Food Coloring and Shabbos

Question #1: Mixing drinks

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

Question #2: Cake decorating

“May I decorate a cake on Shabbos?”


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

Dyeing food

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

Egging on your mustard!

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

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

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

Dyeing is forever!

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

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

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

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

Rabbinic limitations

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

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

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

Color is like flavor

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

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

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

Cake decorating

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

Adding red wine to white

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

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

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

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

A challenge

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

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

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

Meat or hide?

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

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

Meat versus mustard!

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

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

Food color to whiskey

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

In conclusion

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


Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly assume that work is prohibited on Shabbos, in order to provide a day of rest. This is incorrect, he points out, because the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melacha, which implies work with purpose and accomplishment. On Shabbos, we refrain from altering the world with our own creative acts and, instead, emphasize Hashem’s all-encompassing role (Rav Hirsch’s Commentary to Shemos 20:11).

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

Carrying Nitroglycerin on Shabbos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The above-quoted Talmudic text includes another case:

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

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

Melacha She’einah Tzericha Legufah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] Shu’t Maharash Engel, 3:43

[2] See Shabbos 92a, 104b

[3] Kesubos 60a

[4] Orach Chayim 328:33

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

[6] Hilchos Shabbos 1:7

[7] Shu’t Maharash Engel, 7:20

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

[9] Shabbos 60a, 67a

[10] Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 13:34

[11] Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah, Chapter 40 #7

[12] Shu’t Meshaneh Halachos 7:56

[13] Shu’t Levushei Mordechai #133

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

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

Photo by chopstix00 from FreeImages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

(A) If a person is slightly ill.

(B) There is a major need.

(C) In order to enable a Jew to fulfill a mitzvah (Shulchan
Aruch Orach Chayim

I will now explain these three situations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By the way, the halachos of amira lenochri, asking a
non-Jew to perform a prohibited activity, are not restricted to the laws of Shabbos,
but apply to all mitzvos of the Torah. Thus, it is prohibited to have a non-Jew muzzle your animal while it works (see Bava Metzia 90a; Shulchan Aruch Choshen
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.

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.

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.

No Leg to Stand On

Question #1: Placing my feet

“If the wheel of a stroller falls off on Shabbos, may I slide it back?”

Question #2: A benched bench

“If one leg fell off a bench, may I place the bench on top of another so that people can sit on it on Shabbos?”

Question #3: Pulling my leg

While in shul the first day of Sukkos, I noticed that one of the legs of the shulchan on which the sefer Torah is read was loose and fell off. I then noticed that the gabbai used his foot to push the leg underneath the shulchan to keep it balanced, apparently something he has been doing fairly frequently. As I will explain, I was concerned that the entire shulchan and the leg might be muktzah because of a special decree of Chazal. But first we need an introduction.


The manufacture of the mishkan and the vestments of the kohanim, discussed in parshas Tetzaveh, provides the source for the 39 melachos, categories of prohibited activities, of Shabbos. One of the activities prohibited min haTorah on Shabbos is repairing an appliance in a permanent, professional way. The early authorities dispute under which melacha heading this activity is included, some considering it to be a type of boneh, constructing, whereas others incorporate it under makeh bepatish, the melachah involved when completing construction of an item. According to both opinions, repairing an appliance in a permanent, professional way is prohibited min haTorah.

Since repairing an appliance in a permanent way is prohibited d’Oraisa, Chazal prohibited other activities that might lead one to violate the Torah law. Here is an example: In the days of Chazal, a kirah was a type of low, earthenware stovetop that rested on short legs that kept it balanced on the ground. A fire was constructed either inside the kirah or beneath it in a small trough dug into the ground. The Gemara (Shabbos 138b) teaches that if the legs of the kirah became detached, the entire stovetop is muktzah, out of concern that one might forget and insert the legs in a permanent way, an act that is prohibited min haTorah.

At this point, we can already understand the question that was raised above regarding the shulchan with a broken leg. Just as the stovetop is muktzah because of its missing leg, perhaps the same is true regarding the shul’s shulchan. Answering this question will require that we delve into this and other related passages of Gemara, and then study what the early commentators write about this topic – so let us roll up our sleeves. As in all our articles, it is not our purpose to render a final halachic decision – that is the role for an individual’s rav or posek. Our goal is to elucidate the topics in order to enable our readers to be able to ask an intelligent shaylah and understand the answer well.

Rav versus the beraisa

Let us begin by examining the Gemara more carefully (Shabbos 138b):

Rami, the son of Yechezkel, asked Rav Huna to review for him three rulings that Rav Huna had heard directly from the great amora Rav, whose name refers to his role as the teacher of all of Klal Yisroel. One of these rulings was: A beraisa (an ancient teaching dating from the era of the tanna’im that was not included in the Mishnah) ruled that a kirah of which two legs became detached is muktzah and may not be used on Shabbos, whereas if only one leg slipped out of place, the kirah may still be used. According to our text of the Gemara, Rav disagreed with the beraisa, contending that if even one leg slipped out of place, the stovetop cannot be moved because of concern that one might reinsert the leg on Shabbos in a permanent way. This text does not reveal why the beraisa contended that one may move a kirah if it is missing only one leg but not if it is missing two.

Among the early rishonim, we find three ways to explain this passage of Gemara:

According to the Ran, the dispute between the beraisa and Rav relates to whether we need to be concerned that someone might insert the leg in a permanent way when only one leg is missing (Ran’s commentary on Rif ad loc.). Presumably, when two legs are missing, the stovetop is difficult to use, and, therefore, the beraisa was concerned that someone might mistakenly insert the two legs in a permanent way, thus desecrating Shabbos. However, when only one leg is missing, since one can use the stovetop by balancing it on its remaining legs, Chazal did not ban using it. Rav disagreed, concerned that even one missing leg might cause someone to repair it in a way that desecrates Shabbos.

A second approach to understanding the beraisa is that of the Aruch, who holds that the beraisa itself was not concerned that someone might repair the stovetop in a way that desecrates Shabbos. The beraisa held that a stovetop missing two legs is muktzah for a completely different reason: It is considered useless with two missing legs, and a useless item is muktzah on Shabbos. Rav is concerned that someone might forget and repair the stovetop in a permanent way, and this concern exists even if only one leg is missing (quoted in the margin of the Gemara in the glosses added by Rav Yeshaya Pik).

A third approach is that of Rashi, who apparently had in front of him a text of the Gemara that varies from what is printed in our editions. His text omits three words that we have in our Gemara, including the words that Rav disagreed with the beraisa. According to his version, there is no dispute in the Gemara and no one prohibits using a stovetop that is missing only one leg. The beraisa ruled that one may not use a stovetop missing two legs, and Rav explained the reason: We are concerned that someone may insert the legs in a permanent way (see Maharshal and Maharam, Shabbos 138b).

According to Rashi, a stovetop missing one leg is not a cause for concern that someone may repair it on Shabbos and, therefore, Chazal did not rule it to be muktzah. Following this approach, there should similarly be no problem with the shulchan that I found to be missing a leg. However, based on the text that we have in our Gemara, all other halachic authorities conclude that if even one leg is missing, the stovetop is muktzah. This ruling is codified by the Rif, Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 26:6), Rosh, Tur and Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 308:16). Thus, it would seem that our shulchan may indeed be muktzah. We will return to this dispute among the rishonim shortly.

A benched bench

Based on the above quoted passage of Gemara, we find that an early authority, the Terumas Hadeshen, prohibited using on Shabbos a bench missing one of its legs – even by resting the bench on top of another bench or chair. This is because of concern that one might forget and repair the bench (Terumas Hadeshen 1:71). And, according to late authorities, the rulings that we have seen applied to stovetops and benches apply to other tools and furniture with similar issues. For example, although it is permitted to use a hammer on Shabbos to open a coconut, if the head of the hammer fell off before Shabbos, the entire hammer is now muktzah and thus forbidden even for what would otherwise be a permitted purpose. This is because of a concern that someone may re-attach the head in a permanent way, which would desecrate Shabbos (Ketzos Hashulchan 109, Badei Hashulchan #10, at end).

To sum up: We see that Chazal were concerned about someone using a broken appliance because he might forget and, without thinking, repair it in a way that is prohibited min haTorah. To avoid this problem, they prohibited moving the appliance.

We can now explain the concern that I had about the shul’s shulchan. Since the shulchan had a leg that fell off, is the shulchan now muktzah?

Complicating the question

Circumstances complicated the question that I had raised regarding the loose shulchan leg. I discovered the problem on the first day of Sukkos, which means that the coming days are chol hamoed, Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah. Since repairing the shulchan in a professional manner is prohibited on chol hamoed, the repair would have to be postponed until after Yom Tov. However, on Simchas Torah the shulchan will be moved in order to accommodate the dancing. How are we going to do this if the shulchan is muktzah?

Conflicting passage

Although the above-quoted discussion would lead us to conclude that a damaged appliance that might accidentally be repaired is muktzah, other rulings of Chazal indicate that this is not always the case. A different passage of Gemara quotes a beraisa that one may remove the door of a cabinet, footlocker or bookcase on Shabbos, but one may not reaffix the door afterward, because of concern that one might hang it in a permanent way, which would desecrate Shabbos min haTorah (Shabbos 122b). However, there is no mention that these appliances or their doors may not be moved because of concern that someone will reaffix the door in a permanent way. In other words, although the Gemara prohibits reaffixing the door, it permits use of the cabinet, footlocker and bookcase and of their doors. Thus, although a broken kirah is muktzah, these appliances are not, despite the fact that we are concerned that someone might reaffix their doors in a permanent way. What is the difference between the two cases?

Similarly, we find a passage in Gemara Eiruvin (102b) that demonstrates the same point. There the Gemara records that if a hinge of the door of a cabinet, footlocker or bookcase is slipping out of place, one may push it back into place, but if it has completely slipped out of place one may not put it back, because of a concern that someone will mistakenly repair it in a permanent way, which, as we noted above, is prohibited min haTorah. Again here, although the Gemara prohibits reaffixing the hinge, the appliance itself does not become muktzah. Thus, we see again that the appliance may be moved as long as no one attempts to reaffix the door or the hinge. This contrasts with the cases of the stovetop leg where the Gemara ruled that the entire stove becomes muktzah.

Stoves versus footlockers

How is a stove different from a footlocker?

One might explain the difference between the case of the stove and that of the footlocker as being that it is difficult to use the stove at all without its leg, whereas the cabinet, footlocker or bookcase can be used without its door or hinge operating properly. We can explain this phenomenon as meaning that when someone has an appliance that is functional, he is less likely to forget and repair it on Shabbos. Although Chazal prohibited reaffixing the hinge or door in a temporary fashion, they saw no reason to prohibit using the appliance. On the other hand, since the stove could be used only with difficulty, Chazal prohibited its use altogether, concerned that even using the appliance might cause someone to repair it in a permanent way. Based on this analysis, we can understand why the Terumas Hadeshen banned the use of the bench, since, as it is now, it cannot be used without being repaired.

Return to the shulchan

According to this analysis, it would appear that the shulchan missing a leg should not be muktzah, since the shulchan can be used while missing a leg, notwithstanding the fact that it will obviously be somewhat wobbly. Thus, we can assume that Chazal would not have been concerned that someone might mistakenly repair it in a permanent way.

In addition to the reasoning we have just presented, there are several other reasons why this shulchan should probably not be muktzah. The first reason is based on the fact that the shulchan has already been used without having its leg repaired. This approach is based on the following ruling of the Rema. When he quotes the Terumas Hadeshen’s case (of the bench missing a leg) as definitive halachah, the Rema adds, however, that if the bench had been used before Shabbos by placing one end on top of another bench, one may use the bench and move it on Shabbos. Thus we see that when the appliance has already been used in its compromised status before Shabbos, we are not concerned that someone may mistakenly repair it on Shabbos. Since the shulchan was apparently being used with the broken leg propped up, one could argue that the Gemara’s concern does not apply.

Major repair

I believe that there is yet another reason why we do not need to be concerned about the damaged shulchan leg. The Taz (Orach Chayim 308:14) explains that, notwithstanding that a kirah whose leg or legs have fallen out may not be used, this is not true if the entire leg of the stovetop was lost, or the leg broke in the middle, rather than having fallen out. The reasoning here is as follows. Reaffixing a leg into an appliance in a permanent way is something that can be done relatively easily. This is why Chazal were concerned that someone might repair this item without realizing that it is prohibited to do so on Shabbos. However, repairing a leg that has broken is more complicated. We are confident that someone who considers making this repair will remember that it is Shabbos before he attempts it. The same is true if the leg is missing completely, since this requires fashioning a whole new leg that is the right size, appearance, and strength. Since this is a more complicated repair, we are not concerned that someone will forget it is Shabbos and do it. The Mishnah Berurah (308:69) rules in accordance with this Taz¸ that in these two situations one may use the stovetop.

In our case of the shul’s shulchan leg, it appears that reinserting it is a complicated task requiring specialized skills and would require the skills of a repairman. If that is so, it would seem that we could be lenient to assume that Chazal did not make the broken shulchan muktzah unless someone could easily make the repair on his own.

Why are we moving it?

Until now, we have not discussed whether the reason that one wants to move the broken shulchan, bench or stovetop affects whether one may move them. In point of fact, some authorities maintain that the prohibition of moving the broken stovetop is only when one wants to use it. Chazal prohibited not only using the stovetop but also moving it. However, there are late authorities who contend that it is permitted to move a kirah whose leg fell out if one is not interested in using the kirah, but its location is needed for another item or because it is in the way of something one needs to do (Ketzos Hashulchan 109:10 in Badei Hashulchan, at end; see also Tehillah Ledavid 308:22). They rally proofs to show that when Chazal prohibited moving a broken stovetop, the prohibition was only when one wants to use it, but that one may move it if one needs its place. In halachic terminology, it is prohibited to move the broken kirah or bench letzorech gufah (literally, for its own sake), but it may be moved letzorech mekomah (literally, for the purpose of its place). Thus, if the broken stovetop was being moved in order to make room for the Simchas Torah dancing, these authorities would permit moving it.

We should note that this question may be dependent on a dispute we quoted at the very beginning of our article between the Aruch and the Ran, whether a kirah with two detached legs is muktzah because one may come to repair it, or because it is no longer functional. If the reason not to move it is because of concern someone will repair it, it stands to reason that this concern exists only when one wants to use it. However, when one moves it to get it out of the way, why should moving it cause someone to mistakenly repair it? On the other hand, if it is muktzah because it is useless, then it makes no difference why one chooses to move it – it is prohibited to do so because the item is muktzah (Tehillah Ledavid 308:22).

In conclusion

Although I initially thought that the shulchan with a broken leg presented a serious problem, my personal conclusion was that the shulchan could be used and moved as is. I am very glad to have noticed the shaylah, because it provided me with the opportunity to research the question thoroughly and to provide our readers with the extensive background that this question entailed. Again, I note that if our readers are faced with a similar, actual question, they should pose it to their own rav or posek.

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



Carrying Him Home

According to some commentaries, the source for some of the laws regarding the prohibition of carrying on Shabbos is in this week’s parsha. This certainly provides an excellent reason to discuss:

Carrying Him Home

Question #1: My son

“We were returning home in an area without an eruv, when my two-year old decided that he was walking no farther. Is there a halachically acceptable way for me to carry him home?”

Question #2: Public safety

“There is something dangerous lying in the street. May we remove it on Shabbos before anyone gets hurt?”

Question #3: Tefillin

“While taking a Shabbos stroll through the woods outside my town, I discovered some pairs of tefillin lying on the ground! Presumably, these were taken by thieves who broke into a shul, but subsequently abandoned them. Is there any way that I can bring these tefillin back to town?”


All of the above questions involve carrying something on Shabbos in a place where there is no eruv. Our topic will be whether there is a halachic basis to permit carrying under these circumstances. As always, the purpose of this article is not to render decisions for our readers, but to introduce background and have the reader refer any related questions to his or her rav or posek. But first, some basic background.

What is “carrying”?

As we know, one of the 39 melachos of Shabbos is hotza’ah, which is violated by transporting an item from a reshus harabim, a public thoroughfare or open marketplace, into a reshus hayachid, an enclosed area, or, vice versa, by transporting from a reshus hayachid to a reshus harabim. The melacha also includes carrying or otherwise transporting items four amos (about seven feet) or more within a reshus harabim (Shabbos 96b; Tosafos, Shabbos 2a s.v. pashat). With reference to the laws of Shabbos, the terms reshus hayachid and reshus harabim are not determined by ownership, but by the extent to which the area is enclosed and how it is used. An area could be either publicly-owned or ownerless and still qualify as a reshus hayachid; an area owned by an individual might still qualify as a reshus harabim.

Akirah and hanacha

Violating this melacha min haTorah is defined by three steps.

(1) The first step is called akirah, literally, uprooting, which means removing the item from a place where it is at rest. The item must be at rest before the melacha is performed. “At rest” does not have to mean that it is on the ground – it could be resting on an item or piece of furniture, and, sometimes could even be “resting” in someone’s hand. Removing it from its “place of rest” qualifies as an akirah.

(2) The second step is the actual movement of the item, as described above.

(3) The final step is called hanacha, placing, which means that when the melacha activity is completed, the item is again “at rest.”

Let me use the first Mishnah of Maseches Shabbos for examples that explain these rules: One person, whom we will call “the outsider,” is standing in a reshus harabim, picks up an item that is located in the reshus harabim and passes it to someone in a reshus hayachid, “the insider.” If the outsider places the item into the hand of the insider, then the outsider has violated Shabbos – he (1) performed the akirah, (2) transported the item from a reshus harabim into a reshus hayachid and (3) performed the hanacha. Placing the item into the insider’s hand is considered hanacha, since the item is now “at rest,” and, when it reaches its resting point, it is in the reshus hayachid.

However, if the outsider merely extends his hand containing the item into the reshus hayachid, and the insider takes the item from the outsider’s hand, neither of them has performed a Torah violation of Shabbos. Although the outsider performed akirah and moved the item into the reshus hayachid (thereby performing steps 1 and 2), he did not complete the hanacha (step 3). Since the item was still in the suspended hand of the outsider, who himself was standing in a different area, it is not considered to be at rest in a reshus hayachid.

In this situation, the Mishnah explains that neither the outsider nor the insider has violated a melacha min haTorah. Nevertheless, both have violated rabbinic prohibitions, because Chazal prohibited performing akirah without hanacha and also prohibited performing hanacha without akirah. In addition, Chazal prohibited carrying something in the reshus harabim without either akirah or hanacha, and transporting something from a reshus hayachid to a reshus harabim, or vice versa, without akirah or hanacha.

Akirah and hanacha both within a reshus harabim

Similarly, the Torah’s prohibition to carry something or otherwise transport it four amos or more within a reshus harabim is only when there is both an akirah and a hanacha. If one transports it more than four amos, but did not perform both an akirah and a hanacha, the prohibition is only miderabbanan. Thus, if someone picks up an item in a reshus harabim, carries it four amos, but did not stop, and a different person removes it from his hand, neither of them has desecrated Shabbos min haTorah, although both violated rabbinic prohibitions for performing part of the melacha act.

What is a hanacha?

Here is another example of a case where no hanacha was performed. Someone picks up a bundle in a reshus harabim, places it on his shoulder, and walks with it more than four amos. At this point, he stops to adjust the bundle. The Gemara (Shabbos 5b) teaches that this is not considered a hanacha, and therefore the person has not desecrated Shabbos min haTorah.

However, if the person carrying the bundle stopped to rest, it is considered hanacha. (We will explain shortly what we mean that he “stopped to rest.”) Therefore, if he performed an akirah, carried a bundle more than four amos in a reshus harabim and then stopped to rest, he has performed a melacha, whereas if he stopped simply to rearrange his bundle and then continued on his way, he did not yet perform a melacha.

Less than four amos

In addition to the requirements of akirah and hanacha, one violates the melacha of carrying within a reshus harabim only when one transports the item at least four amos. Carrying an item less than four amos, called pachos mei’arba amos, in a reshus harabim does not violate Torah law. Whether this is prohibited by the Sages is the subject of a dispute among tana’im. According to the Rambam, it is permitted even miderabbanan to move an item less than four amos in a reshus harabim, whereas according to the Raavad, this is prohibited miderabbanan, except in extenuating situations.

A lenient hanacha

Until now, both akirah and hanacha have been sources of stringency, meaning that they have created a Torah prohibition, and without both of them, one does not violate the melacha of carrying min haTorah. However, there is actually a leniency that can be created by performing a hanacha. Here is the case: Someone transported an item less than four amos through a reshus harabim and then performed a hanacha, thereby completing this act of carrying. He then performs a new akirah and carries the item an additional short distance, but again less than four amos. Although, as we will soon see, it is prohibited to do this on Shabbos, there is no violation min haTorah; each time he carried the item, it was for less than four amos, since the two acts were separated by a hanacha.

Pachos pachos

What is the halacha regarding the following scenario: Reuven notices an item in a reshus harabim that he would like to move to a different location, more than four amos from where it currently is. He knows that it is prohibited min haTorah for him to pick it up, move it there, and put it down in its new location, since this constitutes akirah, moving it more than four amos, and hanacha. Instead, Reuven decides to do the following: he will pick up the item, move it less than four amos and put it down. Although he did both an akirah and a hanacha, since he moved the item less than four amos, this does not constitute a Torah violation, and, according to many rishonim, it is permitted lechatchilah. However, moving the item less than four amos does not accomplish what Reuven wants. In order to get the item to where he would like it to be, Reuven performs this process again – that is, he picks it up, moves it less than four amos, and puts it down again. This type of carrying is called pachos pachos mei’arba amos, meaning that although each time he carries the item he transports it less than four amos, he carries it this way more than one time. Reuven would like to repeat this process until he gets the item where he wants it. Is this permitted?

Indeed, Reuven’s plan will avoid desecrating a Torah prohibition of Shabbos, since he has successfully avoided performing melacha. However, Chazal prohibited someone from transporting an item this way out of concern that he may err, even once, and carry the item four amos or more and then perform the hanacha, thereby violating Shabbos min haTorah (Shabbos 153b).

However, the Gemara mentions that, under certain extraordinary circumstances, someone is permitted to transport an item in this manner. For example, someone walking through a reshus harabim discovers a pair of tefillin! He is concerned that, should he leave the tefillin where they are, they will be desecrated. The Gemara rules that, should the finder have no other option, he may transport the tefillin to a secure place via pachos pachos (Eruvin 97b). In other words, in order to avoid the desecration of the tefillin, Chazal relaxed the prohibition of carrying pachos pachos.

Babies and thorns

Similarly, the Gemara discusses this in the context of a baby who is outside of an eruv, and permits use of the heter of pachos pachos to transport him to an appropriate place.

In yet another example, the Gemara permits removing a thorn from a reshus harabim so that no one gets hurt (Shabbos 42a). Again, in an extenuating situation, Chazal permitted one to carry this way, even though it is usually not permitted.

At this point, we can address a different one of our above questions: “There is something dangerous lying in the street. May we remove it before anyone gets hurt?”

The answer is that one may remove it by carrying it less than four amos, stopping, and then repeating, as described above.

Must he sit down?

As I explained above, transporting something pachos pachos can be accomplished only when there is a proper hanacha to divide the two carrying acts into two separate halachic activities. What constitutes a proper hanacha in this instance?

There is a dispute between rishonim whether, in this instance, the person transporting the tefillin must sit down, or whether it is sufficient that he stop to rest while remaining standing.  Rashi (Avodah Zarah 70a) rules that it is sufficient for someone to stop to rest within four amos of his last stop. He does not explain how long he must rest for it to be considered a hanacha.

There are those who disagree with Rashi, contending that stopping to rest qualifies as a hanacha only when one truly wants to rest. However, when one’s goal is not to rest, but simply to avoid desecrating Shabbos, stopping of this nature while still standing does not constitute hanacha. According to this opinion, to avoid the prohibition of carrying on Shabbos, the tefillin transporter must actually sit down to qualify as having performed hanacha (Rabbeinu Yerucham, quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 266 and 349, as explained by Magen Avraham 266:9).

How do we rule?

There is a dispute among early acharonim whether we follow Rashi or Rabbeinu Yerucham in this matter, but the majority follow Rashi’s approach that stopping to rest is adequate as a hanacha, even in this situation (Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 266:1; Magen Avraham 266:9; cf. Taz, Orach Chayim 266:4 who rules like Rabbeinu Yerucham).

Found tefillin

At this point, we can address one of our opening questions: “While taking a Shabbos stroll through the woods outside my town, I discovered some pairs of tefillin lying on the ground! Presumably, these were taken by thieves who broke into a shul, but subsequently abandoned them. Is there any way that I can bring these tefillin back to town?”

In this context, the Gemara rules that if one cannot safely remain with the tefillin until Shabbos ends, one may bring them back via the method of pachos pachos, meaning that one carries the tefillin for less than four amos, stops to rest, and then continues. According to Rabbeinu Yerucham, one should actually sit down when one stops to rest, whereas according to Rashi, this is unnecessary.


Until this point, we have been discussing the halachic rules that exist min haTorah, and we have dealt with areas that are either reshus harabim or reshus hayachid. However, there are many areas that do not qualify as either reshus harabim or reshus hayachid. A reshus harabim must be meant for public use or thoroughfare (Shabbos 6a) and must also meet other specific requirements, which I discussed in a different article. Any area that does not meet the Torah’s definition of a reshus harabim, and yet is not enclosed, is called a karmelis. Min haTorah, one may carry inside, into and from a karmelis. However, Chazal ruled that a karmelis must be treated with the stringencies of both a reshus hayachid and a reshus harabim. This means that it is forbidden to carry inside, into, or from any area that is not completely enclosed. This is the way we are familiar with observing Shabbos – one does not carry in any unenclosed area.

Nevertheless, the Gemara rules that there are exceptional situations when Chazal permitted one to carry in a karmelis. The Gemara mentions explicitly that should one find a thorn in a karmelis that might hurt someone, one can simply pick it up and remove it, since the prohibition of carrying within and out of a karmelis is only miderabbanan.

Pachos pachos in a karmelis

Is it permitted to carry pachos pachos in a karmelis? In other words, since carrying in a karmelis is, itself, prohibited only miderabbanan, and carrying pachos pachos in a reshus harabim is prohibited only miderabbanan, if we combine both of these aspects in one case, is it permitted to carry?

This question is discussed neither in the Gemara nor by most of the rishonim. Although there are several attempts to demonstrate proof one way or the other from the Gemara and the early authorities, none of the proofs is conclusive. There is a dispute among the later authorities, many contending that pachos pachos is prohibited in a karmelis (Tashbeitz 2:281; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 349:5; Gra), whereas others feel that there should be no halachic problem at all with carrying pachos pachos in a karmelis (Even Ha’ozer and Maamar Mordechai, Orach Chayim 349; Shu”t Avodas Hagershuni #104). Common practice is to prohibit carrying pachos pachos in a karmelis, following the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch.


Let us now examine our opening question: “We were returning home in an area without an eruv when my two-year old decided that he was walking no farther. Is there a halachically acceptable way for me to carry him home?”

According to what we have now learned, even if the area in question qualifies as a reshus harabim, if one were to pick up the child, carry him less than four amos, and then stop, this would be permitted under the circumstances. Assuming that there are two people to carry the child, there is even a better solution, one that space-constraints does not allow us to explain fully, and that is to have the two people hand the child from one to the other and back without either walking four amos at any given time. There is also another reason to be lenient in the case of a child old enough to walk, in that carrying him in a reshus harabim is not prohibited min haTorah, because of a principle called chai nosei es atzmo, which we will have to leave for a future article.

Difference of carrying

The melacha of hotza’ah, carrying, is qualitatively different from the other 38 melachos. Every other melacha results in some type of change, either physical or chemical, to the item on which the melacha is performed. In the case of carrying, the only thing being changed is the item’s location. Furthermore, the rules governing what is permitted min haTorah and what violates Torah law seem strange and arbitrary. Yet, we understand that these rules are part of our Torah shebe’al peh, and we have to study to learn how to apply them. The Navi Yirmiyohu (17:19-27) was concerned about carrying on Shabbos; it is a melacha like any other, yet people mistakenly think that it is not important. Indeed, we would not usually define transporting something as changing it functionally, which is what most melachos accomplish. Yet, this does not make the melacha of hotza’ah any less important than any other melacha.

Rav Hirsch (Shemos 35:2) explains that whereas other melachos demonstrate man’s mastery over the physical world, carrying demonstrates his mastery over the social sphere. The actions that show the responsibility of the individual to the community and vice versa are often acts of hotza’ah. Thus, the prohibition to carry on Shabbos is to demonstrate man’s subordination to Hashem, in regard to his role and position in his social and national life.


Do I say Yaaleh Veyavo, Retzei or both?

Since Rosh Chodesh falls on motza’ei Shabbos, I thought it appropriate to discuss:

Do I say Yaaleh Veyavo, Retzei or both?

Question #1: Is it Shabbos versus Rosh Chodesh?

“When Rosh Chodesh begins on motza’ei Shabbos, do I say Yaaleh Veyavo in bensching at seudah shelishis?”

Question #2: Why is this night of Chanukah different from all other nights?

“Chanukah begins this motza’ei Shabbos. If I finish seudah shelishis after nightfall, do I include Al Hanissim in bensching?”


When we recite birchas hamazon on Shabbos, Yom Tov, Chol Hamoed, Rosh Chodesh, Chanukah and Purim, we include special prayers to commemorate the holiday: on Shabbos, a passage beginning with the word Retzei; on Yom Tov, Chol Hamoed and Rosh Chodesh, the opening words are Yaaleh Veyavo; and on Chanukah and Purim, Al Hanissim.

In a different article, I discussed whether one recites these additions when one’s meal was divided between a holiday and a weekday – i.e., one ate part of his meal on the holiday and part before or after; or when the change of date transpired between the eating of the meal and the bensching. Does one recite the special addition to commemorate the holiday when this happens, or does one omit it? We discovered that there are several opinions as to what to do. These are the earliest opinions that I found:

  1. When one bensches

The Rosh rules that one recites the version of birchas hamazon appropriate to when one bensches, regardless as to when one ate the meal. In his opinion, one who finished seudah shelishis after nightfall does not recite Retzei. Similarly, one whose Purim seudah ends after Purim does not recite Al Hanissim. The Rosh also holds that someone who completed a meal before Rosh Chodesh and bensches after it is dark should recite Yaaleh Veyavo.

  1. The beginning of the meal

The Maharam, as understood by the Bach and the Aruch Hashulchan, maintains that the text of the bensching is established according to what was correct when the meal began. Therefore, one who finished seudah shelishis after nightfall recites Retzei, since his meal began on Shabbos. (There is an exception – if he did something to declare that Shabbos is over, such as reciting havdalah, davening maariv, or even simply answering borchu, he does not recite Retzei any more, as it is therefore inconsistent to mention Shabbos in bensching.)

  1. All of the above

The Maharam, as understood by the Taz, contends that one adds the special prayer if either the meal began on the holiday or one is bensching on the holiday. Thus, one who finished seudah shelishis after nightfall recites Retzei, and someone who completed a meal before Rosh Chodesh and bensches after it is dark should recite Yaaleh Veyavo.

The halachic conclusion

The halachic consensus regarding someone who began his meal on Shabbos or Purim and continued it into the night is that one recites Retzei or Al Hanissim, following the position of the Maharam and not the Rosh.

Conflicting prayers

The topic of our current article adds a new aspect to this question – what to do when Rosh Chodesh or Chanukah begins on motza’ei Shabbos, and seudah shelishis started on Shabbos and was completed on Rosh Chodesh or on Chanukah. According to the Rosh, one should recite Yaaleh Veyavo or Al Hanissim, whether or not one ate on Rosh Chodesh or on Chanukah. However, the consensus of halachic opinion is that the Maharam’s opinion is accepted, in this topic, over that of the Rosh. According to those who understand that the Maharam ruled that one should always recite the text of birchas hamazon appropriate to the beginning of the meal, one should recite Retzei. Yet, many authorities follow the second interpretation of the Maharam mentioned above, that one adds the special prayer if either the meal began on the holiday or one is bensching on the holiday. What complicates our question is that there may be a requirement to recite both Retzei and either Yaaleh Veyavo or Al Hanissim, yet mentioning both in the same bensching might be contradictory in this instance, since the holiday begins after Shabbos ends. As we will soon see, whether or not this is a problem is, itself, debated by the authorities.

The earliest authority that I found who discusses this predicament is the Bach (end of Orach Chayim, 188). Regarding what to recite when seudah shelishis continues into Rosh Chodesh, he concludes that one should say Retzei and not Yaaleh Veyavo, because the beginning of a meal determines the exact text of its birchas hamazon. As I mentioned above, this is precisely the way the Bach understands the Maharam’s position – that the proper bensching is always determined by the beginning of the meal. Since the halacha follows the Maharam’s position, the Bach comfortably rules according to his understanding of the Maharam, that one recites Retzei and not Yaaleh Veyavo.

The Magen Avraham (188:18; 419:1) analyzes the issue differently from the way the Bach does. First, he considers the possibility that one can recite both Retzei and Yaaleh Veyavo. This is based on his understanding of the Maharam’s position that ending a meal on Rosh Chodesh or a different festival is reason to recite the holiday additions, even if the meal started on a weekday. However, the Magen Avraham concludes that one cannot recite both Retzei and Yaaleh Veyavo in this instance, because this is an inherent contradiction: If it is already Rosh Chodesh, it is no longer Shabbos, and if it is still Shabbos, it is not yet Rosh Chodesh. Since this is now a conundrum, the Magen Avraham concludes that one should follow the Rosh’s opinion, that one recites whatever is appropriate to be said at this moment, which means to recite only Yaaleh Veyavo. Magen Avraham contends that this practice is followed only when one ate bread on Rosh Chodesh. If he did not eat bread on Rosh Chodesh, then he should say only Retzei, following the Maharam’s opinion that the special prayers are determined by the beginning of the meal.

Chanukah on motza’ei Shabbos

The Magen Avraham also rules that there is a difference in halachah between Rosh Chodesh and Chanukah. When Chanukah begins on motza’ei Shabbos and seudah shelishis extended into the beginning of Chanukah, he rules that one should recite only Retzei and not Al Hanissim, even if he ate bread on Chanukah.

Why is Chanukah different from all other nights?

The Magen Avraham explains that, whereas when reciting Yaaleh Veyavo on a weekday Rosh Chodesh bensching is required, reciting Al Hanissim in bensching of a weekday Chanukah is technically not required, but optional. Therefore, when his meal began on Shabbos (which was as yet not Chanukah) and he is, therefore, required to recite Retzei, even if he continued the meal into Chanukah and ate bread then, the optional addition of Al Hanissim does not cancel the requirement to recite Retzei.

More opinions

Thus far, we have seen two opinions concerning what to do for the bensching of a seudah shelishis that extended into Rosh Chodesh that begins on motza’ei Shabbos:

(1) The Bach, that one should recite Retzei and not Yaaleh Veyavo.

(2) The Magen Avraham, that if he ate bread on motza’ei Shabbos he should recite Yaaleh Veyavo, but otherwise he should recite Retzei.

A third position is that, once it is Rosh Chodesh, one should recite Yaaleh Veyavo and not Retzei (Maharash of Lublin, quoted by Shelah and Taz 188:7). The Maharash maintains that since at the time he bensches it is Rosh Chodesh, the requirement to recite Yaaleh Veyavo is primary and preempts the requirement to recite Retzei, which he considers to be secondary, since it is no longer Shabbos.

Why not both?

The Taz (188:7) disagrees with all the above-mentioned positions, challenging the assumption that one cannot recite both Retzei and Yaaleh Veyavo. He concludes that since Yaaleh Veyavo is recited after Retzei there is no contradiction, since Rosh Chodesh begins after Shabbos ends. Therefore, one who ate on Shabbos and is bensching on Rosh Chodesh should recite both additions.

To sum up, someone whose meal began on Shabbos and is bensching on Rosh Chodesh, should:

  • recite Yaaleh Veyavo, according to both the opinion of the Rosh and that of the Maharash,.
  • recite Retzei, according to the opinion shared by the Bach and the Aruch Hashulchan.
  • recite both Retzei and Yaaleh Veyavo, according to the conclusion of the Taz,.

According to the ruling of the Magen Avraham, if he ate bread after Rosh Chodesh arrived, he should recite Yaaleh Veyavo. If he did not, he should recite Retzei.

Rabbi, what should I do?

The Mishnah Berurah (188:33), when recording what to do, implies that one should follow the position of the Magen Avraham. He then mentions the Taz as an alternative approach – that one should say both Retzei and Yaaleh Veyavo. This is consistent with the Mishnah Berurah’s general approach of following the Magen Avraham, except when the latter’s position is opposed by most later authorities.

The Aruch Hashulchan, on the other hand, concludes neither as the Magen Avraham nor the Taz, but that what one recites is always determined by the beginning of the meal. Therefore, in this situation, he rules to recite Retzei and omit Yaaleh Veyavo, regardless of whether one ate on Rosh Chodesh.

Since there are many conflicting positions as to which additions to recite when Rosh Chodesh begins on motza’ei Shabbos, many people avoid eating bread after nightfall. They eat all the bread that they intend to eat towards the beginning of the meal, and upon completing the seudah, recite bensching including Retzei and omitting Yaaleh Veyavo. This approach follows the majority of halachic authorities (Bach, Magen Avraham, Aruch Hashulchan, Mishnah Berurah [according to his primary approach]), although it runs counter to the opinions of the Maharash and the Taz. Those who want to avoid any question recite birchas hamazon before the arrival of Rosh Chodesh.


In our daily lives, our hearts should be full with thanks to Hashem for all He does for us. Birchas hamazon provides a regular opportunity to elicit deep feelings of gratitude for what Hashem has done in the past and does in the present. All the more so should we should acknowledge Hashem’s help on special holidays.



Dishes, Detergent and Malachos

The Aseres Hadibros include the mitzvah of Shabbos, providing the opportunity to continue our discussion from parshas Pinchas.

Dishes, Detergent and Malachos

Question #1: Washing dishes

“Whenever I ask my son to help wash the dishes on Shabbos, he claims that it is prohibited. Is he pulling my leg in his attempt to avoid family responsibilities?”

Question #2: No detergent

“Is it prohibited to wash clothes on Shabbos if I do not use detergent?”

Question #3: Six in one!

Can six people consecutively launder a garment?

Three weeks ago, we began our discussion about the melacha of melabein. We learned that there is a dispute among rishonim whether this melacha should be defined as laundering or as bleaching, although in practical terms, the halachos remain the same either way, and it is prohibited min haTorah to launder or to bleach on Shabbos. We also discovered that there are numerous ways that one can violate this melacha, such as by soaking, scrubbing, wringing, or rinsing, and, according to some authorities,  even by brushing a garment. At this point, we will continue our discussion where we left off.

Washing dishes

There is no prohibition of melabein for soaking, scouring, or cleaning a hard substance such as wood or metal. This is because the grime lies on top of the material and is not absorbed inside or between the fibers. This is the reason why it is permitted to wash dishes on Shabbos, provided that one does not squeeze a cloth or something similar in the process.

One may explain the difference between fabrics, that are included in the melacha of melabein, and hard substances that are not, in the following way. All melachos involve changing an object to make it more useful for mankind. In the instance of most melachos, this involves some type of physical or chemical change to the object upon which the melacha is performed. Regarding some melachos, such as trapping, carrying and selecting, no real physical or chemical change occurs in the item, but there is a difference in utility. The undomesticated animal was useless to mankind, and trapping made it available for mankind. Prior to removing the bad part of the item, one could not eat or use this food, and selecting made it useful. In carrying, the most difficult of the melachos to explain conceptually, the item is made useful by changing its location.

By the way, if we remember the dispute between Rashi and the Rambam that I mentioned earlier, the approach of the Rambam allows an easier explanation why washing dishes is not included under the melacha. According to the Rambam, the av melacha is bleaching, or changing the color of the fiber or fabric. All laundering changes the inherent appearance of the cloth, and, in this way, the toladah, laundering, is similar to the av melacha, bleaching. However, dirt on top of a plate does not change the inherent appearance of the plate – one merely needs to scrape off the leftover food on its surface, and the plate is clean. This contrasts with laundering cloth, where the dirt is embedded in the fiber.

All or nothing?

Does one violate melabein only if one performs all of the above-prohibited activities (soaking, scrubbing, wringing, and rinsing), or even if one performs any one of them? A ramification of the second approach is that cleaning an item only a bit violates melabein, despite the fact that the garment is still dirty.

The halacha is that each of these stages constitutes infringements of melabein min haTorah, and this is true even if one does not add any detergent to the water. In other words, although one ordinarily uses detergent to launder clothes, and without detergent the clothes are usually not clean, since performing each of the above-mentioned laundering steps does clean the garment a little bit, that is sufficient to contravene the Torah law of melabein.

Six in one

Thus, theoretically six different people could each be doing a different activity to a garment or cloth, each one violating the melacha of melabein min haTorah! The first one brushes the garment, removing some of the dirt. The second one places the garment in a bucket to soak it. The third one scrubs the garment on a scouring board; the fourth squeezes water out of the garment; the fifth rinses the garment clean; and the sixth bleaches the now clean garment.

Cleaning versus cooking

Since the halacha is that each of the laundering stages constitutes a Torah violation of melabein, we are faced with an interesting contrast between the melacha of melabein and that of cooking. The halacha is that someone who began cooking food, but the food is not yet cooked to the point where it is edible, has not yet violated the melacha min haTorah, but only a rabbinic injunction. Violating the melacha min haTorah requires that the food is cooked enough to make it edible. Yet, soaking an item of clothing contravenes the prohibition of laundering, even though removing it from the water without any other cleaning process may still leave the garment too soiled to wear. Why is there a difference between laundering, which one violates even if the item is still not fully clean, and cooking, which one violates only when the item is cooked?

The answer appears to be that cooking an item to the point that it is still inedible does not benefit mankind, since no one will eat it. On the other hand, although most people do not enjoy wearing dirty clothing, it is more pleasant to wear clothes that are somewhat laundered than clothes that are completely filthy. In other words, although laundering something a little bit made the item cleaner, cooking it a little bit did not make it edible.

According to the Rambam’s approach in the dispute over the definition of melabein, the distinction between laundering and cooking is more easily understood. The av melacha, in his opinion, is bleaching, which means that the basic melacha is changing the coloring, not cleaning it. Laundering is a toladah because it changes the appearance of the cloth. Thus, each stage of melabein changes the appearance of the cloth, which is the nature of the melacha.

Wringing versus stirring

At this point, we should discuss the following interesting phenomenon. When discussing the prohibition of wringing laundry on Shabbos, the Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 9:11) states the following: “One who wrings out a garment until he extracts the water that is absorbed inside it desecrates Shabbos for laundering, since wringing is necessary (mitzorchei) for laundering just as stirring is necessary (mitzorchei) for cooking.”

This is certainly an unusual statement. Why does the Rambam need to compare wringing water to stirring food in order to explain why it is prohibited on Shabbos? And, the Rambam uses a very interesting term to describe this relationship — the word mitzorchei, which he uses in only three contexts in his entire thirty chapters of the laws of Shabbos. Aside from using this term here to describe wringing laundry and stirring food, he uses it also in the context of meleches tofeir (Hilchos Shabbos 10:9 and Magid Mishnah, Kesef Mishneh, and Mirkeves Hamishneh ad locum; Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 340 and Elyah Rabbah 340:14)  .

Perhaps one could say that since wringing out water looks different from other laundering acts, one might think that it is not prohibited under the heading of this melacha. However, this is probably not what was bothering the Rambam. My proof is that there are many other melacha activities that do not look like the av melacha under which they are listed. For example, weeding is prohibited min haTorah because it is an aspect of plowing, notwithstanding that weeding does not look at all like plowing. It violates plowing because weeding prepares the ground to allow growth, which is the same concept involved when plowing. Similarly, pruning trees is prohibited as a subheading of planting. Although pruning appears to be the exact opposite of planting, since it is a method of having vines and trees grow better it is included under planting. In these instances, a melacha is performed because the goals of pruning and weeding are respectively similar to planting and plowing. Thus, we see that melacha prohibitions are often categorized by their purpose.Yet, in these instances, the Rambam finds no need to compare weeding or pruning to stirring, nor does he use the word tzorchei to describe what they do.

A possible approach to explain the Rambam is that both wringing and stirring are done after the basic melacha has already been performed. If you are stirring a cooking pot, someone already placed a pot of food on a fire, thereby violating the melacha of cooking. The Rambam is pointing out that stirring a pot is a full violation of cooking on Shabbos – and that we do not mitigate liability for this act on the basis that someone else already performed the actions necessary to cook this food.

Similarly, a person can wring out clothes only when someone else already soaked them in water – which, in and of itself, constitutes laundering according to halacha. Thus, one might contend that the wringer did not violate the melacha (Nimla Tal, meleches melabein #18; meleches tofeir #26).

Separate melacha

Heretofore, we have been assuming that wringing out clothes, socheit, is a subcategory of melabein. Actually, there is a dispute among tana’im concerning this matter. Indeed, most tana’im, including the anonymous author of the Mishnah, consider squeezing to be not its own melacha but a toladah of one of the other 39 melachos listed in the seventh perek of mishnayos Shabbos. (According to most rishonim, this violates the melacha of laundering, whereas the Ramban [Shabbos 111a, as understood by the Magen Avraham end of chapter 302 and Shu”t Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim #159:20] explains that it violates the melacha of dyeing; cf. Lechem Mishneh, Hilchos Shabbos 9:11, who understands that the Ramban agrees with the other rishonim that it is prohibited because of melabein.) However, the tanna, Rabbi Yishmael, the son of Rabbi Yochanan ben Beroka, contends that squeezing is a completely separate av melacha (Yerushalmi, Shabbos 7:2), although it is not explained in halachic sources why he feels this way. (Nimla Tal Melabein #24 suggests some possible approaches.) The Gemara notes that the Mishnah disagrees with Rabbi Yishmael, the son of Rabbi Yochanan ben Beroka, since, according to him, there are forty melachos, and the Mishnah counts only 39.

39 or 40?

But wait one moment! I thought there were 39 melachos. How can a tanna have 40 melachos?

The answer to this question lies in a passage of Gemara (Shabbos 49b) that says as follows:

What is the basis upon which it has been established that there are 39 melachos? …Rabbi Yehonasan, the son of Rabbi Elazar, told them, “This is what Rabbi Shimon, the son of Rabbi Yosi ben Lekunia, said: ‘They correspond to the thirty-nine times that the word melacha is written in the Torah!’” Rav Yosef then asked, “Is the pasuk (Bereishis 39:11, regarding Yosef), Vayavo habaysa laasos melachto, included in the count or not?” To this, Abayei replied, “Let us bring a sefer Torah and count how many times the word melacha is mentioned in the Torah.” Rav Yosef replied that Abayei had misunderstood his query. Rav Yosef knew that the word melacha shows up in the Torah a total of forty times. When the tanna’im use the word melacha to count melachos, they are counting only instances when the word melacha in the Torah actually refers to work being performed. Rav Yosef’s question was whether the count of the Shabbos melachos included the pasuk regarding Yosef (which may be using the word melacha in a borrowed sense), or whether that pasuk was not included in the count, but instead they were counting a different pasuk, the one that concludes the construction of the Mishkan, which reads, Vehamelacha hoyso dayom. In the latter pasuk, also, the word melacha does not really mean work, but means the materials assembled for the work of the Mishkan. The tanna of the Mishnah, who counts only 39 melachos, felt that one of these places should not be included in the count of the melachos regarding the laws of Shabbos. The Gemara there remains unresolved which of these two pesukim is included in that count and which not. However, it is quite clear that the tanna quoted in the Yerushalmi, Rabbi Yishmael, the son of Rabbi Yochanan ben Beroka, counted both pesukim, thus reaching a total of 40 melachos.

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

Question #1: Washing dishes

“Whenever I ask my son to help wash the dishes on Shabbos, he claims that it is prohibited. Is he pulling my leg in his attempt to avoid family responsibilities?”

Washing dishes on Shabbos is certainly permitted, as long as one does not use an item that might involve squeezing. (Details of that question we will leave for a different time.)  It is safe to assume that your son’s motivation here is not halacha but laziness.

Question #2: No detergent

“Is it prohibited to wash clothes on Shabbos if I do not use detergent?”

As we now know, one can violate the prohibition of melabein min haTorah without use of detergent.

Question #3: Six in one!

Can six people consecutively launder a garment?

The simple answer is, “Yes.”

In conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos, in order for it to be a day of rest. He points out that the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melacha, activities or actions which bring 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 refraining from our own creative acts (Shemos 20:11).