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Peninei Halakha > Shabbat > 13 - Melakhot Pertaining to Clothing > 04. Soaking Clothes in Liquid

04. Soaking Clothes in Liquid

As we saw above, the first stage in washing clothes is soaking them in water, since this soaking gets rid of some of the dirt. Even wetting a small part of an item of clothing is forbidden, because wetting cloth with water or another cleansing liquid is considered Kibus.

The Rishonim disagree whether the prohibition of soaking clothes in water applies even to clothing that is not dirty. According to many Rishonim, it is only forbidden to wet clothing if it is dirty; but if the clothing is clean, one may wet it. Others maintain that one may never wet clothing, because any wetting accomplishes some minimal cleaning. In practice, since this is a disagreement pertaining to a Torah law, many Aĥaronim follow the stringent position, maintaining that even clean clothing may not be wetted.[2]

However, one may wet clothing or any cloth item if this will make it dirty rather than clean. For example, one may use a towel to dry one’s hands, because the water from one’s hands does not clean the towel. On the contrary, it dirties it slightly. Some make a point of first air-drying their hands slightly and only afterward using the towel, so that the towel will absorb less water. In any case, the halakha is that one may wet a cloth in a way that dirties the cloth. This is true even if the towel is already dirty, as long as one’s intention is to dry his hands, not to remove stains (SA and Rema 320:10; BHL s.v. “de-lo”).

[2]. Zevaĥim 94b states: “‘Soaking an item of clothing constitutes washing it.’ Rava is being consistent, as he also states: ‘One who threw a scarf into water is liable.’” According to Sefer Ha-Teruma, Or Zaru’a, Rosh, Smag, and Smak, the prohibition applies only if the item of clothing is dirty. This would seem to be Rambam’s position as well. Rosh writes that even if the item of clothing is blackened because of hard usage, as long as there is no stain, one may soak it. However, if one soaks it for the purpose of cleaning it, then even those who would otherwise permit this concede that it is forbidden (MB 302:46). According to Rashbam, Yere’im, and Tur, it is always prohibited by Torah law to wet an item of clothing (this is implied by SA 302:9 as well). Many Aĥaronim rule stringently, since this is a doubt about a Torah law, as we see in BHL 302:9 s.v. “she-yesh” and Kaf Ha-ĥayim 302:74. In my humble opinion, if the item of clothing is fresh from the wash and completely clean, even those who are stringent would concede that the prohibition is only rabbinic. Thus one may wash such clothing if truly necessary, in accordance with the opinion of most Rishonim (see BHL 302:10 s.v. “de-lo”).

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