people knew that the water was being mixed in for their benefit, as I will explain.

Not Aware of the Bitul

This leads us to a new question: What if the intended beneficiaries did not know that the item was being added for their benefit?

Some authorities rule that in this last situation the intended beneficiary may use the product (Maharshal; Taz 99:10). However, many authorities conclude that they are still prohibited from using it. Furthermore, most rule that if a store added prohibited substances to kosher food in order to sell it to Jewish customers, no Jewish customers may consume the finished product since they are all considered intended beneficiaries (Shu’t Rivash #498; Rabbi Akiva Eiger). According to this, Mrs. Smallminded’s guests would be forbidden from eating her soup even though they were unaware of what she did.

You might ask, why are they being penalized from eating the luscious soup when they were completely unaware of her intent to violate the law? After all, not only did they not intentionally violate any laws, they did not even know what Mrs. Smallminded was doing in the kitchen!

The Overambitious Butcher

It is easiest to explain this ruling by examining a case discussed by earlier halachic authorities. A town butcher had mastered the proper skills to be a qualified shocheit, but had never passed the next step – being licensed to be a bodeik, the person who checks after the shechitah to ascertain that the animal contains no imperfections that render it tereifah. Nevertheless, this butcher-shocheit performed the shechitah and the bedikah himself, thereby overextending his “license.” The shaylah was whether the meat could be eaten anyway, based on the halachah that if one cannot perform bedikah the animal is ruled kosher, since most animals are kosher.

The posek of the generation, the Rivash, ruled that no one may eat the meat. Although it is indeed true that if a bedikah cannot be performed the meat is kosher, one may not intentionally forgo the bedikah. The Rivash forbids the meat of the above-mentioned butcher-shocheit because of the principle of ein mevatelin issur lechatchilah, and rules that no one may use the meat, since all of the butcher’s customers are intended beneficiaries of his violation. This is true even though the customers certainly did not want the butcher to forgo a proper bedikah. We see that when prohibited food is prepared for someone else, the authorities forbid the intended beneficiary from eating the food, even when he did not want the bitul to transpire.

An Intended Shabbos Beneficiary

Having established that mixing food in violation of halachah prohibits the resultant product, we now need to determine the law on Shabbos. Does halachah ban the intended beneficiary from benefiting from the item produced on Shabbos, even if he/she did not want the item prepared on Shabbos?

The late halachic authorities dispute this question, some contending that since one cannot use the item until Shabbos is over, there is less reason to prohibit the intended beneficiary (Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 318:2, based on Beis Yosef, Yoreh Deah 99). Others conclude that food cooked on Shabbos for customers remains prohibited forever since they are all intended beneficiaries (Shu’t Ksav Sofer, Orach Chayim #50). If this question happens to you, I refer you to your rav or posek.

Answering Our Shaylos

At this point, let us try to resolve the different shaylos that I mentioned before.

Question #1: Cholent caper

Shimon negligently added spices to the cholent on Shabbos. Can his family still eat the cholent, or is it prohibited due to the prohibition of benefiting from melachah performed on Shabbos?

According to most authorities, the halachah follows Rabbi Yehudah and therefore this cholent would be prohibited, but only until Shabbos is over. However, some late authorities rule that, under extenuating circumstances, one may rely on those who accept Rabbi Meir’s more lenient approach (Mishnah Berurah 318:7). According to this approach, one could permit even Shimon to enjoy his cholent on Shabbos if there is not enough ready food for the family.

Question #2: Bad advice

Our second question was: “My main mutual fund has performed wonderfully over time and I am very satisfied with it. However, I recently read a transcript in which the fund manager, who is probably Jewish, referred to investment discussions with his staff on Friday night. I am concerned that I may be benefiting from chillul Shabbos that he performs in the course of researching venture possibilities for the fund. Must I pull my money out and look for another investment vehicle?”

Although we do not want to encourage anyone to desecrate Shabbos, there is, strictly speaking, no violation incurred in benefiting from this investment for an interesting reason. The prohibition of using something made on Shabbos applies only to an item that was actually created or transformed because of the desecration of Shabbos. Thus, the question applies to food made edible or clothing manufactured because of the Shabbos desecration. However, the fund manager’s desecrating Shabbos does not create any object, so that even the strictest opinion of Rabbi Yochanan Hasandlar would not prohibit the money earned by the fund.

Notwithstanding that there is no halachic concern here, one is still entitled to discuss what is really a hashkafah question: Do I want to make profit that results, albeit only partly, from a Jew being mechaleil Shabbos? After all, Hashem provides livelihood and perhaps I should steer away from building my nest egg from someone’s chillul Shabbos. I refer our readers who might have such a question to their own rav.

Question #3: The unrepentant knitter

Now let us now examine our third case above: Yehudis has a non-observant family member who has knit a baby blanket on Shabbos. May Yehudis use the blanket?

Assuming we follow Rabbi Yehudah’s approach, the main question here is whether an intended beneficiary is prohibited forever from use of an item made in violation of Shabbos. Since most later authorities permit this benefit, I ruled that she could use the blanket.


Observing Shabbos is our acknowledgement that Hashem created everything and brought the Creation of the world to conclusion on the seventh day. Shabbos is His statement that His creating the world was complete, and our observing Shabbos recognizes this. When we bring our workweek to a close, we thereby note Hashem’s supremacy and the message of Shabbos. Unfortunately, not all our brethren understand this message, thus leading to many of the shaylos that we discussed in this article. We hope and pray that all Jews soon understand the full beauty of Shabbos.


It’s About Time

Quiz Question #1: Whose bris is first?

Mrs. Unger* gave birth to two healthy twin boys, both of whom had their brissin on the first day that halacha mandates, yet the younger Unger had his bris several days earlier than his older brother. How can this happen?

Question #2: Isn’t he too late?

I have often wondered why my chassidishe brother-in-law davens mincha after sunset, when the Mishnah Berurah rules that one should not daven this late!

Question #3: Frum receptionist

“My sister and I live in the same yishuv (community), and the nearest hospital is Laniado, in Netanya. She went into labor on Shabbos and left for the hospital. Immediately after Shabbos, I phoned the hospital to find out how she was and if she had a boy or a girl, and was told by the gentile receptionist that she could not put the call through until after ‘Rabbeinu Tam’ time arrives, which would not be for another half an hour. Why was the non-Jewish receptionist so frum?”

What does our parsha have to do with time?

This week’s parsha includes the mitzvah of establishing the Jewish calendar, providing an excellent opportunity to discuss what to do when there is an uncertainty what day it is.

Bein Hashemashos

As we know, observing bris milah overrides even Shabbos. However, this is so only for a bris bizmanah; that is, a bris that transpires on the eighth day of the child’s life, but not a bris that is delayed. A bris that is delayed should take place at the earliest opportunity that halacha allows, but not on Shabbos or Yom Tov (see Shu’t Dvar Avraham 1:33; 2:1-3). One reason why a bris may be delayed is because of a medical concern, a topic we will leave for a future article. Another common reason why a bris is delayed: The baby was born during bein hashemashos, a halachic “twilight zone,” a time when we are unsure if it is already Shabbos or not, since we are uncertain whether this period of time belongs to the previous day or the next.

The Mishnah (Shabbos 137a) addresses this issue:

A child is circumcised on the eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, or twelfth – no earlier and no later. How can this be? The normal circumstance is the bris is on the eighth. If he is born during halachic twilight (bein hashemashos), his bris is on the ninth. If [he is born]on Friday’s twilight, he is circumcised on the tenth [that is, Sunday]. If Yom Tov falls on Sunday, he is circumcised on the eleventh [Monday]. If Rosh Hashanah falls on Sunday and Monday, then he is circumcised on the twelfth [day after birth, which is Tuesday].”

We see that the only time we perform the bris on Shabbos is when we are certain that the baby was born on Shabbos. If a baby was born during bein hashemashos on Friday evening, then he was born at a time that we are uncertain whether it is still considered Friday or it is already Shabbos. As the Gemara (Shabbos 34b) expresses it: We are uncertain whether bein hashemashos is day or night… and we treat it strictly regarding both days. Therefore, when a baby is born during bein hashemashos on Friday evening, we cannot perform the bris on Friday, because maybe the baby was born on Shabbos, and Friday is only the seventh day, too early to perform the bris. We cannot perform the bris on Shabbos, either, because maybe the baby was born on Friday, and Shabbos is the ninth day, not the eighth, and only a bris bizmanah, a bris performed on the eighth day, supersedes Shabbos. Since there is no choice, we are forced to postpone the bris to Sunday, as the first available opportunity. However, if a Yom Tov falls on that Sunday, the bris cannot take place on that day, either, since only a bris bizmanah supersedes Yom Tov, and not a bris that is postponed to a time after the eighth day. As a result, the earliest day to perform this bris is Monday.

Rosh Hashanah Starting on Sunday?!

Continuing the explanation of the Mishnah: If Rosh Hashanah falls on Sunday and Monday, then he is circumcised on the twelfth. If the baby was born during bein hashemashos of the Friday evening ten days before Rosh Hashanah, and the two days of Rosh Hashanah fall on Sunday and Monday, then the bris is postponed until Tuesday the day after Rosh Hashanah, which is the twelfth day from the Friday on which the baby was born.

But one minute: the first day of Rosh Hashanah cannot fall on Sunday! How does the Mishnah say differently?

Although our calendar is set up such that Rosh Hashanah cannot fall on Sunday, so that Hoshanah Rabbah does not fall on Shabbos and thus does not jeopardize observance of Hoshanos, at the time of the Mishnah, Rosh Hashanah could and did sometimes transpire on Sunday. When Rosh Chodesh and Rosh Hashanah were determined by the testimony of witnesses who observed the new moon (Rambam, Hilchos Kiddush HaChodesh 1:1, 7; 5:1), it was halachically more important to have Rosh Hashanah fall on its more correct day than to be concerned about having Hoshana Rabbah fall on Shabbos (Ha’emek She’ailah 67:22; Gri’z, Hilchos Kiddush Hachodesh). Only once it became impossible to declare Rosh Chodesh on the basis of observation, and Hillel Hanasi created a permanent calendar, did he include some innovations, including making certain that Hoshanah Rabbah does not fall on Shabbos, by making sure that the first day of Rosh Hashanah does not fall on Sunday (Rambam, Hilchos Kiddush Hachodesh 5:2). (There is an alternative approach, that of Rav Saadiya Geon and Rabbeinu Chananel, to explain this subject, which will be left for another time.)

Why Did the Younger Baby have an Earlier Bris?

At this point, we already have enough information to answer Quiz Question #1 above: Why would a younger twin have his bris earlier than his healthy, older brother? The answer is that the older twin was born during bein hashemashos on Friday evening — at a time that we are uncertain whether he was born on Friday or on Shabbos. Because of this uncertainty, we cannot perform his bris on either Friday or Shabbos, as explained above, and his bris is postponed to Sunday. However, his younger brother was born at a time that is certainly Shabbos, and therefore his bris takes place on Shabbos.

When is Twilight?

This explains the fundamental principles, but still leaves a basic question: When is bein hashemashos?

Answering this question requires delving into the following issue: We all are aware that the Jewish date begins at the beginning of the night. But at what exact moment does one day end and another begin? Do we know the precise instant when one day marches off into history, and its successor arrives with its banner unfurled?

A verse in the book of Nechemiah might help resolve this question. There, it describes the unenviable circumstances in which the Jews were rebuilding the Second Beis Hamikdash, while protecting themselves from the enemies determined to thwart its erection: And we were continuing the construction work from daybreak until the stars come out [tzeis hakochavim], while half our men were holding spears… and at night we were on guard, while in the day we could proceed with the work (Nechemiah 4:15-16). Nechemiah implies that “night” begins from when the stars emerge. The time of dusk, before the stars are visible, is still considered the previous day (see Berachos 2b; Megillah 20b).

However, we still need more definition. Which stars? Can we pinpoint the moment that the stars come out since the stars of the firmament do not all become visible at the same time?

Additional confusion is caused by a different verse that implies that the day ends when the sun sets, as the Torah (Vayikra 22:7) proclaims: And when the sun sets, he shall become pure, stating that the final stage of purification from some types of tumah is the sunset after immersion in a mikveh. However, at sunset, no stars are yet visible, and the halacha is that this taharah transpires at nightfall, implying that the changing of the day transpires at sunset, not when the stars appear (see Berachos 2b).

What a Phenomenal Dusk!

Is there any discussion in the Gemara that can “shed light” on our question? Indeed, there are several passages, and much literature is devoted to understanding them. One passage (Shabbos 34b) describes certain celestial phenomena that define when bein hashemashos begins and when it ends. The commentaries debate exactly what occurrences are being described, and, unfortunately we derive little usable information from this passage.

When Three Stars Appear

Another passage indicates that the end of the day is determined by the appearance of stars. When one star appears, it is still day. When two appear, it is bein hashemashos, and when three appear, it is night. Not large stars that appear even in the day, and not small stars that appear even at night, but middle-sized stars (Shabbos 35b).

Now the job appears easy. Let us look at the darkening firmament this coming evening and count stars!

I am sure at times you have tried. Ever spent Shabbos on a camping trip and attempted to determine the end of Shabbos by stargazing? How did you decide which stars are considered “small,” “large” and “middle-sized”? And this is assuming that one does not need to deal with light pollution!

Perhaps locating a Gemara discussion that indicates more objective criteria, such as units of time, can be more helpful in our search to determine the end of day. Does such a discussion exist in the Gemara?

Yes, it does — and not only one passage, but two. However, the two passages appear contradictory.

Conflicting Gemara Passages

The Gemara in Pesachim (94a) states that the time between shekiyah, a word usually translated as sunset, and tzeis hakochavim equals four mil, which we will assume is 72 minutes. (This concurs with the more obvious way of explaining the opinion of the Terumas Hadeshen [#123] and the Shulchan Aruch [Orach Chayim 459:2; Yoreh Deah 69:6 with Shach] that a mil, used as a unit of time, equals 18 minutes.) However, a different passage of Gemara (Shabbos 34b) quotes a dispute between Rabbah, who states that nightfall occurs three-quarters of a mil, or 13½ minutes, after shekiyah, and Rabbi Yosef, who rules that it transpires a bit earlier, two-thirds of a mil, or 12 minutes, after shekiyah. Obviously, we need to explain why one Gemara states that nightfall occurs 72 minutes after shekiyah, and another states that it occurs only 12 or 13½ minutes after shekiyah!

Rabbeinu Tam’s Explanation

Among the many resolutions to this conundrum, the two most commonly quoted are those of Rabbeinu Tam and that of the Gra. Rabbeinu Tam contends that these two passages of Gemara are using the word “shekiyah” to refer to two different phenomena which occur about an hour apart. The Gemara in Pesachim uses the term shekiyah to mean sunset — when the sun vanishes beyond the western horizon. Rabbeinu Tam refers to sunset as techilas shekiyah, literally the beginning of shekiyah. However, when the Gemara in Shabbos refers to “shekiyah,” it does not mean sunset, but a point in time about an hour later when virtually all light of the sun’s rays has disappeared from the western horizon. Rabbeinu Tam refers to this later time as sof shekiyah, literally the end of shekiyah, and in his opinion, until sof shekiyah occurs, halachah considers it definitely day, notwithstanding the setting of the sun and the appearance of hundreds of stars in the firmament. All these stars are considered “large stars,” whose appearance does not demonstrate that the day has ended. Only at sof shekiyah does it become bein hashemashos, the time when we are uncertain whether it is day or night. At sof shekiyah, bein hashemashos has begun, meaning that now there are two, but not three, visible “middle-sized” stars, and we await the appearance of the third “middle-sized” star to know that it is now definitely night. (However, cf. Minchas Kohen for a variant understanding of Rabbeinu Tam’s position.)

Since, according to Rabbeinu Tam, it is definitely still day until about an hour after sunset, there is no problem with davening mincha considerably after sunset. Thus, there are communities who base themselves on Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion and daven mincha well after sunset.

Rabbeinu Tam and a Friday Night Birth

According to Rabbeinu Tam, a baby born 58 minutes after sunset on Friday evening, and certainly any time earlier, was born halachically on Friday and not on Shabbos. In Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion, this baby’s bris takes place the following Friday. A baby making his appearance a bit later is considered to be born during bein hashemashos and cannot have his bris on Shabbos, because perhaps bein hashemashos is still Friday — which makes Shabbos his ninth day of life. This bris will be postponed to Sunday. However, if the baby is born a bit later on Friday evening, at a time when it is definitely Shabbos, then the bris is performed on Shabbos the next week.

It goes without saying that according to Rabbeinu Tam, one may not perform any melacha on Saturday night until a considerable time has passed after sunset. There are various opinions as to exactly when Shabbos is definitely over according to Rabbeinu Tam, but most people assume that Shabbos is over by 72 minutes after sunset (Biur Halacha).

By the way, at this point we can answer our third question above: why the telephone lines at Laniado Hospital are not open to non-pikuach nefesh related calls until more than a half hour later than the time Shabbos ends according to most calendars. The founder of the hospital, the Klausenberger Rebbe, insisted that Shabbos be observed at the hospital until the time at which Rabbeinu Tam would concur that Shabbos is over.

The opinion of the Gra

Since we know that many highly observant Jews do not wait this long for Shabbos to end, there must be another way of interpreting the two passages of Gemara that reaches a different halachic conclusion. Indeed, one such approach is that of the Gra, who presents a completely different approach to explain the seeming contradiction between the two passages of Gemara. He contends that both passages use shekiyah to mean sunset, and this is the same sunset to which we customarily refer — however, they are not referring to the same tzeis hakochavim. The Gemara in Pesachim that refers to tzeis hakochavim being 72 minutes after sunset means that all visible stars of the firmament can now be seen, a time that the Gra calls tzeis kol hakochavim, literally, when all the stars have come out, whereas the Gemara in Shabbos refers to the time at which three “middle-sized” stars are visible. The Gra concludes that sunset marks the beginning of bein hashemashos, the time when we are uncertain whether it is day or night, with tzeis hakochavim occurring when three “middle-sized” stars are visible. The Gemara in Pesachim that requires 72 minutes until the stars appear is not discussing when the day ends – the day ended much earlier — but was concerned about other laws that are affected by the appearance of a skyful of stars.

According to the Gra’s opinion, once sunset arrives on Friday, it may already be Shabbos, and we therefore refrain from performing any melacha from this time, and consider this time to be already bein hashemashos. In the Gra’s opinion, a baby born after sunset Friday will have his bris performed on Sunday nine days later unless he is born after three “middle-sized” stars appear, in which case his bris will be performed on Shabbos. (In practice, since we are uncertain exactly which stars are called “middle-sized,” we wait a bit longer, see Biur Halacha to 393) According to Rabbeinu Tam, this same baby would have his bris performed on Friday, unless he is born at least 58½ minutes after sunset. If he is born between 58½ minutes and 72 minutes after sunset Friday evening, according to the Gra, his bris is on Shabbos, whereas according to Rabbeinu Tam, his bris will be on Sunday. Both agree that a baby born later than this on Friday evening will have his bris performed on Shabbos.

Mincha tima!

At this point, let us refer to our other opening question: “I have often wondered why my chassidishe brother-in-law davens mincha after sunset, when the Mishnah Berurah rules that one should not daven this late!”

The Gra rules that one should not daven mincha after sunset, since this is already a time at which the previous day may have already passed. Thus, it is already time to daven maariv. However, according to Rabbeinu Tam, one may daven mincha lechatchilah until 58½ minutes after sunset.

How do we rule?

Although in the past there were Torah communities who did not follow the Gra at all, even regarding the onset of Shabbos, today it is universally accepted to consider it Shabbos from sunset on Friday. Many communities follow the Gra’s opinion fully, and do not wait until 72 minutes after sunset on Saturday to end Shabbos. In a responsum on the subject, Rav Moshe Feinstein took great umbrage to this approach, contending that since a large number of Rishonim followed Rabbeinu Tam’s approach, one should act stringently and not end Shabbos until after Rabbeinu Tam’s time is over (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 4:17:26). As in all areas of halacha, the reader is encouraged to discuss the shaylah with his or her mara de’asra for a final ruling.

*all names have been changed to protect privacy

An Eruv Primer

This week’s parsha includes one of the major sources for prohibiting carrying on Shabbos, which provides a good opportunity to study some of the complicated halachos of carrying on Shabbos and the halachos of Eruvin. We cannot do justice to this vast and complicated topic in one short article. However, I will attempt to provide an introduction to some of the issues involved.

The Torah prohibits carrying from an enclosed area, called a “reshus hayachid,” to a public, non-enclosed area, a “reshus harabim,” or vice versa. It also prohibits carrying something for a distance of four amos (about seven feet) or more inside a reshus harabim. For our purposes, we will loosely define reshus hayachid as an area completely enclosed by walls, doors, or a combination of both, and a reshus harabim as an unenclosed area at least sixteen amos wide (about twenty-eight feet) meant for public use or thoroughfare. Many additional technical details define a reshus hayachid and a reshus harabim, some of which will be discussed later in this article.

A non-enclosed area that does not qualify as a reshus harabim is categorized as a “karmelis.” According to Torah law, one may carry inside, into and from a karmelis. However, Chazal ruled that a karmelis must be treated with the stringencies of both a reshus hayachid and a reshus harabim. This means that under most circumstances it is forbidden to carry inside, into, or from any area that is not completely enclosed. This is the way we are familiar with observing Shabbos – one does not carry in any unenclosed area. (I will later point out a significant halachic difference between a reshus harabim and a karmelis.)

Chazal also forbade carrying from one reshus hayachid to another when they are not owned by the same person. Thus, I may not carry on Shabbos from my house to my neighbor’s, even if both properties are completely enclosed. If both areas are owned by the same person, I may carry from one house to the other, as long as I don’t pass through an unenclosed area or an area owned by someone else. I may carry from my house to my neighbor’s if we make an “eruv” which allows the two areas to be treated as if they have common ownership.


The word eruv refers to several different conventions instituted by Chazal. We just mentioned the “eruv chatzeiros” that permits carrying between different areas that are enclosed but have separate ownerships. We create this eruv by making the property owners partners in a loaf of bread or a box of matzohs, which for these purposes is sufficient to consider the properties jointly owned. Once this eruv chatzeiros is made, one may carry from one residence within the eruv to another, since the eruv gives them common ownership. Common practice is to make the eruv with matzohs since they last a long time. Custom is to renew the eruv every Erev Pesach so that it is not forgotten.

One must make sure that the matzohs remain edible. I know of instances where the eruv was forgotten about and long afterwards it was discovered that the matzohs were no longer edible. Who knows how long people were carrying in a prohibited way because no one had bothered to check the matzohs!


Our discussion until now has been dealing with an area that is already fully enclosed. However, someone interested in carrying in an area that is not fully enclosed must close in the area before making an eruv chatzeiros. The most common usage of the word eruv is in reference to this enclosure.


The area must be completely enclosed by halachically acceptable “walls” and “doors.” Walls, buildings, fences, hills, and cliffs can all be used to enclose an area. However, when using structures and land features that already exist, invariably there will still be gaps between the structures that must be filled in to complete the enclosure.

The most common method to bridge the gaps is to make a “tzuras hapesach.” A tzuras hapesach vaguely resembles a doorway, consisting of two sideposts and a lintel that passes over them, which are the basic components of a doorway. According to halacha, a tzuras hapesach is considered a bona fide enclosure. Thus, if all gaps between the existing “walls” are “closed” with tzuros hapesach, the area is regarded as fully enclosed.

Some opinions allow small gaps to remain within the eruv’s perimeter without a tzuras hapesach. Many eruvin in North America rely upon this leniency, whereas in Eretz Yisrael the accepted practice is not to.


The halacha is that a planted field the size of 5000 square amos (approximately 14,000 square feet) within an enclosed area invalidates the ability to carry within the eruv. Similarly, an area of this size that is so overgrown that one would not walk through it will invalidate an eruv. This is a very common problem that is often overlooked. Although every responsible eruv has mashgichim to check the perimeters of the eruv, there is also a need to check periodically within the eruv to see that no large areas are being planted or have become this overgrown. I know of numerous instances where, unfortunately, this problem existed for a while before it was detected.


There are myriad details of how to make a tzuras hapesach, far more than can be detailed here. For example, most authorities accept the use of a wire for the lintel of a tzuras hapesach, although many opinions require it to be extremely taut (see Mishnah Berurah 362:66 and Shaar Hatziyun). Most eruvin use telephone wires as the “lintel” of the tzuras hapesach, although there are poskim who prohibit them (see Shu’t Yeshuos Malko, Orach Chaim #20). When telephone wires are used, posts or boards are placed directly below existing telephone wires, with care taken that the wire passes directly over the post. The lintel must pass directly above the sideposts, although the posts are not required to be tall enough to reach the “lintel” (Eruvin 11b). For example, if the wire used as lintel is twenty feet high and the side posts are only four feet tall, this is perfectly legitimate as long as the wire passes directly above the sideposts and that nothing intervenes between them. To guarantee that the wire remains above the posts, it is a good idea to use fairly wide “posts” and to periodically check that the wire is still directly above the posts. From personal experience I can tell you that as the posts or the telephone polls settle it is not unusual that they shift so that the post is no longer under the wire. This is also something that eruv mashgichim must periodically check but, unfortunately, often do not.

The tzuras hapesach is invalid if something intervenes in the gap between the top post and the side post. Thus, it is invalid to rest a side post against the side of a house and attach the top post to its roof, if any overhang of the roof extends below the lintel and above the side post. Similarly, the eruv is invalid if a sign intervenes between the sidepost and the wire being used as lintel.

I mentioned above that there is a major difference in halacha between a reshus harabim and a karmelis. A tzuras hapesach can only be used to enclose an area that is a karmelis where the prohibition against carrying is only rabbinic. It cannot be used to permit carrying in a reshus harabim where it is forbidden to carry min haTorah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 364:2).

This leads us into our next discussion.


A strange phenomenon of hilchos eruvin is that although Chazal created the concept of eruv to facilitate peace among the Jewish people, probably no other mitzvah has been involved in so much controversy. Why is this?

The details of hilchos eruvin are extremely complicated and often subject to dispute. It is not unusual to find a situation where one rav forbids a certain eruv min HaTorah, while another rav rules that it is perfectly kosher. Although both decisions are based on the same Gemara and halacha, one posek condemns as chilul Shabbos what the other considers a mere chumrah or less.

This is not a new phenomenon. Let us share a halachic discussion that is over a thousand years old.

600,000 PEOPLE

There is a very old dispute whether a reshus harabim (min haTorah) only exists if the area is used by at least 600,000 people, just as the reshus harabim of Klal Yisrael in the desert was used by 600,000 people, the members of the Jewish nation. (Indeed, the question is raised that a reshus harabim should require several million people because the 600,000 count only men over twenty and did not include the women and children.)

Rashi (Eruvin 59a) writes that only an area with this number of people constitutes a reshus harabim that cannot be enclosed with a tzuras hapesach. This excludes all the towns and cities inhabited by Jews from the Middle Ages until fairly modern times. They did not have 600,000 people and could therefore be enclosed by a tzuras hapesach. However, many rishonim disagree with Rashi and rule that any street or marketplace sixteen amos wide is a reshus harabim and cannot be enclosed with a tzuras hapesach. This issue is made more confusing since the Shulchan Aruch in Orach Chayim 345:7 rules strictly, whereas in 303:18 he appears to rule leniently. Many major authorities follow the lenient interpretation (Magen Avraham; Taz in 345), and it was upon this basis that most Eastern European communities constructed eruvin. However, according to most authorities this lenience cannot be used as the basis to permit an eruv today since most large Jewish communities are in places with more than 600,000 people.


In the thirteenth century, Rav Yaakov ben Rav Moshe of Alinsiya wrote a letter to the Rosh explaining why he forbade a tzuras hapesach eruv in his town. In his response, the Rosh replied that Rav Yaakov’s concerns were groundless and that he should immediately construct an eruv. Subsequent correspondence reveals that Rav Yaakov did not change his mind and still refused to erect an eruv in his town. The Rosh severely rebuked him for this recalcitrance, insisting that if he (Rav Yaakov) persisted he would be placed in cherem. The Rosh also ruled that Rav Yaakov had the status of a zakein mamrei, a Torah scholar who rules against the decision of the Sanhedrin, which is a capital offense (Shu’t HaRosh 21:8)! All this demonstrates that heated disputes over eruvin are by no means a recent phenomenon.


Although there are many obvious advantages to having a kosher eruv, we should always be aware that there are also drawbacks. One major drawback is that people become unprepared if the eruv goes down one week. Suddenly, they cannot take their reading glasses to shul and their plans of pushing the stroller so they can eat the Shabbos meals at someone else’s house are disrupted.

Another disadvantage is that people become so used to having a eruv that they no longer pay serious attention to the prohibition against carrying. Children raised in such communities, and even adults who always lived in cities with an eruv, sometimes hardly realize that there is any prohibition against carrying.

In Israel, where virtually every town has an eruv, the assumption that there is always an eruv can be a tremendous disadvantage as the following story illustrates:

A moderately-learned frum Israeli moved to an American city with no eruv. He was hired by a yeshiva as cook and was responsible for the everyday kashrus of the yeshiva’s kitchen. The first Shabbos on his job, the new cook went for an afternoon stroll with his family, baby carriage and all. This raised a whirlwind in the yeshiva — people were shocked that they had entrusted the yeshiva’s kashrus to someone who openly desecrated Shabbos! Only later was it clarified that the cook was unaware that a city might not have an eruv. Living his entire life in cities with an eruv, he had automatically assumed that every city with a Jewish community had such a fixture!

In conclusion, we see that disputes among poskim over eruvin are not recent phenomena. In practice, what should an individual do? The solution proposed by Chazal for any such shaylah is “Aseh lecha rav, vehistalek min hasafek,” “Choose someone to be your rav, and remove yourself from doubt.” The rav can guide you to decide whether it is appropriate for you to carry within a certain eruv, after weighing factors including what heterim were used in the eruv’s construction, care of eruv maintenance and family factors. The psak and advice of one’s rav can never be underestimated!

Preparing Food on Yom Tov

The Torah teaches that although most melachos are forbidden on Yom Tov, cooking and most other food preparation are permitted. Nevertheless, some types of food preparation are prohibited on Yom Tov, such as catching fish, picking fruit, and squeezing juice. Why are these activities different from cooking, kneading, and the other food preparatory activities that are permitted on Yom Tov?

To understand the answer to this question correctly, we must imagine ourselves preparing a meal in the days of Chazal: Refrigeration and most modern methods of preserving food do not exist, and preparing a festive meal requires baking and cooking on the day of the occasion. Although it may seem strange to us, even shechitah and soaking and salting the meat are performed the day the meal is served. Thus, the Torah permitted any activity necessary to prepare a meal that will be served on Yom Tov. It is even permitted to skin the hide off an animal that has been shechted on Yom Tov since one cannot remove the meat properly without first removing the hide.

However, some food preparatory activities are usually performed in advance of the day the meal will be served. Even in earlier days, one did not begin preparing the day’s meal by catching fish. One who planned fish for dinner would catch or purchase the fish the day before, and then leave the fish in water until it was time to prepare it. Therefore, it is forbidden to fish on Yom Tov, even if one intends to fry fish for the day’s meal.

Similarly, fruits are usually picked and squeezed when they ripen, and then the juice or oil is stored. Thus, picking and squeezing fruit is not permitted on Yom Tov, even though they are steps in the preparation of food. Even picking or squeezing a small amount of fruit is prohibited, since usually these activities are performed in quantity and stored for a longer period of time.

In a like manner, the day one prepares a meal is not the time to begin grinding the wheat into flour, and it is certainly not the time to harvest the grain or to thresh it. At an earlier date, one would grind the grain into flour and then store it for subsequent use. However, someone serving fresh bread or pastry prepares the dough the day the meal is to be served. Therefore, it is permitted to mix flour and water on Yom Tov. This subject leads us to a more extensive discussion about the melacha of kneading on Yom Tov.

Kneading on Yom Tov

One of the thirty-nine melachos of Shabbos is kneading, which includes any instance of combining fine particles together with a liquid until they stick together. Thus, one may not mix grains or powders with liquid to create an edible cereal on Shabbos. However, since one may knead dough on Yom Tov, all kneading is permitted on Yom Tov. Thus, one may prepare oatmeal, pudding, or baby cereals on Yom Tov the same way these foods would be prepared on a weekday. (One may not mix these foods in the usual fashion on Shabbos.)

Separating challah

When one kneads dough on Yom Tov, the challah portion is separated (assuming that one kneaded a sufficient quantity of dough), even though separating terumah and maaser is not permitted on Yom Tov. However, one does not burn the separated challah portion on Yom Tov. Instead, one sets the portion aside to be burnt after Yom Tov (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 506:4).

If one baked before Shabbos or Yom Tov, one may not separate the challah portion on Shabbos or Yom Tov. What happens if you realize on Shabbos or Yom Tov that you forgot to separate challah? The answer to this shaylah depends on whether the dough was kneaded in Eretz Yisroel or in chutz la’aretz. If the dough was kneaded in Eretz Yisroel, then there is no solution but to leave the bread uneaten until after Shabbos or Yom Tov, and then separate the challah portion. However, if this dough was kneaded in chutz la’aretz, there is a different solution. One may eat the bread on Shabbos or Yom Tov as long as one makes sure that some of the bread remains until after Shabbos or Yom Tov. After Shabbos or Yom Tov, one separates the challah portion from the leftover bread. This separating “after the fact” is sufficient to fulfill the mitzvah of separating challah in a dough produced in chutz la’aretz (Rama 506:3). The reason for this distinction requires a bit of explanation.

Min HaTorah there is a requirement to separate challah only on dough that is made in Eretz Yisroel. (In actuality, the requirement is min hatorah only when most Jews live in Eretz Yisroel.)  The requirement to separate challah on dough mixed in chutz la’aretz is out of concern that Jews living in chutz la’aretz should not forget the mitzvah to separate challah. However, since the mitzvah is only miderabbanan, Chazal allowed the leniency of separating the challah portion “after the fact” (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 322:2-3).

Grating, grinding, and mashing on Yom Tov

The melacha of grinding is different from the melachos previously discussed. Some foods are ground as you prepare the meal, whereas others are ground well before the meal is prepared. For example, when preparing a kugel, the potatoes are grated when you prepare the meal; similarly, a gourmet chef might crush fresh pepper and other spices specifically for the meal. These types of grinding are permitted on Yom Tov, as I will explain. On the other hand, one does not grind wheat the day one plans to bake bread, and it is therefore prohibited to grind flour on Yom Tov.

The laws of Yom Tov divide the various items that might be ground into four categories:

1. Items that are usually ground well in advance of preparing a meal, such as flour, may not be ground at all.

2.  Items that might be ground while preparing the meal, but could have been ground earlier without affecting their flavor, such as salt, may be ground on Yom Tov, but only by grinding with a shinui, in a way that is different from usual. For example, the Mishnah states that one may grind salt on Yom Tov with a wooden pestle, rather than one of stone (Beitzah 14a). Therefore, if someone discovers on Yom Tov that he has no table salt in the house, only coarse koshering salt, he may crush the salt on Yom Tov directly on the table, but not with a mortar and pestle, or salt or pepper mill.

3.  Items that taste better fresh, but are usable if ground before Yom Tov, may be ground or chopped on Yom Tov, but only by grinding or chopping them with a slight shinui (Rama 504:1), such as by placing a napkin on the plate or mortar, on which they are being ground (Mishnah Berurah 504:19). Therefore, someone accustomed to freshly crushed pepper or spices may grind them on Yom Tov slightly differently from usual, but may not use a tabletop pepper mill.

4.  Items that will become useless if ground or chopped before Yom Tov may be ground or chopped on Yom Tov in the way that they would usually be ground or chopped on a weekday. Therefore, one may mash avocado and banana, grate potatoes and onions, and dice salad and apples on Yom Tov the way one would on a weekday (Piskei Teshuvos 504:3).


In general, it is prohibited to measure on Yom Tov, just as it is prohibited to measure on Shabbos. Thus, one may not measure out how much flour, sugar, or oil to use in a recipe (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 506:1). However, one may approximate how much flour, oil, or sugar is needed. It is permitted to use a measuring cup, as long as one does not fill the cup exactly to its measuring points (Mishnah Berurah 506:3).

The poskim dispute whether one may measure spices on Yom Tov, some permitting (even though it is prohibited to measure other items) because approximating spices may ruin the recipe if one errs (Beitzah 29a). However, Magen Avraham (504:10) contends that since most women cook without measuring spices on weekdays, but simply estimate how much they use, they may not measure spices on Yom Tov. Others contend that someone who measure spices on weekdays may measure them on Yom Tov.

Cooking that is prohibited

One is permitted to cook and prepare food on Yom Tov only when one intends to eat that food on Yom Tov, but one may not cook for after Yom Tov or on the first day of Yom Tov for the second. For this reason, it is important that all preparations of meals for the second night of Yom Tov wait until the first day of Yom Tov is over. Thus, there was a custom in many communities in Eastern Europe to delay the davening the second night of Yom Tov, in order to discourage beginning the meal preparations too early.

One may cook amply for the Yom Tov meal, knowing that there will certainly be leftovers that can then be served on the second day of Yom Tov. However, this is allowed only if everything is prepared in one action: For example, one may cook on the first day a two-pound piece of meat even if only one pound of meat is needed for that day. One may not prepare individual units of a food item, knowing that one is preparing more than can possibly be eaten on Yom Tov.

One is not permitted to cook on Yom Tov for a non-Jew, since he does not observe Yom Tov. Furthermore, Chazal forbade inviting a non-Jew for a Yom Tov meal, out of concern that one might cook for him on Yom Tov. One may invite a non-Jew, such as domestic help, for whom you would not prepare a special dish. However, one may not cook specifically for him on Yom Tov.

It is also forbidden to cook or do other melacha for an animal. Thus, although one is permitted to mix dry grains with liquid to create an edible cereal on Yom Tov, one may not mix these items to feed a pet.

Use of stoves and ovens on Yom Tov

Chazal prohibited kindling a new flame on Yom Tov (Mishnah Beitzah 33a). Thus, although one may turn up an existing flame, one may not strike a match on Yom Tov (Aruch Hashulchan 502:6), nor may one light a stove or oven by using an electric igniter, since this is considered lighting with a new flame (Igros Moshe 1:115). If someone has a stove or oven that does not light with a gas pilot, it is a good idea to have a twenty-four hour candle burning over Yom Tov to facilitate lighting the stove on Yom Tov. Another advantage to igniting this candle before Yom Tov is that it enables the lighting of the Yom Tov candles on the second night of Yom Tov.

One is permitted to lower a flame in order to cook on Yom Tov. However, there are poskim who rule that one may lower a flame only when there is no option for turning up or on a different flame. According to the latter opinion, if one is cooking on a stove and one wants to lower the fire so that the food does not burn or boil out, one can do so only if there is no option for turning on another flame (Magen Avraham 514:2). However, Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that it is permitted to lower a flame, because one desires to cook with a lower flame or so that the food does not burn or boil out (Igros Moshe 1:115; 4:103).

Hashkafah of preparing food on Yom Tov

The Torah refers to the Yomim Tovim as moed. Just as the word ohel moed refers to the tent in the desert which served as a meeting place between Hashem and the Jewish people, so too a moed is a meeting time between Hashem and the Jewish people (Hirsch, Vayikra 23:3 and Horeb). Although on Shabbos we are to refrain from all melacha activity, on Yom Tov, the Torah permitted melacha activity that enhances the celebration of the Yom Tov as a Moed. Permitting the preparations of delicious, freshly prepared meals allows an even greater celebration of the festivities of the Yom Tov, as we celebrate our unique relationship with Hashem.

The Whys, Hows, and Whats of Eruv Tavshillin

Question #1:

Avrumie, who studies in a local yeshiva, asks me: “I will be eating my Yom Tov and Shabbos meals as a guest in different homes. Do I need to make my own eruv tavshillin?”

Question #2:

Michal and Muttie are spending Rosh Hashanah near his Yeshiva and are invited out for all the meals. They have found an available apartment for Yom Tov, but do not intend to use the kitchen there at all. Someone told Muttie that, although he should make an eruv tavshillin, he should not recite a bracha when doing so. Is this the correct procedure?


With Rosh Hashana falling out on Thursday and Friday, and in chutz la’aretz also Sukkos and Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah, many people will be asking these or similar questions. In order to reply accurately to the above inquiries we need to investigate several aspects of this mitzvah that the Sages implemented – particularly, the whys, hows, and whats of eruv tavshillin.


Although one may cook on Yom Tov, one may prepare food only for consumption on that Yom Tov. There is, however, one exceptional situation — one may cook on a Friday Yom Tov for Shabbos, but only if one makes an eruv tavshillin the day before Yom Tov.


It is fairly easy to make an eruv tavshillin:


On Erev Yom Tov, set aside two prepared foods, one cooked and one baked, that one is not planning to eat on Yom Tov. Many people use a hard-boiled egg for the cooked item, but it is actually preferable to use something more significant (Mishnah Berurah 527:8). I personally use the gefilte fish that we will be eating at the Shabbos seudos.


(Someone who includes people outside his family in his eruv, such as the rav of a community, adds an additional step at this point: He has someone who does not usually eat with him, whom we will call the zo’che, lift the food used for the eruv tavshillin four inches or more. By lifting the food, the zo’che acquires ownership in the eruv for those who will forget to make an eruv tavshillin. The zo’che then returns the food to the rav [Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 527:10- 12 and commentaries]. I will soon explain what the zo’che’s involvement accomplishes.)

One holds the eruv tavshillin, recites a bracha, Baruch Atta Hashem Elokeinu Melech haolam asher ki’deshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu al mitzvas eruv, and declares:

This eruv permits us to bake, cook, wrap food to keep it hot, to kindle lights, and make all other food preparations on Yom Tov for Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 527:12).

Those who include other people in their eruv, insert:

For ourselves and for all others who dwell in this city.


The foods that have now become the eruv tavshillin should not be consumed until one has completed all the Shabbos preparations.


The eruv tavshillin allows the members of this household to prepare food for Shabbos. The rav’s eruv tavshillin will allow others who forgot an eruv tavshillin to prepare food, subject to the details we will soon learn.


After one has completed preparing everything for Shabbos, there is no requirement to do anything with the eruv, although it is preferable to use the challah as the second loaf for the first two meals of Shabbos and to eat the entire eruv tavshillin as part of the third meal of Shabbos (seudah shelishis) in order to use the mitzvah item (that is, the eruv tavshillin) for other mitzvos, in this case the three Shabbos meals (see Mishnah Berurah 527:48). (For the same reason, many set aside the lulav and hoshanas after Sukkos to use as fuel for baking matzos or burning the chometz.)

If someone mistakenly ate the eruv tavshillin before Shabbos, one may continue the Shabbos preparations as long as at least an olive-sized piece of the cooked item remains, even if the entire baked item was consumed. However, if less than an olive-sized piece of the cooked item remains, one may no longer continue cooking especially for Shabbos, and should ask a shaylah how to proceed (Shulchan Aruch 527:15).


Someone who fails to make an eruv tavshillin may not cook or bake on Yom Tov for Shabbos, and needs to ask a shaylah how to prepare his Shabbos meals (see Shulchan Aruch 527:20- 22). The Rishonim dispute whether he may kindle lights on Yom Tov for Shabbos when he has no eruv tavshillin (Shulchan Aruch 527:19). This dispute will soon become significant to our discussion.


As mentioned above, someone who did not make an eruv tavshillin may not cook on Yom Tov for Shabbos. The Gemara narrates the following story:

Shmuel saw that someone was very sad on Yom Tov and asked him why. The man responded, “Because I neglected to make an eruv tavshillin, and therefore I will be unable to cook for Shabbos.” Shmuel explained that the man could rely on Shmuel’s eruv tavshillin.

The next year Yom Tov once more fell on Friday. Shmuel again noticed that the man was sad, and again the man mentioned that he had forgotten to make an eruv tavshillin. However, this time Shmuel advised him that since he had repeated the negligence, he would not be allowed to rely upon Shmuel’s eruv (Beitzah 16b).

We see that the rav should include everyone in his city in his eruv tavshillin, lest someone forget to make an eruv, although everyone is required to create his/her own (Shulchan Aruch 527:7).


A person must own or be a partner in the eruv tavshillin with which he fulfills this mitzvah. An eruv tavshillin automatically includes all regular members of this household, but how does it include other people? Having someone pick up the eruv tavshillin on their behalf makes them partial owners in this eruv tavshillin.


At this point, we can begin to analyze the two questions I mentioned at the beginning of the article. Let us begin by rephrasing Avrumie’s question: “I will be eating my Yom Tov meals as a guest. Do I make an eruv tavshillin?”

Avrumie, Michal, and Muttie will not be cooking on Yom Tov; does that exempt them from eruv tavshillin, or must they make one anyway? Is eruv tavshillin merely a license to cook for Shabbos on Yom Tov and therefore someone not preparing food has no need for one, or is there a rabbinic requirement to make an eruv tavshillin even when one will not be cooking? Avrumie will not be preparing food for Shabbos, whereas Michal will only be kindling the Shabbos lights. I will discuss soon whether this distinction affects our question. In the interim, I will discuss Avrumie’s situation by presenting two differing ways of understanding the function of eruv tavshillin, which I will describe as (A) matir, license or (B) chovah, obligation.

A. Matir

According to this approach, eruv tavshillin functions solely to permit one to cook on Yom Tov for Shabbos, so that one who is not planning to cook on Yom Tov for Shabbos has no requirement to make an eruv tavshillin. This opinion compares eruv tavshillin to the mitzvah of shechitah. One is not required to shecht an animal; however, someone interested in converting a bird or animal into food must perform shechitah to make it kosher. Thus, shechitah is a matir; it permits one to eat the meat, but one is not required to shecht an animal if one does not want to eat it. Similarly, eruv tavshillin permits one to cook for Shabbos, but one who does not intend to cook does not need to make an eruv.

Those following this approach will note that the other types of eruv (eruvei chatzeiros and eruvei techumim) are both types of matir that permit either carrying or traveling that is otherwise prohibited, and conclude that eruv tavshillin is similar to the other types of eruvin.

According to this approach, Avrumie has no need for an eruv tavshillin since he has no intention to cook for Shabbos. We will discuss shortly whether Michal’s kindling requires her to make an eruv tavshillin.

B. Chovah

On the other hand, one could argue that eruv tavshillin is different from the other two types of eruv, and is an obligatory act. This approach understands that Chazal created a rabbinic mitzvah requiring each individual or family to make an eruv tavshillin even if there is no intention to cook or bake on Yom Tov for Shabbos.

Why should eruv tavshillin be different from the other types of eruv? To answer this question we need to explain the reason for the rabbinic mitzvah called eruv tavshillin.


The Gemara records a dispute discussing why Chazal introduced eruv tavshillin: Was it for the sake of honoring Shabbos, or for the sake of honoring Yom Tov (Beitzah 15b)?

A. For Shabbos

According to the first opinion, that of Rava, Chazal instituted eruv tavshillin to guarantee that one not become so involved in the Yom Tov feasting that one forgets to prepare proper meals for Shabbos. The eruv tavshillin therefore serves as a “red flag”: “Don’t forget to also produce delicious repasts for Shabbos!”

B. For Yom Tov

The other approach, that of Rav Ashi, contends that eruv tavshillin reinforces the sanctity of Yom Tov by emphasizing that without the eruv tavshillin one may not cook on Yom Tov, even for Shabbos. A person thereby realizes: if cooking on Yom Tov for Shabbos is forbidden without an eruv tavshillin, certainly one may not prepare food on Yom Tov for a subsequent weekday!

How does this dispute affect Avrumie, Michal and Muttie?

The basis for treating eruv tavshillin as a chovah, an obligation, and not merely a matir, is Rava’s opinion that eruv tavshillin’s purpose is to guarantee that one celebrates Shabbos properly. In other words, eruv tavshillin is to remind us to cook for Shabbos. Clearly, this is not a matir, but a chovah. In Rava’s opinion, eruv tavshillin is similar to the rabbinic requirement of kindling lights before Shabbos to ensure that one does not sit in the dark. Even someone who enjoys sitting in the dark is required to kindle lights before Shabbos since this is not a matir but a chovah. Thus, according to Rava, Avrumie must make an eruv tavshillin (or be included in someone else’s), even though he has no intention to cook, because eruv tavshillin is a requirement that Chazal placed on every individual to remind him to prepare appropriate meals for Shabbos.


However, the halacha does not follow Rava’s opinion but follows Rav Ashi’s position, that the purpose of eruv tavshillin is for Yom Tov’s honor. As noted above, Rav Ashi contended that the reason for eruv tavshillin is to guarantee that people realize that Yom Tov is so holy that one may not cook on it for weekday needs. According to this approach, one could argue that eruv tavshillin is simply a matir and that one who does not intend to cook for Shabbos need not make an eruv tavshillin, since if one is not cooking for Shabbos, it is unlikely that he will cook for the weekdays following Shabbos.

On the other hand, the usual assumption is that when the Gemara quotes two disputing opinions, the disagreement concerns only the one point mentioned and no other issues. Thus, once we have demonstrated that Rava contends that eruv tavshillin is mandatory, we should conclude either one of the following two points:

1. That the issue of whether eruv tavshillin is a matir or a chovah is itself the focal point of the dispute between Rav Ashi and Rava.

2. That Rav Ashi and Rava agree that eruv tavshillin is mandatory and not merely a matir.

The difficulty with the first approach is that we see no evidence that Rav Ashi considers eruv tavshillin to be only a matir. On the contrary, the Gemara maintains that the dispute between Rav Ashi and Rava is whether eruv tavshillin is for the honor of Yom Tov or of Shabbos. Since Rava must maintain that eruv tavshillin is a chovah, and the dispute between them concerns only whether eruv tavshillin is for the honor of Yom Tov or of Shabbos, we should infer that Rav Ashi agrees that eruv tavshillin is a chovah. This analysis would conclude that Avrumie, Michal and Muttie are all required to make an eruv tavshillin. However, notwithstanding this analysis, I have found no early source who states that eruv tavshillin is obligatory for someone who has no need to cook for Shabbos.


Having discussed whether eruv tavshillin is a matir or a chovah we can now research whether the halachic literature produces any evidence supporting either side of this question. Analysis of the position of one recognized halachic authority demonstrates that he felt that eruv tavshillin is a matir, not a chovah.

The Maamar Mordechai, a respect commentary on the Shulchan Aruch, discusses the exact issue that I posed as Michal’s shaylah:

Someone will not be cooking or baking on Yom Tov for Shabbos, but will need to kindle lights immediately before the entry of Shabbos. Does this person recite a bracha prior to making his/her eruv tavshillin?

The background to his question is the dispute of the Rishonim whether a person may kindle lights for Shabbos even if he did not make an eruv tavshillin. In other words, some Rishonim hold that an eruv tavshillin is necessary not only to permit cooking on Yom Tov, but also to permit any preparations for Shabbos.

The Maamar Mordechai (527:18) rules that since many authorities contend that kindling lights for Shabbos does not require an eruv tavshillin, someone not intending to cook for Shabbos should make an eruv tavshillin without reciting a bracha.

Implicit in the Maamar Mordechai’s conclusion is that the purpose of eruv tavshillin is exclusively to permit cooking and baking on Yom Tov, and there is no independent requirement to make an eruv tavshillin. If the Maamar Mordechai feels that eruv tavshillin is a chovah and not merely a matir, the dispute whether or not one can kindle lights without an eruv tavshillin is irrelevant to reciting a bracha. Whether one needs the eruv tavshillin or not, one would recite a bracha for performing the mitzvah that Chazal instituted! Thus, the Maamar Mordechai clearly holds that eruv tavshillin is only a matir, and that one recites the bracha only if the matir is required.

However, the Maamar Mordechai’s ruling is not obvious, even assuming that eruv tavshillin is only a matir and not a chovah. It is possible that one should recite a bracha on making the eruv tavshillin even if he has no intention to cook on Yom Tov, since the eruv permits him to cook should he choose to. Thus, the eruv tavshillin fulfilled its role as a matir in permitting him to cook, and for that alone he should be able to recite a bracha even if he has no intention to cook. Yet the Maamar Mordechai values the eruv tavshillin only if one intends to use it, whereas, if one does not intend to use it, it is considered purposeless and warrants no bracha. Thus, according to the Maamar Mordechai, Michal and Muttie should make an eruv tavshillin without a bracha.

I was asked this exact shaylah one year when the first day of Pesach occurred on Thursday. Those of us who live in Eretz Yisrael had no mitzvah of eruv tavshillin since, for us, Friday was not Yom Tov. However, we had several guests for Yom Tov who live in chutz la’aretz and observe two days of Yom Tov even while visiting Eretz Yisroel. For them, it was prohibited to cook on Yom Tov without an eruv tavshillin. I suggested that they make an eruv tavshillin with a bracha, but out of deference to the opinion of the Maamar Mordechai, instructed that those reciting a bracha should participate in the cooking for Shabbos that would transpire on Yom Tov at least in a small way. Of course, I suggest that those of you faced with the same shaylah as Avrumie, Michal or Muttie ask your own rav for direction. I would be curious to know whether he agrees with me and, if not, for what reason.


The Torah refers to the Yomim Tovim as Moed. Just as the word ohel moed refers to the tent in the desert which served as a meeting place between Hashem and the Jewish people, so too, a Moed is a meeting time between Hashem and the Jewish people (Hirsch, Vayikra 23:3 and Horeb). Unlike Shabbos when we refrain from all melacha activity, on Yom Tov the Torah permitted melacha activity that enhances the celebration of the Yom Tov as a Moed. Permitting the preparations of delicious, freshly prepared meals allows an even greater celebration of this unique meeting time with Hashem.

Must My Car and Table Observe Shabbos?

Question #1: Life of the Party, Inc.

Chayim is opening a party rental business, Life of the Party, Inc., renting out tables and chairs. Are there any potential halachic pitfalls that present themselves concerning items rented over Shabbos?

Question #2: Avi’s Rent-a-Car

Avi wants to open an auto rental agency that would be closed on Shabbos. He was advised to set it up with a non-Jewish partner who owns the business on Friday, even though they intend to close the business Friday before sunset. Why would Avi need a gentile partner?


The Gemara (Shabbos 19a) quotes a beraysa that states:

A man may not rent his keilim to a gentile on Friday, but he may rent them to him on Wednesday or Thursday.

(Since the Gemara uses the word keilim to include a much broader category of items than does any of the English words utensils, tools or appliances, I will be using predominantly the word keilim, to avoid confusion.)

This beraysa poses a host of questions. What could possibly be the reason to prohibit renting your keilim to a gentile before Shabbos? As a gentile is not required to observe Shabbos, what does it matter if he uses the keilim on Shabbos? Furthermore, what difference does it make whether I rent them out on Friday or on Thursday?

We find many different approaches among the Rishonim to explain this beraysa. Indeed, answering these questions will provide an opportunity to study several important Torah topics. But first, an introduction.

Must my cow keep Shabbos?

The Torah requires that not only must we not work on Shabbos, but we must also allow our servants, and even our animals, to rest on Shabbos. These prohibitions are called respectively, shevisas avadim and shevisas beheimah. In practical terms, this means that I may not have my animal perform work for me. This prohibition is mentioned explicitly by the Torah: Do not perform work – not you, your son, your daughter, your slave, your maidservant, your animal (Shemos 20:9). I am responsible to see that none of them performs melachah on my behalf.

Must my appliances keep Shabbos?

Since I may not have my animals work for me on Shabbos, the next question is whether I may have my appliances work for me on Shabbos.

Those who have never studied Mesechta Shabbos usually find it surprising to discover that there is actually a dispute between Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai on this topic (cf. Bach, Orach Chayim 246, who concludes that even Beis Hillel concurs that, under certain circumstances, one is required to allow one’s keilim to “rest” on Shabbos, and that the dispute is what type of shevisas keilim is forbidden). Beis Shammai rules that it is prohibited min haTorah to have one’s appliances perform melachah activity on Shabbos (Shabbos 18a). This prohibition is called shevisas keilim. According to Beis Shammai, having my mill grind grain on Shabbos is prohibited min haTorah, even if it operates completely automatically and requires no human intervention whatsoever. Similarly, Beis Shammai prohibits having a gentile rent or borrow my keilim on Shabbos, if he will use them for forbidden melachah activity (Tosafos, Shabbos 19a s.v. Lo). Thus, Beis Shammai forbids allowing my hoe or my automobile to remain in the hands of a gentile or not-yet-observant Jew over Shabbos, out of concern that he may use them on Shabbos. This ruling would definitely create a halachic problem for Avi’s Car Rental.

Beis Hillel disputes this ruling, contending that the Torah prohibited only having my animals work on Shabbos, but not my inanimate property. We therefore have an anomalous situation whereby having my keilim used for melachah on Shabbos is prohibited min haTorah according to Beis Shammai and yet may be completely permitted according to Beis Hillel.

Note that I wrote may be permitted. As we will soon see, there are other factors that need to be resolved, and it is these other factors that will affect Chayim and Avi.

Back to the beraysa

At this point, we will return to our original beraysa, which states: a man may not rent his keilim to a gentile on Friday, but he may rent them to him on Wednesday or Thursday.

Remember that we were puzzled why one may not rent items to a gentile on Friday. Several early authorities contend that this beraysa follows the opinion of Beis Shammai, that one’s keilim may not be used to perform work on Shabbos, even if the work is performed by a gentile (Rif and Rambam, as explained by Rosh, Ran, and Beis Yosef). Therefore, the beraysa prohibits giving my appliance to a gentile on Friday out of concern that he will use it in the performance of a melachah on Shabbos. For reasons beyond the scope of this article, the beraysa was only concerned about this happening if I gave him the appliance on Friday, but not if the gentile received the appliance earlier in the week (see Rosh, Shabbos 1:36).

Although, indeed, some early authorities understood that this beraysa follows the opinion of Beis Shammai, most authorities reject this approach. Among their concerns are:

(1) If this beraysa follows the opinion of Beis Shammai, then it does not reflect accepted halachah, which follows Beis Hillel. Usually, when a statement of a Mishnah or beraysa reflects an opinion that we do not follow, this point is noted by the Gemara, which is not the case in this instance.

(2) If the reason for this beraysa is that one is required to make sure that one’s keilim rest on Shabbos, why does the beraysa prohibit only renting your keilim to a gentile? It should be just as prohibited to lend him your keilim, since he might perform melachah with the loaned utensil!

Alternative approaches

To resolve these issues, other authorities present alternative reasons why one may not rent keilim to a gentile on Friday. Before presenting the next approach, we first need to understand a concept called sechar Shabbos.

Sechar Shabbos

Because Shabbos should be completely divorced from any mercantile activity (Rashi, Kesubos 64a s.v. Kisechar), Chazal prohibited receiving payment for something performed on, or that occurred on, Shabbos, even when the work involves no melachah, and even when I, myself, am not doing anything on Shabbos (Bava Metzia 58a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 306:4). For example, although it is permitted to work as a waiter on Shabbos, one may not be paid specifically for the work done on Shabbos. Another example: I may not rent out my tables on Shabbos to a gentile, even though I, myself, am not doing anything, and my tables are doing no forbidden melachah activity, but are just standing around, looking pretty.

So how do chazzanim get paid?

This leads to a question. If one may not be paid for Shabbos work, how does one hire a waiter, chazzan, baal keriyah, or babysitter for the work that they are going to do on Shabbos? Is one not paying him or her for work performed on Shabbos? The answer is that one must arrange that the person hired to perform work that will take place on Shabbos is also hired to perform work that he will do on a weekday, and that no calculation is made how much the Shabbos work is worth. The employee (waiter, chazzan, baal keriyah, babysitter, etc.) must be paid in a package deal that includes the Shabbos work. This method is called havlaah – absorbing or swallowing, as the pay for the Shabbos work is “absorbed” in the pay for the non-Shabbos work.

Therefore, a chazzan is paid a package deal that includes payment for his travel or preparation time, or for other non-Shabbos responsibilities. Similarly, a baal keriyah must be paid a package deal that includes the non-Shabbos time he spends preparing the reading. If one chooses to hire or work as a babysitter or waiter on Shabbos, one must hire or be hired in an arrangement that includes some non-Shabbos work, and the pay package may not be calculated on an hourly basis, since this will, therefore, include direct pay for Shabbos (see Rama, Orach Chayim 306:4 and Magen Avraham ad loc..) Instead, one must pay or be paid a “package” that does not have a per hour breakdown.

(We should note that there are some authorities who rule that there is no prohibition of sechar Shabbos when one is doing a mitzvah (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 306:5 and 526:5). According to those who are lenient, a chazzan, baal keriyah or baal tekiyah may be paid exclusively for his Shabbos work. A full treatment of this subtopic will need to wait for a different article.)

“Life of the Party” and Shabbos

At this point, we should discuss one of the questions raised above: Chayim’s party rental business, Life of the Party, Inc. Chayim asked if there are any potential halachic pitfalls that may present themselves concerning items rented over Shabbos. There is one problem that could come up if Chayim is not careful, but it is very easy to avoid. Let me explain.

Someone who rents property or equipment to a gentile may not charge specifically for Shabbos, since this includes sechar Shabbos. This will not be a problem if the rental rates are calculated according to calendar day; this is a form of havlaah, since Friday and Saturday calendar days both include parts of a day that are not Shabbos. However, this could become a problem when a Yom Tov falls on either Friday or Sunday, since the prohibition also applies on Yom Tov and the calendar day now includes only time when there will be a problem of sechar Shabbos/Yom Tov (see Tur, Orach Chayim 585). Chayim can avoid this problem, either by not charging for that extra day, or by charging a “weekend rate” that includes time that is neither Shabbos nor Yom Tov.

24-hour rentals

Rental operations usually charge a per diem 24-hour rental fee, from the time of pick-up until the time of return. Most of the time, this arrangement will not present Chayim with a problem, since part of the 24 hours will not fall on Shabbos. However, in a situation when the 24-hour rental time coincides exactly with Shabbos, one will be charging sechar Shabbos, which is a problem. In such a situation, one may extend that part of the rental day to include some time that is definitely not Shabbos. It would serve Chayim well to include this part of the arrangement in the fine print of his rental contract.

Tosafos‘s approach to the beraysa

By now, we have become so engrossed in the concept of sechar Shabbos that we may have forgotten that we were in the process of explaining a beraysa. Remember that our beraysa made the following statement: A man may not rent his keilim to a gentile on Friday, but he may rent them to him on Wednesday or Thursday. We were puzzled why the beraysa prohibited renting appliances or equipment to a gentile on Friday. Now that we fully understand the concept of sechar Shabbos, I will present a second interpretation of the beraysa, which is the approach of Tosafos and others.

Renting out appliances on Friday, even by means of havlaah, is prohibited, because it gives the appearance of receiving payment specifically for Shabbos. This rental is included in the prohibition of sechar Shabbos (Tosafos, Shabbos 19a). It is permitted to rent appliances on Wednesday or Thursday, even if the rental period is for several days, because this arrangement does not give the impression that I am trying to profit from Shabbos.

This approach explains well why the beraysa prohibited only renting appliances to a gentile, and not simply lending them, because when lending my appliances for Shabbos use, I am not receiving any remuneration (Tosafos, Shabbos 19a).

Life of the Party

However, we should realize that, according to this approach, Chayim, of Life of the Party rentals, will have an interesting shaylah. How can he rent out tables and chairs on Fridays, since renting any items to a gentile is prohibited according to the beraysa when it made its now-famous statement: A man may not rent his keilim to a gentile on Friday?

Rabbeinu Yonah’s approach

Before troubling Chayim with the possibility that he may have to rearrange the way he does business, let us examine a third approach, that of Rabbeinu Yonah, to explaining the original beraysa. This approach is based on the rabbinic prohibition against hiring a non-Jew to work for a Jew on Shabbos. The beraysa prohibits renting on Friday keilim that one uses to perform melachah to a gentile, since we know that if the rental would exclude permission to use these keilim on Shabbos, the gentile would be willing to pay only significantly less rent. Since the rent the Jew receives reflects the fact that the gentile will perform melachah with this appliance on Shabbos, the Jew is considered to be benefitting from the gentile’s work on Shabbos, which is why Chazal prohibited it (Rosh, Shabbos 1:36, quoting Rabbeinu Yonah).

Why only renting?

According to Rabbeinu Yonah’s approach, it is very obvious why Chazal prohibited only renting to the gentile on Friday but permitted lending the appliance to him. Only when the Jew benefits from the gentile’s activity does it appear that the Jew made the gentile into his agent (Magen Avraham). When the Jew does not benefit from the gentile’s activity, it is obvious that the gentile is working for himself and not as an agent of the Jew (see Graz).

Tosafos versus Rabbeinu Yonah

There is a major difference in halachah between Rabbeinu Yonah’s approach and that of Tosafos. According to Tosafos, that the prohibition is because of sechar Shabbos, the beraysa prohibits renting any appliance to a gentile on Friday. However, according to Rabbeinu Yonah, the beraysa prohibited only renting keilim with which one performs melachah, but not chairs, tables or any other items that one does not use for melachah. Thus, the halachah of this beraysa would not apply to Chayim’s party rental company.

How do we paskin?

The Rama, when ruling on this topic, specifies that one may not rent a gentile a plow on Fridays, thus ruling according to Rabbeinu Yonah that the prohibition applies only to appliances used for melachah. Therefore, according to the Rama’s halachic conclusion, as long as Chayim makes sure not to have a contract that violates the laws of sechar Shabbos, he has no halachic problems with his enterprise, and we wish him well in his endeavor.

What about Avi’s Rent-a-Car?

However, it would seem that one may not rent out an automobile on Erev Shabbos to a gentile. The rav who had advised Avi obviously felt the same way.

Because of my own curiosity on the topic, I sent out the question to a prominent halachic authority, to see whether he felt that Avi may rent out his autos to gentiles on Friday.

Maris Ayin

The authority I contacted ruled that Avi did not need to bring a gentile into his business, because of a very interesting reason. Most of us are familiar with the prohibition of maris ayin, avoiding doing something that may raise suspicion that one violated halachah. For example, one may not hang out to dry on Shabbos wet clothes that were used to mop up a spill, because neighbors might think that he washed the clothes on Shabbos. This is true even when all the neighbors realize that he is a meticulously observant individual.

Indeed, there are some halachic authorities who explain the beraysa to mean the following: You may not rent keilim to a gentile on Friday because of a concern that people seeing you rent the item may think that you have hired the gentile to work for you on Shabbos, and are supplying him with materials to do the job (Bach; Taz, Orach Chayim 246:2; Pri Megadim). Since this concern would not possibly exist on a clearly-marked rental car, the authority I quoted above ruled that there is no problem with a Jew renting out a car to a gentile on Friday. This posek felt that as long as Avi was careful about the laws of sechar Shabbos, he would not need to be concerned about renting vehicles on Friday.


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). By refraining from building for one day a week, we acknowledge the true Builder of the world and all that it contains.

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?


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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?


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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).


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


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.)


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).


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?


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.



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.)


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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).


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).


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.


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.


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).


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?


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.