08. Removing Stains and Dust

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As we saw above (section 3), Kibus is generally accomplished using water or other cleaning agents. However, even when one does not use water, one may not remove stains from clothing via scrubbing the way one does when washing. One may, however, remove a stain using a shinui. There are two types of stains: mild stains and serious stains. Mild stains may be removed using a minor shinui. When necessary, serious stains may be removed using a major shinui. Let us explain.

A mild stain is one that would not prevent the clothing’s owner from wearing it in public. The Sages forbid removing such a stain by scrubbing it in the way one normally would when hand-washing it. However, one may remove this kind of stain by scrubbing it in an unusual way. Therefore, one may try to remove the stain by scratching it with a nail or a knife. After taking a brief break of a few seconds’ duration, he may scrape at it again. This is because as long as he stops between attempts, this does not resemble scrubbing clothing to wash it. Similarly, one may remove the stain with one rub of a dry rag or handkerchief. If necessary, after pausing for a few seconds one may rub the stain with the rag a second time. As long as the scrubbing is not constant, it is not considered the normal way to wash clothing.

If the stain is so severe that one would not wear the stained clothing publicly, the stain may not be removed by scraping it or rubbing it with a rag, because that is exactly how one would remove such a stain during the week. There are even Rishonim who maintain that doing so is prohibited by Torah law. If, however, a major shinui is used, the poskim disagree whether there is still a rabbinic prohibition to remove the stain. If necessary, we rely on the opinion of those who are lenient. Therefore, at a time of need, such a stain may be removed with a major shinui. For example, one could rub the stained clothing that he is wearing against a door, closet, or bed. Alternatively, if he is wearing the stained clothing, he may rub or scrape away the stain by taking the sleeve with the stain and using the other unstained sleeve to rub or scrape it off in a way that does not resemble normal scrubbing. If the stain is thick, most of it may be removed by scraping it with a nail or a knife, or by rubbing it with a rag, as long as the entire stain is not removed this way. The rest must be removed with a major shinui.

One whose clothing gets dusty may not remove the dust in the normal fashion by shaking out the clothing, hitting it, or rubbing it. However, one may flick the clothing with one’s finger, as this is a major shinui. When a couch is dusty, however, one may beat it to remove the dust. Since a couch is not considered clothing in which one is embarrassed to be seen, beating the dust out is not considered Kibus. However, one may not scrub the couch in the way one normally cleans it.

If something unwanted is resting on a garment but not attached to it in any way, it may be removed. Therefore, one may remove a feather, cotton, a thread, or the like from clothing (Rema 302:1; SSK 15:33).[6]


[6]. There are two pertinent halakhic discussions that inform this ruling. The first is found in Shabbat 141a: “R. Kahana said: ‘As for the clay on one’s clothing, one may rub it off from the inside but not from the outside.’” The prohibition is rabbinic because rubbing and scrubbing resemble washing. Shabbat 140a adds that one may not scrub a scarf in order to make it brighter. This is also the ruling of SA 302:5, 7. Aĥaronim disagree regarding a stain that needs to be scraped multiple times with a knife or a nail in order to remove all of it. Taz 302:6 maintains that scraping is not similar to Kibus and is permitted, while MB 302:36 and BHL 302:7 s.v. “de-havei” maintain that it is prohibited. This is the standard ruling. But if one pauses between each scrape, it is permitted, as this does not resemble Kibus.The second halakhic discussion involves a disagreement whether one may shake dust from a new black cloak, if the owner would not wear it outside in such a state. According to Tosafot, Rabbeinu Tam, Rosh, Magid Mishneh in the name of Rashba, Ran, Mordechai, and Raavad, one may shake the dust from the cloak, as there is no Torah prohibition of Kibus without a cleaning agent – water or a different substance. According to Behag, Rabbeinu Ĥananel, Rashi, Or Zaru’a, Yere’im, Sefer Ha-Teruma, and Shibolei Ha-leket, it is prohibited by Torah law. Since the dust disturbs the owner so much that he will not go outside wearing the clothing until it is cleaned, cleaning it is considered an act of Kibus. Since the normal way to remove dust from clothing is to shake it out, this is prohibited by Torah law. The same law applies to a stain that is so severe that one would not wear the garment outside. Removing the stain in the normal fashion would be prohibited by Torah law, according to the stringent position (see SHT 302:41 and BHL 302:1 s.v. “alei”). Indeed, the Gemara (Shabbat 147a) limits the prohibition on shaking to a new black item of clothing about which the owner is particular, and many rule this way in practice, including SAH 302:1 and Ketzot Ha-shulĥan §116, Badei Ha-shulĥan §3. However, BHL loc. cit. clarifies that everybody is assumed to be particular about a new black item of clothing; however, if the owner is particular about a different type of clothing, then even if it is not new and black, according to the stringent view it is forbidden by Torah law to clean such clothing. In practice, the position of SA 302:1 follows most Rishonim, who are lenient. This is the position of Yalkut Yosef 302:10 as well, except that in its opinion it is preferable to remove the dust with a shinui. Rema 302:1 writes that it is preferable to be stringent. According to Eliya Rabba, the halakha demands being stringent since many Rishonim are stringent, and furthermore it is a case of a doubt about a Torah law. This is also the opinion of MB 302:6; Ben Ish Ĥai, Year 2, Vayeĥi 8; and SSK 15:26-30. However, Or Le-Tziyon 2:24:1 states that while it would be proper to defer to those who are stringent, since human dignity (kevod ha-briyot) is at stake here one can be lenient and remove dust or a stain using a shinui, which downgrades the disagreement to the level of a rabbinic prohibition. Accordingly, one may remove the dust from clothing using a shinui, such as flicking with one’s finger.

Let us return to the case of a stain that the owner is particular about. During the week, one would remove it by scraping. Therefore, according to the stringent position, this is prohibited by Torah law. Since this is a case of uncertainty about a matter of Torah law, we are stringent (see BHL loc. cit. citing Behag; SSK 15:27). However, if one uses a major shinui, such as rubbing the stained clothing that he is wearing against the door, then even those who are stringent would agree that the prohibition is now only rabbinic. According to those who are lenient, since this act of rubbing is not a normal act of Kibus, it is permitted. One may rely upon this ruling since it is the majority opinion, the disagreement concerns a rabbinic law, and it pertains to kevod ha-briyot. If one removes only part of the stain by scraping or wiping it once, which is not the normal way of cleaning a stain, he may afterward remove the rest of the stain using a major shinui.

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