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

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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? Part II

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

Question #1: 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 #2: “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 #3: “If a registered letter arrives on Shabbos, may I ask the letter carrier to sign for me?”

As I mentioned last week, the topic of amira lenachri what I am permitted to ask a non-Jew to do for me that I am not permitted to do myself, is very complicated and often misunderstood or misapplied. As I noted last week, these laws are not restricted to the laws of Shabbos, but apply to all mitzvos of the Torah, and, therefore, I may not ask a non-Jew to graft fruit trees for me, nor may I ask him to do prohibited work on Chol Hamoed (Moed Katan 12a).

As we learned last week, these are some of the factors that we 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?

Last week, we discussed the difference between asking directly from the non-Jew to do something that I am prohibited from doing, versus, hinting this to him. May I hint to a non-Jew that I would like him to perform a prohibited activity on Shabbos? The poskim dispute this issue. As we learned last week, the majority of poskim rule 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). 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.”

PUSHING THE BABY CARRIAGE

At this point, we can discuss our opening question: My friend lives in a neighborhood that does not have an eruv. Before Shabbos, she arranges for a non-Jew to push the baby carriage on Shabbos. May she do this? (See Mishnah Berurah 308:154.)

Let me address this issue with the following shaylah that I was asked recently: Someone moved to a community where the rav permits people to have a non-Jew carry the baby on Shabbos by arranging remizah (hinting) from before Shabbos. This means that one would tell a non-Jew before Shabbos, “I would like to go to shul on Shabbos, but I cannot leave the baby behind.” The non-Jew then responds, “What time would you like me to arrive at the house?” or “What time would you like to leave the house?” neither party ever stating that you have asked the non-Jew what to do.

Personally, I have strong reservations about using this suggestion, since, eventually, one will end up commanding the non-Jew directly, such as, if the non-Jew asks, “Do you need me to take the baby’s blanket along?” If you answer “Yes,” you have commanded the non-Jew, which is a violation of the halacha.

EXPRESS MAIL

At this point, we can begin to discuss opening question #2: May I mail express mail on Friday?

At first glance, it would seem that one may not send an express mail package on Friday, since you are asking the non-Jew to transport and deliver the package on Shabbos. You are requesting that he do the job as quickly as possible, making this dissimilar to the case of bringing the car to the auto mechanic or clothes to the dry cleaner on Friday. In this case, you are insisting that he do the job on Shabbos, which is prohibited.

A similar shaylah to our express mail case was asked in Amsterdam hundreds of years ago of Rav Yaakov Emden. The questioner wanted to ship precious stones by asking a non-Jewish employee to deliver them to the post office on Shabbos, reasoning that his non-Jewish agent was carrying items within an eruv on Shabbos and therefore not doing any prohibited activity. Rav Yaakov Emden prohibited this, pointing out that the non-Jew would have to fill out paperwork at the post office to send off this shipment, and this would be considered having an agent work for him on Shabbos (She’eilas Yaavetz 2:139).

Although based on the above analysis it would seem that one may not send express mail on Friday, there is a different reason why one may — but only under extenuating circumstances, as I will explain.

I may not ask a non-Jew on Shabbos to hire other non-Jewish workers (Shabbos 150a; Shulchan Aruch 307:2). Some poskim contend that although I may not ask a non-Jew to hire workers, which is a prohibited activity, I may ask him to ask another non-Jew to do something that is prohibited on Shabbos. The rationale behind this heter, usually called amira le’amira, is that asking one non-Jew to ask another is permitted because I am asking a non-Jew only to talk, which is not considered an activity (Shu’t Chavos Ya’ir #46, 49, 53). Other poskim contend that just as one may not ask a non-Jew to hire workers, which is just talk, one cannot ask him to do any other activity that involves prohibited work (Avodas Hagershuni). Mishnah Berurah (307:24) rules that one may be lenient in a case of major financial loss; thus, under very extenuating circumstances, one could be lenient.

This dispute is interesting historically because the two seventeenth-century Torah giants involved in this dispute corresponded with one another. The Chavos Ya’ir permitted asking a non-Jew to ask another non-Jew to work on Shabbos, whereas the Avodas Hagershuni responded to him that this is forbidden. One can actually trace the give-and-take of their halachic debate on the issue, together with their lines of reasoning and proofs, simply by reading the correspondence published in their responsa. It is almost as if we are privileged to sit in their respective batei midrash and listen in as they each give shiur on the subject!

The dispute has many ramifications, one of which is our case of express mail, since you place an order with one person, but a different non-Jew does the actual traveling and delivering. Thus, we have a case of amira le’amira, which is permitted according to the Chavos Yair. There is also another reason to be lenient: Since one is arranging the express mail delivery before Shabbos, the situation is a bit more lenient than the above-mentioned dispute between the Chavos Yair and the Avodas Hagershuni. Indeed, the Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Orach Chayim #60) rules a compromise position between the two, permitting telling the non-Jew before Shabbos to ask the other non-Jew on Shabbos. Biur Halacha (307:2) disagrees, quoting Rashba. Therefore, one should not rely on this ruling unless the situation is extenuating.

The story behind the Chasam Sofer’s responsum on this issue is worth noting. During the Napoleonic Wars, a battle took place in Pressburg (today known as Bratislava), where the Chasam Sofer was rav, in which much of the Jewish area of town went up in flames. It was very important to rebuild the neighborhood before winter set in, and there was concern that the non-Jewish contractors would not construct the Jewish houses in a timely fashion if they were not allowed to work on Shabbos. One of the reasons that the Chasam Sofer ruled that they could allow the non-Jew workers to work on Shabbos was that the Jews hired a non-Jewish contractor, who in turn instructed his employees when to work. Thus it was a case of amira le’amira, which the Chasam Sofer permitted if the contractor received his instructions before Shabbos.

SHABBOS PICK-UP

If I hired a non-Jew to make a delivery for me, he may not pick up the item from my house on Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 307:4). Thus, if I contract with a delivery service, such as UPS, they must pick up the item before Shabbos.

Now we should be prepared to answer this last question.  What should I do if a registered letter arrives on Shabbos?

As explained above, I may not ask the non-Jewish delivery person to sign for me, even by hinting to him. However, I may tell him, “I cannot sign for this today because it is my Sabbath.” If he asks me, “Would you like me to sign for the delivery?” I may not tell him, “Yes.” However I may answer him, “It is fine with me if you would like to,” or “I may not ask someone else to do this on my Sabbath,” or “I do not mind receiving the delivery, but I may not sign for it.”

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 v’sholom, to weaken the importance of Shabbos, but, rather, to enhance kavod Shabbos.

According to the Rambam, 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.

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.

Feeding the Birds

Question #1: Was Mom Wrong?

“My mother always shook out crumbs in our backyard on parshas Beshalach. Although she was frum her whole life, she had little formal Jewish education, and all of her Yiddishkeit was what she picked up from her home. I discovered recently that Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah prohibits this practice. So how could my mother have done this?”

Question #2: Dog Next Door

“We have an excellent relationship with our next door neighbor, who happens not to be Jewish, although I am not sure if that affects the question. They are going away on vacation and have asked us to feed their pets while they are away. May I do so on Shabbos?”

Question #3: In the Zoo

“How are zoo animals fed on Shabbos?”

Introduction:

Many people have the custom of scattering wheat or breadcrumbs for the birds to enjoy as their seudas Shabbos on Shabbos Parshas Beshalach, which is called Shabbos Shirah. This practice, which we know goes back hundreds of years, has engendered halachic discussion as to whether it is actually permitted. I will first explain the reasons for the custom and then the halachic issues and discussion, which we can trace from the earliest commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch to the recent authorities. I am also assuming that there is no problem of carrying – in other words, we are discussing scattering food within an area enclosed by an eruv.

Manna on Shabbos

To explain the reason for this practice that my mother taught me and that my mother-in-law taught my wife, we need to first look at our parsha. Moshe informed Bnei Yisroel that no manna would fall on Shabbos morning, and that the double portion received on Friday would suffice for two days. The Torah teaches that some Jews went to look for manna anyway on Shabbos morning, but did not find any.

According to the traditional story, Doson and Aviram took some of their own leftover manna from Friday, which means that they went a bit hungry that day. They placed this manna outside the Jewish camp, and in the morning they informed the people that manna had fallen. Their attempt to discredit the miracle failed when the people went to look and found nothing there. This was because some birds had arrived to eat the manna before the people would find it. To reward the birds for preventing a chillul Hashem, people spread food for the birds to eat.

Like the birds

I saw another reason for this practice, also related to the falling of the manna. According to this reason, placing feed for birds is to remind us that Hashem provided food for us in the desert, similar to the way birds readily find their food without any difficulty.

Birds sing

Others cite a different basis for the practice. According to this version, the reason for feeding the birds on this Shabbos is because on Shabbos Shirah, we commemorate the Jews singing praise to Hashem after being saved at the Yam Suf. According to this reason, the birds also sang shirah at the Yam Suf, and we feed them to commemorate the event (Tosafos Shabbos 324:17, and several later authorities who quote him). As a matter of fact, the Hebrew word tzipor is based on the Aramaic word tzafra,which means morning, and expresses the concept that birds sing praise to Hashem every morning (see Ramban, Vayikra 14:4).

There is a fascinating account transmitted verbally from the Tzemach Tzedek of Lubavitch, who heard from his grandfather, the Ba’al HaTanya, that their ancestor, the Maharal of Prague, would do the following on Shabbos Shirah: First, he told the rebbei’im of the schools and the fathers to bring the children to the shul courtyard. He then instructed the rabbei’im to relate to the children the story of Keri’as Yam Suf,how the birds sang and danced while Moshe and the Bnei Yisroel sang Az Yashir, and that the children crossing Yam Suf took fruits from trees growing there and afterward fed them to the birds that sang.

No local songbirds

Although I have not yet explained the halachic controversy surrounding this custom, I will share a difference in practical halacha that might result from the dispute between the different reasons. According to the first two reasons, one would spread food for the birds, even if one lives in an area where the bird population includes no songbirds. According to the third approach, in such a place there would be no reason to observe the practice.

Questionable practice

Notwithstanding that Jews have been observing the custom of spreading food for birds on Shabbos Shirah for several hundred years, there is a major halachic controversy about its observance. This is based on a Mishnah and a passage of the Gemara that discuss whether on Shabbos one may provide water and food for birds and other creatures that are not dependent on man for their daily bread or birdseed. The reason for this prohibition is, apparently, because this type of activity, being unnecessary for one’s observance of Shabbos, is viewed as a tircha yeseirah. I will explain this as “distracting exertion,” meaning that Chazal did not want us involving ourselves in what they determined to be unnecessary activities, since this detracts from the sanctity of the Shabbos day.

I have seen much discussion about the custom of feeding birds on Shabbos Shirah, but virtually all in Ashkenazic sources. It seems to me that this custom is either predominantly or exclusively an Ashkenazic practice. The only Sephardic authority I have found who mentions the practice is the Kaf Hachayim, who lived in the twentieth century, and whose work predominantly anthologizes earlier commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch. Therefore, his reporting the Ashkenazic authorities who discuss the custom does not necessarily reflect that any Sefardic communities observed this practice.

At this point, we need to discuss the background to the halachic question about the practice of feeding the birds on Shabbos Shirah.

The original source

The Mishnah (Shabbos 155b) rules that one may not place water before bees or doves that live in cotes, but one may do so before geese, chickens and Hardisian doves.

What type of dove?

There are actually three different texts of this Mishnah. According to one version, one is prohibited to water “Hardisian” doves (Rashi), which refers to a geographic location where they raised doves similarly to the way ducks or geese are raised as livestock.A second version prohibits providing water to “Herodian” doves (Rambam, Bartenura). This text refers to a variety of domesticated bird developed by Herod, or, more likely, by his bird keepers. (The Meleches Shelomoh cites a third text, which is not pertinent to our discussion.)

In a passage of Gemara relevant to the mitzvah of shiluach hakein, the prohibition against taking the mother bird and her eggs or young offspring, the Gemara (Chullin 139b) provides two texts and explanations as to which of these two types of birds, Hardisian doves or Herodian doves, is excluded from the prohibition. In the context of shiluach hakein, the prohibition is dependent on the birds being ownerless, and both Hardisian and Herodian doves have owners. (From the Gemara’s description, it appears that Herodian doves may have been a variety of parrot or other talking bird. We have no mesorah that parrots are a kosher species of bird, which is one of the halachic requirements for the mitzvah of shiluach hakein, but that does not preclude understanding the Gemara this way.)

In either instance, it is permitted to take both the mother and the offspring of both Hardisian and Herodian birds, because the Torah prohibits doing so only when the birds are hefker, ownerless, which these birds are not. The Gemara describes the large numbers of these birds that were raised, something that today’s breeders of chickens can only envy.

Although these varieties of birds were well known at the time of the Mishnah, by the time of the Gemara, these varieties were heading toward extinction.

Watering birds

Returning to the Mishnah in Shabbos, according to either text, “Hardisian” or “Herodian,” one may provide these birds with water on Shabbos. Our first question is why the Mishnah permits one to water geese, chickens and these doves, but not bees nor doves that reside in cotes. The Gemara provides two answers to explain why there is a difference.

The first answer is that bees and most doves are not dependent on mankind for their sustenance, whereas geese, chickens, and these varieties of domesticated doves are. The Gemara then provides a second answer that limits the prohibition to water, since it is readily available without human assistance. According to the second answer, there is no prohibition against feeding birds on Shabbos. The prohibition is only that one should not provide water to those birds and insects that can easily get their hydration on their own.

Feeding on Yom Tov

According to some rishonim, we find a similar discussion regarding providing food for animals on Yom Tov (Rashi, Beitzah 23b).

Dogs versus pigs

In the same discussion of Gemara, it quotes a beraisa (a teaching dating back to the era of the Mishnah) that permits feeding dogs on Shabbos, but prohibits feeding pigs. The beraisa itself asks why there is a difference, and explains that the sustenance of one’s dogs is dependent on the owner, but the sustenance of his pigs is not.

This leads to an obvious question: Both of these species are non-kosher, yet the beraisa does not prohibit feeding one’s dogs. It also does not say that it depends on whether he owns them or not. Rashi explains that since a curse was placed on any Jew who raises pigs (see Sotah 49b), Jews should not be responsible for feeding them, and therefore Chazal prohibited doing so. Although pigs are often domesticated by people who are not concerned about observing the halacha that prohibits raising them (Sotah 49b), Chazal expanded this prohibition and ruled that, even should someone own a pig, he may not feed it on Shabbos since the sustenance of a pig should not be dependent on a Jew (see Rashi, Shabbos ad locum; Magen Avraham, Machatzis Hashekel). On the other hand, one may feed dogs on Shabbos, since it is permitted to own a dog, particularly in a farm setting, where dogs are useful for herding sheep and other activities.

Only my dog?

In relation to this question, we find a dispute among early acharonim. The Magen Avraham, one of the greatest of the early commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch, rules that you may feed any non-dangerous dog on Shabbos, whether you own it or not. He understands that the Gemara meant that you may feed any animals that are dependent on man, and you may feed all dogs, but you may not feed any pigs, even when they are dependent on man, since a Jew is not supposed to raise pigs (Machatzis Hashekel).

On the other hand, other authorities rule that one may feed a dog only when it is dependent on a Jew for food (see Elyah Rabbah 324:11).

The halachic authorities note that there are a few instances in which it is permitted for a Jew to own a pig. One situation is when he received it as payment of a debt; another is that he inherited it from someone not observant. The halacha is that he is permitted to sell it, and that he may wait until he is offered a market value price for it. In the interim, he is permitted to feed it, even on Shabbos, since it is dependent on him for food (Machatzis Hashekel).

Based on this analysis, the geonim permitted feeding silkworms on Shabbos (Beis Yosef and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 324:12). Similarly, some authorities explain that the Gemara’s discussion is only about feeding animals that one does as a matter of course, but that one may and should provide food to any animal that is hungry (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 324:2).

Which way do we rule?

The authorities dispute which answer of the Gemara we follow. The Rif, the Rambam (21:36) and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 324:11) conclude that we follow the stricter approach, whereas the Ran and the Olas Shabbos conclude that the more lenient approach may be followed. Thus, according to the Shulchan Aruch’s conclusion, one may not provide either food or water on Shabbos to bees, doves or any other creature that is not dependent on man, while according to the Ran, one may provide them with food but not water. It should be noted that, in situations where it is permitted to feed the animals, one may even put food directly in their mouths (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 324:10).

Nextdoor dog

At this point, we can mention the last of our opening questions. “We have an excellent relationship with our next door neighbor, who is not Jewish, although I am not sure if that affects the question. They are going away on vacation and have asked us to feed their pets while they are away. May I do so on Shabbos?” “How are zoo animals fed on Shabbos?”

The second question is easy to answer. Since these animals are in captivity, they are dependent on man for food, and one is not only permitted, but required, to make sure that they have adequate feed on Shabbos. The first question may be a bit more complicated. These animals generally are not dependent on the Jewish neighbor, but this Shabbos they will be. I refer those who want to analyze this question further to a short piece by Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach, quoted in Shulchan Shelomoh (Chapter 324), in which he discusses a related topic.

The custom on Shabbos Shirah

At this point, we should discuss our opening question, whether it is indeed permitted to feed birds on Shabbos Shirah. The Magen Avraham (324:7) mentions the practice of providing grain for birds to eat on Shabbos Shirah, and states that the practice is in violation of the halacha. This approach is followed by most of the halachic commentaries, including the Elyah Rabbah, the Machatzis Hashekel, the Shulchan Aruch Harav, and the Mishnah Berurah. However, there are some authorities who justify the practice. For example, the Tosafos Shabbos suggests it is permitted, since we are doing it not to make sure the birds are fed but to perpetuate the minhag. Thus, he posits, the ethical and religious intent renders the activity permitted. A few of the later commentaries – those who, in general, strive to justify common practice – are lenient, either citing the reason of the Tosafos Shabbos, or similar approaches (Aruch Hashulchan 324:3; Daas Torah).

Muktzah

An interesting additional halachic side point is that the early authorities discuss scattering grains, or specifically wheat, to the birds. In earlier days, when people owned farm animals and used grains as feed, these grains were not muktzah on Shabbos. However, most of us do not own raw grain, and, since we can neither grind it nor cook it on Shabbos, and we do not eat it or feed it to animals as raw kernels, these grains are muktzah on Shabbos (see Aruch Hashulchan 517:2).

Shaking out the tablecloth

Even among the very late authorities, we find a dispute as to whether one may feed the birds on Shabbos Shirah. The sefer Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah (27:21) rules that one should not, following the approach of the Magen Avraham and the Mishnah Berurah. However, he suggests a way of fulfilling the custom without creating any halachic problem. His advice is to shake out the tablecloth after the meal in a place where the birds can eat the crumbs. He bases this on the ruling of the Eishel Avraham of Butchach (324:11 s.v. Gam), who says that, when throwing or discarding food, there is no requirement to make sure that one does not throw it in front of animals. The prohibition is doing extra work on behalf of animals that otherwise will be able to fend for themselves easily. Shaking out the tablecloth is not an unnecessary Shabbos activity.

Another suggestion is to spread crumbs before Shabbos, which allows the birds to feast on them on Shabbos without involving any halachic question.

On the other hand, Rav Eliezer Yehudah Valdenberg contends that feeding birds on Shabbos Shirah has an old, venerated history – he notes that he remembers it being practiced in the households of many gedolei Yisroel, without anyone questioning whether one may. He mentions the different reasons cited above why one may be lenient (Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer, Vol. XIV, #28). In conclusion, I advise each reader to ask his or her own rav or posek whether to follow the practice.

Conclusion

We should not conclude from this discussion that halacha is opposed to our taking care of animals. The Tosefta (Bava Kama,end of Chapter 9)states, “Rabbi Yehudah said, in the name of Rabban Gamliel: ‘Know this sign well: as long as you act with mercy, Hashem will have mercy on you.’” Sefer Chassidim #666 notes: If we are merciful to our animals, Hashem and others will be merciful to us.

The point is that when the animals can easily take care of themselves, we should be devoting Shabbos to our own personal growth and not become distracted from this goal. After all, Shabbos is our reminder that Hashem created the entire universe.

Assembling Portable Cribs and Adjusting Shtenders on Shabbos

Since the parsha tells us that the Jews were enslaved to perform many construction projects, this is an appropriate week to analyze the halachos of construction on Shabbos.

Question #1: I am having a lot of company for Shabbos and we have a small house. On Friday night, I would like to remove the extra leaves from the table and then set up the “portacrib” in the space that creates, and then, in the morning, fold up the crib and put the table leaves back. May I do this on Shabbos?

Question #2: The lens fell out of my eyeglasses on Shabbos. May I pop it back in?

Question #3: I have an adjustable shtender that I usually leave at the same height. May I adjust it on Shabbos?

Question #4: The house is very crowded and stuffy because we are celebrating a kiddush. May I remove a door or a window to allow some additional ventilation? (I was asked this shaylah in Israel where doors and windows are hinged in a way that they are easily removable.)

Question #5: May I remove the pieces of glass from a broken window on Shabbos?

Before discussing these shaylos, we need to explain the halachos of construction on Shabbos, and how they apply to movable items such as household furnishings and accessories.

CONSTRUCTION ON SHABBOS

Boneh, building or constructing, is one of the 39 melachos of Shabbos. Included in this melacha is performing any type of home repair or enhancement, even only a minor repair (see Shabbos 102b). Thus, it is prohibited min haTorah to hammer a nail into a wall in order to hang a picture (Rashi, Eruvin 102a s.v. halacha). Similarly, one may not smooth the dirt floor of a house because this enhances the “structure” (Shabbos 73b).

Sosair, demolishing or razing, is also one of the 39 melachos, since the Bnei Yisroel disassembled the mishkan whenever they moved from place to place (Shabbos 31b). Therefore, any demolition of a building is prohibited min haTorah if the ultimate results are beneficial, such as the razing of part of a building in order to renovate it.

If there are no benefits to the demolition, it is still prohibited miderabbanan. Thus, wrecking the house out of anger violates Shabbos only miderabbanan (according to most Rishonim) since there is no positive benefit from the destruction (Pri Megadim 314:11 in Eishel Avraham). It is prohibited min haTorah because of other reasons, such as bal tashchis (unnecessary destruction) and being bad for one’s midos (see Shabbos 105b).

We already have enough information to address questions #4 and #5 above, whether one may remove a window to ventilate the house and whether one may remove pieces of glass from a broken window. It would seem that the first case is prohibited min haTorah since it involves the melacha of sosair for positive results. The second case may depend on whether the removal of the broken glass is so that no one hurts himself, in which case this might be prohibited only because of a rabbinic injunction, or whether it is being removed as the first step in the repair, in which case it would be prohibited min haTorah.

If the broken window is dangerous (but not life threatening), I may ask a non-Jew to remove the broken pieces of glass.

CONSTRUCTION OF MOVABLE ITEMS

Do the melachos of boneh and sosair apply to movable items, keilim (sing., kli), as well, or only to buildings? In other words, does the Torah’s prohibition refer only to something connected to the ground, or does it include construction of a movable item?

This question is disputed in the Gemara and by the Rishonim (Beitzah 10a). There are three basic opinions:

1. Keilim are not included in the prohibition of boneh and sosair.

2. Keilim are totally included in the prohibition of boneh and sosair.

3. A compromise position in which total construction or destruction of a kli is prohibited min haTorah, but minor improvement is not (Tosafos, Shabbos 74b and 102b). The halacha follows this opinion (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 314:1).

WHEN DOES BONEH APPLY TO KEILIM?

Assembling or improving a kli in a way that involves strength and skill constitutes boneh, and disassembling it involves sosair. Therefore, it is prohibited min haTorah to assemble a piece of furniture in a way that tightens the pieces since this involves strength and skill to do the job properly. Similarly, replacing the handle on a hoe or other appliance is prohibited min haTorah since it requires skill and strength to do the job properly (Shabbos 102b).

Assembling furniture without tightening the pieces is not prohibited min haTorah, but is prohibited miderabbanan out of concern that one might tighten them (Tosafos, Shabbos 48a s.v. ha; Hagahos Ashri Shabbos 3:23). Therefore, one may not assemble a bed, crib, or table even without tightening the pieces (Kaf Hachayim 313:63).

To review:

One may not assemble a crib on Shabbos. Assembling it in a tight way is prohibited min haTorah, whereas assembling it without tightening the pieces is prohibited miderabbanan since one might assemble it tightly.

However, the halacha regarding the setting up of portacribs is lenient, since this does not involve re-assembling. Everything remains attached and the parts are merely straightened out. So they can certainly be opened and closed on Shabbos.

FIXING A BROKEN APPLIANCE

Repairing a broken appliance on Shabbos follows the same guidelines as assembling. Therefore it is prohibited when the repair requires skill and strength even if one repairs it in a temporary way.

Therefore, if the leg of a bed or table fell out, one may not reinsert it even temporarily out of concern that one might repair it permanently (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 313:8). In this instance, Chazal decreed that the bed or table itself becomes muktzah in order to ensure that someone does not repair it (Rema Orach Chayim 308:16).

TWO EXCEPTIONS

There are two exceptions to this rabbinic prohibition, when one may assemble or repair an item in a non-permanent way. The first is on Yom Tov where the halacha is that one may use a temporary repair to fix a furniture item for a Yom Tov need (Tosafos, Beitzah 22a; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 519:2, Magen Avraham and Gra ad loc.).

Example:

A leg fell off the table on Yom Tov. Repairing the table in a proper way is prohibited min haTorah, and therefore on Shabbos I may not even reinsert the leg into the table in a temporary way.  On Yom Tov, however, I may reinsert the leg without performing a proper repair, if this is the most convenient table to use.

ANOTHER EXCEPTION

If the broken or disassembled item is usually repaired or assembled without strength or skill, I may repair it in a temporary fashion. Chazal did not forbid this since it is unlikely that it will cause any Torah violation (Shabbos 47b with Tosafos).

Example:

In the time of the Gemara there existed a type of bed called “a coppersmiths’ bed.” Apparently, it was common that coppersmiths traveled from place to place making their living as iterant repairmen, and took portable beds with them that they reassembled at each destination. May one assemble this bed on Shabbos or is it considered construction? The Gemara quotes a dispute on the subject. According to the Tanna who contends that keilim are totally included in the prohibition of boneh and sosair, one may not assemble these beds on Shabbos (Shabbos 47a).

However, the conclusion of the Gemara is that one may assemble these beds on Shabbos. That is because these beds were never assembled very tightly and therefore it is not considered boneh to construct them, nor does it qualify as a rabbinic prohibition. However, an appliance that is normally assembled very tightly would be prohibited to assemble even loosely since it might be tightened (Tosafos ad loc.).

TABLE LEAVES

Inserting table leaves also does not require skill or strength and is therefore permitted on Shabbos. However, some tables have a clamp to tighten the table after inserting or removing the leaf. Some authorities contend that tightening this clamp might be prohibited min haTorah. Those who hold that way will also prohibit adding or removing leaves from these tables on Shabbos, even if one does not tighten the clamp, out of concern that one might tighten it.

THE SCREW – AN INTERESTING INVENTION

About three hundred and fifty years ago, the poskim began discussing appliances held together with screws. Around this time a drinking cup became available where the cup part screwed into a base. Does screwing this appliance together on Shabbos constitute boneh?

The halachic question here is as follows: Although this cup does not require someone particularly strong or skilled to assemble and disassemble, screwing on the base makes the cup into a well-made permanent appliance. Thus, the screw enables someone who is not particularly skilled to build a strong appliance.

The early poskim debate this issue. The Magen Avraham (313:12) rules that screwing an appliance together constitutes a melacha min haTorah (see Shaar Hatziyun 313:32); the Maamar Mordechai disagrees. In practice however, the Maamar Mordechai concludes that one should follow the stringent ruling of the Magen Avraham, and this is the accepted halachic practice. Thus, screwing the cup together is considered manufacturing a cup.

Similarly, today you can purchase furniture that you take home and assemble by yourself. Assembling this furniture is prohibited min haTorah even though it is made in a way that an unskilled person can assemble it. Thus, the definition of “skill and strength” is not whether the assembler needs to be skilled or strong, but whether the appliance thereby made is a permanent, well-made appliance.

BINOCULARS

Focusing a pair of binoculars involves turning a screw to make it tighter and looser. Does this violate boneh on Shabbos?

The poskim rule that one may focus binoculars on Shabbos (Kaf Hachayim 313:73; Ketzos Hashulchan 119:12). They explain that there is a qualitative difference between screwing the base onto the cup, which creates an appliance, and screwing the binoculars, which is the method of using it. One may use an appliance, just as one may use a house by opening and closing the doors and windows. This is not considered building an extension onto the house, but normal daily usage.

SHTENDER

Many shtenders are tightened and loosened by the use of a screw. May one adjust ashtender by loosening and tightening the screw?

According to Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rav Vozner, one may adjust the height of the shtender on Shabbos since this is considered using the shtender, not making a new appliance (Shulchan Shlomoh 313:7; Shu”t Shevet Halevi 6:32; cf. Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok 9:38, who prohibits).

SALTSHAKER

Question:

I forgot to fill the saltshaker before Shabbos, and now I realize that it is empty. May I unscrew the saltshaker on Shabbos to fill it, or is this considered demolishing and repairing the saltshaker?

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach rules that it is permitted to open, refill, and close the saltshaker on Shabbos without violating boneh. Although the saltshaker is indeed screwed closed, it is typically not screwed as tightly as one screws furniture or the cup we described earlier (Minchas Shlomoh 1:11:4 s.v. gam nireh).

A similar halacha, although for a different reason, applies to opening and closing a baby bottle. Although it is opened and closed by screwing, since it is intended to be opened and closed constantly, it is not considered demolishing and reconstructing it.

EYEGLASSES

If someone’s eyeglass lens falls out on Shabbos, may he reinsert it back into the glasses?

It would seem that it depends on the type of eyeglasses. In glasses where the lens is held in place simply by placing the lens in the frame, one may pop the lens back into place. This is because placing the lens into the glasses cannot constitute boneh since it does not require skill.

However, there are some frames that tighten around the lens with screws. According to the Magen Avraham, it would seem that tightening the screws to hold in the lens involves a Torah prohibition of boneh. If that is true, then one may also not pop the lens because of concern that one might screw the frame tight.

CONSTRUCTIVE WORK

We may ask ourselves, why is screwing a cup together or removing a window from its hinge considered melacha? They take a second to do and are not at all strenuous.

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos so that it should be a day of rest. He points out that the Torah did not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melacha, which implies purpose and accomplishment. Shabbos is a day that we refrain from constructing and altering the world for our own purposes. The goal of Shabbos is to allow Hashem’s rule to be the focus of creation by withdrawing from our own creative acts (Shemos 20:11). By restraining from building for one day a week, we demonstrate Who indeed is the Builder of the world and all it contains.

Bishul Akum for the Ill

Photo by rea einskisson from FreeImages

Question #1: Cooked on Shabbos

If a non-Jew cooks on Shabbos for someone who is ill, is the food he cooks prohibited because of bishul akum? Obviously, the ill person is permitted to eat the food, but there are several ramifications to this question.

Question #2: Bishul akum equipment

If a non-Jew cooked using my pots, do they require kashering because they absorbed non-kosher food?

Background:

Chazal instituted the law of bishul akum to discourage inappropriate social interaction, which could lead to intermarriage, and also to guarantee that kashrus not be compromised (Rashi, Avodah Zarah 35b s.v. Vehashelakos and38a s.v. Miderabbanan and Tosafos ad loc.).

There are two major exceptions to the law of bishul akum – that is, situations in which a non-Jew cooked food that one may eat, despite the prohibition against bishul akum. One exception is food that is usually eaten raw, such as an apple. Therefore, if a non-Jew baked apples and did not use anything non-kosher while doing so, the apples are kosher.

Another exception is something that would not be served on a king’s table. There are many interpretations as to how to define this, but all poskim agree that small fish and porridge are permitted when cooked by a non-Jew, as long as nothing non-kosher was added – because these items are not served to a king.

This article will discuss a possible third exception to bishul akum: Food cooked by a non-Jew on Shabbos for someone who is ill.

Bishul akum for the ill

In a different article, we learned that we may ask a non-Jew to do on Shabbos whatever is required for the care of a person who is ill, even asking a non-Jew to cook for the sick person. This is permitted even if no life-threatening emergency exists, as long as the person is ill enough to be choleh kol gufo, usually defined as someone ill enough to go to bed (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 328:17), or whose discomfort is intense enough that he feels that his entire body is affected (Rema ad locum).

In the previous article, I did not discuss an important question: If food cooked by a non-Jew is prohibited because of bishul akum, how can a Jewish person eat what the non-Jew cooked? There are two obvious answers to this question:

1. Food cooked by a non-Jew to take care of a sick person was excluded from the prohibition of bishul akum.

2. Because of his medical needs, a choleh kol gufo is exempt from the prohibition of bishul akum.

In either event, we have several follow-up questions:

Does this heter apply only to what is cooked on Shabbos, when a Jew may not cook for the sick person, or does it apply all the time? If this dispensation applies only to what a non-Jew cooked on Shabbos,is the ill person permitted to eat the leftovers after Shabbos, or does that food become prohibited once a Jew can cook for him? And, assuming that the sick person is permitted to eat the food after Shabbos, is it permitted for a different Jew, who is perfectly healthy, to eat what the non-Jew cooked on Shabbos?

Does bishul akum affect pots?

Finally, if the non-Jew used a Jew’s kosher pots to cook for the ill on Shabbos, do the pots become non-kosher because they absorbed bishul akum? If so, do the pots now need to be koshered before they may be used again? Or, since it is permitted to ask the non-Jew to cook for the Jewish ill, do the pots not need to be koshered afterward? Or, an even more lenient idea: perhaps bishul akum applies only to food, but does not prohibit pots at all?

This entire list of questions is discussed and debated by the rishonim. Their differing approaches provide a goldmine for the scholar attempting to analyze critically the legal (halachic) status of bishul akum and to comprehend clearly Chazal’s ruling permitting asking a non-Jew to cook for the ill. As we will soon see, there are various ways to answer the questions that we raised, and differences in halachic opinion affect decisions made in kosher nursing homes and hospital to this very day.

Explaining these issues also affords an opportunity to understand an important chapter in Jewish history that is not as well known as it should be.

Debate in Barcelona

Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain and the capital of Catalonia, the northeastern region of the country. Today, there is a tiny Jewish presence in the city, but, in the times of the rishonim, Barcelona was a major headquarters of Torah. At different times, many gedolei Yisroel lived in the city, including the Raavad, the Ramban, Rav Yehudah Bartzeloni, theRashba, the Rosh (who had fled from Germany, which had become very dangerous for rabbonim), the Rosh’s distinguished sons (including his son Yaakov, who later  authored the Tur), Rav Aharon Halevi (known as the Re’ah), the Ohr Hashem (Rav Chasdai Kreskas), the Ritva, and the Nimukei Yosef, to list some of the better-known gedolim who walked the streets of this city.

In the thirteenth century, three major halachic works appeared in Barcelona in quick succession. These works clarified the halachos observed in a frum house. The first, written by theRashba, was aptly called Toras Habayis (literally, the laws of the house), whichdiscussed, in very organized and detailed fashion, the laws of kashrus, mikveh, netilas yadayim and other household laws. It was actually two different works. One, a brief edition called the Toras Habayis Hakatzar, offered instructions for household owners to manage their homes in accordance with halacha. The other, Toras Habayis He’aruch,is an extensive and thorough explanation of the halachic background to the topics, quoting the original sources in the Mishnah, Gemara, and early authorities. It discusses and explains the arguments, sources and opinions cited by the various great, early poskim on the subject, and then the Rashba reaches his conclusion.

Shortly after the Toras Habayis saw the light of day, another work, called Bedek Habayis (literally, inspections [or repairs] of the house) appeared, written by Rav Aharon Halevi ( the Re’ah) exclusively to disagree with the conclusions of the Toras Habayis. The Bedek Habayis went to great length to demonstrate where he felt the Toras Habayis’s analysis and comparisons were incorrect.

Eventually, a third work was produced anonymously, called the Mishmeres Habayis (protecting the house), the purpose of which was to explain that the original Toras Habayis’s conclusions had been correct and that the Bedek Habayis was incorrect.

These works were all produced before the invention of the printing press, which means that they were circulated via copying them by hand.

The mystery is discovered

At first, the members of the community were baffled trying to identify the author of the Mishmeres Habayis. This should indicate the high level of Talmudic scholarship that existed then in Barcelona – apparently, there were enough Torah scholars in Barcelona capable of writing such an incredibly scholarly work that it could be published anonymously, without the identity of its author being immediately obvious.

Eventually, it was discovered that the author of the Mishmeres Habayis was none other than theRashba himself.

At this point, let us return to our topic, and to our original opening questions:

1. If a non-Jew cooks on Shabbos for someone who is ill, is the food he cooks prohibited because of bishul akum?

2. If a non-Jew cooked using my pots, do they require kashering because they absorbed non-kosher food?

Opinion of the Re’ah

Although the Toras Habayis does not discuss these topics, both the Bedek Habayis and the Mishmeres Habayis do. The Bedek Habayis (Bayis 3 Shaar 7) concludes that:

1. Food cooked by a non-Jew to take care of the needs of someone ill does not carry the prohibition of bishul akum.

2. Bishul akum does not affect equipment.

The Bedek Habayis permits the first case for the following reason: At the time this food was cooked, it was permitted to be eaten. A person who is well may not eat it because of the laws of Shabbos – we are concerned that someone may ask the non-Jew to do something on Shabbos that is not permitted for a Jew to do – but not because of the prohibition of bishul akum. Since the cooking was performed not for social reasons but in order to have fresh food for ill people, no prohibition of bishul akum was incurred at the time that the food was cooked. Therefore, it cannot become prohibited as bishul akum after Shabbos is over. The Re’ah concludes that the food cooked by a non-Jew for an ill Jewish person on Shabbos is permitted after Shabbos, even for a perfectly healthy person.

Furthermore, reasons the Bedek Habayis, should a non-Jew cook for himself in a kosher pot, the food is prohibited because of bishul akum but the pot itself remains kosher. The reason is that the use of this pot does not create any favorable social interaction between Jews and non-Jews that we must avoid. In other words, the Bedek Habayis contends that since the prohibition of bishul akum was limited to situations that encourage social interaction, the taste of bishul akum that is absorbed into pots was never prohibited. Enjoying the residual taste remaining in a pot does not encourage unwanted social interaction.

The Bedek Habayis then quotes Rav Yitzchak beRabbi Manoach, who rules that what a non-Jewish slave cooks as part of the responsibility to the household that owns him or her is not prohibited as bishul akum, since there is no increased social interaction when someone cooks as an aspect of being a slave. The point of the Bedek Habayis is that Rav Yitzchak beRabbi Manoach contends that eating what a gentile cooked is not included in the prohibition of bishul akum when the circumstances do not encourage social interaction – and certainly the residual absorption in the pots is permitted.

The Bedek Habayis then quotes from “mori rabbeinu Moshe, z”l,” the Ramban (who had headed a yeshivah in Barcelona and was the Re’ah’s primary rebbe), that, lechatchilah, cooking in a Jewish house should not be performed by a non-Jewish slave – but if it was, the food is permitted bedi’eved.

TheRashba’s response

TheRashba, in his Mishmeres Habayis, disagrees with every point made by the Re’ah in the Bedek Habayis. He compares a non-Jew cooking food for an ill person on Shabbos to the situation of a person who is deathly ill and there is no fresh meat to eat. The halacha in the latter situation is that, if no shocheit is available, you are required to kill an animal, rendering its meat neveilah, and cook it for the sick person. As soon as a shocheit becomes available, you are no longer permitted to feed the sick person non-kosher. Of course, the pot in which the neveilah was cooked is not kosher and must be koshered. Similarly, Mishmeres Habayis contends that although it is permitted to have a non-Jew cook for someone ill, the food is permitted to be eaten only by the ill and only until there is enough time after Shabbos to cook fresh food. Once that time arrives, all the food that was cooked by the non-Jew becomes prohibited as bishul akum, even for the sick person, and certainly it was never permitted for someone well to eat. In addition, the previously kosher pot used by the non-Jew to cook for the ill on Shabbos is prohibited because of the bishul akum absorbed in it, and the pot must be koshered before it can be used again.

The Mishmeres Habayis explains the basis for this law as the general rule, “kol detikun rabbanan ke’ein de’oraysa tikun,”whatever the Sages established they did in a system similar to the rules of the Torah” (Pesachim 30b, 39b, et al.). Therefore, when Chazal created the prohibition of bishul akum, they gave the prohibited product all the rules that apply to items prohibited min haTorah. Thus, we see that Barcelona was the scene of a major halachic controversy that has ramifications to this very day.

How do we rule?

Well, who is “we”? The Ran (Shu”t Haran 5:11-12), the primary Spanish halachic authority in the generation following theRashba and Re’ah, discusses the second question, whether bishul akum prohibits the equipment used to cook it. He opines that logically the prohibition of bishul akum should apply only to the food prepared and not to the equipment in which it was produced, since concerns about social interaction apply only to the food, and not to the equipment. However, that since there are poskim who disagreed with the Re’ah, the Ran concludes that it is preferable to have the equipment koshered, and, if this food was cooked in an earthenware pot (which cannot be kashered), the earthenware pot should be broken (see Pesachim 30b; Avodah Zarah 33b-34a).

Two contemporaries of the Ran also weigh in on the question of whether we require kashering of equipment in which bishul akum occurred. The Tur (end of Yoreh Deah 113) quotes that theRashba required kashering equipment that cooked bishul akum, even if it was a case of non-Jewish servants who cooked in a Jew’s house. He notes that theRashba holds that, to avoid prohibiting the pots, when non-Jewish workers cook for themselves in a Jewish house, someone Jewish must participate in the cooking, in a way that avoids the prohibition of bishul akum.

The Tur himself does not conclude this way. He quotes that his father, the Rosh, a contemporary of theRashba, contends that Chazal prohibited only the food of bishul akum, but did not extend the prohibition to flavor absorbed into pots and other equipment. In other words, the Rosh accepts the approach of the Re’ah that bishul akum is different from other proscriptions and is prohibited only to the extent that it would cause unwanted social interactions.

The other contemporary of the Ran who discusses this issue is Rabbeinu Yerucham, a disciple of the Rosh, who writes that most authorities agreed with the Rosh that bishul akum does not create a prohibition on the equipment used to cook it. However, the Beis Yosef, after quoting Rabbeinu Yerucham, disagrees with his conclusion that most authorities accept the Rosh’s opinion. The Beis Yosef writes that most authorities who lived after theera of the Rashba, Re’ah and Rosh accept the opinion of theRashba as the conclusive halacha. In Shulchan Aruch,he mentions both approaches, but concludes that the main approach is that equipment used for bishul akum does require kashering.

Three times lucky

Above, I quoted the Ran who states that if bishul akum prohibits the vessels, if an earthenware pot was used, the pot must be broken. However, theRashba himself did not rule this way. This is based on a passage of Talmud Yerushalmi (Terumos 11:4) that rules that a lenience applies when a prohibition is rabbinic in origin, which is the case of bishul akum. In these circumstances, Chazal permitted kashering earthenware by boiling the vessel three times(Rashba, quoted by Tur Yoreh Deah 123). This ruling is accepted by the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 113:16).

What about for the ill?

Above, we mentioned that theRashba and Re’ah also disagreed about whether food cooked by a non-Jew on Shabbos for a Jewish person who is ill is prohibited as bishul akum. How do we rule on this question? Again, it depends on whom you ask: The Rema and the Shach conclude that the food is permitted after Shabbos, even for a healthy person, whereas the Taz, Mishnah Berurah (328:63) and others rule that it is prohibited even for the ill person once food cooked by a Jew becomes available.

Conclusion

According to the Rambam, the reason Chazal prohibited asking a non-Jew to do work on Shabbos is in order not to diminish sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves. Refraining from having even a non-Jew work is testimony to our deep conviction that Hashem created the world.

We have just learned an exception to this rule: When someone is ill, we are permitted to ask a non-Jew to cook for him. This will not diminish sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves, but will increase our sensitivity to the needs of the ill and the mitzvah of bikur cholim, ensuring that we attend to their needs as best as we can.

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.

Sewing on Shabbos

Question #1: Stuffing a Pillow

“My pillow is torn, and some of the filling has fallen out. May I restuff it on Shabbos?”

Question #2: Stitches

“Does stitching a wound closed involve a Torah prohibition on Shabbos?

Question #3: Miscellaneous

What do these questions have to do with one another?

Introduction

Among the 39 melachos of Shabbos, we find several sets of pairs, including tying and untying, writing and erasing, building and razing, and kindling and extinguishing. One of the sets is tofeir and korei’a, sewing and tearing. Of this pair, korei’a usually gets more coverage in practical halacha, because it involves many common questions such as opening packaging and tearing toilet paper. So that tofeir does not feel left out, the aim of this article is to show that there are many interesting details relevant to this melacha, and we will also discover some halachic surprises.

Tofeir 101

First, some introductory information about this melacha: One violates the av melacha either by sewing three stitches (meaning that the needle goes through the material three times) or by sewing two stitches and then tying the thread with a knot, so that the stitches remain (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 10:9). Without this last step, the stitches will not last, and, therefore, one does not violate the melacha min haTorah.

Non-permanent sewing

The rishonim dispute whether one violates a melacha min haTorah if one sews an item closed, but intends to open the stitches very shortly. Why would one do this? An example is that launderers sometimes stitched small items of clothing to larger ones, so that they will not get lost. This stitching will be removed as soon as the laundry is complete. Does this involve a Torah prohibition or is it prohibited only because of a rabbinic injunction?

I’ll provide a contemporary application, although it presumably does not affect most of our readers. To make sure that they remain firmly in place, boxing gloves are sewn closed around the wrists of the boxer. However, the boxer presumably wants to remove his gloves before his next meal or when he next needs to blow his nose. Thus, although the gloves are sewn very tightly onto his hands, the stitches will be undone very shortly, sometimes within a few minutes, if the boxer is either extremely successful or extremely unsuccessful. Does this sewing involve a Torah prohibition?

Most rishonim follow the more stringent approach, which is also the way the Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chayim 340:7). The Rema (Orach Chayim 317:3) quotes both approaches. Most later authorities understand that the Rema also concludes that the primary opinion is that sewing properly is prohibited min haTorah, even when one intends to rip out the stitches shortly (Tehillah Ledavid 340:6; Chazon Ish, hashmatos, Orach Chayim page 257; cf., however, Graz 317:7). So, boxers, beware, don’t sew your gloves on Shabbos! (Now, can you have a non-Jew do it? That is a topic for a different time!)

Tightening stitches

Here is a case that involves sewing min haTorah that most people do not realize is prohibited. On Shabbos, someone sees that some stitching on his garment is loose, so he pulls the stitching together. Halachically, this is considered an act of sewing the two pieces of the garment together, and, therefore, this seemingly innocent act involves a Torah prohibition of sewing (see Rashi, Shabbos 75a). This act will be prohibited min haTorah also on Yom Tov.

Embroidering

Embroidering cloth also violates the av melacha of tofeir (Nimla Tal, Meleches Tofeir note 25). Notwithstanding that, when embroidering, one does not necessarily stitch through the entire thickness of the cloth, there is still a Torah violation of tofeir (Yerushalmi, Shabbos 7:2, as explained by Pnei Moshe).

Pinning

A safety pin is usually inserted twice through cloth and then closed. Could this be considered sewing, since it is similar to making two stitches and then tying a knot, which is prohibited min haTorah?

Indeed, several prominent early acharonim banned the use of safety pins for precisely this reason (Shu”t Ginas Veradim, Orach Chayim 3:17, 19; Rabbi Akiva Eiger, notes to Magen Avraham 340:11; see also Korban Nesanel, Shabbos 7:50). However, many later acharonim permitted the use of pins on Shabbos, citing the following reasons:

(1) The closing performed by pinning is by nature temporary, and therefore not an act of tofeir (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim #156, page 257, notes to Chapter 340; Az Nidberu 3:72).

(2) Tofeir is the act of making two or more items into one unit, which a pin does not do (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:84). Notwithstanding that a pin attaches two items, there are many activities that attach two items, such as buttoning, zippering and snapping, all of which are permitted on Shabbos. So, there is no reason to assume that pinning two items together should be treated any more stringently than buttoning them together.

The position of the Mishnah Berurah on this question is unclear (see 308:46; 340:27). Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky understood that the Mishnah Berurah was also lenient about the use of pins on Shabbos (Emes Leya’akov, Orach Chayim 340).

Stuffing a pillow

Now that we have a basic introduction to the melacha, we are in a position to discuss the halachos relevant to our opening question: “My pillow is torn, and some of the filling has fallen out. May I restuff it on Shabbos?”

The answer to this question lies in understanding a small passage of Gemara (Shabbos 48a), which teaches the following:

Rav Chisda permitted returning stuffing into a pillow on Shabbos. Rav Chanan bar Chisda asked Rav Chisda how he could permit this, since an earlier, authoritative source (a beraisa) prohibited stuffing soft material into a pillow on either Yom Tov or Shabbos. Rav Chisda responded that it is prohibited to create a pillow for the first time by stuffing it, but it is permitted to restuff an old pillow.

Why can’t you stuff?

What is wrong with stuffing a pillow on Shabbos? The rishonim dispute why the beraisa prohibited stuffing a new pillow on Yom Tov or Shabbos. Rashi explains that the prohibition is because of the melacha of makeh bepatish, making a new item, since one is manufacturing a new pillow. The Mishnah Berurah (340:33) understands this act to be a Torah violation of the melacha.

However, the Rambam explains the Gemara quite differently, that the prohibition here is rabbinic, and that this is not a case of makeh bepatish. He understands that Chazal prohibited stuffing the pillow because of concern that someone might forget and sew the pillow closed (Hilchos Shabbos 22:23).

Both opinions agree that the prohibition is only to stuff a pillow for the first time, but that it is permitted to replace stuffing that fell out (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 340:8). Thus, we have an answer to the question: “My pillow is torn, and some of the filling has fallen out. May I restuff it on Shabbos?” The answer is that one may, assuming that one does not tighten the thread that connects the two sides.

Stitches

An interesting and contemporary question with a surprising answer is whether suturing a wound on Shabbos by a physician involves a de’Oraysa prohibition of sewing. In truth, most instances of stitching usually entail an element of pikuach nefesh, life-threatening emergency, because of the risk of infection. It seems to this author that this would permit stitching a wound on Shabbos, even if it involves an act that is a melacha min haTorah. However, there are at least three situations in which it will make a practical difference whether stitching a wound closed involves a Torah prohibition or not.

I. Extra stitches

One of the differences that might result is whether, because of asthetic, non-medical reasons, it is permitted to make more stitches than necessary. For example, when a plastic surgeon closes a wound, he makes the stitches very close together in order to avoid a serious-looking scar. To do so, he uses more stitches than necessary from a strictly medical basis. These additional stitches are not pikuach nefesh, since one can safely close the wound with fewer stitches.

II. Non-Jew

Whether one can have a Jew perform melacha that is pikuach nefesh when a non-Jew is available is a dispute among rishonim and early poskim. In our case, it would have the following application: Is one permitted to have a Jewish physician suture a wound closed on Shabbos when there is a non-Jewish physician available who can?

III. Late on Shabbos

If an injury was sustained on Shabbos afternoon not long before sunset, it is usually not pikuach nefesh to close the wound immediately; one can wait safely until Shabbos is over and then stitch the wound closed. Thus, if stitching the wound involves a Torah prohibition, one should wait until after Shabbos to suture it. However, if no violation is involved, one might be able to suture it immediately.

At this point, we will discuss whether stitching a wound is included under the melacha of tofeir on Shabbos. I have seen two reasons to contend that there is no melacha of tofeir involved in stitching a wound closed:

A. We do not find that sewing as a melacha applies to the bodies of people (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah, 1979 edition, Chapter 35, note 62).

B. Tofeir is the combining of two items. Stitching skin does not make the two sides into one unit, but draws them close together so that they can heal into one unit (Nimla Tal, meleches tofeir #37). Thus, the stitching does not consist of a melacha min haTorah.

Tied in knots

However, either of these approaches may not change what the practical halacha is in these situations, because of a completely different problem. When stitching a wound closed, every stitch is followed by tying a knot, which is left permanently. Even when the stitch is removed, it is removed by cutting the thread and slipping out the stitching, not by untying the knot. Thus, the surgeon’s knot, which is definitely a specialist’s knot and is also knotted permanently, probably involves a melacha de’oraysah of kosheir, tying knots, a different one of the 39 melachos. Since this article is about tofeir and not about kosheir, I will leave further discussion on this point for a different time. Those who have the shaylah should get direction from their rav or posek.

We can now address the second of our opening questions: “Does stitching a wound closed involve a Torah prohibition on Shabbos?”

It would seem that stitching a wound closed on Shabbos involves a Torah prohibition of knotting.

Conclusion

We have learned many details about the melacha of sewing. Sewing three stitches violates the melacha min haTorah, as does sewing two stitches and then securing them so that they hold. Although using a safety pin may appear to be similar to sewing two stitches and securing them, many later authorities permit using pins to hold things together on Shabbos. We learned that stuffing a pillow for the first time is prohibited on Shabbos, and, according to some authorities, the reason for this prohibition is because we are concerned that someone may inadvertently sew the pillow closed. We also learned that there is an interesting halachic discussion whether stitching a wound closed involves a Torah prohibition on Shabbos.

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. 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).

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.

Carrying in Public and the Use of an Eruv II

Last week, I began discussing many of the background issues germane to whether one can erect an eruv to permit carrying in a city. We discovered that the Torah prohibits carrying an object from one’s house or any other enclosed area (halachically called a reshus hayachid), to an area available to the general public, a reshus harabim, or vice versa; or to carry an item four amos (about seven feet) or more within a reshus harabim. Even when there is no Torah prohibition involved in carrying the item, there may still be a rabbinic violation.

As we noted there, with reference to the melacha of carrying on Shabbos, the terms reshus hayachid and reshus harabim do not relate to the ownership of the respective areas, but are determined by the extent that the areas are enclosed and how they are used. A reshus hayachid could certainly be public property, and there are ways whereby an individual could own a reshus harabim. I also mentioned that the construction of an eruv consisting of poles and wire cannot permit carrying in an area that is prohibited min haTorah. In addition, we learned that a reshus harabim must meet very specific and complex requirements, including:

(A) It must be unroofed (Shabbos 5a).

(B) It must be meant for public use or thoroughfare (Shabbos 6a).

(C) It must be at least sixteen amos (about twenty-eight feet) wide (Shabbos 99a).

(D) According to most authorities, it cannot be inside an enclosed area (cf., however, Be’er Heiteiv 345:7, quoting Rashba; and Baal HaMaor, Eruvin 22a,quoting Rabbeinu Efrayim). The exact definition of an “enclosed area” is the subject of a major dispute that I will discuss.

(E) According to many authorities, it must be used by at least 600,000 people daily (Rashi, Eruvin 59a, but see Rashi ad loc. 6a where he requires only that the city has this many residents). This is derived from the Torah’s description of carrying into the encampment in the desert, which we know was populated by 600,000 people.

(F) Many authorities require that it be a through street, or a gathering area that connects to a through street (Rashi, Eruvin 6a).

Some authorities add additional requirements.

We explained that an area that does not meet the Torah’s definition of a reshus harabim, yet is not enclosed, is called a karmelis. One may not carry into, from or within a karmelis, following the same basic rules that prohibit carrying into a reshus harabim. However, since the prohibition not to carry in a karmelis is rabbinic in origin, Chazal allowed a more lenient method of “enclosing” it.

At this point, let us continue our discussion.

600,000 People

An early dispute among Rishonim was whether one of the requirements of a reshus harabim is that it be accessible to 600,000 people, the number of male Jews over twenty the Torah tells us left Egypt (see Tosafos, Eruvin 6a s.v. keitzad). According to Rashi and others who follow this approach, one may enclose any metropolis with a population smaller than 600,000 with tzuros hapesach to permit carrying. (In some places Rashi describes the city as having 600,000 residents, and in others describes it as having 600,000 people using the area constantly. The exact definition is the subject of much literature; see, for example, Shu”t Mishkenos Yaakov #120 s.v. hinei harishon; and Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:139:5.)

However, other early authorities contend that an area with less than 600,000 people still qualifies as a reshus harabim, if it fulfills the other requirements that I listed above. In their opinion, such an area cannot be enclosed with tzuros hapesach. Although many authorities hold this way, the accepted practice in Ashkenazic communities was to follow the lenient interpretation and construct eruvin in places with less than 600,000 people (see, for example, Aruch Hashulchan 345:18). Nevertheless, the Mishnah Berurah discourages carrying in such an eruv, since many Rishonim hold that an eruv in such a place is not acceptable (364:8; Bi’ur Halacha to 345:7 and to 364:2). There are different opinions as to whether Sefardim may follow this leniency, although the prevalent practice today is for them to be lenient.

Modern City

Most large, metropolitan areas today are populated by more than 600,000 people. Some authorities still define many of our metropolitan areas as a karmelis, based on the following definition: Any area less concentrated than the Jews’ encampment in the desert is considered a karmelis. Since this encampment covered approximately 50 square miles (or approximately 130 sq km), these authorities permit an eruv in any place where the population density is less than 600,000 people per 50 square miles (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:87). However, other authorities consider any metropolitan area or megalopolis containing 600,000 people to be a reshus harabim, regardless of its population density. Does this mean that there is no heter with which to construct an eruv in a large city? Indeed, many authorities contend this (Shu”t Mishnas Rav Aharon 1:2).

A Large Breach

Nevertheless, the Chazon Ish presented a different approach to permit construction of an eruv in a large contemporary city. His approach requires an introduction.

In general, an area enclosed by three or four full walls cannot be a reshus harabim (Eruvin 22a). What is the halacha if each of the three sides of an area is enclosed for most of its length – however, there are large gaps in the middle of the enclosure? For example, if walls or buildings enclose most of an area – however, there are gaps in the middle of the area between the buildings, where streets cross the city blocks. Does the area in the middle, surrounded by buildings and other structures, still qualify as a reshus harabim, or has it lost this status, because it is mostly “enclosed”?

The basis for the question is the following: There is a general halachic principle that an area that is mostly enclosed is considered enclosed, even in its breached areas (Eruvin 5b, et al.). For example, a yard enclosed by hedges tall enough to qualify as halachicwalls may be considered enclosed, despite open areas between the hedges, since each side is predominantly enclosed by either hedges or a house.

On the other hand, a breach wider than ten amos (about 17 feet, or about 5 meters) invalidates the area from being considered enclosed. Therefore, one may not carry within a fenced-in area that has a 20-foot opening, without enclosing the opening in some way.

The issue that affects the modern city is the following: Granted that a large breach needs to be enclosed to permit carrying within the area, is this required min haTorah or only rabbinically? If one encloses a large area with walls that run for miles but have large gaps, is this area considered enclosed min haTorah on the basis of its walls, or is it considered open because of its gaps?

This question was debated by two great nineteenth-century authorities, Rav Efrayim Zalman Margoliyos of Brody, known as the Beis Efrayim, and Rav Yaakov of Karlin, the Mishkenos Yaakov. The Beis Efrayim contended that a breach invalidates an enclosure only because of a rabbinic prohibition and the area is considered enclosed min haTorah, whereas the Mishkenos Yaakov held that the breach renders the area as a reshus harabim min haTorah. The lengthy correspondence between these two authorities covers a host of other eruv-related issues (Shu”t Beis Efrayim, Orach Chayim # 25, 26; Shu”t Mishkenos Yaakov, Orach Chayim, #120- 122).

What difference does it make whether this area is considered open min haTorah or miderabbanan, since either way one must enclose the area?

The difference is highly significant. If we follow the lenient approach, then even if the area in the middle meets all the other requirements of a reshus harabim, the Beis Efrayim contends that it loses its status as a reshus harabim because of its surrounding walls, notwithstanding their large gaps – in which case it may be possible to construct an eruv.

On the other hand, the Mishkenos Yaakov contends that this area is considered a reshus harabim because of the gaps, and we ignore the walls. According to the Mishkenos Yaakov, it is impossible to construct an eruv around this area.

How one rules in this dispute between these two gedolim affects the issue of constructing an eruv in a contemporary city. Most modern cities contain city blocks that consist predominantly of large buildings with small areas between the buildings, and streets that are much narrower than the blocks. One can easily envision that both sides of the street are considered enclosed min haTorah, according to the Beis Efrayim’s analysis. This, itself, does not sufficiently enclose our area, because the street is open at both ends. However, at certain points of the city, the street dead-ends into a street that is predominantly enclosed with buildings, fences, walls or something else. The result is that this section of the city can now be considered min haTorah as enclosed on three sides by virtue of the parallel buildings along both sides of the street and those at its dead end. Since, according to the Beis Efrayim, this area now qualifies as an enclosed area min haTorah, he also holds that the entire area is considered a reshus hayachid min haTorah.

The Chazon Ish now notes the following: Once you have established that this part of the city qualifies as a reshus hayachid min haTorah, this area is now considered completely enclosed halachically. For this reason, other city blocks that are predominantly enclosed on both sides of the street that intersect with this first area are now also considered to be enclosed areas min haTorah. As a result, a large section of most cities is considered min haTorah enclosed on at least three sides, according to this calculation. Although one cannot carry in these areas miderabbanan because of the “breaches” in their “enclosures,” they are no longer reshus harabim min haTorah, and one can, therefore, enclose the entire area with tzuros hapesach (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 107:5). As a result of this calculation, the Chazon Ish concludes that many large cities today qualify as a karmelis, and therefore one may construct tzuros hapesach to permit carrying there.

However, other authorities reject this calculation for a variety of reasons. Some contend, as explained above, that the gaps between the buildings invalidate the enclosure, thus leaving the area a reshus harabim, which cannot be enclosed (Shu”t Mishkenos Yaakov; Shu”t Mishnas Rav Aharon).

In conclusion, we see that a dispute among poskim over eruvin is not a recent phenomena. In practice, what should an individual do? The solution proposed by Chazal for all such issues is “Aseh lecha rav, vehistaleik min hasafek – Choose someone to be your rav, and remove yourself from doubt.” Your rav, or your halachic authority, can guide you as to whether it is appropriate to carry within a certain eruv, after considering the halachic basis for the specific eruv’s construction, the level of eruv maintenance, and family factors. Never underestimate the psak and advice of your rav!

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