Living Things Carrying Themselves?

Since our parsha discusses both the creation of all living things, and the creation of Shabbos

Question # 1: Animals on Shabbos

Why must animals observe Shabbos, when they are not required to observe any other mitzvos?

Question #2: A Bird in the Hand

Does carrying a bird desecrate Shabbos min haTorah?

Question #3: Togetherness

If two people carry an item together, are they culpable of chillul Shabbos?

Introduction

The words of the Aseres Hadibros are: “The seventh day is Shabbos for Hashem, your G-d. You may not do any work; not you, your son, daughter, your slave and maidservant, or your animal.”

Thus, we are introduced to the concept that Shabbos is not only for us to observe, but also for us to ensure that animals are not involved in Shabbos desecration. We understand that we are required to observe Shabbos, but why should our animals be required to do so? Does the Torah assume that they comprehend what Shabbos means and can calculate which day of the week it is? How should we punish them if they disobey?

The answer is that they are not required to keep Shabbos; animals have no requirement to observe mitzvos. The mitzvah applies to us: included in our observance of Shabbos is an obligation that we are not to have our animals perform melacha for us.

There are two aspects to this mitzvah, one called shevisas beheimah and the other called mechameirShevisas beheimah requires that my animal not be worked by a person, and includes a situation in which a Jewish animal owner allows another person to use his animal to perform melacha for human benefit. The owner violates this lo saaseh even if he allows a non-Jew to use his animal to perform melacha, notwithstanding that the non-Jew has no mitzvah to observe Shabbos, and, indeed, is not even permitted to do so (Sanhedrin 58b).

Mechameir is when a Jew uses an animal to perform a melacha, even if he does not own the animal.

We see that these two activities, shevisas beheimah and mechameir, are both prohibited min haTorah. Does this mean that they are considered on the same level as performing one of the 39 melachos on Shabbos? Chazal explain that there are two categories of activities that are prohibited min haTorah on Shabbos — those that are included under the heading of melacha, and those that are not. The first are those that the Torah says could require capital punishment, as we see from the story of the mekosheish (see Bamidbar 15 32-35). Shevisas beheimah is certainly not considered a melacha, notwithstanding that it is prohibited min haTorah.

According to some tanna’immechameir has the full status of a melacha. The halacha is that although mechameir is not a melacha, it still violates Shabbos min haTorah, on a level approximately similar to the way that stealing violates the Torah. 

Only melacha

Both shevisas beheimah and mechameir violate Shabbos min haTorah only when the animal is used to perform an activity that for a person is considered melacha. Thus, having an animal plow or plant a field violates Shabbos. We will see more on this topic at the end of this article. Before we do, we need to discuss a different subject.

Chai nosei es atzmo

In several places, the Gemara discusses a halachic principle called chai nosei es atzmo, literally, “a living thing carries  itself” (Shabbos 94a, 141b; Eruvin 103a; Yoma 66b). The Gemara (Shabbos 94a) quotes and explains this concept, when it cites a dispute between Rabbi Nosson and the chachamim regarding someone who carries an animal or bird on Shabbos. Rabbi Nosson rules that the carrier is not in violation of Shabbos min haTorah, because of the principle of chai nosei es atzmo, whereas the chachamim rule that the carrier is culpable of desecrating Shabbos. The Gemara then states that the chachamim agree that carrying a person does not violate Shabbos min haTorah, because of chai nosei es atzmo. The chachamim contend that, notwithstanding the principle of chai nosei es atzmo, carrying an animal desecrates Shabbos min haTorah, because animals will try to wriggle out of the person’s control when they are carried. This argument does not concern Rabbi Nosson, although the Gemara never tells us why.

A bird in the hand

At this point, we have enough background to answer the second of our opening questions:

Does carrying a bird desecrate Shabbos min haTorah? The answer is that this is the subject of a dispute among tanna’im, in which Rabbi Nosson rules that the person doing this is not guilty of desecrating Shabbos because of chai nosei es atzmo, but the chachamim conclude that it does violate carrying, min haTorah. The halacha follows the opinion of the chachamim (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 18:16).

Why is chai nosei es atzmo exempt?

Why is it that, because of the principle of chai nosei es atzmo, carrying a person is not considered desecrating ShabbosTosafos (Shabbos 94a s.v. she’ha chai) is bothered by this issue, mentioning three approaches to explain why this is true, each of which requires a lengthy introduction. To remember the three approaches in the order in which Tosafos proposes them, I suggest the follow popular acronym: ATM.

1. Assistance

The “passenger” assists the “carrier” in the transportation.

2. Togetherness

Two (or more) people, or one person and one (or more) animal(s), are involved in performing the melacha, together.

3. Mishkan

The melacha activity is dissimilar from the way any carrying was performed in the construction of the Mishkan.

Assistance

The first approach suggested by Tosafos understands that carrying a person is not a melacha min haTorah because the “passenger” distributes his weight to help out the person who is hauling him. Tosafos rejects this approach because, although it is easier to carry a person than the same amount of dead weight, it is far easier to carry a much lighter object than it is to carry a person, yet carrying the light object violates Shabbos min haTorah, whereas carrying a person does not. Thus, Tosafos explains that there must be a different reason to explain chai nosei es atzmo.

A point that Tosafos does not note is that the approach just mentioned appears to be how Rashi (Shabbos 93b s.v. es) understands the topic of chai nosei es atzmo. We will need to address this sub-topic at another time.

Togetherness

The second approach to explain chai nosei es atzmo quoted by Tosafos is based on a principle, taught by the Mishnah (Shabbos 92b, 106b), that there is a qualitative difference between a melacha that is performed by two people together and one that is performed by a sole individual. The halachic term applied when two people perform a melacha together is shenayim she’asu. When the person being carried makes it easier for someone else to carry him, it is considered shenayim she’asu, and neither the carrier nor the passenger violates a Torah melacha.

However, based on detailed analysis of the rules of shenayim she’asuTosafos denies that this rationale will exempt the performer of this act from culpability on Shabbos. There are three opinions among tanna’im as to what are the rules germane to shenayim she’asu. Rabbi Meir, the most stringent of the three, disagrees with the rule that shenayim she’asu is not considered as performing a melacha (Shabbos 92b). He contends that when two people perform a melacha activity together, they are usually both culpable of violating the melacha. (We will mention shortly the one case when even Rabbi Meir accepts that there is an exemption.)

Second opinion

The tanna Rabbi Yehudah, a second opinion, draws a distinction regarding whether the two people can perform the melacha only when they are working together or whether each can perform the melacha separately. When two people carry something together that neither would be able to carry on his own, both are culpable for carrying the item on Shabbos, since this is the usual way for two people to perform this melacha activity. For example, a table too heavy or bulky for one person to carry is usually carried by two people. Therefore, two people carrying this table is the usual way to transport it. This case is called zeh eino yachol vezeh eino yachol, in which case, both transporters are culpable for desecrating Shabbos, according to Rabbi Yehudah.

However, regarding an item that each would have been able to carry on his own, such as a chair that is easily carried by either individual alone, should the two of them carry it together, neither is guilty of violating Shabbos, since this is an unusual way of carrying it. This case is called zeh yachol vezeh yachol.

Third opinion

The third approach is that of Rabbi Shimon, who rules that whether the item can be carried by each person separately or whether it cannot, no one violates Shabbos min haTorah.

The conclusion of the rishonim is that the halacha follows the middle opinion, that of Rabbi Yehudah (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 1:16).

Two together

At this point, I will digress briefly to answer the third of our opening questions: If two people carry an item together, are they culpable of chillul Shabbos?

The answer is that this case usually involves a dispute among tanna’im, and the accepted halacha is that, if either could carry it by himself, they are exempt from chillul Shabbos min haTorah. However, if it is a large item, and neither can carry it on his own, they are culpable of desecrating Shabbos.

One can and one cannot

What is the halacha if one of them is able to carry it by himself, and the other cannot? This case is called zeh yachol vezeh eino yachol, which we have thus far omitted from our discussion. What is the halacha if one of the parties can perform the melacha activity by himself, and the second cannot perform it without the assistance of his associate?

The Gemara raises this question and concludes that the person who can perform the melacha by himself is culpable, even when he is assisted, and the person who cannot perform it by himself is exempt from a melacha min haTorah (Shabbos 93a).

Now, notes Tosafos, let us compare the case of chai nosei es atzmo, when one person carries another, to the rules ofshenayim se’asu. In this case, the person doing the carrying can obviously perform the melacha by himself without the assistance of the other person. And, the person being carried is not performing the melacha by himself. According to what we just learned, the person doing the carrying should be culpable for violating the melacha. Since the halacha of chai nosei es atzmo is that the person doing the carrying is exempt from violating the melacha min haTorah, the approach of shenayim she’asu does not explain the halachic conclusion, and clearly cannot be the correct reason for the principle of chai nosei es atzmo. In baseball jargon, we would call this a swing and a miss.

Mishkan

Tosafos, therefore, proposes a third way to explain the principle of chai nosei es atzmo: The 39 melachos of Shabbos are derived from the activities performed in the building of the Mishkan in the Desert. Notwithstanding the importance of constructing the Mishkan as quickly as possible, it was strictly prohibited to perform any aspect of its building on Shabbos. This implies that the definition of what is prohibited on Shabbos is anything necessary to build the Mishkan.

Tosafos notes that building the Mishkan never necessitated carrying something that was alive. Although both hides of animals and dyes manufactured from animal sources were used in the construction of the MishkanTosafos concludes that the animals whose hides were used were led, rather than carried, to where they were slaughtered, and the animals that provided sources for the dyes were transported after they were dead. Thus, chai nosei es atzmo creates an exemption from desecrating Shabbos because of a unique rule in the melacha of carrying: for an activity to be considered a melacha min haTorah of carrying, the activity has to be fairly comparable to the way it was done in the construction of the Mishkan (see Tosafos, Eruvin 97b s.v. es and Shabbos 2a s.v. pashat; see also Penei Yehoshua on Tosafos 94a s.v. shehachai).

Chachamim

We noted above that, whereas Rabbi Nosson rules that someone who carried an animal on Shabbos is exempt from violating Shabbos min haTorah, the chachamim disagree. However, the Gemara concludes that the chachamim also accept the principle of chai nosei es atzmo, but disagree with its application regarding the case of someone carrying an animal, since the animal will be trying to escape. The chachamim agree that chai nosei es atzmo applies when carrying a person, as evidenced in two different places in the Mishnah:

In Mesechta Shabbos, the Mishnah (93b) states that carrying a bed containing an ill person on Shabbos is not a melacha min haTorah. This is because the bed is subordinate to the person, just as clothing or jewelry is. Carrying the person, himself, is not a melacha, because of chai nosei es atzmo.

The second place is a Mishnah discussing a rabbinic injunction banning sale of a donkey or cow to a non-Jew on any day of the week (Avodah Zarah 14b). The Gemara (15a) explains that this prohibition is because of concern that selling a large animal to a non-Jew could cause the seller to desecrate Shabbos, and then explains two different scenarios whereby this could happen.

A. Renting or lending

One way is that a Jew may rent or lend an animal to a non-Jew over Shabbos, which could easily cause the Jewish owner of the animal to desecrate Shabbos. When the non-Jew renter or borrower uses the animal on Shabbos, the Jewish owner violates the Torah prohibition of shevisas beheimah, explained at the beginning of this article. Prohibiting the sale of large animals to non-Jews avoids a Jew having any financial dealings involving these animals.

B. Mechameir

The other concern is that the Jew might sell the animal to a non-Jew before Shabbos, but the non-Jew discovers on Shabbos that he cannot get the animal to follow his instructions, so he asks the Jew for help with the animal after Shabbos starts. If the Jew speaks and the animal obeys his voice and thereby performs melacha, the Jew has directed the animal to work on Shabbos, which is a desecration of mechameir, even should the non-Jew already own the animal.

For those in the cattle business, there are heterim discussed in the Gemara and the halachic authorities, which we will leave for another time.

Chai nosei es atzmo

We now know why Chazal banned a Jew from selling an animal to a non-Jew. What does this have to do with chai nosei es atzmo?

The Mishnah teaches that Ben Beseira permits selling horses to non-Jews, which the chachamim dispute. Having your animal work on Shabbos is prohibited min haTorah only when the animal performs what is considered melacha. Thus, having an animal plow, plant, or grind grain is prohibited, min haTorah, on Shabbos. However, having an animal carry a human rider on Shabbos is prohibited only miderabbanan, since the human is capable of walking – chai nosei es atzmo. Therefore, Ben Beseira permitted selling a horse to a non-Jew, because this would never lead someone to violate Shabbos min haTorah. The Sages prohibit selling a horse, because there are instances in which it is used to perform melacha de’oraysa, and therefore it is included in the prohibition of selling large animals to a non-Jew.

Conclusion

As I mentioned above, animals have no requirement to observe mitzvos. The requirement that it is forbidden to do melacha is a commandment that applies to us; observing Shabbos requires that we refrain from having them perform melacha for us. And the reason is simple: Hashem gave us permission, indeed responsibility, to oversee and rule over the world that He created. However, we must always remember that it is He who gave us this authority, and, by observing Shabbos, we demonstrate this. Our power extends over all of creation, including the animal kingdom. Thus, Shabbos limiting our control of animals demonstrates that our authority the rest of the week is only by virtue of the authority granted us by Hashem.

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 melacha, 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). Understanding that the goal of our actions affects whether a melacha activity has been performed demonstrates, even more, the concepts of purpose and accomplishment.

Warming Food on Shabbos

Because the Mishkan and Shabbos are both mentioned in this week’s parsha

Question #1: Near Fire

“May I warm food on Shabbos by putting it near the stove?”

Question #2: Kugel on Pot

“May I take a kugel from the refrigerator on Shabbos morning and place it on the cholent pot to warm?”

Answer

All the questions above relate to the laws of how one is permitted to warm food on Shabbos. Unless specified otherwise, assume that this article is discussing food that is already fully cooked and dry, such as baked or barbecued chicken or a kugel. Cooked liquids, such as soup or gravy, that have cooled off may not be warmed on Shabbos because this might be considered cooking them, a topic we will not discuss in this article.

Introduction

Chazal prohibited placing food, even fully cooked, to warm on Shabbos on a heat source. This was prohibited because it looks like cooking. However, there are a few ways that Chazal permitted warming food on Shabbos.

Near the fire

One way that they permitted is to place the food near a fire, but not on top of it (Shabbos 37a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 253:1). This is permitted, because it is shelo kederech bishul, this is not a usual way to cook. If you build a bonfire or barbecue to roast hot dogs, steak or potatoes, you put the food in the fire or on top of it, but not alongside. On a chilly evening, people sit beside the fire to stay warm, specifically because they usually do not want to be cooked. Similarly, putting food alongside the fire is clearly meant to warm the food, not to cook it, and for this reason is permitted.

Other methods

The Ran permits several other methods of warming food on Shabbos. Some of these approaches are accepted by the other halachic authorities, whereas others are not. I am first going to mention two methods that he suggests that are not accepted by most other authorities:

Ketumah

In the context of a different but related prohibition called shehiyah, Chazal prohibited leaving cooking food on an open fire when Shabbos starts. This prohibition is to avoid the concern that someone might stoke the fire on Shabbos. However, Chazal permitted leaving cooking food on a fire covered with ashes, called ketumah. The Ran rules that once a fire is ketumah, it is permitted to return fully-cooked dry food to warm on that fire, even if the food is completely cold. However, most other authorities prohibit this (see, for example, Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 253:2; Magen Avraham 253:25; cf., however, Rema 253:2).

Kugel on top of stove

I mentioned above that the Gemara permits warming food alongside a fire, because food is not cooked this way. The Ran permits taking a pashtida (something like a kugel) and placing it on top of a stove, because it is not usually cooked this way – pashtida was always baked in an oven, not atop a stove. This ruling is not accepted by other rishonim, presumably because they feel that Chazal permitted warming food only in a way that no one cooks any food, not this particular food. Although pashtida is not baked on top of a stove, this is the preferred way to cook many items, and therefore, this does not qualify as shelo kederech bishul.

Kli rishon

A third approach suggested by the Ran and other rishonim to warm food on Shabbos is in a kli rishon that has been removed from the fire. A kli rishon is a pot, pan or other vessel containing food that is very hot from being on top of a stove or inside an oven, or that was heated in a similar way from a direct source of heat. Since we are discussing warming food that is completely cooked and dry, no one cooks these foods in a kli rishon, and, for this reason, you may warm food this way, even if it become so hot that a person pulls his hand back when he touches it (yad soledes bo). Therefore, you may place a kugel or meat into a pot that was heated on the fire, but is no longer on the fire.

Although using this heter is not that common, I will present you with a situation in which it was used. A caterer was hired to serve a Friday night meal at 8:00 p.m., on a cold winter day. Obviously, there was interest in a hot main course, but placing chicken or meat to warm from before Shabbos would probably dry it out before it was served. The caterer’s suggestion was to place a pot of gravy warming on a fire or blech, and then, prior to serving the food, remove the gravy from the fire and then add the chicken to the pot containing the gravy. This allows serving a very hot, moist dinner, without violating any Shabbos laws.

On top of pot

Let us return to the words of the Ran that we have been discussing. Quoting an earlier rishon, the Rashba, the Ran permits a fourth method of warming food on Shabbos: warming cold food by placing it on top of a pot that is directly on the fire. His words are, “It is permitted to put food that was fully cooked before Shabbos, such as a pashtida or something similar, to warm on top of a pot containing hot food on top of the fire, even if it will reach the temperature of yad soledes bo, since this is not a usual way of cooking.” Many other rishonim accept this approach, and it is recorded in the Shulchan Aruch as accepted halacha, as we will soon discuss.

Things that cook easily

We should realize that none of the options of warming food that we have mentioned may be used for foods that have never been cooked. In some instances, heating raw foods that cook easily, called kalei habishul,is prohibited min haTorah. For example, placing a tea bag, raw spices or a raw egg into a kli rishon violates the melacha of bishul mide’oraysa (see Mishnah, Shabbos 42a). (As a matter of fact, kalei habishul will cook even in a kli sheini, which is the platter or bowl into which food was poured from a kli rishon. There is a halachic dispute whether you may place kalei habishul into a kli shelishi, a utensil into which something was poured from a kli sheini platter, bowl or cup, but this is not today’s topic.)

Returning to the fire

Thus far, we have discussed different methods of warming cold food on Shabbos. There is another way that Chazal permitted rewarming food on Shabbos called chazarah, but chazarah refers to food that was already hot on Shabbos and was removed from the heat source. For example, you decided to serve some of the food now, but you intend to return it to the source of heat in order to serve the rest later. Before addressing the opening questions, we need to analyze the rules governing when and how it is permitted to return food to the fire on Shabbos.

The most frequent contemporary example of this is removing a kettle from the blech to make a cup of tea on Shabbos, and then returning the kettle to the blech to remain hot. This heter applies even to liquid food, provided that it is completely cooked and still hot, or at least warm. It is permitted to return the food on top of the fire, but only when several conditions are met:

(1) The fire must be covered in a way that reduces its heat and will remind someone not to adjust its heat on Shabbos. Covering the fire this way is called ketumah, which means that the fire was covered with ash, as I mentioned above. Although some authorities dispute whether the following method is permitted, accepted contemporary practice is to accomplish ketumah by placing a metal sheet called a blech on top of the stove (Magen Avraham 253:31). In addition, it is preferable to cover the dials that adjust the temperature setting on the stove (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:93).

Still hot

Several other conditions should be fulfilled before returning food to the blech.

(2) The food must be fully cooked.

(3) The food must still be hot.

(4) The food must have been removed with the intent to return it.

(5) Preferably, the pot of food should remain in someone’s hands the entire time that it was off the fire.

Many Sefardim are lenient, maintaining that as long as the fire is properly covered, the pot may be returned to the blech even if there was no intent to return it to the fire and it was put down, as long as the pot of food was not placed on the ground. Ashkenazim can be lenient about returning the food to the fire, even if someone mistakenly forgot these last two requirements; that is, the food was removed from the fire without any intention to return it, and it was put down. Lechatchilah, these requirements should be observed.

How hot?

How hot must the food still be to permit returning it to the blech? In this question, Sefardim are stricter than Ashkenazim, contending that the food must be yad soledes bo in order to permit returning it. Ashkenazim rule that the food may be returned to the blech as long as it is still warm enough to eat.

Creating a “blech” on Shabbos

The Mordechai, a German contemporary of the Rashba, discusses the following case:

Someone leaves his cholent cooking directly on the fire when Shabbos started, without the use of a blech, which the Mordechai permits. (In fact, there is a dispute among rishonim whether it is permitted to leave your cholent when Shabbos started on a fire without a blech. Because of this dispute, most people always place their cholent on a blech.) When the person wakes up Shabbos morning, he notices that his cholent was beginning to burn. He needs to reduce the heat that is keeping the cholent warm, so that it does not become burnt, yet he wants it to remain hot for the Shabbos meal. The Mordechai permits taking an empty pot, placing it on top of the open fire, and then returning his cholent pot on top of the empty pot (Shabbos #456, page 80, first column).

A similar situation would be if the food was being kept warm on the blech or an electric hotplate, and someone wants to raise the food a bit above the flame so that it not burn, by placing an empty pan onto the blech and then placing the cholent pot on top of the pan. The Mordechai permits this, provided that the rules of chazarah were followed. However, he implies that it is not permitted to warm cold food on Shabbos by placing it on top of an empty pot on top of a fire or blech.

Controversy!

This ruling of the Mordechai appears to dispute the conclusion of the Rashba that we quoted above. To quote the Rashba again, “It is permitted to put food that was fully cooked before Shabbos, such as a pashtida or something similar, to warm on top of a pot containing hot food on top of the fire, even if it will reach the temperature of yad soledes bo, since this is not a usual way of cooking.”

A superficial glance at these two rulings would imply that they disagree. The Mordechai permits placing food atop a fire or blech only if the food is already hot and the conditions of chazarah are fulfilled, but not otherwise. On the other hand, the Rashba permits placing completely cold food atop a pot to warm on Shabbos, without concern whether the specifications of chazarah were observed. Yet, the author of the Shulchan Aruch quotes both rulings alongside one another in his Beis Yosef commentary and also cites both of them as authoritative rulings in his Shulchan Aruch. Apparently, he did not consider these two rulings to be contradictory. Thus, we need to understand why these cases are dissimilar in order to explain the halachic rulings. The answer that we provide to this question will have major practical ramifications regarding how one may warm food on Shabbos.

Full or empty?

A few approaches are provided to answer this question. The Pri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 253:33) explains that there is a difference between placing food to warm on an empty pot vs. on top of a pot that has been sitting on the stove or blech with food cooking inside. The Shulchan Aruch permitted warming cold food on Shabbos only when you are putting it atop a pot of cooking food, but not on an empty pot.

What is the difference between an empty pot and pot of cooking food? The Chazon Ish (Orach Chayim 37:9, s.v. Hikshe) explains that when you are putting food on a cooking pot, it is being warmed by the steam that evaporates off the food and not directly by the fire. This is not included in the injunction that Chazal established not to heat food in a way that looks like cooking. However, if the pot is empty, the food is being heated by the fire itself, and this is included in what Chazal prohibited.

The Mishnah Berurah (Biur Halacha 253:3 s.v. Veyizaheir) makes the same distinction between placing the food atop an empty pot and a pot that contains food, but explains the reason for the halacha a bit differently. When placing the empty pot on the blech or fire, it is clear that the reason one is doing this is because you want the fire to heat the food. This is considered the same as putting cold food on the fire to warm, which is prohibited. However, when the pot is already full of hot, cooked food, placing a pot of food on top does not look like a normal way to cook food, and therefore was not included in the prohibition of Chazal.

Dry or liquid?

A third way to explain the difference between the two situations is that the Mordechai’s case involves food that contains a substantial amount of liquid, which is how cholent is usually made. In this instance, one cannot warm cold food on Shabbos, because this will be warming liquid food, which we do not do because of concern that one will be cooking it. Therefore, the Mordechai only permitted chazara, i.e., return of warm, cooked food to a situation in which it will stay warm. However, the Rashba was describing someone warming a dry food that is completely cooked. Since there is no possibility of cooking this food, it is permitted to warm it on Shabbos, as long as one does not do so in a way that people usually cook food (Machatzis Hashekel 253:34).

Thus, we have two different distinctions with which to explain how the Shulchan Aruch ruled. There is a major difference in halacha between the different approaches. According to the first approach, it is not permitted to warm food on Shabbos on top of an empty pan or pot, only on top of one that is already heating food. According to the latter approach, there is no halachic problem with taking fully cooked dry food and placing it to warm on top of an empty pot. Similarly, it is permitted to take a disposable pan, turn it upside down on top of the blech, and place food on top of it on Shabbos to warm. (Our intrepid readers who would like to see other approaches to explain the difference between the two rulings of the Shulchan Aruch are directed to the comments of the Tosafos Shabbos, the Gra and the Dagul Meirevavah.)

Conclusion

As we see, the rules Chazal established to allow proper Shabbos observance of hot food are extremely complicated. Yet, one should strive to eat a proper hot meal on Shabbos, enhanced by the fact that it was cooked and warmed following the myriad details of halacha. This is, indeed, the true oneg Shabbos, celebrating Shabbos through a meal that is delicious and also elevates the soul.

Curious Kiddush Shaylos

The Torah commands us to declare the sanctity of Shabbos, a mitzvah we fulfill when we recite Kiddush before beginning the meal. Notwithstanding that this mitzvah appears very clear cut, it sometimes involves interesting shaylos.

We recite Kiddush before the seudah at night and also Shabbos morning. The Torah mitzvah of Kiddush is fulfilled at night and has two brachos, one is on the wine and the other is the special Kiddush bracha. The daytime Kiddush was instituted by Chazal to demonstrate the specialness of Shabbos meals – therefore, we drink a cup of wine immediately before the meals begin. (The pesukim that we recite before this Kiddush are a later minhag, presumably to emphasize that we are reciting Kiddush.)

One is forbidden to eat or drink before reciting Kiddush. The poskim dispute whether an ill or weak person who eats before davening should make Kiddush before doing so. There is also a dispute whether a woman makes Kiddush before eating breakfast on Shabbos morning, or whether she does not need to make Kiddush until she eats later with her husband.

Someone who failed to recite the full Kiddush at night, for whatever reason, must recite it before or during one of the Shabbos day meals (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 271:8). We will discuss later an interesting application of this rule.

You can fulfill the mitzvah of Kiddush either by reciting it yourself or hearing it from someone who is reciting it. When the head of household recites Kiddush, he does so for everyone at the table. Everyone is yotzei Kiddush, he by reciting it and, everyone else, by hearing it. This is referred to as the baal habayis being “motzi” the others in their mitzvah.

Several requirements must be met in order to fulfill the mitzvah through hearing someone else’s Kiddush. One of the requirements is that the person reciting Kiddush must be obligated in the mitzvah. For this reason, only an adult can be motzi other adults.

When I was twelve years old, I once spent Shabbos with my widowed grandmother, a”h. She wanted me, as the “man” of the house, to recite Kiddush, and I was happy to oblige. Years later, it occurred to me that my recital did not fulfill her obligation to fulfill the mitzvah of Kiddush, since I was under bar mitzvah at the time.

HEARING KIDDUSH

The people fulfilling the mitzvah must hear the Kiddush. Therefore, if the baal habayis mumbles inaudibly, they do not fulfill the mitzvah. Trying to solve this problem can sometimes create shalom bayis issues or hurt someone’s feelings. A rav’s direction may be very helpful.

Someone once asked me the following shaylah. His father-in-law recited Kiddush in a very garbled manner. Even if his father-in-law, indeed, recited a full Kiddush, he (the son-in-law) did not hear enough to be yotzei. How could he fulfill the mitzvah of Kiddush without hurting anyone’s feelings?

I proposed two possible suggestions. One was to find some practical excuse why he (the son-in-law) should recite his own Kiddush after his father-in-law (such as, this is his personal custom). Alternatively, if this is not a practical solution, he and his wife could discreetly make Kiddush in their own room, beforehand. (Of course, this solution will not help when their children get older.) Later in this article, we will discuss whether one can recite Kiddush in one room and eat in another.

KEEP THEM IN MIND

It is necessary that the person making Kiddush intend to be motzi those who want to fulfill the mitzvah, and they must have intent to fulfill the mitzvah with his recital. This leads us to a curious situation that once happened to me.

The hosts where we were eating honored me to recite Kiddush first – or so I thought. I assumed that I was reciting Kiddush for myself, and that the baal habayis would then recite Kiddush for his family. However, upon completing my Kiddush, it became clear that the family had assumed that I had made Kiddush for them, as well. But since this was not my intention, they were not yotzei.

It turned out that the head of household was embarrassed to recite Kiddush in my presence. Under the unusual circumstances, I may well have ended up reciting Kiddush twice, one right after the other, because the family still needed someone to be motzi them in Kiddush. Thus, if the baal habayis was still reluctant to recite Kiddush, I could have recited it a second time for them, because of the concept “Yatza motzi,” “someone who has already fulfilled the mitzvah may recite Kiddush, another time, for someone who has not yet fulfilled it.”

HOW CAN I RECITE KIDDUSH WHEN I HAVE ALREADY PERFORMED THE MITZVAH?

One may recite a birkas hamitzvah (a bracha on a mitzvah) on behalf of another person (presuming that we are both obligated to fulfill this mitzvah), even if one is not presently fulfilling this mitzvah, because of the principle “kol Yisroel areivim zeh lazeh,” “all Jews are responsible for one another,” (Rosh Hashanah 29a). This concept of “areivus” means that, since I am responsible to help another Jew observe mitzvos, his responsibility to fulfill a particular mitzvah is also my mitzvah. Since I am responsible to see that my fellow Jew makes Kiddush, I can recite the Kiddush bracha on his behalf. For this same reason, I may blow shofar in a shul and recite the brachos for other people, even if I fulfilled the mitzvah of shofar earlier.

MAKING KIDDUSH WHEN I WILL FULFILL THE MITZVAH LATER

I was once asked the following shaylah. Mr. Hirsch was hospitalized, and his wife was unable to make Kiddush for her family. Mr. Goldberg, one of the Hirsch’s neighbors, asked whether he could make Kiddush for the Hirsch family on his way home from shul, and then go home and make Kiddush for his own family. I told him that this was perfectly acceptable. However, if he was not planning to eat anything at the Hirsch residence, he should not drink the Kiddush wine but, instead, ask one of the Hirsch adults to drink most of a revi’is (about one-and-a-half ounces) from the cup (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 273:4; 271:13). I will explain, shortly, why Mr. Goldberg should not drink from the Hirsch goblet.

This seems strange. How can Mr. Goldberg recite “borei pri hagafen” and not drink any wine?

THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF BRACHOS

The answer to this question needs an introduction. It is true that one cannot recite a bracha on food or fragrance (birkas ha’ne’henin) for someone else’s benefit, unless he is anyway making that bracha for himself. This is because the other person is not fulfilling any obligatory mitzvah by reciting these brachos. He needs to recite a bracha because he is gaining benefit, not because he is obligated to perform a mitzvah. Therefore, the rule of areivus does not apply in this case. Because the other person has no obligation to recite a bracha, someone else does not share in his mitzvah and cannot make the bracha on his behalf.

However, the bracha on Kiddush wine is different, because it is considered part of the obligatory mitzvah of Kiddush (Rosh Hashanah 29a). Therefore, Mr. Goldberg can make borei pri hagafen for the Hirsches, even though he is not drinking any wine. (It should be noted that it is disputed whether this halacha is true for the daytime Kiddush.)

AN INTERESTING APPLICATION

Sometimes one has guests for a Shabbos daytime meal who have not yet fulfilled the mitzvah of Kiddush this Shabbos. (A common application is when a guest is not yet observant.) This provides one with an opportunity to perform the additional mitzvah (in addition to exposing one’s guests to Shabbos) of Kiddush. As explained above, the normal daytime Kiddush is not a replacement for the night Kiddush. Therefore, reciting the daytime Kiddush will not help our not-yet-observant lunch guests fulfill the mitzvah of Kiddush this Shabbos. How can one alleviate the situation?

Since Kiddush can be recited the entire Shabbos day, one should recite both brachos of the Friday night Kiddush before the daytime meal, on behalf of his guests. Although he has already fulfilled the mitzvah, he can still be motzi his guests. However, in order to do so, he must explain to them that hearing Kiddush is a mitzvah, and that they should listen to him with the intent to fulfill the mitzvah. (It is always a good idea to do this, so that one’s guests know to fulfill the mitzvah.)

WHY COULDN’T MR. GOLDBERG DRINK THE CUP OF WINE?

Before answering this question, we need to explain the concept of Ein Kiddush ela bimkom seudah, “Kiddush must be recited in the place that one will be eating a meal” (Pesachim 101a).

The Gemara relates the following story. One Friday evening, Rabba made Kiddush. Although his disciple Abaye was present, Abaye planned to eat his Shabbos meal in his own lodgings. Rabba urged Abaye to “taste something” before he left, voicing concern that the light in Abaye’s lodging might extinguish before his arrival, making it impossible to make Kiddush there. (I presume that Abaye was unable to locate his wine in the dark.) Rabba pointed out that Abaye would not be yotzei with the Kiddush he just heard unless he ate something at Rabba’s house because of Ein Kiddush ela bimakom seudah (Pesachim 101a).

This halacha is derived from the pasuk, Vekarasa laShabbos oneg (Yeshayahu 58:13), which Chazal midrashically interpret to mean, “In the place where you declare the Kiddush of Shabbos, you should also celebrate your Shabbos meal” (Rashbam and Tosafos ad loc.). From this we derive that one must eat a meal in the place that one recites Kiddush.

WHAT IS CONSIDERED THE SAME PLACE?

The Gemara rules that someone fulfills the mitzvah of Kiddush if he recited (or heard) Kiddush in one part of a large room and ate in a different part of the room, since the entire room is considered the same place. Some poskim contend that one should not move to a different part of the house between making Kiddush and eating, unless he knew at the time of Kiddush that he might do this (Magen Avraham 273:1; Mishnah Berurah 273:3). Even this should be done only under extenuating circumstances (see Biur Halacha 273:1). However, if one recited Kiddush in one building and then went to a different building without eating, one certainly did not fulfill the mitzvah of Kiddush and must recite (or hear) it again. This is why Mr. Goldberg could not drink the Hirsch’s wine. Since he had no intent to eat at the Hirsch’s house, he could not fulfill the mitzvah of Kiddush there. Therefore, he also couldn’t drink the wine, since one cannot drink before fulfilling the mitzvah of Kiddush. (According to most, but not all, poskim, Mr. Goldberg has another option: he could drink the Kiddush and then another cup of wine. This would be considered Kiddush bimkom seudah.)

KIDDUSH IN SHUL

These two concepts (areivus and ein Kiddush ela bimkom seudah) are the basis of the custom that the chazzan recites Kiddush in shul Friday evening, without drinking the cup of wine.

Why is Kiddush recited in shul at the end of Friday evening davening?

The Gemara mentions that, in its time, guests often stayed and ate their Shabbos meals in rooms attached to the shul, and someone recited Kiddush in shul on their behalf. Since the guests were eating in the same building, it was considered Kiddush bimkom seudah and they fulfilled their mitzvah.

However, the chazzan who makes Kiddush does not fulfill his mitzvah, since he is eating his meal at his house, which is in a different building. Therefore, he should not drink the Kiddush wine. Instead, it should be drunk by a guest eating in the building, and, if there are no guests, the cup is drunk by children who are permitted to drink or eat before Kiddush. (Although, in general, children should be taught to keep mitzvos like adults, there is no requirement of chinuch in this case, a topic to discuss in a different article.)

ANOTHER INTERESTING SHAYLAH

I was once asked the following question by someone who was a guest at a Shabbos bar mitzvah:

“The baal simcha made Kiddush in the shul immediately after davening, but the reception was conducted in the shul’s social hall. Is this an acceptable way to fulfill the mitzvah?”

Based on the above discussion, we can answer this question. If the social hall was in a different building, they would need to recite Kiddush again in the social hall. Assuming the social hall where they would be eating was in the same building as the Kiddush, this was acceptable, under extenuating circumstances. It would be preferable that they follow a different procedure, such as having Kiddush made in the social hall.

WHAT IS CONSIDERED A MEAL?

Rabba’s words (“taste something”) imply that one fulfills Kiddush without necessarily eating a full meal, notwithstanding the Gemara’s statement that one must eat a meal where he recites Kiddush. The Geonim explain that one must begin his meal where he said Kiddush, either by eating some bread or drinking wine, and this is quoted in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 273:5). The Geonim explicitly state that one does not fulfill Kiddush bimkom seudah by eating only fruit. Although some poskim disagree, arguing that one fulfills Kiddush bimkom seudah by eating fruit (Shiltei Hagiborim, Pesachim 20a:1, quoting Riaz, as explained by Magen Avraham 273:11), the accepted practice does not follow this opinion (Magen Avraham 273:11; Shu”t Ein Yitzchak #12).

Magen Avraham rules that one fulfills Kiddush bimkom seudah by eating a kezayis-sized piece of mezonos (the same size piece that requires an “al hamichyah” blessing afterwards), and this is the prevalent practice followed on Shabbos morning, when people often make Kiddush and then eat pastry or crackers. The poskim dispute whether drinking wine fulfills Kiddush bimkom seudah (see Rabbi Akiva Eiger to 273:5 and Mishnah Berurah 273:26).

Some people follow the practice of the Vilna Gaon to recite Kiddush only immediately before the meal they are eating for the Shabbos seudah (see Biur Halacha and Rabbi Akiva Eiger to 273:5). In his opinion, the concept of Vekarasa laShabbos oneg means that one should declare the Kiddush of Shabbos, specifically, at the time that one celebrates the Shabbos meal.

Conclusion

Kiddush sets the tone of the whole Shabbos meal. In the midst of remembering the details and requirements of this mitzvah, we should never forget to focus, also, on the beauty of Shabbos and the wonderful opportunity we are given to sanctify it verbally, day and night!

Staining Matters

Question #1: Stains

On Shabbos, must I try not to stain my clothes?

Question #2:  Lipstick

May I freshen my lipstick on Shabbos?

Question #3: Bleaching

Does bleaching out color violate the melacha of dyeing?

Introduction:

One of the 39 melachos listed in the Mishnah (Shabbos 73a) is tzovei’a, dyeing. This is derived from the fact that many of the textiles and hides used in the Mishkan required dyeing; for example, the ram skins used to cover the Mishkan were dyed red (Yerushalmi, Shabbos 7:2).

Painting metal or the walls of a house are other examples that violate the Torah prohibition of tzovei’a (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 9:13; Tiferes Yisroel, Kalkeles Shabbos; Minchas Chinuch).

Non-permanent dyeing

The prohibition of tzovei’a is violated min haTorah only when the dyeing is permanent (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 9:13). Non-permanent dyeing does not violate the law min haTorah, but was prohibited by Chazal.

There are several ways that dyeing or coloring something could be non-permanent. It could be that the colorant you used is not fast – meaning it does not absorb sufficiently into the cloth to remain (Tosefta, Shabbos 12:6). It also could be that the material to which you applied the dye will soon decompose (Tosefta, Shabbos 12:6). Yet another possibility is that the material you are dyeing is permanent, and so is the dye when used for coloring cloth, but the colorant will not set on this particular material. The Rambam picks such an example, when he rules that one does not violate tzovei’a min haTorah by smearing makeup onto metal, since the metal will not remain colored for very long (Hilchos Shabbos 9:13). Each of these non-permanent examples of dyeing is prohibited on Shabbos, but none involves a Torah prohibition.

The halachic authorities dispute concerning the length of time that a color must lastin order to qualify as permanent. According to the Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 9:13), a dye that will remain for a day is long enough to be considered permanent — thus, someone using a colorant that will disappear a day after use desecrates Shabbos min haTorah (Shaar Hatziyun 303:68; see also Chayei Odom who appears to agree with this ruling). However, other authorities contend that violating the melacha of tzovei’a min haTorah requires a more permanent act of coloring, defined as something that lasts for a “long time” (Tiferes Yisroel in Kalkeles Shabbos).

Staining your clothes

The Shulchan Aruch rules that, because of the melacha of tzovei’a, when eating foods like beets and cherries, you should be careful not to stain your clothes (Orach Chayim 320:20). Notwithstanding that most of us are not interested in having our clothes stained by these foods, it is still prohibited miderabbanan to do so deliberately; for example, to wipe one’s hands on clothing after eating cherries. There are halachic authorities who rule that the laws of Shabbos do not require you to be concerned about staining your clothes, because doing so is considered dirtying your clothes, not dyeing them (Darchei Moshe 320:2, quoting Agur). However, the Shulchan Aruch rules strictly, and the consensus of later authorities accepts this opinion.

We can, therefore, now address our opening question: “On Shabbos, must I try not to stain my clothes?”

The answer is that it is forbidden to wipe my hands on my clothes if my hands have something that might be considered a dye, even though, from my perspective, I am dirtying the garment.

Two melachos

We see from the Gemara (see below) that a particular activity can be forbidden both because of tzovei’a and because of another melacha, at the same time (Shabbos 75a). Although in our day, there is no practical halachic difference whether an activity violates one melacha or two, when the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, speedily and in our days, there will be different halachic practices that result.

Lipstick on Shabbos

According to some authorities, applying lipstick is prohibited, both because of tzovei’a and because of memarei’ach, the melacha involved when one smoothes or files down a surface (Nimla Tal, Tzovei’a, note 31).

At this point, we can address the second of our opening questions: “May I freshen my lipstick on Shabbos?”

The answer is that applying lipstick may potentially involve two different melachos of Shabbos, tzovei’a and memarei’ach, and that both violations may be min haTorah.  There are possibilities why the violation of tzovei’a, in this instance, may be only rabbinic. One reason is because the lipstick may not remain on the lips for a full day, and the second reason, because the lips are already colored. However, notwithstanding these reasons, it is still, definitely prohibited miderabbanan as tzovei’a and is probably prohibited min haTorah as memarei’ach.

Is squeezing dyeing?

One rishon,the Ramban (Shabbos 111a), contends that squeezing liquid out of a soaked piece of cloth violates the melacha of dyeing, because the squeezing changes the current color of the cloth. (This is how his opinion is understood by the Magen Avraham,end of chapter 302, and Shu”t Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim #159:20; however, the Lechem Mishneh [Hilchos Shabbos 9:11] understands that the Ramban agrees with the other rishonim that squeezing is prohibited because of melabein, laundering and not because of dyeing.)

Creating a dye

The rishonim dispute whether creating a dye violates dyeing. According to the Rambam, blending together ingredients that, together, create a dye is a toladah of the melacha of tzovei’a, meaning that this is a sub-category of dyeing that is prohibited min haTorah (Hilchos Shabbos 9:14). However, the Ra’avad disagrees, contending that someone who creates a vat dye, which means that he heats raw materials intending to dye cloth by submerging it in the heated liquid, violates the melacha of “cooking” when he creates the dye. According to the Ra’avad, the melacha of dyeing is not violated until the cloth is placed in the vat to absorb the dye, and creating a dye without use of heat is not a Torah violation at all. This is because tzovei’a is violated min haTorah only when the result is a finished product; since creating a dye is only a preliminary step, it does not constitute a Torah violation of the melacha.

It seems that this identical dispute is a contention between other early rishonim. The Mishnah explains that it is prohibited min haTorah to stir a pot of vat dye on Shabbos. The question is — which melacha does this act violate? Tosafos (Shabbos 18b s. v. dilma) explains that this stirring violates tzovei’a, whereas Rashi (ad loc.) implies that it violates bishul, cooking. It would appear that the Ra’avad and Rashi have a similar approach, both contending that preparing a vat dye violates cooking, but not dyeing, whereas the Rambam agrees with Tosafos that manufacturing the dye violates tzovei’a.

Intensifying color

If a cloth or another textile already has a shade of color, but it is not dyed as deeply as you want, is it prohibited min haTorah to dye it to a deeper hue? According to most authorities, intensifying the shade of a pigment that already exists violates tzovei’a min haTorah. If the additional dyeing does not make a significant difference in the color, the violation is rabbinic, not min haTorah (Mor Uketziyah, end of 328; cf., however, see Shu”t Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim #172, who contends that once the fabric has been dyed a certain color, adding to that color does not involve a Torah prohibition. This is a minority opinion.).

Bleaching or dyeing?

At this point, we can ask whether dyeing is defined as changing the color of an item, or adding color to an item. A difference in practical halacha between the two approaches is whether bleaching an item, which changes the color by removing pigment, violates the melacha of tzovei’a.

According to most authorities, tzovei’a means applying pigment or colorant to the surface of an item that thereby changes its color. For example, the Rambam defines a different one of the 39 melachos, melabein, to be bleaching. He seems to understand that laundering is a sub-category of melabein. The question is why bleaching is not considered the same melacha as tzovei’a, dyeing, which is also concerned with changing the color of a fiber. The answer appears to be that, whereas tzovei’a adds color to the fiber, bleach removes color from the fiber. In the Rambam’s opinion, adding color to an item constitutes tzovei’a, whereas bleaching it and removing impurities that detract from the appearance of the cloth constitute melabein.

However, a minority opinion contends that any color change, including bleaching out the color, violates tzovei’a (see Tosafos, Bava Kama 93b, s. v. ha).

Painting white

“If someone whitewashes his wall or paints something white, what melacha has he performed?”

The answer is that he violated the melacha of tzovei’a,dyeing, not of melabein, even though the word melabein could be translated as “he makes something white.” This is true, even according to those who contend that bleaching does not qualify as tzovei’a. The reason is that bleaching removescolor, whereas in these cases a white color is added to the surface of the wall or other item.

The Rogatchover’s position

Rav Yosef Rosen — early 20th century rav of the Chassidishe community of Dvinsk, Latvia (for much of this period, part of the Russian empire), known colloquially as “the Rogatchover,” for his place of birth — was known for his original approaches to halachic issues. Often, these approaches produced interesting strict or lenient conclusions. In one of his essays, the Rogatchover concludes that mixing a dye into a liquid does not constitute the melacha of tzovei’a. His logic is that tzovei’a requires changing an item’s color. When mixing a dye base into a liquid, the liquid’s color is not changed. What has happened is that two colors are blending together to appear as one consistent color.

Regarding tzovei’a, the Rogatchover will permit several instances that are prohibited by other authorities. An example is if someone diluted a dye with water to create an art display. According to the Pri Megadim and the Tiferes Yisroel, this act is prohibited on Shabbos min haTorah. However, the Rogatchover will dispute their conclusion, since the color is created by mixing and not by coating an item with color.

Staining your hands

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 320:20) implies that there is no halachic problem with getting your hands or face stained while eating. The Mishnah Berurah (320:58) asks: since we prohibit women from applying makeup on Shabbos because of tzovei’a, applying color to human skin violates tzovei’a. If this is true, just as staining clothes violates tzovei’a, shouldn’t someone be required not to stain his hands and face? The Mishnah Berurah answers that since men do not usually apply makeup to their faces, it is permitted for them to eat foods that might stain their faces.

Conclusion

Shabbos is a day which is called “mei’ein olam haba” – a day that is a small taste of the World to Come; a day when we are given a neshamah yeseirah – a special Shabbosdik neshamah;  a day when Hashem’s Shechinah resides with us. The sefarim hakedoshim discuss these ideas and how much we need to prepare ourselves, every week, in order to properly relate to Shabbos Kodesh and to receive all of the benefit and bracha that Shabbos brings us.

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 melacha, which implies work with purpose and accomplishment. On Shabbos, we refrain from altering the world with our own creative acts and, instead, emphasize Hashem’s role (Shemos 20:11). We thereby acknowledge the true Builder and Creator of the world and all that it contains, and focus on our relationship with Him.

Food Coloring and Shabbos

Question #1: Mixing drinks

“May I mix red and white wines on Shabbos?”

Question #2: Cake decorating

“May I decorate a cake on Shabbos?”

Answer:

One of the 39 melachos, prohibited activities, of Shabbos is tzovei’a, dyeing. Tzovei’a was performed during the construction of the Mishkan when they dyed the rams’ hides red, as well as when they dyed the woolen threads used in the curtains and the clothing of the kohanim (Yerushalmi, Shabbos 7:2, referring to Shemos 25:5, 26:14, 35:7,23; 36:19, 39:34). Staining furniture, dyeing cloth or painting a rustproof finish on a metal trim (see Minchas Chinuch, Mitzvah 32:15) on Shabbos or Yom Tov all violate this melacha. Someone who paints a house on Shabbos is punishable for two different melachos, tzovei’a and boneh, construction (Tiferes Yisrael, Kalkeles Shabbos #15).

Dyeing food

The opening questions concern the following topic: May one color food on Shabbos or Yom Tov? As we will see shortly, many halachic authorities contend that the melacha of tzovei’a does not apply to edible items. Why should food be treated differently from furniture or clothing?

Egging on your mustard!

To begin, let us note a Talmudic passage that implies that tzovei’a does not apply to food. The Mishnah (Shabbos 139b) rules that one may add egg to mustard seeds on Shabbos, which the Gemara (140a) explains to mean even when the goal is for the yolk to color the mustard more yellow than it is naturally. Why is this not prohibited as dyeing on Shabbos?

An early authority, the Shibbolei Haleket (#86), explains that adding egg to mustard is permitted because of a halachic principle that he calls ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, the melacha of dyeing does not apply to food. Because of this principle, he permits dipping bread into fruit juice on Shabbos in order to color it. Since the position of the Shibbolei Haleket is the only opinion on the subject quoted by the Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 320), we are not surprised to find that Rav Yosef Karo, the author of the Beis Yosef, ruled in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 320:19) that ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, without even mentioning that some authorities reject this ruling. Because of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, the Shulchan Aruch permits using saffron to color food on Shabbos.

Although we have now established a halachic precedent for ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, we still do not know a rationale why this principle should be true. Among the later authorities, we find several approaches to explain why ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin.

Dyeing is forever!

The first approach requires a bit of an introduction, because we will be comparing dyeing to other melacha activities that do not apply to food. The Gemara cites a dispute whether salting meat heavily so that it will not spoil, as was done commonly in earlier generations, violates the melacha of tanning (me’abeid) on Shabbos (Shabbos 75b). Rabbah bar Rav Huna contends that salting meat on Shabbos to preserve it for a long trip is prohibited min hatorah, whereas Rava maintains that salting meat or any other food can never violate this melacha min hatorah, a position he explains as ein ibud ba’ochlin, the melacha of tanning does not apply to food.

Both Rabbah bar Rav Huna and Rava agree that the salting of meat to remove its blood, what we call kashering, does not violate the Torah prohibition of tanning (Shabbos 75b). According to Rava, even the heavy salting done to preserve meat for months is not comparable to the salting that preserves hides, which is prohibited min hatorah. The goal of tanning hides is to make leather that will last as long as wood does, which is not the goal when salting food, even for preservation purposes.

The Chasam Sofer explains that the reason for ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin is closely related to the principle of ein ibud ba’ochlinthe melacha of tanning does not apply to food. He contends that the melacha of dyeing applies only to items that one can dye permanently (Chasam Sofer, Shabbos 75a, s.v. Rav). The coloring on food is never meant to be forever, since one’s goal is that the food is eaten.

Following this approach, we find that some authorities understand ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin in a very broad way. The Chacham Tzvi (Shu”t Chacham Tzvi 2:92) implies that the principle of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin permits using fruit juice or other edible dye to paint one’s hands on Shabbos. Since the source of the dye is edible, as long as one does not use it to color clothing and other items where the color may set in a permanent way, it is permitted to do so. We should note that later authorities reject this broad heter of the Chacham Tzvi (see, for example, Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 320:25).

Rabbinic limitations

Others note that the comparison of dyeing to tanning should have us conclude that dyeing food does not constitute a violation min hatorah, because it is not permanent, but it should still be prohibited on Shabbos and Yom Tov because of a rabbinic injunction. The same is true regarding kashering meat on Shabbos. Although it does not violate any Torah prohibition, it is prohibited because of a rabbinic injunction, as noted by Tosafos (Shabbos 75b). Yet, we see that it is permitted lechatchilah to color mustard seeds with yolk on Shabbos. According to what we have just said, this should be prohibited because of a rabbinic injunction.

The Chayei Adam answers that using an item that is commonly viewed as a colorant is prohibited because of rabbinic injunction, but coloring food with an item not usually considered a colorant, such as egg yolk, is permitted lechatchilah (Chayei Adam 24:5, Nishmas Adam 24:3).

A difference in practical halacha results between the two opinions we have quoted: the approach of the Chasam Sofer, that painting food is never considered tzovei’a, and that of his contemporary, the Chayei Adam. According to the Chasam Sofer’s approach, any food coloring may be added on Shabbos, even something commonly used to add color, such as saffron. According to the Chayei Adam’s approach, ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin is limited to items that are not usually considered colorants, such as fruit juice or egg yolk. The Chayei Adam expressly disputes the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, quoted above, who permitted using saffron on Shabbos as a food color, contending that saffron may not be used, since it is a commonly used colorant (Nishmas Adam).

Color is like flavor

There is yet a third way to understand why ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin. The Kehillas Yaakov (Shabbos #40) explains that the melacha of dyeing is violated only when one intends to create a beautiful item. One adds color to food not so that the item should be more beautiful, but to make it more appetizing to eat. As any caterer or restaurateur will tell you, serving food in a colorful and eye-catching way is an important factor in making a repast a pleasant experience. According to this approach, coloring food on Shabbos is permitted, just as one may flavor food, even if one uses a colorant, such as saffron. Thus, we can explain why the Shulchan Aruch permitted using saffron on Shabbos, either according to the approach of the Chasam Sofer or according to the approach of the Kehillas Yaakov.

On the other hand, the approach of the Kehillas Yaakov permits tzovei’a ba’ochlin only when one’s goal is to make the food more palatablee. However, dyeing food to demonstrate that the colorant creates a permanent hue desecrates Shabbos. It is prohibited, perhaps min hatorah, to use food color when your goal is to create an exhibition, and not simply to encourage people to eat (Pri Megadim; Eishel Avraham 320:25). Similarly, one may not color water when one does not intend to serve it, since the purpose of the dyeing is not to make it more attractive as a food (Chayei Adam 24:4; Tiferes Yisrael, Kalkeles Shabbos #15).

We should note that one major authority rules that the last instance of tzovei’a, mixing food color and water, is not prohibited min hatorah, but for a totally unrelated reason. The Rogatchover Gaon explains that the definition of tzovei’a requires that pigment is placed on the surface of an item, such as is done when painting or dyeing (Commentary to Hilchos Shabbos, 9:14). However, in his opinion, mixing dye with water is not placing a color atop an item, but an act of diluting pigment, and, therefore, does not qualify as tzovei’a.

Cake decorating

May one decorate a celebratory cake with various food colors on Shabbos? On the one hand, this is food that will soon be consumed, so perhaps this should be included under the rubric of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin. On the other hand, one can argue that, in this instance, the purpose of the coloring is not to attract people to eat the cake. Rather, the decorating is to use the cake as a means of conveying good wishes to the celebrant, and the color, therefore, does not serve a food purpose. Therefore, according to the Kehillos Yaakov, this is similar to coloring food on Shabbos as part of an exhibition, which is prohibited.

Adding red wine to white

Here is another case which might be affected by the dispute why ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin. Based on a pasuk in Mishlei (23:31) that implies that red wine is preferred, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 472:11) rules that it is preferred to use red wine for the four cups of wine at the Seder (based on Bava Basra 97b). The question is raised by early authorities: If one has reasons to use a white wine for the seder, but wants to provide a reddish tinge to fulfill this halachic preference, may he mix red and white wines together on Shabbos or Yom Tov? Is this permitted because of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin?

The Darchei Moshe (end of Orach Chayim 320) quotes a dispute between the Agur and Rav Avraham Mintz. The Agur quotes that he heard from Rav Avraham Mintz that mixing the wines is prohibited because of tzovei’a, whereas the Agur himself permits it, because of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, just as one may add egg yolk to mustard seeds.

According to the first two approaches to explain ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, it should be permitted to mix the wines. The blended wine will soon be consumed, and, therefore, this coloring is certainly not permanent. Furthermore, wine is not usually considered a colorant. So why did Rav Avraham Mintz prohibit it?

We can suggest the following: Perhaps he understood the halacha similar to the way the Kehillas Yaakov did – that the reason we permit coloring food on Shabbos is to make it attractive and this is considered equivalent to flavoring it. This halacha is true only when the coloring is to encourage people to eat the food. However, blending red and white wine because he wants the wine to fulfill those opinions that hold that red wine is halachically preferable is an act of coloring and forbidden. This, reasoned Rav Avraham Mintz, is not included under the heter of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin (see Mishnah Berurah 320:56). (We should note that the Nishmas Adam 24:3 presents a different approach to explain the position of Rav Avraham Mintz.)

A challenge

Notwithstanding the extensive discussion I have presented of the concept ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, many authorities challenge the conclusion that ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, based on the following Talmudic passage:

The Gemara (Shabbos 75a) cites a dispute between Rav and Shmuel germane to the question of how many melachos of Shabbos someone violates if he slaughters (shechts) an animal on Shabbos. Shmuel rules that he has violated only one melacha, that of taking a life. Rav contends that he violates two, one for taking a life and a second for dyeing, since one desires that potential purchasers see that the meat is fresh (see Rashi ad locum). Since Rav contends that coloring the meat red with blood is prohibited min hatorah as an act of dyeing, he presumably disputes the ruling of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin!

In terms of halacha lema’aseh, the question becomes even stronger, since the majority of authorities rule according to Rav (Semag; Yerei’im; Semak; Or Zarua; Meiri; Rashi, Bava Kama 34b s.v. betzarich). [We should note that several authorities, including the Chasam Sofer, the Nishmas Adam (24:1), and the Avnei Neizer, understand that the Rambam ruled according to Shmuel.] Indeed, we should be aware that, on the basis of this Gemara, one major rishon disputes the entire principle of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin and rules that it is prohibited to color foods on Shabbos (Tosafos Rid, Shabbos 75b; see also Shu”t Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim 1:173). It is possible that Rav Avraham of Mintz held this way also, and that this is the reason he prohibited mixing red and white wine on Shabbos. However, most authorities conclude that ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, which means that we must have some way of explaining why Rav prohibited shechting an animal because it violates tzovei’a.

Meat or hide?

It is possible that Rav does not dispute the principle of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, and that he ruled that one violates tzovei’a when slaughtering an animal only when the hide is bloodied, but not for the bloodying of the meat. Hide is not food, and coloring it has the halachic status of dyeing leather, which is certainly forbidden min hatorah. Indeed, there are rishonim who explain that Rav contends that one violates tzovei’a only when he wants the hide to look red (Sefer Yerei’im; Or Zarua).

Although this approach has much merit, there must be another way to explain the difference between Rav’s case and the principle of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin. This is because Rashi explains that Rav ruled that one violates tzovei’a even when he wanted only the meat to look red. According to Rashi, we must look further to find an answer why Rav ruled that providing fresh meat with a bloody surface violates tzovei’a min hatorah, notwithstanding that ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin.

Meat versus mustard!

Indeed, many authorities contend that there is a qualitative difference between coloring mustard seed with yolk and coloring meat with blood. In the meat case, one is not trying to make a ready-to-eat food more attractive, which is halachically equivalent to flavoring food and therefore permitted. Rather, the slaughterer’s interest is to sell the meat, and reddening the meat is to make it more attractive for purchase. This may be no different from painting a house that one is selling, which is done to make it more aesthetically pleasing and attractive to a potential buyer. Both activities are prohibited min hatorah on Shabbos (Nishmas Adam 24:3).

An alternative approach to explain why Rav considered bloodying meat an act of dyeing min hatorah is because ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin applies only to food that can be eaten immediately. However, the freshly slaughtered meat that Rav describes requires soaking and salting to make it kosher for the Jewish table (Shu”t Chacham Tzvi 2:92; Shu”t Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim 1:173).

Food color to whiskey

Would adding colorant to hard liquor on Shabbos to make it more salable violate a Torah prohibition of dyeing? According to the last reason we have cited, it would, and, indeed, the Pri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 320:25) prohibits adding colorant on Shabbos to whiskey or mead that is for sale, contending that the heter of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin does not apply in this instance.

In conclusion

Most, but not all, authorities rule that ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, at least when one is using something that is usually not considered to be a pigment. For example, Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach (Shulchan Shelomoh to 320:19) rules that one may add syrup (petel) to water on Shabbos, even if the syrup contains food coloring that adds no taste, since the purpose is to make the beverage attractive for people to drink. However, someone desiring a specific variety of petel, because of an affinity for its particular color, should not mix it on Shabbos. It seems that this is not adding color to encourage people to drink the beverage, but it is considered producing a particular shade for aesthetic reasons.

Hashkafah

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly assume 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 melacha, which implies work with purpose and accomplishment. On Shabbos, we refrain from altering the world with our own creative acts and, instead, emphasize Hashem’s all-encompassing role (Rav Hirsch’s Commentary to Shemos 20:11).

Our current discussion provides an excellent example to prove this point. Whether someone violates the Shabbos melacha of dyeing is not at all dependent on how hard he worked, but on abstract principles that determine whether this act is considered a creative act of man or not. Thus, understanding the laws of tzovei’a on Shabbos provides greater insight into how the true Builder and Creator of the world wants us to understand the beauty of Shabbos.

Carrying Nitroglycerin on Shabbos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The above-quoted Talmudic text includes another case:

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

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

Melacha She’einah Tzericha Legufah

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

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

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

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

Furthermore, there is a basis to consider carrying only a rabbinic prohibition, because no public domain according to the Torah definition – reshus harabim – exists today. (It should be noted that notwithstanding Rav Engel’s statement on this subject, this position is strongly disputed by many authorities who contend that there is a reshus harabim today.) Because of these two mitigating reasons, Rabbi Engel permitted carrying the identification papers in one’s hat, which is an indirect method of carrying, in order to attend synagogue or to perform a different mitzvah.

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

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

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

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

1. Whereas Rav Greenwald assumes that these circumstances permit sewing a sugar cube or medicine tablet into a garment in order to carry it, Rav Waldenberg does not feel that the circumstances justify carrying an item in this fashion.

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

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

A responsum by Rav Menashe Klein[12] concludes that a patient is allowed to carry nitroglycerin tablets with a shinui for the purpose of going to shul or a different mitzvah. He bases himself on the following two rationales:

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

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

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

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

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

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


[1] Shu’t Maharash Engel, 3:43

[2] See Shabbos 92a, 104b

[3] Kesubos 60a

[4] Orach Chayim 328:33

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

[6] Hilchos Shabbos 1:7

[7] Shu’t Maharash Engel, 7:20

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

[9] Shabbos 60a, 67a

[10] Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 13:34

[11] Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah, Chapter 40 #7

[12] Shu’t Meshaneh Halachos 7:56

[13] Shu’t Levushei Mordechai #133

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

When May I Ask a Non-Jew to Assist Me on Shabbos?

Photo by chopstix00 from FreeImages

While enslaved in Egypt, the Jews worked every day of the week, and one of the special days celebrated to commemorate our Exodus is Shabbos. Observing Shabbos includes not only keeping the mitzvos ourselves, but also knowing when I may ask a non-Jew to perform prohibited activity, and when I may benefit from work performed by a non-Jew on Shabbos.

Each of the following questions describes a situation that people have asked me:

Question #1: A non-Jew turned on the lights for me on Shabbos. May I use this light to read?

Question #2: It is chilly in our house. May I ask a non-Jewish neighbor to turn up the heat?

Question #3: There is a problem with our electricity — the lights have gone out, and my son is terrified. May I ask a non-Jewish electrician to repair the power on Shabbos?

Question #4: We left the air conditioning off, and it became very hot on Shabbos. May I ask a non-Jew to turn the air conditioning on?

Question #5: I did not realize that I parked my car in a place where it will be towed away. May I ask a non-Jewish neighbor to move it?

In general, a Jew may not ask a non-Jew to perform activity that a Jew himself may not do. Chazal prohibited this because asking a non-Jew to work on Shabbos diminishes our sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves. Furthermore, the non-Jew functions as my agent, and it is therefore considered as if I did melacha work on Shabbos.

One may not benefit from melacha performed for a Jew by a non-Jew on Shabbos, even if the Jew did not ask him to do the work (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 276:1). Thus, if a non-Jew turned on a light for the Jew’s benefit without being asked, a Jew may not use the light.

This article will discuss when I may benefit from what a non-Jew does a melacha and when may I ask him to do melacha.

BENEFITING FROM NON-JEWISH LABOR

In general, if a non-Jew does melacha work for me on Shabbos, I may not benefit from what he did until enough time has elapsed after Shabbos for the work to have been performed after Shabbos (Beitzah 24b; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 325:6). Thus if a non-Jew baked an apple for me on Shabbos, I may not eat it after Shabbos until the time it takes to bake an apple. This way I receive no benefit from the work he performed on Shabbos and I am not tempted to ask him to do melacha for me at a different time (Rashi and Tosafos, Beitzah 24b).

However, if a non-Jew did work specifically for himself or for another non-Jew, I may benefit from his work even on that Shabbos itself (Mishnah Shabbos 122a). Therefore, if he turned on a light to see where he is going or to be able to read, I may use the light to read. There is an exception to this lenience that I will explain shortly.

The Gemara tells us the following story: The great Amora Shmuel was visiting a man named Avin in the town of Torin, when a non-Jew entered the room and kindled a light. Shmuel assumed that the non-Jew had ignited the light for Shmuel’s benefit, which would make it forbidden to use the light. In order to point out the fact that he was not using the light, Shmuel turned his chair around, with his back to the light, so that it was obvious that he was not using it. Shortly thereafter, the non-Jew returned with a document that he proceeded to read. Shmuel now realized that the non-Jew had kindled the light for himself and that he (Shmuel) was permitted to read by the light (Shabbos 122b).

Sometimes I may not benefit from work performed by a non-Jew even though he performed the work to benefit a non-Jew. This is in a case where there is concern that my benefiting from the activity might encourage the non-Jew to do more work than he needs for himself in order to benefit me. For example, if a non-Jew who knows me heated up a kettle of water because he wants a cup of coffee, I may not use the hot water. The reason is that, at some time in the future, he might decide to add extra water to the kettle that he is heating so that I can benefit (Shabbos 122a).

REMOVING IMPEDIMENTS

If a non-Jew did work that results in removing an impediment that was disturbing a Jew, I need not be concerned about benefiting from the non-Jew’s melacha activity. For example, if he turned off the light so that a Jewish person can sleep, one may go to sleep in that room. This is not considered as receiving benefit from a non-Jew’s Shabbos activity, since extinguishing the light only removed an obstacle and created nothing positive.

PARTIAL BENEFIT

Another instance that is not considered as receiving benefit from melacha activity is when I could already benefit before the non-Jew performed the melacha, and his melacha only makes it easier to do what I wanted. For example, if there is enough light to read, and a non-Jew turns on additional light, I may continue to read even though it is now easier to read. This is not considered as benefiting from the non-Jew’s melacha since I could have read even if he did not do the melacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 276:4). Similarly, one may eat a meal by the light that he provides, if one could eat even without the additional light. (Note that one may not ask the non-Jew to turn on the light in any of these instances.)

The poskim dispute whether in the above scenario I may continue reading after the original light burns out. Some contend that once the light has gone out, I may no longer read in the room since I am now benefiting from what the non-Jew kindled on Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 276:4; Bach; Magen Avraham). Others contend that since I was permitted to read when the light was kindled, I may continue to read even after the original light extinguished (Taz, Orach Chayim 276:3). Mishnah Berurah concludes that one should follow the first opinion.

I once spent Shabbos in a kosher hotel for a family simcha. I arrived early for davening Shabbos morning, intending to learn beforehand, only to discover that the lights were still out in the shul. I assumed that the lights were set to go on by a Shabbos clock and sat down near a window to learn in the interim. Fifteen minutes before davening started, a non-Jewish employee of the hotel arrived and turned on all the shul lights. This involved two prohibitions: 1. Since the non-Jew was an employee of the Jewish-owned hotel, the hotel should not have arranged for him to do melacha on Shabbos. 2. One may not benefit from the work he did. Thus, it is forbidden to read in the shul if you need the light to read.

However, as long as enough light came in through the windows to read, I could continue to read using the artificial light, since I could in any case read near the window. However, I could not read anywhere else in the shul. Furthermore, once it would get dark outdoors, and I could no longer read by the natural light, most authorities would prohibit reading by the kindled light.

MUST I LEAVE HOME?

According to what we have just explained, it would seem that if a non-Jew turns on the light in a house because he wants to benefit a Jew, one may not benefit from the light — and would have to leave the house. However, Chazal ruled that one is not required to leave one’s house if one did not want the non-Jew to turn on the light. Although one may not benefit from a non-Jew’s melacha on Shabbos, one is not required to leave one’s house in order to avoid benefiting from melacha done against one’s will (Rama 276:1, quoting Yerushalmi). In all instances like this, one should tell the non-Jew that you do not want him to do the melacha.

WHEN MAY I ASK A NON-JEW TO WORK ON SHABBOS?

Under certain extenuating circumstances, Chazal permitted asking a non-Jew to do melacha that a Jew may not do himself. I will group these situations under the following categories:

I. Situations when I may ask a non-Jew to perform work that would be prohibited min haTorah for a Jew.

II. Situations when I may ask a non-Jew to perform work that is prohibited miderabbanan.

I. There are a few situations where I may ask a non-Jew to perform something that would be a Torah prohibition if I did it myself. I may ask a non-Jew to perform a melacha for someone who is “choleh kol gufo,” literally, his entire body is sick. This means that although the person is in no danger, his illness is more than just a minor annoyance but it affects his entire body (Shabbos 129a; Shulchan Aruch 328:17). For example, I may ask a non-Jew to drive this person to a doctor, to pick up a prescription, or to turn a light on or off. This leniency applies to someone whose illness affects his entire body, or who is sick enough to be bedridden. Later in the article, I will discuss the halachos that apply to someone who is not well but who is feeling better than the person just described.

CHILDREN

Since children often get sick and are generally weaker than adults are, halacha considers a child as choleh kol gufo (Rama 276:1) when there is a great need (Mishnah Berurah ad loc.). Therefore, if it is cold indoors, one may ask a non-Jew to turn on the heat for the sake of a child, and then an adult may also benefit from the heat.

Until what age do I consider a child a choleh kol gufo? Many poskim contend that any child under the age of nine is in this category (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchok 1:78), although other poskim are less lenient.

Halacha treats a child who is afraid of the dark as a choleh kol gufo (Ketzos Hashulchan 134:18). Therefore if the light went out and a child is afraid, one may ask a non-Jew to rectify the problem.

We can now answer Question #3 above: “There is a problem with our electricity — the lights have gone out, and my son is terrified. May I ask a non-Jewish electrician to repair the power on Shabbos?” Under these circumstances, one may do so.

COLD ADULTS

When it is very cold, one may ask a non-Jew to turn on the heat even for adults, even if this involves doing a Torah prohibition. This is because everyone is considered sick when it comes to the cold. When it is chilly but not freezing, the poskim dispute whether I may ask a non-Jew to turn on the heat for the sake of adults when there are no children or ill people around (Shulchan Aruch 276:5 and commentaries).

Thus, we can now answer Question #2: “It is chilly in our house. May I ask a non-Jewish neighbor to turn up the heat?” The answer is that it depends on how cold it is and who is affected by the lack of heat.

WIDESPREAD TRANSGRESSION

Another situation where one may ask a non-Jew to do melacha that is prohibited min haTorah, is when it is necessary to prevent many people from transgressing the Torah. For example, if one discovered that the eruv is down, one may ask a non-Jew to repair it on Shabbos, even though he will have to perform activities that would be prohibited min haTorah (Mishnah Berurah 276:25), such as driving his car, tying a knot, or carrying in a reshus harabim min haTorah.

II. Situations when I may ask a non-Jew to perform work that is prohibited miderabbanan.

SHVUS DE’SHVUS

Under certain other circumstances, Chazal permitted asking a non-Jew to do something that would be prohibited miderabbanan for a Jew. The poskim usually refer to this lenience as shvus de’shvus. In general, this is permitted in any of the following situations:

(A) If a person is slightly ill.

(B) There is a major need.

(C) In order to enable a Jew to fulfill a mitzvah (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 307:5).

I will now explain these three situations:

(A) Earlier, I noted that if someone is ill to the extent that the illness affects his entire body, or if he is sick enough to go to bed, one may ask a non-Jew to do something that would involve a Torah prohibition for a Jew. If the person is less ill, one may ask a non-Jew to do something that involves only a rabbinic prohibition, but not a Torah prohibition.

Included under this category is if the person is suffering from considerable pain (Gra, Orach Chayim 325:10; Aruch Hashulchan 307:18). Thus, someone who caught his finger in a door may ask a non-Jew to bring ice through an area without an eruv, if he has no ice in his house. Similarly if an insect bit him, he may ask a non-Jew to buy medicine to alleviate the pain.

Based on the above heter, may one ask a non-Jew to turn on the air conditioner if it gets very hot? Does this qualify as alleviating a great deal of suffering? And is operating the air conditioning considered a Torah violation or a rabbinic violation, for which we may be lenient because of shvus de’shvus?

This question was the subject of a dispute by the last generation’s poskim. Minchas Yitzchok (3:23) permits asking a non-Jew to turn on the air conditioning, quoting Levush who explains that once people are unaccustomed to the cold, halacha considers them to be ill even if it is not that cold. Therefore, one may ask a non-Jew to kindle a fire for them. However, he then quotes sources that contend that being too hot is not the same as being too cold. He concludes that someone who is accustomed to moderate weather suffers when it is very hot and humid and may therefore ask a non-Jew to turn on the air conditioning because it is shvus de’shvus bimkom tzaar (to alleviate suffering). Similarly, his mechutan, the Chelkas Yaakov (3:139) permitted having a non-Jew turn on the air conditioning because of shvus di’shvus bimakom tzaar.

On the other hand, Rav Moshe prohibited asking a non-Jew to turn on the air conditioner because it is benefiting from work performed by a non-Jew on Shabbos (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 3:47:2). Rav Moshe forbids benefiting even if one did not ask the non-Jew to turn on the air conditioning, but merely hinted, such as by telling him, “It is really hot here!” hoping that he catches the hint. Evidently, Rav Moshe did not consider this as a makom tzaar that permits benefiting from a non-Jew’s activity on Shabbos.

Thus, in answer to Question #4 — “We left the air conditioning off, and it became very hot on Shabbos. May I ask a non-Jew to turn the air conditioning on?” We see that the poskim dispute whether this is permitted or not.

(B) One may ask a non-Jew to perform an issur derabbanan in case of major need. There are three opinions as to how much financial loss this must entail to be considered a major need.

(1) Some rule that one may ask the non-Jew even if there is no financial loss, as long as there is a great need (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 307:5; Graz 307:12). According to these poskim, if one’s clothes became torn or dirty on Shabbos and he is embarrassed to wear them, he may ask a non-Jew to bring him clean clothes through an area not enclosed by an eruv.

(2) Other poskim rule more strictly, contending that one may be lenient only if a major financial loss will result (Magen Avraham 307:7). According to these poskim, if one discovered that the plug of one’s well-stocked freezer is disconnected, one may ask a non-Jew to reconnect it on Shabbos.

(3) A third opinion contends that major financial loss is not sufficient reason to permit shvus de’shvus unless there is some physical discomfort as well (Elyah Rabbah 307:14). We usually follow the second opinion quoted and permit a shvus di’shvus in case of major financial loss. Furthermore, we allow shvus de’shvus even if it is uncertain that a major loss will result, but it is a good possibility (see She’eilas Yaavetz 2:139). As a result, one may ask a non-Jew to plug in the freezer even if one is uncertain whether the food will go bad.

Note that the opinions I quoted above permit asking a non-Jew only to perform a melacha derabbanan to avoid financial loss, but none of them permit asking him to violate a Torah law. Thus, this would answer Question #5 that I mentioned above: “I did not realize that I parked my car in a place where the city will tow it away. May I ask a non-Jewish neighbor to move it?” The answer is that one is not allowed to ask him. However, one may hint to the non-Jew in an indirect way by saying, “My car is parked in a place where it might get towed,” as I explained in a previous article on this subject.

(C) I may ask a non-Jew to do something that is only an issur derabbanan in order to enable me to perform a mitzvah. For example, having a guest who is visiting from out of town, or a guest who otherwise would have nowhere to eat, fulfills the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim. (Inviting a neighborhood family over for a Shabbos meal may be a very big chesed for the wife of the guest family, but it does not qualify as the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim [Rama 333:1].) Therefore, if one realizes on Shabbos that one does not have enough chairs for all the guests to sit at the table, he may ask a non-Jew to bring chairs from a neighbor’s house even when there is no eruv. Other poskim are more lenient, permitting asking a non-Jew to bring any food or beverage that enhances Shabbos (Aruch Hashulchan 307:18).

Some authorities permit asking a non-Jew to perform a Torah melacha in order to allow the observance of a mitzvah. This is a minority opinion and should not be followed. However, there was an old custom among European Jewry to permit asking a non-Jew under these circumstances. This custom has halachic sources in the following Rama:

“Some permit telling a non-Jew to kindle lights for the sake of the Shabbos meal, because they contend that in order to fulfill a mitzvah (such as having a nice Shabbos meal) one may ask a non-Jew to perform even a real melacha that would be forbidden for a Jew to do min haTorah. Following this approach, many are accustomed to be lenient and command a non-Jew to kindle lights for the purpose of the Shabbos meal, particularly for wedding and bris meals, and no one rebukes them. However, one should be strict in this matter when there is no extenuating need, since most of the halachic authorities disagree” (Rama 276:2).

In conclusion, we have discovered that in certain extenuating instances, Chazal permitted melacha performed by a non-Jew, but that one should not extend these heterim to other situations. When using a non-Jew to do normally forbidden work, one should focus that one’s intent is not, chas vesholom, to weaken the importance of Shabbos, but, rather, to enhance kavod Shabbos.

When May I Ask a Non-Jew for Help on Shabbos?

Each of the following questions is an actual situation about which I was asked:

Question #1: My car needs repair work, and the most convenient time to drop it off at Angelo’s Service Station is Friday afternoon. May I bring Angelo the car then, knowing that he is going to repair it on Shabbos?

Question #2: A gala Shabbos sheva brachos is being held at an apartment several flights of stairs below street level, a very common situation in hilly Yerushalayim. The kallah’s elderly grandmother arrived before Shabbos by elevator, intending to return home by using the Shabbos elevator (a subject I hope to discuss at a different time iy’H). Indeed, the building’s elevator actually has a Shabbos setting, but we discover on Shabbos that the Shabbos setting is not working. How does Bubby get home?

Question #3: My friend lives in a neighborhood that does not have an eruv. She arranges before Shabbos for a non-Jew to push the baby carriage on Shabbos. May she do this?

Question #4: “If this contract does not arrive at its destination ASAP, I could suffer huge losses. May I mail it as an express mail package on Friday?”

Question #5: “If a registered letter arrives on Shabbos, may I ask the letter carrier to sign for me?”

Many people are under the mistaken impression that one may ask a non-Jew to do any prohibited activity on Shabbos. This is not accurate. I know of many instances in which someone asked a non-Jew to do work in situations in which making such a request is prohibited. Our Sages prohibited asking a non-Jew to work for us on Shabbos out of concern that this diminishes our sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 6:1). Also, Chazal considered the non-Jew to be my agent — thus, if he works for me on Shabbos, it is considered that I worked on Shabbos through a hired agent (Rashi, Shabbos 153a s.v. mai taama).

By the way, the halachos of amira lenochri, asking a non-Jew to perform a prohibited activity, are not restricted to the laws of Shabbos, but apply to all mitzvos of the Torah. Thus, it is prohibited to have a non-Jew muzzle your animal while it works (see Bava Metzia 90a; Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 338:6), ask him to graft fruit trees, nor  ask a non-Jew to do prohibited work on Chol Hamoed (Moed Katan 12a).

There are many complicated details governing when I may ask a non-Jew to do something on Shabbos and when I may not. These are some of the factors that one must consider:

A. Is the non-Jew my employee or is he an “independent contractor”?

B. What type of benefit do I receive from his work?

C. Did I ask the non-Jew directly or indirectly?

D. If a Jew were to perform the work, would it be prohibited min haTorah or only miderabbanan?

E. Why do I want him to do this work?

F. Could I do the work myself, albeit in a different way from how the non-Jew is likely to do it?

To show how these details affect a practical case, I will analyze the halachic issues involved in each of our cases mentioned above, starting with our first case — leaving the car over Shabbos at a non-Jewish mechanic. The important detail here is that I did not ask the non-Jew to do the work on Shabbos – it is prohibited to do so. Instead, I brought him the car and allowed him to decide whether to do the work on Shabbos. Is he now my agent if he works on Shabbos?

AGENT VERSUS CONTRACTOR

There is a halachic difference whether the non-Jew is working as my agent (or employee) or whether he is an independent contractor who makes his own decisions. If he is my agent, I may not allow him to do prohibited activity on Shabbos. However, if he is an independent contractor, under certain circumstances, I am not responsible if he actually does the work on Shabbos.

When is the non-Jew considered a contractor? If the non-Jew decides on his own when to do the work and I hired him by the job, he is a contractor. In these cases, I may give him work that he might decide to perform on Shabbos, provided that he could do the work on a different day and that he does the work on his own premises. (Under certain circumstances, the last condition is waived.)

What are examples of contractors? The mailman, the repairman who repairs items on his own premises, and the dry cleaner are all contractors. On the other hand, a regular employee whom I ask to do work on Shabbos is not a contractor unless I pay him extra for this job.

Thus, I may drop off my car at the auto mechanic before Shabbos and leave it over Shabbos, provided I allow him time to do the work when it is not Shabbos, either on Friday afternoon or Motza’ei Shabbos. Even though I know that the non-Jewish mechanic will not be working Saturday night and will actually do the work on Shabbos, I need not be concerned, since he could choose to do the work after Shabbos.

However, dropping off my car before Shabbos is permitted only when:

(1) He does the work on his own premises.

(2) He is paid a fee for the completed job.

(3) He decides whether or not he does the work on Shabbos. (It should be noted that some poskim prohibit doing this when the mechanic is closed Motza’ei Shabbos. Since I know that he is closed Motza’ei Shabbos, they consider it asking him to do the work on Shabbos, which is prohibited.)

In a similar way, I could bring dry cleaning in on Friday afternoon expecting to pick up the cleaned clothes Saturday night, provided enough time exists to clean the clothes before or after Shabbos.

We will now explore our second question:

An elderly woman cannot ascend the several flights of stairs necessary to get to street level. The building has a Shabbos elevator, but we discover on Shabbos that the Shabbos setting is not working. How does Bubby get home? Can we have a non-Jew operate the elevator to get her home?

Before answering this question, I want to share with you another story:

A DARK SIMCHAS TORAH SHABBOS

The following story occurred on a Simchas Torah in Yerushalayim that fell on Shabbos. (Although Simchas Torah outside Eretz Yisroel cannot occur on Shabbos, Shmini Atzeres, which can fall on Shabbos, is observed in Eretz Yisroel as Simchas Torah.) Just as the hakafos were beginning, the power in the shul went out, plunging the entire shul into darkness. The shul’s emergency lights went on, leaving the shul dimly lit — sufficient for people to exit safely and to dance in honor of Simchas Torah, but certainly making it more difficult to observe the usual Simchas Torah celebrations. The rav of the shul ruled that they could not ask a non-Jew to turn on the lights.

If any element of danger had been involved, one could certainly have asked a non-Jew to turn on the lights. But the rav felt that the situation was not dangerous, and therefore maintained that one may not ask a non-Jew to turn on the lights.

One of the congregants suggested a way to illuminate the shul. The same idea could get Bubby home! Before presenting his idea, I need to explain two concepts:

BENEFITING FROM A NON-JEW’S ACTION

If a non-Jew does melacha on Shabbos for his own benefit, a Jew may use the results. For example, if a non-Jew builds a ramp to disembark from a boat on Shabbos, a Jew may now exit the boat via the same ramp, since the non-Jew did no additional work in order to benefit the Jew. Similarly, if a non-Jew kindled a light so that he can read, a Jew may now use the light. One may use the light even if the non-Jew and the Jew know one another (Mishnah Shabbos 122a; Rambam 6:2; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 325:11).

However, if the non-Jew gathered grass to feed his animals, the Jew cannot let his animals eat the leftover grass if the two people know one another. This is so that the non-Jew will not in the future come to do melacha for the sake of the Jew (Shabbos 122a).

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE RAMP AND THE GRASS?

Why are these cases halachically different? Why may the Jew use the light or the ramp, but may not allow his animal to eat the grass?

In the first cases, no additional work is necessary for the non-Jew to provide a ramp or light for the Jew. Once the non-Jew has built the ramp or kindled the light, any number of people can benefit from them without any additional melacha. However, cutting each blade of grass is a separate melacha activity. Thus, allowing one’s animal to eat this grass might tempt the non-Jew to cut additional grass for the Jew’s animal, which we must avoid.

So far, we have calculated that if we can figure out how to get the non-Jew to turn on the light for his own benefit, one may use the light. Thus, we might be able to turn lights on in the shul for Shabbos, or have a non-Jew ride the elevator up to the main floor and hopefully have Bubby in the elevator at the same time. However, how does one get the non-Jew to turn on the light or the elevator for his own benefit when one may not ask him to do any work on Shabbos?

HINTING

May I hint to a non-Jew that I would like him to perform a prohibited activity on Shabbos? The poskim dispute this issue. Some rule that this is prohibited (Tur Orach Chayim 307), whereas others permit it (Bach, Orach Chayim 307 s.v. uma shekasav rabbeinu). Thus, according to the second opinion, one may ask a non-Jew on Shabbos, “Why didn’t you accompany Bubby on the elevator last Shabbos?” even though he clearly understands that you are asking him to take the elevator with her today. According to the first opinion, one may not do this, nor may one ask a non-Jew to clean up something in a dark room, since to do so he must turn on the light.

However, the majority of poskim accept an intermediate position, contending that, although one may not hint to a non-Jew on Shabbos, one may hint to him on a weekday (Smag). Thus one may ask him on Friday, “Why didn’t you do this last Shabbos? but one may not ask him this on Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 307:2; Rema Orach Chayim 307:22). According to this last ruling, one could tell the non-Jew during the week, “Why did you leave Bubby downstairs without taking her up in the elevator?” but one could not mention this to him on Shabbos.

PERMITTED HINTING VERSUS PROHIBITED HINTING

However, the poskim agree that one may tell a non-Jewish mailman on Shabbos, “I cannot read this letter until it is open.” What is the difference between the two types of hinting?

The difference is that the forbidden type of hinting implies either a command or a rebuke, whereas the permitted type does not (Magen Avraham 307:31). Telling a non-Jew to clean something up in a dark room on Shabbos is, in essence, commanding him to perform a prohibited activity — turning on the light. Similarly, when you rebuke him for not doing something last Shabbos, you are basically commanding him to do it the next Shabbos. However, one may make a statement of fact that is neither a command nor a rebuke. Therefore telling the non-Jew, “I cannot read this letter unless it is open” does not command him to do anything, and for this reason it is permitted.

However, if the non-Jew then asks me, “Would you like me to open the letter for you?” I may not answer “Yes,” since this is itself a command. (It is as if you said, “Yes, I would like you to open the letter for me.”) I may tell him, “That’s not a bad idea,” or “I have no objections to your opening the letter,” which does not directly ask him. I may even say, “I am not permitted to ask you to open it on my Sabbath.”

How does this discussion affect our dark Simchas Torah or getting Bubby home?

The congregant suggested the following: One could create a situation whereby turning on the light is beneficial for the non-Jew, and then hint to him that if he wants to, he could benefit by turning the light on. One may do this because the non-Jew is turning on the light for his own use, and the Jew did not ask him directly to turn on the light. Thus, if you placed a bottle of whiskey or a gift of chocolate in the shul, and then notified the non-Jew that the bottle or chocolate is waiting for him there, you can show him how to turn on the lights so that he can find his present. This is permitted because the non-Jew is turning on the lights for his own benefit, and you did not ask him, nor even hint to him that you want him to turn on the lights. You simply notified him that if he wants to put on the lights, he could find himself a very nice present.

The same solution may help Bubby return home. Someone may invite a non-Jew to the sheva brachos, and then told him that a present awaits him in the building’s entrance foyer. Does it bother him if Bubby shares the elevator with him while he goes to retrieve his present?

A word of caution: If one uses this approach, one must be careful that the non-Jew is indeed doing the melacha for his own purposes, such as to get the present as mentioned above. However, one may not ask the non-Jew to accompany you on a tour of the dark shul, and then he turns on the light to see his way. This is prohibited because the non-Jew is interested in the light only in order to accompany you on the walk, not because he gains anything (see Shulchan Aruch 276:3).

We will continue this topic next week…

As I mentioned above, the Rambam explains the reason that Chazal prohibited asking a non-Jew to do work on Shabbos is so that we do not diminish sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves. Refraining from having even a non-Jew work for me on Shabbos shows even deeper testimony to my conviction that Hashem created the world.

Can a Lens be Laundered? How do I Care for my Soft Contacts on Shabbos?

Certainly, on Shabbos Bereishis it is appropriate to discuss hilchos Shabbos.

Photo by Julia R. from FreeImages

Question: My friend and I both wear soft contact lens, but we received very different instructions how to care for them on Shabbos. Could you please explain the background to the shailohs involved?

Answer: From a halachic perspective, the question is whether cleaning soft lenses on Shabbos is different from washing the older, hard lenses or from cleaning ordinary eyeglasses, for that matter. The technical difference between them is that soft lenses absorb water, whereas the other lenses do not. Therefore, contemporary poskim dispute whether cleaning soft lenses involves a prohibition of laundering on Shabbos. To explain this dispute, we must first introduce the halachic concepts of laundering on Shabbos.

One of the activities necessary to construct the mishkan was cleaning and bleaching the wool for its curtains. Therefore, one of the thirty-nine avos melachos (main categories) of Shabbos is melabein, which translates either as laundering (Rashi, Shabbos 73a) or as bleaching (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 9:11). Both opinions agree that laundering fiber or clothing is prohibited min haTorah because it improves the wool’s appearance.

To illustrate this melacha’s details, we will first explain the halachos of regular laundering. Washing clothes involves three steps;

(1) soaking them in water or another cleaning liquid.

(2) scrubbing out the dirt. 

(3) wringing the water out of the clothes.

Each of these steps is prohibited min haTorah because of laundering.

SOAKING

The first step is soaking. Simply placing dirty clothes into water to soak is a Torah violation of melabein. In the words of the amora, Rava, “Someone who threw a handkerchief into water violated a Torah prohibition of laundering on Shabbos” (Zevachim 94b).

Some poskim forbid soaking clean clothes (Yerei’im; see Rema, Orach Chayim 302:9), since this whitens or brightens them. (For purposes of meleches melabein, a “clean garment” means one without noticeable stains or obvious dirt.) Others contend that soaking a garment is prohibited only if there is noticeable dirt that will thereby be removed (Tosafos Yeshanim and Rosh, Yoma 74b). Although most poskim are lenient, one should preferably follow the more stringent opinion (Mishnah Berurah 302:48).

Some later poskim contend that the opinion forbidding soaking a “clean garment” does so only when the soaking causes a noticeable change, e.g., the garment looks brighter afterward. However, it is permitted to soak a clean item that never brightens when it is soaked (Shu”t Avnei Nezer 159:10; Koveitz Teshuvos #18; cf. Graz 302:21 who disagrees.) Later in this article, we will see how this factor affects our discussion about contact lenses.

Sprinkling water on clothing is also considered soaking, and this is certainly so if one intends to clean it. Therefore, if food splatters on your shirt or blouse on Shabbos, placing some water or even saliva on the stain so that it does not set is a Torah violation of laundering.

The poskim dispute whether one may moisten cloth while making it dirty. For example, may one mop up spilled juice with a rag? If this is prohibited because it is considered melabein, then one is required to shake the excess water off one’s hands before drying them on a towel, even though drying one’s hands soils the towel.

Other poskim contend that it is permitted to moisten cloth while making it dirty. In their opinion, one may dry drenched hands on a towel. The halacha is like the latter opinion, and, therefore, it is permitted to throw a towel onto a spill (Shulchan Aruch and Rema, Orach Chayim 302:10).

To wipe up a spill, one should use a towel or rag, rather than a garment, if it will get drenched. This is out of concern that one might squeeze out a soaked garment (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 302 11). We are not concerned that he will forget and squeeze a towel or rag, since they are meant for this purpose.

When absorbent paper towels came on the market, there was a need to clarify their halachic status. Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that one may wipe up a spill with a paper towel because paper is not an item that is laundered (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:70). (However, one should not squeeze out the paper towel because of the prohibition of “mefareik,” extracting a liquid from a solid, which we will discuss a different time iy”H.)

SCRUBBING

The second stage of laundering is scrubbing, which actively dislodges dirt from the garment. This is the main step in cleaning a garment. Any type of scrubbing or scouring clothing or material violates the prohibition of laundering on Shabbos.

WRINGING

The final stage in laundering is squeezing out the water. This is prohibited because the garment’s appearance is improved by squeezing out absorbed liquid (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim end of 301, quoting Kolbo). Thus, one can violate melabein by wringing out a garment, even if it is totally clean. Furthermore, when squeezing water out of a garment, one generally also squeezes out dirt (Shu”t Avnei Nezer 159:19, 23).

WASHING DISHES

Why are we permitted to wash dishes on Shabbos? Aren’t we removing dirt from the dishes and improving their appearance?

Laundering clothing is different because this removes dirt that became absorbed between the fibers of the fabric. However, the food and dirt on dishes sticks to their surface and does not absorb into the dish. Thus, washing dishes is halachically different from laundering (Shu”t Avnei Nezer, Orach Chayim 157:4).

(Note that it is prohibited to wash dishes on Shabbos when one is obviously washing them to use after Shabbos [Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 323:6]. However, this is a violation of preparing on Shabbos for after Shabbos and has nothing to do with the prohibition of laundering. Note also that since most poskim prohibit using hot water from the faucet in modern homes on Shabbos, we are discussing washing dishes in cold water or with hot water from an urn.)

LEATHER

We have seen that soaking, scrubbing, or wringing out clothing violates melabein on Shabbos and that soaking or scrubbing dirty dishes does not. There is a material that falls in between dishes and normal clothing: leather. It is permitted to soak leather, although it is prohibited to scrub it or to wring liquid out of it, as I will explain.

Halacha forbids scrubbing soft leather on Shabbos, although it is disputed whether this is prohibited min haTorah or only miderabbanan (Graz, Orach Chayim 302:19; Shu”t Avnei Nezer, Orach Chayim 157:2; Orach Chayim 302:9 s.v. Aval). Those who contend that it is miderabbanan are of the opinion that dirt never absorbs into leather – it merely adheres to its surface, like it does to dishes (Shu”t Avnei Nezer, Orach Chayim 157:5). However, since leather is not as hard as dishes, it is still prohibited miderabbanan to scrub dirt off the leather, even though it is permitted to scrub dishes clean.

All opinions agree that one may soak leather on Shabbos. Thus, one may pour water on shoes and leather jackets that became dirty on Shabbos and even rub lightly to remove the dirt. However, one may not scrub dirt off shoes and jackets (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 302:9). (Shoes and leather jackets are considered soft leather, whereas many leather-bound books are considered hard leather. One must check that the entire shoe is leather because many leather shoes have cloth parts that may not be soaked on Shabbos.)

Although soaking is generally considered the first step in laundering, this only applies to clothes and fabrics where the soaking begins the cleaning process. Leather is different because, although soaking dirty leather or hide loosens the dirt, it does not significantly improve the appearance of the leather.  Nevertheless, it is prohibited miderabbanan to squeeze wet leather (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 9:11).

HARD LEATHER

Most poskim allow scrubbing hard leather on Shabbos (and certainly soaking it), although some contend that this is prohibited miderabbanan (She’iltos, quoted by Mishnah Berurah 302:39). Thus, if a leather-bound book becomes soiled with mud on Shabbos, it is permitted to scrub it clean before the mud dries. Once the mud dries, this would be prohibited because of tochein, grinding (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 302:7).

PLASTIC

Hard plastic plates or cups are considered like dishes and may be washed on Shabbos.

What is the halachic status of soft plastic items, such as disposable tablecloth covers? Is there a prohibition of melabein in washing these plastic tablecloths? Are they considered like dishes, like leather, or like cloth?

The great poskim who lived after the invention of these tablecloths discuss whether they should be treated like leather or like dishes. They conclude that, although they are probably most comparable to dishes, one should be strict and treat them like soft leather. Thus, one may rinse or soak them, but should be stringent not to scrub them (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:76; Shulchan Shelomoh, Hilchos Shabbos I 302:15). Following this approach, children’s rubber pants (if anyone still has them) or plastic sheets can be soaked since they do not absorb liquid, but if one has a cloth item with a plastic lining, that cannot be soaked. 

PLASTIC LENSES

Now that we have explained these cases, we can return to our original question about cleaning contact lenses.

To the best of my knowledge, all contemporary poskim agree that hard contact lenses and eyeglass lenses, whether glass or plastic, may be washed on Shabbos, just like dishes. Since they are hard, we assume that the dirt adheres to their surface and does not absorb inside them.

The standard care of soft lenses is to remove them from the wearer’s eyes and place them in a special antiseptic solution overnight. In the morning, one removes the lenses from the solution, rubs a finger over them to remove any remaining dirt, and reinserts them.

The lenses are soaked for three reasons.

First, to sanitize the lens from microscopic germs that can cause infection. This is why the solution is antiseptic.

Second, to clean the lens from dirt and tears; although they are initially unnoticeable, eventually they collect on the lens and make it cloudy. Rubbing one’s finger over the lens before reinserting it removes the dirt and tears that are not always removed simply by soaking the lenses.

The third reason to soak the lens is to keep it soft and pliable. If the lens is not kept moist, it will dry out and become unusable. For this purpose, however, it is unnecessary to soak the lens in a cleaning solution – soaking it in a sterile saline solution suffices.

Under normal circumstances, no dirt is noticeable on the lens. It is unclear whether the dirt and tears are absorbed into the lens or lie on the surface, and this lack of clarity makes a big difference in our shailah.

The halachic question is whether placing the lenses into the solution, removing them from the solution, and rubbing them involve any violation of laundering on Shabbos. Does placing the lens into solution constitute soaking? Is removing them considered squeezing since the cleaning fluid is now being removed or “squeezed” out of the lens? Is rubbing them equivalent to scrubbing? Or do we say that these lenses are no different from hard lenses?

As mentioned above, the critical difference is that, whereas hard lenses do not absorb liquid, soft contact lenses do, and actually absorb considerably more liquid than leather does. Whereas some lenses absorb as much as 70% water content by weight, most leather absorbs little or no water at all. (Some leather absorbs liquid, but never this much.) Because lenses absorb so much water, it can be argued that they are like cloth and, therefore, all these steps should be prohibited.

However, every posek I saw disputes this conclusion because the lens remains unchanged when the liquid is added and removed. As mentioned above, soaking a clean garment is prohibited only when it causes a noticeable improvement, such as the garment looks brighter afterwards. However, the appearance of soft lenses are unchanged by the soaking, and therefore soaking alone does not violate any laws of Shabbos (Orchos Shabbos; Shu”t Yevakeish Torah 5:11).

Some poskim distinguish between the normal cleaning solution and a pure saline solution (Kovetz Teshuvos #18). In their opinion, placing leather in a powerful cleaning solution is equivalent to scrubbing leather and is prohibited on Shabbos. Similarly, since placing the lenses in the normal cleaning solution removes the dirt from them, it is considered as if one scrubbed them on Shabbos and is forbidden (Orchos Shabbos). However, placing them in a saline solution to keep them moist is permitted since no improvement is noticeable.

Poskim who follow this approach usually tell people to wash the lenses before Shabbos with cleaning solution, reinsert them, and then place the lenses into regular saline solution when removing them for the night on Shabbos.

However, if one follows this last opinion, one should be very careful. The saline solution does not prevent infection from developing on the lens, whereas the normal cleaning solution is also a disinfectant. A physician I spoke to advised someone using saline solution to place the solution containing the lenses into a refrigerator overnight. Even after removing the lenses from the saline solution Shabbos morning, one should keep the solution refrigerated the whole week until next Shabbos. He also recommended replacing the saline solution every few weeks.

Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach zt”l had a different approach to this issue, contending that the soft contact lenses do not really absorb liquid. He maintained that plastic does not absorb liquid the same way that cloth does. Whereas the liquid actually enters the cloth and becomes absorbed inside, liquid does not actually enter into the plastic of the soft lenses, but remains between the strands of the plastic. Soft lenses are constructed of a plastic that has space between its strands to allow water to enter. However, the water never enters the “fiber” of the plastic the same way it enters the fiber of the cloth. Thus, in his opinion, it is permitted to clean soft contact lenses on Shabbos the same way one would on weekdays (Nishmas Avraham, Volume 5, pg. 20; see Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah pg. 181).

Rav Shlomo Zalman held that one must place the contact lenses into solution only when they are still moist, out of concern that wetting them after they are dry is considered repairing them. In point of fact, everyone who has these lenses keeps them moist at all times, exactly for this reason.

I have heard rabbonim paskin a compromise position between these two above-mentioned positions, contending that there is no problem with soaking the lenses, since this does not clean them, but when removing the lenses from the solution one should not rub them, since this might be considered scrubbing the lenses.

Conclusion

The Torah commanded us concerning the halachos of Shabbos by giving us the basic categories that are prohibited. Our poskim analyze the rules the Torah gives us and then compare these rules to new circumstances that appear. The greatness of the Torah is that even though the world is constantly changing and developing, the words of Torah are timeless and can be applied to all of these new situations.

Using a Thermos on Shabbos

Since most of the laws of Shabbos are derived from the construction of the Mishkan, it is an appropriate week to discuss:

Question #1: Using a Thermos

“May I pour hot water from an urn or a kettle that is on the blech into a thermos on Shabbos?”

Question #2: Wrapping a Thermos

“May I wrap a thermos bottle, containing hot water, with towels on Shabbos to keep the water hot?”

Introduction:

Explaining the background behind both of these questions involves an in-depth analysis of the rabbinic injunctions instituted by our Sages to safeguard the Shabbos. The laws of Shabbos include many Torah prohibitions, such as not to cook or stir a fire, and also many rabbinic prohibitions to guarantee that people not violate Torah laws. We will begin our explanation of this topic with an extensive glossary, but bear in mind that this is a brief overview of these concepts and not to be used for practical halacha.

Shehiyah – leaving food on the fire

Chazal prohibited shehiyah, which is leaving food on a fire or in an oven when Shabbos begins, because of concern that someone might mistakenly stir the coals. However, they permitted leaving food this way when one fulfills any one of the following three requirements:

1. Covering the fire

One may leave food cooking or warming as Shabbos begins, if he covers the fire in a way that lessens its heat and also reminds one not to stir the fire on Shabbos (see Shabbos 36b with Rashi and Ran). The most common method used today to accomplish this is to place a blech on top of the stove. It is preferable that the blech also cover the dials, to avoid inadvertently adjusting the flame (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:93).

2. Adding raw meat

A second method to permit cooking or warming food when Shabbos begins is to place raw meat into the pot immediately before Shabbos (Shabbos 18b). By doing so, one knows that the food will certainly not be ready to eat for the Friday night meal, and it will be ready for the Shabbos day meal, so there is no need to be concerned about turning up the fire (Rashi ad locum).

Several late poskim are reluctant to rely on this heter today, for reasons beyond the scope of this article (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 37:22; Teshuvos Ivra in Kisvei Hagaon Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, Volume 2, page 19).

3. Cooked before Shabbos

A third approach is to have the food cooked before Shabbos begins. According to Ashkenazic practice, one may leave the food even on an open fire, as long as it is considered edible when Shabbos begins. Sefardim follow a more stringent approach, allowing this heter only if the food is fully cooked and only for heating water and similar foods that do not improve by remaining longer on the fire. To prepare chamin shel Shabbat, what Ashkenazim call cholent, a Sefardi must rely on one of the other two heterim mentioned above, whereas an Ashkenazi may leave his food even on an open flame, if it is edible when Shabbos begins.

Chazarah – warming food on Shabbos

A second prohibition that Chazal instituted is called chazarah, which includes placing food, even if fully cooked, on a heat source on Shabbos to warm it up. The details of this prohibition are complicated, but for our purposes we will mention that it is permitted to return a pot or food to the fire on Shabbos, even if the food is fully cooked, only in two general ways:

A. The food is still hot, one removed it from the blech intending to return it to remain hot or warm, provided he kept his hand on the handle of  the pot the entire time that it was off the fire. Many Sefardim are lenient, maintaining that one does not need to observe the last two requirements, provided the pot of food was not placed on the ground; Ashkenazim can be lenient about returning the food to the fire, if someone mistakenly forgot these two requirements. Concerning how hot the food must be, Sefardim are stricter than Ashkenazim, contending that the food must be too hot to hold directly in one’s hand in order to permit returning. Ashkenazim rule that one may return the food as long as it is still warm enough to eat.

B. Under certain circumstances, Chazal permitted warming dry food on Shabbos in a way that is different from the way one normally cooks food. For example: One may place a fully-baked kugel on top of a pot that is on the fire.

Hatmanah – insulating

A third prohibition that Chazal instituted, one very relevant to our topic, is called hatmanah, wrapping or insulating food to keep it hot. This includes two different sets of rules – one for someone who wraps the food before Shabbos and one for someone who wants to wrap his food on Shabbos.

Before Shabbos

Chazal prohibited hatmanah before Shabbos in a way that increases the heat, such as with hot ash, fertilizer, or the remaining crushed-out pulp of olives or sesame seeds. These materials are called davar hamosif hevel, items that increase heat. This is prohibited because of a concern that someone might mistakenly stir coals on Shabbos (Shabbos 34b). However, it is permitted to insulate foods before Shabbos with materials that do not increase heat, called davar she’eino mosif hevel, such as clothing, blankets, towels, or sawdust. (In the case of sawdust, one may also have to deal with the laws of muktzah, but that is not today’s subject.)

Partial hatmanah before Shabbos

The Rishonim dispute what constitutes hatmanah. Does leaving food on a fire to continue warming when Shabbos arrives constitute hatmanah? Although this does not fulfill our usual definition of insulating, it warms the food on Shabbos by maintaining physical contact with a source of heat. According to many Rishonim, placing food so that it touches the fire is included in the prohibition of hatmanah (Ba’al Hamaor and Ran, beginning of Shabbos, Chapter 3). In their opinion, if one heats food on a wood fire and intends to leave the food that way into Shabbos, one must place the food atop a tripod or other device that raises it above the burning wood and coals. Placing the pot of food on the tripod avoids the prohibition of hatmanah (but may still involve the prohibition of shehiyah), since the food is no longer touching any heat source. Failing to distance the food from direct contact to the source of heat violates the prohibition of hatmanah, and the food may not be eaten on Shabbos.

According to other Rishonim, hatmanah is prohibited only when the pot of food is covered completely or mostly (see Tosafos, Shabbos 36b s.v. Lo; Sefer Hayashar, Cheilek Hachiddushim Chapter 235). The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 253:1) follows the first opinion that one may not have food lying directly on a flame or hot coals when Shabbos begins. Thus, Sefardim, who follow the Shulchan Aruch’s decisions, may not leave food for Shabbos touching the heat directly, even if it is otherwise exposed to the air. The Rema permits partial hatmanah on Shabbos, allowing placing a pot into warm coals before Shabbos, as long as the lid is not covered by the coals.

Thus, people on a camping trip over Shabbos who choose to keep their Friday night dinner warm by leaving it on their campfire need to know if they are Ashkenazim or Sefardim. If they are Ashkenazim, they may leave their food on the fire when Shabbos starts, as long as it is already cooked to the extent that it is edible. If they are Sefardim, they must have the food elevated above the fire when Shabbos begins, and, in addition, they can do this only with food that is fully cooked and does not improve when it stews longer.

Lid is not covered

If one is an Ashkenazi, how much of the pot may be covered without violating the laws of hatmanah? The Shulchan Aruch Harav (Kuntrus Acharon 257:3) contends that as long as the pot lid remains uncovered, one may cover all the sides of the pot. He permits placing a bottle into a pot of hot water before Shabbos, provided that the cover of the bottle is above the water level.

The Pri Megadim (Mishbetzos Zahav, Orach Chayim 259:3) discusses whether it is sufficient that the top of the pot be exposed, or whether a larger area of the pot must be exposed. Based on a ruling of the Taz (Orach Chayim 258:1), the Pri Megadim contends that one must leave most of the pot exposed to avoid violating hatmanah. (We should note that the Taz in Orach Chayim 253:14 appears to hold like the Shulchan Aruch Harav.)

This dispute would affect to what extent one may drape towels over an urn either before or on Shabbos. According to the Pri Megadim, one may do this only if the sides of the urn are predominantly exposed. According to the Shulchan Aruch Harav, it is sufficient if the sides are partially exposed.

Shabbos sleeve

I once saw a woman prepare her electric hot water urn by draping a cloth sleeve made especially for the urn and embroidered with the words “Lichvod Shabbos.” I asked her why she did that and she said, “It keeps it hotter.” When I told her she can’t use it because of hatmanah, she was incredulous, and responded, “but it says ‘lichvod Shabbos!’” I have no idea who produced this sleeve, but there was no hechsher embossed on it. Unfortunately, the label on the cloth does not permit its use.

By the way, there is a simple solution for this problem. If some space is left between the side of the urn and the towels or sleeve, this is not considered hatmanah and is permitted (Chayei Odom, Hilchos Shabbos 2:5). One may place a board or other item on top of the urn that is wider that the urn and drape the towel over the item. In this instance, one may leave the towel there all of Shabbos, and one may even place the towel there on Shabbos itself. Since the towel is not resting flush against the urn, this is not included in the prohibition of hatmanah.

On Shabbos

On Shabbos itself, Chazal prohibited covering the food, even with something that does not increase heat (Shabbos 34a). Therefore, one may not take a cholent pot or kettle and wrap it in towels on Shabbos to keep it hot. The reason for this prohibition is concern that someone insulating his food will discover that it is colder than he wants and will mistakenly heat it (Shabbos 34a).

Kli rishon and sheini

The next part of our glossary involves explaining the terms kli rishon, kli sheini and yad soledes bo.

A kli rishon is a pot, pan or other vessel containing food that was heated on top of a stove, inside an oven or any other way directly from a source of heat. A kli sheini is the platter or bowl into which food was poured from a kli rishon.

Here is a halachic example of the distinction between kli rishon and kli sheini. The Mishnah (Shabbos 42a) teaches that if a pan or pot of food was removed from the fire on Shabbos, one may not add spices into that pot, because this constitutes bishul. However, one may add spices to a platter which contains the food after it has been poured out of the original pot or pan. The second case is a kli sheini, meaning that the platter itself was never on the fire.

Why is there a halachic difference between a kli rishon and a kli sheini? Tosafos (Shabbos 40b s.v. Ushma) explains that when the vessel itself is on the fire or inside the oven, the heat of the food is sustained by the hot walls of the vessel, and that is why bishul occurs. However, when the container itself was never directly warmed, the walls of the vessel diminish the heat of the food placed therein. As a result, the food will not cook from the heat of the kli sheini walls. In other words, cooking requires not only sufficient heat, but also that the walls of the pot or vessel maintain that heat. Therefore, cooking occurs in a kli rishon even after it was removed from the fire, but, under most circumstances, not in a kli sheini.

Yad soledes bo

Whenever halacha discusses that something is hot, it means that it is at least yad soledes bo, a term meaning that it is hot enough that a person pulls his hand back instinctively when he touches it. There is much dispute among the halachic authorities as to how we measure this in degrees, which is a subtopic that we will leave for a different time.

Using a thermos

Now that we have completed our very extensive introduction, we can address the questions that began this article:

“May I pour hot water from an urn or a kettle that is on the blech into a thermos on Shabbos?”

“May I wrap a thermos bottle, containing hot water, with towels on Shabbos to keep the water hot?”

The Gemara (Shabbos 51a) quotes a Tosefta (see Shabbos 4:12) that provides the prologue to our question: “Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says that they prohibited (insulating on Shabbos) only if the food is in the pot in which it was originally heated up, but if it was moved to a different pot, one may insulate it on Shabbos.” The Gemara explains that the prohibition to insulate food on Shabbos is out of concern that someone might increase the heat by stirring coals (see Shabbos 34a). Rashi explains that the reason Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel permitted wrapping up the pot of food in this case is because the person is actively trying to cool off the water by pouring it into a cooler vessel. However a thermos bottle that is being used to keep things hot may be different.

On the other hand, the Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 4:5) cites this law as follows: “If you moved the cooked food or the hot water from one vessel to another, one is permitted to insulate the second vessel on Shabbos, provided one uses material that does not increase heat… because they forbade insulating food on Shabbos only in a kli rishon, in which the food was originally cooked, but once it was moved from that vessel, it is permitted.” Clearly, the Rambam understands that there was no decree prohibiting hatmanah in a kli sheini on Shabbos with devorim she’einam mosifim hevel. Following this logic, it would appear that one may pour hot water into a thermos bottle on Shabbos, even though one’s intent is to keep the water hot,since a thermos is only a kli sheini. Thus, whether one may pour hot water into a thermos on Shabbos may depend on this dispute between Rashi and the Rambam.

In general, halachic authorities rule according to the Rambam when he disputes with Rashi, both lechumrah and lekulah. The Birkei Yosef (Choshen Mishpat 25:31) explains the reason is because Rashi wrote his comments to explain the text of the Gemara, and it is possible that he might have reconsidered had he issued a final ruling.  Indeed, in this instance, several major authorities appear to rule according to the Rambam (Ran; Tur; Taz, Orach Chayim 257:5; see also Magen Avraham 252:13).

Notwithstanding the opinions of these authorities, Rav Moshe Feinstein writes that it is preferable to be machmir like Rashi (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:95). Rav Moshe concludes, however, that, even according to Rashi, it is permitted to pour water into a thermos bottle on Shabbos, because of a different reason. The closing of a thermos bottle is not an act of hatmanah, but an act of closing the bottle. However, according to Rashi, it is certainly forbidden to wrap the thermos bottle with towels to keep it hot. According to Rambam, this should be permitted, because there is no hatmanah in a kli sheini.

In conclusion

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

The Gemara teaches that the rabbinic laws are dearer to Hashem than the Torah laws. In this context, we can explain the vast halachic literature devoted to understanding these prohibitions, created by Chazal to protect the Jewish people from major sins. Seeing how much attention the poskim apply to understanding the laws of Shabbos thoroughly should encourage us to make sure we know these laws well, in all their details.

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