Pouring While It’s Hot

Photo by Adam Davis from FreeImages

The end of the article answers the question: “Why are we discussing this topic the week of Parshas Matos?”

Question #1: Warming bottles

“On Shabbos, may I pour hot water onto a baby bottle containing milk or formula?”

Question #2: Sinks

“May I use my sink for both milchig and fleishig?”

Question #3: Iruy into liquids

“Does iruy cook when it falls into a liquid?”

Question #4:

“Why are we discussing this topic the week of Parshas Matos?”

Introduction:

Although our opening questions may appear unconnected, they all relate to a halachic topic called iruy kli rishon. This term refers to the halachic status of food or vessels that were heated by having hot liquid poured on them. For example, preparing a cup of tea by pouring hot water from a kettle or urn into a cup containing a tea bag is a typical case of cooking by use of iruy. Pouring hot chicken soup directly from the pot into a milchig bowl is another situation of iruy kli rishon. The word iruy means pouring,and the term iruy kli rishon means that the liquid was poured from a pot or pan that was heated directly by the heat of a fire. This article will discuss the background and the basic rules of iruy kli rishon and some halachic ramifications. As usual, our purpose is not to paskin everyone’s halachic queries. That is the role of each individual’s rav or posek.

Iruy kli rishon affects many common situations, including, for example:

The status of milchig and fleishig items in your kitchen.

How one may warm food on Shabbos.

Whether a food or utensil became non-kosher.

How to kasher utensils that became non-kosher.

Kashrus Jargon

To make this presentation clearer, let us clarify four relevant terms:

Yad soledes bo

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

Kdei kelipah

At times, we will refer to something being cooked or absorbed kdei kelipah. For the purposes of this article, this means that, at the point of contact of the heat, some cooking or flavor absorption transpires, but does not extend further.

Kli rishon

A kli rishon is a pot, pan or other vessel that was heated directly from a source of heat, such as on a stove, inside an oven, or any other way.

Kli sheini

A kli sheini is the platter or bowl into which food is poured from a kli rishon.

An anecdote from the Gemara will clarify the status of a kli sheini.

Although most forms of hot bathing are prohibited on Shabbos, it is permitted to bathe in hot natural springs, such as those found in Iceland, Teverya, and Hot Springs, Arkansas. The Gemara (Shabbos 40b) records that Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, also known as Rebbe, was bathing in the hotsprings of Teverya on Shabbos and was being waited on by his disciple, Rav Yitzchak bar Avdimi. Rav Yitzchak bar Avdimi had a flask of oil for Rebbe to use for anointing after he finished bathing, and Rav Yitzchak wanted to warm the flask so that the oil would be more comfortable. Rav Yitzchak asked Rebbe whether he could warm the oil in the hot spring; Rebbe replied that he may not. Then Rebbe suggested a different approach: Rav Yitzchak bar Avdimi could fill a container with hot spring water, then place the container of oil inside the larger container of hot water.

Tosafos (ad loc.) asks why the latter procedure is permitted, whereas placing the flask of oil directly in the hot spring is prohibited. In both instances, the oil is heated by water from a natural hot spring. Tosafos answers that when the vessel itself is on the fire or inside the oven, the heat of the liquid is maintained by the hot walls of the vessel, and that is why bishul occurs. However, when the container itself was never directly warmed – what we call a kli sheini – the walls of the vessel diminish the heat. As a result, the oil will not cook from the heat of the water. In other words, cooking in a vessel requires not only sufficient heat, but that the walls of the pot or vessel maintain the heat. Therefore, cooking can occur in a kli rishon but not in a kli sheini.

The Mishnah

Here is another distinction between kli rishon and kli sheini: The Mishnah (Shabbos 42a) teaches that if a pot was removed from the fire on Shabbos, one may not add spices, because this constitutes bishul. However, one may add spices to a platter containing food that was poured out of the original pot. The second case is a kli sheini, meaning that the platter itself was never on the fire. Again, the indication is that cooking requires the walls themselves to have been heated.

Iruy kli rishon

We see that whereas a kli rishon is capable of cooking, a kli sheini is not. What about pouring from a kli rishon, which is an in-between level? The hot stream coming from iruy kli rishon has no vessel walls to maintain its heat – but it also has no walls cooling down the heated product.  Do the heated walls of the kli rishon cause the cooking, in which case iruy kli rishon would not be considered cooking, or is it the cooling kli sheini’s walls that prevents cooking from transpiring, in which case iruy kli rishon would be considered cooking? This question is debated extensively by the rishonim and early poskim.

Sibling rivalry

Among the main players who weigh in on the discussion are two of Rashi’s illustrious grandsons, the Rashbam and Rabbeinu Tam (Tosafos, Zevachim 95b). The Rashbam maintained that iruy does not cook, just as a kli sheini does not. His younger brother, Rabbeinu Tam, disputed this, and contended that iruy kli rishon can cook, at least to a certain extent.

Among the Baalei Tosafos, we find a further dispute regarding whether Rabbeinu Tam held that iruy kli rishon cooks and causes absorption of flavor through the entire product or only kdei kelipah. We will be assuming the second of these approaches, which is held by the majority of authorities.

The background behind this discussion takes us to a different passage of Gemara.

Who wins?

Within the context of a hot substance falling on a cold one, or vice versa, we find a dispute in the Gemara (Pesachim 75b-76a) between the great amora’im, Rav and Shmuel, as to who “wins” – the one on top or the one on the bottom. As explained by Rashi, the Gemara teaches:

If hot food fell into hot food, such as hot meat fell into hot milk, or when one item was kosher and the other not, everyone agrees that the resultant mixture is non-kosher. The flavors of the two products became mixed because of the heat, and the result is no longer kosher.

If both food items were cold, and one can separate the two products, that which was originally permitted remains so.

The dispute between Rav and Shmuel is when one food is hot and the other cold. Rav contends that when the upper one is hot, the flavor of one food mixes into the other, rendering them both non-kosher; however, when the lower one is hot and the upper is cold, the flavors do not mix. Therefore, if the foods did not become mixed, the kosher one remains kosher. This is referred to as ila’ah gavar, literally, the upper one is stronger.

Shmuel rules that when the lower item is hot, we rule that the flavors mix, and everything becomes non-kosher. However, when only the upper one is hot, it cools off when it mixes into the lower one. This is referred to as tata’ah gavar, meaning, “the lower one is stronger.” The Gemara concludes that, according to Shmuel, when a hot substance falls into a cold substance, there is a mixing of flavors on a thin layer of the food, which is called kdei kelipah. Therefore, a thin layer is sliced off the food at the point of contact, since that layer absorbed non-kosher flavor. The rest of the food remains kosher. This ruling will be a major factor in our discussion.

Rashi notes that, although in matters of kashrus and other laws called issur veheter we usually rule according to Rav and against Shmuel, in this particular debate we rule according to Shmuel. The reason is because the Gemara notes that two different beraisos, teachings from the tanna’im, ruled like Shmuel. Thus, most of the rest of our discussions assume that tata’ah gavar.

Let us now return to the dispute between Rabbeinu Tam and his older brother, the Rashbam, concerning whether iruy is considered to have cooked something. Some authorities, following the approach of Rabbeinu Tam, contend that just as Shmuel ruled that when one pours a hot food onto a cold one, we assume that kdei kelipah became absorbed, when pouring hot water onto a cold food (such as a teabag) on Shabbos; we must assume that a kdei kelipah becomes cooked. Thus, it is forbidden, according to Rabbeinu Tam, to pour hot water onto cold, uncooked food on Shabbos. The consensus of halachic authority is to accept this ruling and to prohibit pouring hot water from a kli rishon onto cold, uncooked food on Shabbos.

Kdei kelipah

Above, we noted that when a hot substance falls into something cold, the hot substance is absorbed into the cold one to a depth of a thin layer of food. One question to resolve is whether this ruling is min haTorah oronly miderabbanan. A prominent early acharon, the Magen Avraham (467:33), contends that this ruling (that a layer of the cold food becomes prohibited) is only a chumra be’alma, meaning that min haTorah no absorption takes place, but that Chazal prohibited kdei kelipah.

Despite the Magen Avraham’s position, it is evident from many rishonim that they understood that kdei kelipah is prohibited min haTorah.

Baby bottle

At this point, let us examine our opening question:

“On Shabbos, may I pour hot water onto a baby bottle full of milk?”

We have learned that when pouring hot water from a kli rishon, the outer surface of the food may become cooked.

However, let us think for a moment about our question. Iruy potentially can cook only the outer surface, which, in this case, is the bottle itself. Observation tells us that, even assuming that vessels can become “cooked,” bottles do not become cooked by pouring boiling water on them, since they are too hard to become changed, either physically or chemically, by this amount of heat. Furthermore, the milk inside the bottle is not in the surface kdei kelipah, and, therefore, although the milk inside the bottle will become warm or even hot, it is not being cooked. Consequently, it is permitted to warm baby’s bottle on Shabbos by pouring hot water onto the outside of the bottle.

Iruy into liquids

Let us move on to the next of our opening questions: “Does iruy cook when it falls into a liquid?”

We learned that iruy kli rishon causes a small degree of absorption, and, according to Rabbeinu Tam, it also cooks. At this point, I raise a question: Perhaps this is true only when the hot water is poured onto a solid food or a vessel? Could one argue that no cooking takes place when one pours from a kli rishon into a bowl of liquid?

Why should there be a difference between a solid and a liquid? When one pours directly into a liquid, what one pours immediately disperses into the liquid into which it falls. Perhaps all the heat that would cause absorption kdei kelipah dissipates throughout the liquid and, consequently, no cooking takes place. Indeed, we find rishonim who espouse this position (Tosafos, Pesachim 40b s.v. Ha’ilpeis). Nevertheless, this is not a universally held position, and the consensus of later authorities is that we do not differentiate between liquids and solids: In all instances, we conclude that iruy kli rishon does cause some cooking (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav, Yoreh Deah 68:9 s.v. Hadin Hashelishi).

Hot potato

At this point, we can explain a different halachic question: A hot potato is on my plate, which is a kli sheini since it was not on the fire. May I place uncooked seasoning onto the potato on Shabbos?

We learned above that I am permitted to put uncooked spices into a kli sheini. It would appear, then, that I am permitted to add raw spices to my hot potato, which is sitting in a kli sheini. Indeed, we find major authorities who seem to agree that this is considered a case of a kli sheini (see, for example, Rema, Yoreh Deah 94:7).

Nevertheless, many authorities disagree with this conclusion (Maharshal, Yam shel Shelomoh, Chullin 8:71). They note the following: Tosafos explained that the difference between a kli rishon and a kli sheini is that the cooler walls of the kli sheini are reducing the heat; this prevents cooking from taking place.

However, a hot potato on a plate is not being cooled down by the plate. Since it touches the plate on only a minimal amount of its area, perhaps the potato itself retains the halachic status of a kli rishon. This is referred to as davar gush, a solid food not having the halachic advantages of a kli sheini. Most of the commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch rule that, generally, we should be concerned about both approaches: that of the Rema,who considers this a kli sheini; and that of the Maharshal, who considers this a kli rishon. As a practical matter, this means that one usually treats a davar gush not as a kli sheini but as a kli rishon (Shach, Yoreh Deah 105:8; Taz, Yoreh Deah105:4; Magen Avrohom, Orach Chayim 318:45).

Sinks

At this point, let us examine another of our opening questions:

“May I use my sink for both milchig and fleishig?”

The question here is as follows: A sink does not have its own heating element. As such, it is never a kli rishon, but qualifies either as an iruy situation or as a kli sheini. We learned above that iruy can cause cooking and absorption, at least kdei kelipah. For these reasons, many authorities contend that someone who has only one sink in the kitchen should treat it as treif and use either dishpans or something similar and avoid putting dishes directly onto the sink surface (see, for example, Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok 2:100). On the other hand, based on an extensive analysis of the halachic sources, one major authority concludes that using a sink for both milchig and fleishig does not meet the characteristics of iruy kli rishon and is permitted (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:42). I refer our readers to their own halachic authority for a practical ruling.

Koshering

At this point, let us examine the last of our opening questions:

Why are we discussing this topic the week of Parshas Matos?

After the Bnei Yisroel’s miraculous victory over the nation of Midyan, they were commanded regarding the spoils that they had now acquired: Concerning the gold and the silver; the copper, the iron, the tin and the lead: any item that was used in fire needs to be placed in fire to become pure – yet, it must also be purified in mikveh water. And that which was not used in fire must pass through water (Bamidbar 31:22-23). Here the Torah introduces the concept of kashering vessels that have absorbed non-kosher foods. In this instance, the vessels of Midyan had been used for non-kosher; could the Jews use them? The answer is that they could kasher each item in a way that expunges the non-kosher absorption, and the vessel would become kosher. As Rashi explains the posuk, any item that was used directly in fire needs to be placed directly in fire to become kosher. And that which was not used in fire directly, but was used to cook with hot water on top of the fire must pass through water that was heated directly by a fire, to kasher it.

Does something that absorbed non-kosher via iruy require kashering? According to the conclusion above, it does – since we assume that iruy kli rishon causes some absorption into the walls of the vessel. But it can be kashered through iruy kli rishon (Tosafos, Shabbos 42b s.v. Aval).

Conclusion

We now have some understanding of a complicated halachic issue with all sorts of ramifications. It provides an appreciation how much one’s rav or posek must keep in mind every time he answers one of our questions. Certainly, this is a time to value his scholarship and his making himself available when we need him.

Erasing on Shabbos

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Question: Erasing off my hand

On Friday, I wrote a short reminder on my hand. May I rub it off on Shabbos?

Introduction:

In a previous article, we analyzed the prohibition of writing on Shabbos. We discovered that this melacha was performed in the process of building the mishkan – either when they marked the boards, to make sure that they were placed in the proper location, or, according to another opinion, when they kept records. This does not explain why the activity of erasing, mocheik, is a melacha. Rashi (73a) explains that erasing is a melacha because sometimes the person doing the marking made an error that required correction. Thus, the erasing was in order to write the correct numbering. This leads directly to our next point:

Erasing in order to write

When the Mishnah lists the various melachos of Shabbos, it states, “There are 39 categories of melacha: Someone who plants, or plows, or reaps, or gathers, or threshes, or winnows, or selects, or grinds, or sifts, or kneads, or bakes. Someone who shears wools, or launders it, or cards it, or dyes it, or spins… someone who traps a deer, or slaughters it, or skins it… or tans the hide, or smooths it, or cuts it to size, or writes two letters, or erases with the intent of writing two letters, or builds, or razes, or extinguishes, or someone who kindles.” The amount of detail for the melacha of erasing, relative to the other melachos, stands out; most of the melachos are described in Hebrew by one word, without referencing another melacha or a quantity. Yet, when mentioning the melacha of mocheik, erasing, the Mishnah limits the melacha to someone who “erases with the intent of writing two letters.” To explain why the Mishnah uses this unusual way of describing mocheik requires some introduction:

1. When discussing the laws of Shabbos, Chazal were careful to use two terms: chayov, culpable, and patur, exempt. Chayov means that, when the Sanhedrin was fully functional, these acts were punishable, and, when performed negligently, require the offering of a korban chatos.

2. A principle germane to all the laws of Shabbos is that someone violates Shabbos min haTorah only when the action has a direct, positive result. If the act appears to be unconstructive, it is prohibited only because of a rabbinic injunction and not min haTorah. For example, digging a hole because of a need for fill dirt to cover a spill or the exposed roots of a plant is exempt min haTorah from violating the melacha of choreish, plowing. This is because creating this hole in the ground is not a positive act. Digging a holeis a Torah violationonly when it is either part of an act of plowing – in order to plant or otherwise benefit a plant –  in which case it constitutes the melacha of choreish;or when it is part of a construction, in which case it constitutes the melacha of boneh, building. In both of these instances, the hole is itself beneficial.

Erasing does not, in and of itself, provide benefit. It is considered beneficial when (1) you are interested in writing on the paper and to do so you need to erase something, or (2) when there is a mistake on the paper that you need to correct by erasure. When the erasing itself does not provide benefit, the act violates Shabbos only because of a rabbinic injunction. This is why the Mishnah states that erasing is chayov when it is performed in order to write. This type of erasing is a positive act and, therefore, a Torah violation.

–When the erasure is “positive,” but you do not intend to write anything – as in the second case mentioned above – is that chayov for the melacha of erasing? That is a dispute among poskim that we will discuss shortly.

Why two letters?

The Mishnah states that violating the melacha of erasing requires the intention to write two letters on the erasure. As the Mishnah states, someone is chayov for violating the melacha of koseiv only when he writes two letters. Writing less than two letters is not substantive enough for a person to be culpable. Since erasing alone is not considered a constructive act, the person is liable only when the erasure clears enough area to write two letters.

Note that it does not state in the Mishnah how many letters must be erased to violate the melacha. It states how much space must be erased – enough space to write two letters.

What is the halacha if someone erased just one letter, but it was large enough to write two letters in its place? Is the person who performed this act guilty of violating the melacha? The Mishnah implies that this act would be chayov.

This question is raised by the Tosefta, which states that, indeed, someone who erased a letter large enough to write two letters, is culpable for violating the melacha when his intention is to write two letters in its place. The Tosefta (Shabbos 12:7, quoted by the Gemara) notes that this results in an anomalous conclusion: “Someone who writes one large letter, even though it is as big as two letters, is exempt from having committed a transgression on Shabbos, whereas someone who erases one letter that is as big as two letters desecrates Shabbos. Rabbi Menachem berabbi Yosi said: This is a stringency of erasing that does not exist with writing.”

Erasing stricter than writing?!

The Tosefta is emphasizing that although, in general, there are more ways of violating the melacha of writing than there are of violating the melacha of erasing, this is an instance in which someone could be chayov for erasing, whereas a parallel act of writing would not be chayov.

Erasing scribble

Actually, there are at least two other instances when erasing is treated more strictly than writing. One situation is that of someone who erased scribble in order to write in its place. Since the goal of the melacha of erasing is to write, it makes no difference whether someone erased letters or scribble – in both instances he is chayov for violating the Torah’s melacha (Rosh, Shabbos 7:9; Tur, Orach Chayim 340). On the other hand, someone who scribbles does not violate the melacha of writing min haTorah, since he did not write any form of communication.

Left-handed erasing

Here is yet another case in which erasing is treated more strictly than writing. Although we learned in a previous article that someone who writes with his non-dominant hand has not violated the Torah prohibition of writing, since this is not the usual way to write, this rule applies only to melacha activities that require dexterity. According to most authorities, erasing is not considered a melacha that requires such dexterity, and, therefore, someone who erases with his non-dominant hand violates the melacha min haTorah, assuming that he is erasing for the purpose of writing two letters (Chayei Odom 9:2; Mishnah Berurah 340:22; Shu”t Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim 209:9). We should note that one early acharon, the Elyah Rabbah (340:11), appears to disagree, suggesting that there is no difference between writing and erasing in this regard.

Permanence

Germane to writing, the Mishnah (Shabbos 104b) teaches: “Someone who writes two letters… is chayov, whether he writes with ink, with a paint pigment, with sikra [a red dye], with tree-exudate gum, with ferrous sulfate, or with anything else that makes a permanent impression.”

This requirement – that one is chayov for the melacha only if performed with, or on, an item that results in permanent writing – holds true both for the melacha of writing and for the melacha of erasing. In other words, someone who erased writing that is temporary, or that was written on material that is not lasting, does not violate the melacha of erasing min haTorah. For example, if someone erases writing on a leaf that soon will dry up, he violates a rabbinic injunction but is not chayov (see Tosefta, Shabbos 12:7).

There is a halachic curiosity here: Since the melacha of erasing is for the purpose of writing, or alternatively, when the erasing itself creates something positive, why is this melacha violated only when erasing permanent writing? Erasing temporary writing is also necessary, sometimes, to accomplish a positive result, whether it is to write in its place or for a different positive purpose.

I have not found this question asked by the traditional authorities. It seems to me that the answer is that erasing something temporary is not significant enough to constitute a violation of a Torah law.

Erasing one letter

I mentioned above that the Mishnah implies, and the Tosefta states explicitly, that someone who erases one letter that is large enough to write two letters in its place, with the intent of writing two letters there, is liable for erasing on Shabbos. The Sefas Emes (Shabbos 75b) queries whether someone who erased a space large enough to write two letters, but his intention is to write only one letter, is chayov or not. He does not reach a definite conclusion.

Correction fluid

Using correction fluid (often called “Wite-Out,” which is the brand name of one such product), when done to enable rewriting, is prohibited min haTorah.

Coating white

The Pri Megadim (Mishbetzos Zahav 340:1) rules that if someone takes a dark piece of wood or other material and whitewashes its surface so that he can write on it, he violates mocheik min haTorah – because this act is equivalent halachically to erasing a dark surface for the purpose of writing on it.

Erasing a tattoo

One acharon discusses whether erasing a tattoo on Shabbos violates the melacha of mocheik. He rules that to do this on a Jew is a violation of Shabbos min haTorah – according to the authorities who hold that an erasure for a positive benefit other than writing is chayov. However, erasing a non-Jew’s tattoo is not a violation of mocheik, according to the Minchas Chinuch. (I am unsure how a tattoo can be erased. I have been told that there are several methods, such as using lasers to break down the ink, or rubbing salt or lemon juice and then applying some ointment.)

Ink on sikra

The Gemara (Gittin 19a) teaches that someone who writes with dark ink on top of writing that was red violates two melachos: erasing and writing. His act is considered to have erased the original red writing and then to have written in dark ink on top of the erasure.

Ches and two zayins

In the Ashkenazi script used for sifrei Torah, the letter ches is written as two zayins with a tiny cap (similar to an upside-down “v”) connecting them. The Gemara rules that someone who removes this “cap,” thereby creating two zayins, is chayov. The Bavli (104b) rules that he violated one melacha, whereas the Yerushalmi (7:2) rules that he violated both koseiv and mocheik in doing this. Similarly, the Yerushalmi holds that someone who scraped off the corner of a dalet, thereby making it into a reish, violated both melachos, koseiv and mocheik.

Crying over spilled ink

Someone spilled ink intentionally onto a written passage so that it can no longer be read. Does this constitute the melacha of erasing min haTorah? It would appear that it violates the melacha only as a rabbinic injunction, since no improvement resulted from his action (Shu”t Maharshag 2:41).

Erasing wet ink

The authorities disagree as to whether erasing ink or other pigment that has not yet dried violates the melacha of erasing min haTorah. Some contend that this is not chayov, because the writing is not yet permanent; at this stage, it can easily smear and become illegible (Minchas Chinuch, Koseiv #10; Shu”t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim 1:65).

Erasing on Yom Tov

Writing and erasing are both prohibited on Yom Tov, although kindling a fire for warmth or cooking is permitted. This has an interesting application: Is it permitted to use newspaper to kindle a fire on Yom Tov? Is burning the writing on the paper considered erasing? Certainly, this does not constitute erasing min haTorah, since you will not have any paper to write on when you are finished, and therefore the results are not considered positive, as explained above. Despite that fact, the Pri Megadim (Mishbetzos Zahav 511:2) prohibits burning paper that has lettering on it on Yom Tov, because it is considered mocheik miderabbanan.Although cooking and related food preparatory melachos are permitted on Yom Tov, erasing for a non-food purpose is not.

Only in order to write?

Above, I quoted a statement of the Tosefta that erasing a large letter so that you can write two letters in its place is chayov. As a rule, erasing violates Shabbos min haTorah because it is a preparatory melacha to writing. Is this a concept unique to the melacha of erasing, or is it part of the general rule that a melacha must have a positive result to be chayov, and erasing does not usually have, in and of itself, a positive result?

This question appears to be the subject of a dispute between major authorities.

Here is an example of a case that is affected by this dispute. Someone has a mezuzah, sefer Torah or Tefillin in which an extra letter is written. As is, it cannot be used until the extra letter is erased, but once the letter is removed, it is perfectly kosher. Thus, erasing the letter is not for the purpose of writing, but renders a tikun, a positive result. The Pri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 340:7), suggests that erasing the letter is prohibited min haTorah, whereas, according to Tosafos, as explained by Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Gilyon Hashas, Shabbos 73b s.v. Vetzarich), it is not. Tosafos appears to understand that since the melacha of mocheik in the mishkan was in order to rewrite, that is the only category of erasing that is prohibited min haTorah; the Pri Megadim assumes that any erasing that produces a positive result is included in the Torah violation.

Evidence to the Pri Megadim’s position can be rallied from a passage of Gemara (Shabbos 149a) which prohibits reading a list of guests that you intend to invite on Shabbos or a list of courses that you intend to serve. This prohibition is because of a rabbinic concern that the host may realize that he invited too many guests (or have too many courses) and decide to erase a name from the list, so that the butler does not go to invite that guest. (Apparently, invitations were neither printed nor delivered before Shabbos, but were delivered orally via courier on Shabbos itself.)

The Gemara’s statement implies that the erasing would be prohibited min haTorah because it produces a positive result. If not, and the erasing is prohibited only miderabbanan, we would not make a gezeirah in this instance since the concern is only that someone will violate a rabbinic prohibition (Chazon Yechezkel 12:7; see there that he endeavors to answer the question).

Wiping ink off your hands

Is wiping ink off your hands prohibited because of mocheik?

There is a dispute among late poskim whether wiping writing or even smudges off your hands is prohibited because of mocheik. The Chayei Odom (Hilchos Netilas Yadayim 40:8) rules that if your hands are smudged on Shabbos, say, from pots, and there is a concern that washing netilas yadayim upon arising in the morning or prior to eating bread might remove the stains, it is still permitted to wash them since you are not trying to remove the smudges and it is not definite that they will be erased. (This is referred to in halachic parlance as eino miskavein without a pesik reisha.) The Chayei Odom forbids scrubbing your hands clean, because this constitutes mocheik – although he agrees that this does not violate mocheik min haTorah, but only miderabbanan, because you are not wiping off the smudge in order to write on your hands. (Indeed, if you were wiping your hands clean in order to write on them, this scrubbing would be prohibited min haTorah as mocheik.)

In a similar vein, the Minchas Shabbos (80:199) rules that on Friday you should be careful not to use ink or dyes that will remain on your hands on Shabbos. If you did use such ink or dye, and it is still on your hand on Shabbos, and you are embarrassed by it, he permits you to remove it on Shabbos because of kavod haberiyos, the basic dignity to which human beings are entitled. He quotes other authorities who prohibit removing the ink from your hands and even prohibit washing the stained parts of your hands under these circumstances, ruling that you should wrap the writing in cloth or bandages. (From a netilas yadayim perspective, this is permitted when you have an injury that you want to keep clean. It is a chiddush to apply that law to this case.)

However, the Maharsham (Kuntrus Ahavas Shalom, end of Minchas Shabbos #4) disagrees with both the Chayei Odom and the Minchas Shabbos, contending that although it is prohibited miderabbanan to erase any ink or smudges, even when you have no intent to write on that place, the rabbinic prohibition applies only to removing ink or dye, but not to removing dirt, which would usually be considered cleaning and not erasing.

Conclusion

The Torah commanded us concerning the halachos of Shabbos by giving us the basic categories that are prohibited. Shabbos is a day on which we refrain from altering the world for our own purposes; instead, the rule of Hashem becomes the focus of all of creation. We contribute to this by refraining from any activity that implies that we have control over the universe (Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch’s Commentary to Shemos 20:10).

By demonstrating Hashem’s rule even over non-exertive activities, such as erasing, we demonstrate and acknowledge the true Creator of the world and all it contains.

Writing on Shabbos

Question #1: Writing with my mouth!?

Is writing with a pen in my mouth considered writing?

Question #2: Disappearing ink

May I use disappearing ink on Shabbos?

Introduction:

Writing was one of the 39 melachos performed in the construction of the mishkan. According to most opinions, writing was performed when the boards of the mishkan were marked (see Shabbos 103a,b; Rashi 73a). The Mishnah (103a) mentions that the boards were marked in order to remember exactly in which location each board was placed.

Why mark?

The question is: Since the mishkan’s boards were identical, what difference should it make where each board is placed? This question is already raised by the Talmud Yerushalmi (Shabbos 12:3), which explains that there is halachic importance that each board be in the exact same place whenever the mishkan was reassembled.

Recordkeeping

There is a minority opinion that contends that the melacha of writing is derived from the recordkeeping performed for the mishkan (see Shu’t Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim 199:10).  Since the Mishnah already mentions the marking of the boards as a source for the melacha, how and why can any commentary suggest a different reason?

The answer is that this approach was suggested in order to resolve a conundrum. There are rishonim who clearly did not use the Mishnah’s example of marking the mishkan boards as the source of the melacha of writing. The acharonim who discuss this question note the following:

When the Mishnah states that the melacha of writing is derived from the labeling of the boards, it is explaining the opinion of a minority tanna, Rabbi Yosi, who holds that there is a melacha called rosheim, or marking. The Avnei Neizer demonstrates that there are rishonim who definitely hold that the tanna kamma who disagrees with Rabbi Yosi did not derive the melacha of writing from the boards; therefore, these rishonim must have another option from which the melacha of writing is derived. The Avnei Neizer suggests that the melacha was derived from the necessity of keeping good records regarding the contributions donated to the construction of the mishkan.

Minimum shiur

In general, there are two levels for violating any of the melachos of Shabbos. There is a greater degree of violation, called chayov, which includes performing a melacha with the minimum amount necessary, called the shiur. There is also a lesser degree of violation, called patur, which includes performing the melacha activity but in a quantitatively smaller way, called pachus mi’keshiur, literally, less than the minimal amount. Patur also includes activities that are forbidden to perform because of rabbinic injunction.

What difference does it make whether something is chayov, punishable, or patur, non-punishable? There are several halachic differences that result. Here are three:

1. At the time that the Sanhedrin existed, a special beis din, composed of 23 judges, would take forceful legal action against someone who desecrated Shabbos in a punishable way, but they would not take action if the act was non-punishable.

2. Is someone who violates Shabbos negligently required to offer a korban chatos as atonement? If the act is chayov, the perpetrator is obligated to offer a korban chatos. If not, it did not cross the threshold required to offer a korban chatos, notwithstanding that it violated a Torah law.

3. Under certain circumstances, it might be permitted to ask a gentile to perform the act.

Two letters

Regarding the melacha of writing, the violation of the higher degree is when someone writes two letters of the alphabet. Someone who writes only one letter has performed a non-punishable offense, unless his one letter completed a work, such as it was the last letter of a sefer Torah (Shabbos 104b).

Someone who writes one letter is not chayov for violating the melacha even when it is an abbreviation of a word. For example, in the time of the Mishnah, someone might mark a bin containing maaser produce with a single letter mem מ. Despite the fact that everyone seeing this single מ on a bin will realize that this is a code for an entire word, someone who marked the bin with a letter מ is not chayov for Shabbos desecration, but is guilty of a lesser prohibition, that of writing pachus mi’keshiur.

Notwithstanding that writing less than the shiur is deemed non-punishable, it is forbidden, and its violation should not be treated lightly.

Writing with my mouth!?

At this point, we can discuss our opening question: Is writing with a pen in my mouth considered writing?

The Mishnah (Shabbos 103b) mentions other instances in which the act is not chayov; for example, someone wrote two letters in different places in a way that they cannot be read together, or he wrote in a way that people usually do not write, such as by holding the pen in his mouth.

Writing with your mouth

We have all heard of extremely talented artists who succeed in doing things that we would consider well-nigh impossible, such as drawing paintings with their toes or with a quill held between their teeth.

Actually, this incredible skill is not new. In the days of the Rama of Fanu, an early- seventeenth century Italian gadol, mekubal, and posek, there was a scribe who wrote sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos by holding the quill in his mouth. He wrote gorgeous sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos, but the halachic question was whether they were kosher. Some background to the issue is necessary:

Write right

The Mishnah (103b) lists many cases that are not prohibited min haTorah, including writing by holding the pen between the toes, with one’s mouth, by holding it in the joint between his forearm and upper arm (the opposite side of the elbow), or by holding a pen upside-down (thus, writing by twisting your arm backwards – don’t try it, it is a rather uncomfortable way to write). The Gemara adds that someone who writes with his weaker hand, such as a right-handed person who writes with his left hand, is patur from performing a punishable melacha.

Our opening question is now clearer. The poskim rule that just as writing in an unusual fashion does not qualify as an act of writing to desecrate Shabbos (min haTorah), sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos written this way are not written correctly and are invalid. Similarly, the Rama of Fanu ruled that the beautiful sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos written by holding the quill in the sofer’s mouth are not kosher.

Can you write by erasing?

There are circumstances in which a letter is created by erasing. For example, the Hebrew letter reish needs to be written, and at the moment its place is taken by a dalet or a tav. If you erase the extra piece and thus create a reish, have you desecrated Shabbos?

Let me explain this question in more detail: There is a principle germane to the laws of sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos that the letters must be written and cannot be scraped into existence. This case shows a perfect example: someone wrote a dalet where a reish is required, then scraped off the extension and point of the dalet to construct a reish. This is referred to as chok tochos and, unfortunately, sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos so made are invalid.

The question is: Does the creation of a letter on Shabbos by chok tochos constitute writing germane to the laws of Shabbos, or does it constitute only a rabbinic violation?

The answer:

Several authorities, both rishonim and acharonim, rule that a letter written by erasing violates the melacha of writing on Shabbos min haTorah (Ran, Or Zarua, Shu’t Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim #207).

How were the boards marked?

I mentioned above the Mishnah that teaches that the boards were marked to be able to tell where each board should be placed when the mishkan was reassembled.

There is an interesting dispute between Rashi and the Rambam regarding how the boards of the mishkan were marked. According to Rashi (Shabbos 73a), each board was marked with a letter or symbol, with the two boards that were to be inserted into the same silver socket carrying the same symbol. The melacha is derived from the juxtaposition of two letters providing knowledge how to place the two boards.

The Rambam’s opinion is that the boards were numbered consecutively, using the same system we would use today to write numbers using Hebrew letters. Thus the eleventh board was mark יא and the nineteenth יט (Commentary to Mishnah Shabbos 12:3). He does not explain why we cannot derive that writing even one letter is chayov, since the first ten boards were identified with only one letter. It seems that, in his opinion, Chazal understood that one letter, which does not form a word in Hebrew, cannot be enough writing to be chayov. According to Rashi, the requirement to write two letters to be chayov is itself derived from the construction of the mishkan.

Writing other than Hebrew

Some rishonim contend that the prohibition against writing on Shabbos is violated min haTorah only when using Hebrew characters (Rabbeinu Yoel Halevi, quoted by Or Zarua, Hilchos Shabbos #76, and Hagahos Maimoniyos, Hilchos Sefer Torah 7:40 and Hilchos Tefillin, 1:70). According to these rishonim, writing in other alphabets is prohibited only because of a rabbinic injunction. Although most rishonim, including both Rashi (Shabbos 103a) and the Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 11:10), clearly dispute this, contending that writing in any alphabet is prohibited min haTorah, the Rema (Orach Chayim 306:11) rules according to the Or Zarua that writing in other alphabets is prohibited only because of a rabbinic injunction (cf. Beis Shmuel 126:1 and Magen Avraham 340:10). Upon this basis, some later poskim permit having a non-Jew use a western alphabet on Shabbos for the benefit of a Jew (See Shu’t Noda Biyehudah, Orach Chayim 2:29).

Permanence

A requirement of most melachos is that the act involved must have a lasting result. For example, tying a knot that can last for only a matter of hours is not prohibited on Shabbos.

Germane to the melacha of writing, the Mishnah (Shabbos 104b) discusses this topic:

Someone who writes with ink, with a paint pigment, with sikra (a red dye), with tree-exudate gum, or with ferrous sulfate, or anything else that makes a permanent impression (is chayov).

The Tosefta (Shabbos 12:6) and other authorities add several other instances that are considered permanent: writing with pencil, coal, paint, shoe polish, tree sap, pomegranate peels, or congealed blood. (It is perhaps significant that the Rambam omits the case of congealed blood, a point raised by the Biur Halacha [340:4 s. v. bamashkin]. Biur Halacha leaves this issue unresolved.)

Temporary writing:

On the other hand, the Mishnah also mentions several types of writing that are deemed temporary and therefore only rabbinic violations of Shabbos. The Mishnah (103b) records the following instances of writing that qualify as temporary: “Someone who wrote with liquids (Rashi explains this to mean a berry juice with a black color), with fruit juices, with mud (or, alternatively, he used his finger to mark lettering in dust [Rashi]), with the residue left in an inkwell, or with any other substance that does not last is patur.”

How permanent?

Two great recent authorities apparently were involved in debating this exact question. Sometime in 1977, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach paid a house visit to the posek of the eidah hachareidis, Rav Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss, and the two great authorities began discussing the question concerning how long a period of time must writing last to be considered permanent. Notwithstanding that both great leaders viewed one another with utmost respect, they disagreed very strongly over the halachic conclusions to be drawn from the evidence.

In a previous article discussing the laws of dyeing, we discussed how permanent you must color something to violate the laws of Shabbos min haTorah. Most authorities contend that violating the law min haTorah requires that the color last only to the end of Shabbos. Germane to the laws of writing, many authorities rule that the definition of permanent is the same: Any writing that will last until Shabbos is over is prohibited (see Shu’t Minchas Yitzchok 7:13-15). However, other authorities rule that writing is more lenient than dyeing, which means that the length of time that a written message needs to last to violate a Torah prohibition is longer than the length of time required for a dye (Minchas Shlomoh 1:91:11; Rashba, Shabbos 115b; Biur Halacha, 340:4 s. v. Bemashkin).

Why should writing require a longer amount of time to be prohibited min haTorah than dyeing?

In writing, the goal is to provide communication, either to yourself as a reminder, or to someone else. If a person is writing a reminder, he probably needs the information to last for a few days, and therefore writing in a way that will not last this long does not violate the Torah prohibition.

The Shab-eit

I have in my possession a pen called a Shab-eit. This product was manufactured to assist security or medical personnel who are required to write on Shabbos because of pikuach nefesh situations. The instructions on the pen quote the words of the Mishnah, “Someone who wrote with liquids, with fruit juices, with mud, with the residue left in an inkwell, or with any other substance that does not last is patur,” with the notation that usage of the Shab-eit is prohibited miderabbanan on Shabbos. The package insert explains that state that anything written with the pen will become hard to read and will completely disappear within a few days, depending on the type of paper on which it is written. They note that, based on the company’s experience, the writing will remain on regular writing paper for about three days, and therefore use of the Shab-eit is advised for medical and security personnel required to write things on Shabbos because of life-threatening emergencies. The recommendations are to write on Shabbos in as limited a way as one can using this marker, and after Shabbos to rewrite or photograph what was written. They also suggest checking before Shabbos to see how long it lasts on the type of paper that will be used. As I discovered, on some types of paper this ink will disappear within hours, potentially rendering it useless.

The package includes a note that using this pen on Shabbos in the above-mentioned circumstances is based on piskei halacha of Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach and Rav Mordechai Eliyahu, whose responsa on the subject they reference.

Prickly writer

The Mishnah (104b) teaches: “Someone who writes on his own skin is chayov. Someone who scratches on his skin: Rabbi Eliezer rules that he is chayov, whereas the Sages rule that he is patur.”

What is the dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and the Sages?

According to most opinions (Rashi on Rif, Ran, Reshash), they are discussing someone who took a pin or thorn and “wrote” by scratching some letters or a brief message into his skin. Rabbi Eliezer considers this to be an act of writing, whereas the Sages rule that he is exempt from a Torah violation for writing since this is not considered a normal way to write (Rambam, Ran). The halacha follows the Sages that he is exempt from a Torah violation (Rambam), although this is prohibited on Shabbos as a rabbinic injunction. It is also a valid question why this is not chayov for the Shabbos violation of drawing blood. I hope to answer this question in a future article.

Conclusion

The Torah commanded us concerning the halachos of Shabbos by giving us the basic categories that are prohibited. Shabbos is a day that we refrain from altering the world for our own purposes, but instead allow Hashem’s rule to be the focus of creation by refraining from our own creative acts (Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch’s Commentary to Shemos 20:10). By demonstrating Hashem’s rule even over non-exertive activities such as writing, we demonstrate and acknowledge the true Creator of the world and all it contains.

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

Photo by chopstix00 from FreeImages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BENEFITING FROM NON-JEWISH LABOR

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

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

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

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

REMOVING IMPEDIMENTS

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

PARTIAL BENEFIT

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

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

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

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

MUST I LEAVE HOME?

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHILDREN

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

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

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

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

COLD ADULTS

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

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

WIDESPREAD TRANSGRESSION

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

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

SHVUS DE’SHVUS

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

(A) If a person is slightly ill.

(B) There is a major need.

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

I will now explain these three situations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by s s from FreeImages

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.

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