05. Cleaning Off the Table and Washing Dishes

If a little water spills on the table, one may use a towel to clean it, as wetting the towel in this case dirties it rather than cleans it. Similarly, if a little wine or juice spilled on the table, one may wipe it up with a towel or cloth. Although the cloth will absorb some of the color of the wine or juice, and one may not dye on Shabbat, this is permitted because one’s intent is to clean the table, not dye the cloth. Also, the dyeing is ineffective; it merely dirties the cloth.[3]

If a lot of water spills on the table or floor, it is rabbinically prohibited to soak it all up with a towel. This is due to the concern that once the towel absorbs a large quantity of water, one will wring it out, thus transgressing a Torah prohibition.[4] There are a few solutions to this problem:

1) Multiple towels may be used, so that each one absorbs only a little water. Thus, there is no concern about wringing them out.

2) A cloth that is not generally wrung out may be used, even if it absorbs a large quantity of water (MB 301:172). Thus, one may use a napkin or paper towel, since they are not wrung out but thrown away immediately.

3) If it is not possible to utilize either of the first two solutions, two people may work together to mop up the liquid. First, they should place a towel on the water; then they can pick it up and put it in a bucket or elsewhere. The rabbinic prohibition to pick up clothes saturated with water was limited to one person; two people may do so because if one of them forgets and starts to wring the clothing, his friend will remind him that it is Shabbat (SSK ch. 15 n. 55). (This does not follow the stringent opinion requiring ten people, as explained in Harĥavot. See below 15:9 regarding permissible ways to clean the floor.)

One may not use an ordinary sponge or scouring pad to wash dishes because it absorbs water and is then wrung out in the course of washing the dishes and afterward. However, one may use a plastic sponge if the fibers are not tightly packed and are not absorbent, and they cannot be wrung out. We will discuss the use of wipes below (14:6).

If a dishrag falls into the sink, one may turn on the water even though the rag will get wet, because this is not considered cleaning or washing. If there is a wet rag in the sink, some allow picking it up and removing it. Since people are not insistent on using only dry rags, there is no concern that one might wring it out (Orĥot Shabbat 13:48). On the other hand, in practice, people are accustomed to wring it out. Therefore if one wishes to remove the rag from the sink, it is proper to use a fork or knife to do so. This shinui will serve as a reminder to him that it is Shabbat, ensuring that he will not wring out the rag.


[3]. MB 302:55 states, based on Yere’im and SA 320:20, that if a colored drink spilled on a tablecloth and one wishes to clean it up, he should not drag the colored liquid over the tablecloth, because doing so will color additional parts of it. However, MB 302:59 adds that some are lenient because this coloring dirties the tablecloth. This is the opinion of Radbaz 4:131, Ĥakham Tzvi, Eliya Rabba, and others. On the other hand, Ben Ish Ĥai, Year 2, Tetzaveh 6 is stringent. Nevertheless, in a time of need one may be lenient, since even according to those who are stringent this is a case of psik reisha de-lo niĥa lei as well as a double rabbinic prohibition (the coloring is done through a destructive action as well as a shinui). When such a combination of factors exists, we are lenient in cases of necessity. Livyat Ĥen §92 states something along these lines.[4]. We saw in section 3 that wringing is a stage of washing and is prohibited by Torah law. According to most poskim, the prohibition applies only to wringing out water, as is implied by SA 320:18. However, Ramban maintains that wringing out wine is prohibited as well, because wine can have a cleaning effect. Taz 320:12 maintains that there is no prohibition on wringing out red wine, in contrast to white wine. It is important to note that our discussion has only dealt with how wringing pertains to the prohibition of laundering. However, there is another possible issue here – the Torah prohibition of Dash, which applies to squeezing grapes and olives. Thus, if one squeezes liquid out of a towel, he may be transgressing the melakha of Dash. If one wants the squeezed-out liquid, Rishonim disagree whether this is prohibited rabbinically or by Torah law. In contrast, if one does not want the liquid, all agree that the prohibition is only rabbinic (as explained in 11:17 and in Harĥavot). If so, in our case, when one does not want the liquid he is wringing out of the towel, the prohibition would only be rabbinic. Furthermore, one may pick up the saturated towel, as we do not build fences around rabbinic prohibitions.

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