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
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

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?


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
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:


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
.) 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

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:


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

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).


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

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?


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.


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
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
. 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?”


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,

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
: 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
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

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
. 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
. 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
, 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
, 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

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,

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

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
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

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).


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
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.


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.


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
). 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.


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).


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.


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,
decreed that the bed or table itself becomes muktzah in order
to ensure that someone does not repair it (Rema Orach Chayim 308:16).


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
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.).


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
, however, I may reinsert the leg without performing a proper repair, if
this is the most convenient table to use.


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).


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
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

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.).


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
. 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.


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
(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
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.


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.


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

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
313:7; Shu”t Shevet Halevi 6:32; cf. Shu”t Minchas
9:38, who prohibits).



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.


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

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.


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

#1: Cooked on Shabbos

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.

#2: Bishul akum equipment

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


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.).

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.

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.

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

for the ill

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
328:17), or whose discomfort is intense enough that he feels that
his entire body is affected (Rema ad locum).

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:

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

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:

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?

bishul akum affect pots?

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
applies only to food, but does not prohibit pots at all?

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.

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

in 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
(Rav Chasdai Kreskas), the Ritva, and the Nimukei Yosef, to list
some of the better-known gedolim who walked the streets of this city.

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
(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.

after the Toras Habayis saw the light of day, another work, called Bedek
(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.

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

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

mystery is discovered

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.

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

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

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

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

of the Re’ah

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

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
does not affect equipment.

The Bedek
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.

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
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

The Bedek
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
when the circumstances do not encourage social interaction – and
certainly the residual absorption in the pots is permitted.

The Bedek
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.


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
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
absorbed in it, and the pot must be koshered before it can be used

The Mishmeres
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

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

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
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
, 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
does require kashering.

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
(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).

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.


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.


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
and Rosh, Yoma 74b). Although most poskim are
lenient, one should preferably follow the more stringent opinion (Mishnah

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

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.)


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.


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,


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
, 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
, 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.)


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
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).


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


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
, 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. 


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
). 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
, Volume 5, pg. 20; see Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah pg.

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

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.


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

Sewing on Shabbos

Question #1: Stuffing a Pillow

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

Question #2: Stitches

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

Question #3: Miscellaneous

What do these questions have to do with one another?


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

Tofeir 101

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

Non-permanent sewing

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

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

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

Tightening stitches

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

Stuffing a pillow

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

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

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

Why can’t you stuff?

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

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

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


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

I. Extra stitches

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

II. Non-Jew

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

III. Late on Shabbos

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

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

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

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

Tied in knots

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

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

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


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

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

Using a Thermos on Shabbos

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

Question #1: Using a Thermos

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

Question #2: Wrapping a Thermos

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


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

Shehiyah – leaving food on the fire

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

1. Covering the fire

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

2. Adding raw meat

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

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

3. Cooked before Shabbos

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

Chazarah – warming food on Shabbos

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

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

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

Hatmanah – insulating

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

Before Shabbos

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

Partial hatmanah before Shabbos

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

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

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

Lid is not covered

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

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

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

Shabbos sleeve

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

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

On Shabbos

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

Kli rishon and sheini

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

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

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

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

Yad soledes bo

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

Using a thermos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In conclusion

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

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

Carrying in Public and the Use of an Eruv II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some authorities add additional requirements.

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

At this point, let us continue our discussion.

600,000 People

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

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

Modern City

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

A Large Breach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carrying in Public and the Use of an Eruv

Question #1:

“Is it a mitzvah to build an eruv?”

Question #2: Public or private ownership?

“Can I own a reshus harabim?”

Question #3:

“How does a little bit of wire enclose an area? Isn’t this a
legal fiction?”


In this week’s parsha, the Torah recounts the story of
the mann, including the unbecoming episode where some people attempted
to gather it on Shabbos. In the words of the Torah:

And Moshe said, “Eat it [the
that remained from Friday] today, for today is Shabbos to
Hashem. Today you will not find it [the mann] in the field. Six days you
shall gather it, and the Seventh Day is Shabbos – There will be none.”

And it was on the Seventh Day. Some
of the people went out to gather, and they did not find any.

And Hashem said to Moshe: “For how long
will you refuse to observe My commandments and My teachings? See, Hashem gave
you the Shabbos. For this reason, He provides you with two-day supply of
bread on the sixth day. On the Seventh Day, each person should remain where he
is and not leave his place” (Shemos 16:25- 29).

Although the Torah’s words “each person should remain where
he is and not leave his place” might be understood to mean that even leaving
one’s home is forbidden, the context implies that one may not leave one’s home while
the tools needed to gather the mann (Tosafos, Eruvin 17b).
The main prohibition taught here is to refrain from carrying an object from
one’s house or any other enclosed area (halachically called reshus
) to an area available to the general public, a reshus harabim.
Chazal further explain that moving an item in any way from a reshus
to a reshus harabim violates the Torah law, whether one
throws it, places it, hands it to someone else, or transports it in any other
way (Shabbos 2a, 96). Furthermore, we derive from other sources that one
may also not transport an item from a reshus harabim to a reshus
, nor may one transport it four amos (about seven feet) or
more within a reshus harabim (Shabbos 96b; Tosafos, Shabbos
2a s.v. pashat). Thus, carrying into, out of, or within a reshus
violates a severe Torah prohibition. For the sake of convenience, I
will refer to the transport of an item from one reshus to another or
within a reshus harabim as “carrying,” regardless of the method of

One should note that with reference to the melacha of
carrying on Shabbos, the terms reshus hayachid and reshus
do not relate to the ownership of the respective areas, but are
determined by the extent that the areas are enclosed and how they are used. A reshus
could certainly be public property, and there are ways whereby an
individual could own a reshus harabim.

Notwithstanding the Torah’s clear prohibition against
carrying into, from or within a reshus harabim, we are all familiar with
the concept of an eruv that permits carrying in areas that are otherwise
prohibited. You might ask, how can poles and wires permit that which is
otherwise prohibited min haTorah? As we will soon see, it cannot – and
the basis for permitting the use of an eruv is far more complicated.

We are also aware of controversies in which one respected
authority certifies a particular eruv, while others contend that it is
invalid. This is by no means a recent development. We find extensive disputes among
early authorities regarding whether one may construct an eruv in certain
areas. Some consider it a mitzvah to construct an eruv there, whereas
others contend that the very same “eruv” is causing people to sin.

An Old Machlokes

Here is one instance. In the thirteenth century, Rav Yaakov
ben Rav Moshe of Alinsiya wrote a letter to the Rosh explaining why he
forbade constructing an eruv in his town. In his response, the Rosh
contended that Rav Yaakov’s concerns were groundless, and that he should immediately
construct an eruv. Subsequent correspondence reveals that Rav Yaakov did
not change his mind and still refused to erect an eruv in his town.

The Rosh severely rebuked Rav Yaakov for this
recalcitrance, insisting that if Rav Yaakov persisted, he, the Rosh,
would place Rav Yaakov in cherem! The Rosh further contended that
Rav Yaakov had the status of a zakein mamrei, a Torah scholar who rules
against the decision of the Sanhedrin, which in the time of the Beis
constitutes a capital offense (Shu”t HaRosh 21:8). This
episode demonstrates that heated disputes over eruvin are by no means
recent phenomena.

Is It a Mitzvah?

Before I present the arguments for and against eruv manufacture
in the modern world, we should note that all accept that it is a mitzvah to
erect a kosher eruv when this is halachically and practically
possible, as the following anecdote indicates.

Rabbah the son of Rav Chanan asked
Abayei: “How can it be that an area in which reside two such great scholars
[Abayei and Abayei’s Rebbe] is without an eruv?” Abayei answered:
“What should we do? It is not respectful for my Master to be involved, I am too
busy with my studies, and the rest of the people are not concerned” (Eruvin

The commentaries note that Abayei accepted the position
presented by Rabbah that one should build an eruv. Abayei merely
deflected the inquiry by pointing out that no one was readily available to
attend to the eruv, and that its construction did not preempt other
activities: Abayei’s commitment to Torah study and the kovod haTorah of
his Rebbe. Indeed, halachic authorities derive from this Talmudic
passage that it is a mitzvah to erect an eruv whenever it is halachically
permitted (Tashbeitz 2:37, quoted verbatim by the Birkei Yosef, Orach
363:2). These rulings are echoed by such luminaries as the Chasam
(Shu”t Orach Chayim #99), the Avnei Neizer (Shu”t
Avnei Neizer
, Orach Chayim #266:4), the Levush Mordechai (Shu”t
Levush Mordechai, Orach Chayim
#4) and Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu”t Igros
Moshe, Orach Chayim
1:139:5 s.v. Velichora).

I mentioned before that the construction of an eruv
of poles and wire cannot permit carrying that is prohibited min haTorah.
If this is true, upon what basis do we permit the construction of an eruv?
To answer this question, we need to understand that not every open area is a reshus
– quite the contrary, a reshus harabim must meet very
specific and complex requirements, including:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some authorities add additional requirements.

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

Can One “Enclose” a Reshus Harabim?

As I mentioned earlier, carrying within a true reshus
is prohibited min haTorah – for this reason, a standard eruv
does not permit carrying in such an area (Eruvin 6b). Nevertheless,
large doors that restrict public traffic transform the reshus harabim
into an area that one can enclose with an eruv. According to some
authorities, the existence of these doors and occasionally closing them is
sufficient for the area to lose its reshus harabim status. (Rashi,
6b; however, cf. Rabbeinu Efrayim, quoted by Baal HaMaor,

Please Close the Door!

There are some frum neighborhoods in Eretz Yisroel
where a thoroughfare to a neighborhood or town is closed on Shabbos with
doors, in order to allow an eruv to be constructed around the area.
However, this approach is not practical in most places where people desire to
construct an eruv.

So what does one do if one cannot close the area with doors?

This depends on the following issue: Does the area that one
wants to enclose meet the requirements of a reshus harabim min
or is it only a karmelis? If the area is a reshus harabim
min haTorah and one cannot occasionally close the area with doors, then
there is no way to permit carrying in this area. One should abandon the idea of
constructing an eruv around this city or neighborhood (see Eruvin
6a; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 364:2). Depending on the circumstances,
one may still be able to enclose smaller areas within the city.

Tzuras Hapesach

However, if the area one wants to enclose does not qualify
as a reshus harabim, then most authorities rule that one may enclose the
area by using a tzuras hapesach (plural, tzuros hapesach) –
literally, “the form of a doorway.”(However, note that Shu”t
Mishkenos Yaakov
#120 s.v. Amnom and Shu”t Mishnas Rav Aharon #6
s.v. Kuntrus Be’Inyanei Eruvin
paragraph #2 both forbid using a tzuras
in many places that other poskim permit.)

A tzuras hapesach consists of two vertical side posts
and a horizontal “lintel” that passes directly over them, thus vaguely
resembling a doorway. According to halacha, a tzuras hapesach successfully
encloses a karmelis area, but it cannot permit carrying in a true reshus
(Eruvin 6a). Using tzuros hapesach is the least
expensive and most discreet way to construct an eruv. In a future
article, I hope to explain some common problems that can occur while
constructing tzuros hapesach and how to avoid them, and some important
disputes relating to their construction.

Let us review. Carrying can be permitted in a karmelis,
but not a reshus harabim, by enclosing the area with tzuros hapesach.
Therefore, a decisive factor as to whether one can construct an eruv is
whether the area is halachically a karmelis or a reshus
. If the area qualifies as a karmelis, then an eruv
consisting of tzuros hapesach permits one to carry; if it is a reshus
, then tzuros hapesach do not. The issues concerning the
definition of a reshus harabim form the basis of most controversies as
to whether a specific eruv is kosher or not.

I will continue this article next week, bli neder.

Who Drinks the Kiddush Wine in Shul?

In honor of Parshas Bereishis and the first Shabbos

Drinking in shul

Why is the Kiddush wine in shul given to a child?  If an adult is not permitted to drink before he has personally fulfilled Kiddush, can we cause a child to drink?


The underlying question here is the following: The Torah commands us not only to observe the mitzvos of the Torah, but also not to cause someone else to violate the Torah. This law prohibits even causing a child to violate the Torah, notwithstanding that a child himself is not required to observe the mitzvos. Furthermore, it applies even when the child is, unfortunately, not being raised in an observant way. It is therefore forbidden for someone who has a babysitting job to feed a Jewish child non-kosher food, or to serve non-kosher food to a Jewish adult in a nursing facility or to a Jewish child in a school cafeteria.

The source

There are three different places from which we derive that it is prohibited to cause a child to violate commandments of the Torah (Yevamos 114a). These hermeneutic allusions are in the context of the following three mitzvos:

(1) The prohibition against eating sheratzim, tiny creatures.

(2) The prohibition against eating blood.

(3) The prohibition for a kohen to come in contact with a corpse.

We will soon see the significance of the three sources.

What age child?

This law applies even to a child too young to understand what a mitzvah is (Magen Avraham 343:2). Therefore, one may not use a baby blanket or baby clothes made of shatnez (Shu”t HaRashba HaChadoshos #368; Shu”t Beis Yehudah, Yoreh Deah #45; Eishel Avraham [Butchatch], Orach Chayim 343:1). Similarly, one is prohibited to feed a newborn infant non-kosher food, unless it is a life-threatening emergency (Magen Avraham 343:2).

Based on the above sources, we can now appreciate our opening question. “Why is the Kiddush wine in shul given to a child?  If an adult is not permitted to drink before he has personally fulfilled Kiddush, can we cause a child to drink?” To explain this topic better, let us examine its halachic background.

Friday night Kiddush in shul

At the time of the Gemara, Kiddush was recited in shul Friday night because of visitors who would eat their meals in guest rooms that were located adjacent to the shul (see Pesachim 101a and Tosafos s.v. DeAchlu). The fact that the guests ate their meals nearby is significant because of the principle, ein Kiddush ela bimkom seudah — one fulfills the obligation for Kiddush only when it is recited or heard in the same place where one intends to eat one’s Shabbos repast. Someone who hears Kiddush but does not eat a “meal” where he heard it does not fulfill the mitzvah of hearing Kiddush. Discussing the details of ein Kiddush ela bimkom seudah requires a separate, lengthy article; but, for our purposes, we will say that most authorities conclude that eating a significant amount of food on which we recite a mezonos satisfies the requirement of a seudah.

A bit later in history

In the era of the Rishonim, several hundred years after the Gemara, no one ate Friday night meals in the shul building, yet the custom to recite Kiddush at the end of davening was still commonly observed. Although we find many authorities who ruled that one should not recite Kiddush under these circumstances, most communities continued the practice of reciting Kiddush in shul (Tur and Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 269).

Why do we continue to recite Kiddush?

If no one fulfills the mitzvah with the Kiddush recited in shul, why did the practice continue? This question is discussed by several of the Geonim and the Rishonim, and I will present here some of their approaches.

Rav Naturanai Gaon states that one should recite the Kiddush in shul because of the benefit that hearing Kiddush has for one’s vision. This idea is based on the Gemara’s statement that taking overly-long strides damages one’s vision, and that the Friday evening Kiddush restores the vision that has been lost (see Brachos 43b). Since not every household had wine on which to recite Kiddush, the custom developed to recite Kiddush in shul for this therapeutic purpose. It appears that, according to Rav Naturanai Gaon‘s reason, no one needs to drink the Kiddush wine in shul, since its purpose is not to fulfill the mitzvah.

The Tur objects

However, the Tur, who quotes Rav Naturanai Gaon, sharply disputes the reason. This is because the Gemara explains that the basis for Kiddush in shul is for guests and not the therapeutic reason of Rav Naturanai Gaon.

Another early authority, Rabbeinu Yonah, presents a different explanation for reciting Kiddush in shul, even though the reason mentioned by the Gemara no longer applies. Rabbeinu Yonah contends that the Kiddush was for the benefit of people who did not know how to recite Kiddush and who would simply not fulfill the mitzvah at all. When these people heard Kiddush in shul, they fulfilled the mitzvah min haTorah, notwithstanding the fact that they did not observe the mitzvah as Chazal instructed, since it was not Kiddush bimkom seudah (Rabbeinu Yonah, quoted by Rosh). Thus, Rabbeinu Yonah assumes that the requirement of Kiddush bimkom seudah is a rabbinic ordinance, and that we would recite the Kiddush in shul for the sake of those who would thereby fulfill the Torah mitzvah.

Not all authorities agree with this approach. The Rosh contends that the requirement of Kiddush bimkom seudah is min haTorah. Thus, simply hearing Kiddush without eating then and there does not fulfill any mitzvah and would, therefore, not provide a satisfactory reason to recite Kiddush in shul.

Other authorities explain that reciting Kiddush in shul has a status of a takkanah, a rabbinically-ordained practice that we continue to observe, even though the reason it was established no longer applies (Rashba and Ran, quoted by Beis Yosef). (We should note that although the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch discuss the practice and logistics of reciting Kiddush in shul, they both state that it is preferred not to recite Kiddush in shul. For this reason, many shuls do not recite Kiddush Friday night. However, where the custom is to recite Kiddush in shul, one should continue the practice.)

Kiddush catch-22

Regardless which rationale we use to explain why we recite Kiddush in shul, the Tur raises the following question: The halachah requires that someone drink from the Kiddush wine (Pesachim 105b; Eiruvin 40b), and also prohibits drinking before fulfilling the mitzvah of Kiddush. Since no one is eating in the shul building, no one fulfills the mitzvah with that Kiddush, because of ein Kiddush ela bimkom seudah. Thus, whoever drinks from the Kiddush wine in shul is drinking before he has fulfilled the mitzvah of Kiddush, which is prohibited; yet, someone must drink from the Kiddush wine.

To resolve this predicament, the Tur recommends that the Kiddush wine in shul be given to a child to drink, which, he notes, fulfills the requirement that someone drink from the Kiddush wine (Tur, Orach Chayim 269).

Kiddush conundrum

However, it is not clear how this innovation of the Tur resolves the predicament in a satisfactory way. How can we give a child the Kiddush wine? As we learned above, we are not permitted to cause a child to violate halachah – and he is drinking without fulfilling the mitzvah of Kiddush!

This difficulty is raised by the Beis Yosef, who suggests three solutions to the problem:

  • All three sources of the halacha not to cause a child to violate the Torah — not to eat tiny creatures, not to eat blood, and that a kohein not become tamei from a meis — are lo saaseh prohibitions of the Torah. There are halachic authorities who rule therefore that the proscription to cause a child to violate the Torah applies only to mitzvos of at least the level of a lo saaseh, but not to any prohibition that is considered halachically a lesser offense, such as an issur aseh or a mitzvas aseh, and that it certainly does not apply to a mitzvah miderabbanan (Hagahos Maimoniyos, Shabbos 29:40). Since Kiddush is a mitzvas aseh and not a lo saaseh, it is permitted to cause a child to violate its laws. As a result. some authorities permit causing a child to eat or drink before he has fulfilled the mitzvah of Kiddush.

Although this approach can be used to justify the Tur’s proposal, the Beis Yosef notes that many authorities reject this limitation and contend that one may not cause a child to violate any prohibited action. To justify the practice of giving the wine to a child according to their opinion, we need to find an alternative reason to explain why the shul Kiddush is given to a child. Therefore, the Beis Yosef presents two other approaches to explain the practice.

Not yotzei, but may drink

  • Although, in general, one may not drink before fulfilling the mitzvah of Kiddush, there is an opinion among Rishonim that one who recites Kiddush to benefit others may drink the wine of Kiddush, even when he is not now fulfilling the mitzvah (Rabbeinu Shemuel in the name of the Sar of Coucy [one of the Baalei Tosafos], quoted by Mordechai, Pesachim, Tosefes MeiArvei Pesachim, page 35a). The Beis Yosef explains that, although we do not usually follow this position, we may have the children rely on it, as a means of resolving what to do with the Kiddush

A third approach

  • The Beis Yosef presents a third approach, perhaps the most unusual, to explain why we permit a child to drink the wine of Kiddush. Because we must recite the Kiddush and we do not want the brocha of Kiddush to be recited in vain, we permit a child to drink the wine, even though this is an act that we would otherwise prohibit.

Halachic differences

There are obvious differences in practical halachah between these approaches. The first opinion holds that one may cause a child to do something that an adult may not do, provided that the prohibition is less severe than a lo saaseh (see also Rashba, Shabbos 121a; Ran, Yoma, 1a). (Even according to this approach, because of the laws of chinuch, the child’s father, and possibly the mother, may not have him drink, if the child is old enough to be educated. Thus, this heter may not apply if the father gives his own son the wine of Kiddush in shul.) Based on this opinion, some authorities permit directing a child to carry something on Shabbos in an area where carrying is prohibited only miderabbanan, if the child needs the item (see also, Shu”t Rabbi Akiva Eiger 1:15; Biur Halachah 343). However, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 343:1) and the Magen Avraham (343:3) prohibit this.

According to the third approach, only one child should drink the Kiddush wine in order to minimize the amount of violation performed, whereas the other two answers permit serving the Kiddush wine to any child who desires. (I note that I have never seen any place that allows only one child to drink the Kiddush. Customarily, many of the children in shul line up to sip the Kiddush wine. This practice implies that this third approach was not accepted as the reason for the custom.)

Matzoh on Erev Pesach

Here is another case where the above-mentioned approaches may disagree: May I feed a child matzoh on Erev Pesach? The Terumas HaDeshen contends that, according to the answer that the prohibition is only to feed a child something that is prohibited with the stringency of a lo saaseh, one may feed a child matzoh on Erev Pesach, which is not as severe a prohibition (Terumas HaDeshen #125). However, he concludes that if the child is old enough to appreciate the Seder, one may not feed him matzoh on Erev Pesach for a different reason — because this runs counter to the experience of matzoh being special on Seder night. (Further discussion on this topic can be found in Rama, Orach Chayim 471:2 and the commentaries thereon.)

Yet a fourth approach

Some later authorities did not feel that the approaches suggested by the Beis Yosef explain the Tur’s ruling in a satisfactory way. They therefore presented other reasons to explain why it is permitted to give a child the Kiddush wine before he has fulfilled the mitzvah. One approach is that it is forbidden to cause a child to violate a Torah law only when the prohibition applies at all times. However, it is permitted to cause a child to perform an activity that is usually permitted, but that is prohibited at this particular time. Following this reason, one may feed a child on Yom Kippur, since eating and drinking are activities that are usually permitted, even though this is a very severe prohibition for an adult (Sefer HaYashar #52). (There are authorities who rule that, according to the previous answers, one is permitted to feed a child on Yom Kippur only when it is a life-threatening emergency, but a child old enough to feed himself should not be fed by an adult, but instead be told where food can be located [Minchas Chinuch, Mitzvah 313; see also Mikra’ei Kodesh of Rav Pesach Frank, Yamim Nora’im, page 149].) Therefore, there is no problem giving a child wine before he has fulfilled the mitzvah of Kiddush, since drinking wine, in general, is a permitted activity (Magen Avraham 269:1).

Another difference in halacha

This last answer also results in a different halachic practice than that of the previous approaches. According to this last answer, one may feed a child on Yom Kippur, even when the child could feed himself. It is also permitted to feed any child before he has heard Kiddush, as long as the child is below the age of bar or bas mitzvah.

A minor kohen

At this point, I would like to discuss a related question. Rivkah Katz* asks me: “My husband and sons are kohanim. Am I required to be careful where I take my infant son?”

In the first pasuk of parshas Emor, the Torah (Vayikra 21:1) states, Emor el hakohanim benei Aharon, ve’amarta aleihem lanefesh lo yitama be’amav — Say to the kohanim, the sons of Aharon, and you shall say to them, that they shall not contaminate themselves to a dead person among their people. Since the Torah repeats the word say, we derive that there are two levels of responsibility here, and since usually it says the sons of Aharon, the kohanim, and here it reverses the order, the Torah is commanding that an adult must not cause a child kohen to become tamei (Yevamos 114a, as explained by Bach, Yoreh Deah 373). From the wording of the Rambam (Hilchos Aveil 3:12), we see that every adult Jew, even a non-kohen, is commanded not to make a child kohen tamei. This requires everyone to know the halachos of what makes a kohen tamei. One cannot have the attitude that, since I am not a kohen, these laws are not relevant to me.

We can therefore answer Rivkah’s question: She is, indeed, required to find out all the halachos germane to kohanim becoming tamei, so that she knows where she may bring her son, and where she may not.

An adult kohen

Another related question I was once asked:

“My father-in-law, who is not observant, is a kohen, whereas I am a Yisroel. Are we required to be as stringent about where we go on family outings as we would if I myself were a kohen?”


The Rambam rules that it is forbidden for a non-kohen to make an adult kohen tamei (Rambam, Hilchos Aveil 3:5). To quote the Rambam: “If the kohen is unaware that what he did is forbidden, and the adult who made him tamei knows that it is forbidden, then the adult violates the lo saaseh. If the adult kohen knows that it is forbidden, then the other person violates only lifnei iveir lo sitein michshol, do not place a stumbling block before a blind person (Vayikra 19:14).” Chazal interpret this pasuk to mean that one may not give someone bad advice, nor cause him to violate a prohibition (Pesachim 22b).

Thus, we see that, indeed, one must be concerned about where one takes grandpa, even if he himself is not concerned. For a reason that is beyond the scope of this article, this is true even if grandpa is already tamei meis.


Chazal say in Pirkei Avos: “Kol she’ruach habrios nocha heimenu ruach hamakom nocha heimenu,” One who is pleasing to his fellowman is pleasing to his Creator. Being concerned that we not harm others halachically is certainly part of both our social responsibility and our halachic responsibility. When we do our mitzvos properly, others will see us and say, “He is a frum Jew — he lives his life on a higher plane of caring for others.”

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.