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02 – Preparing for Shabbat

01. Shabbat Preparations

The six weekdays and Shabbat are interconnected. Just as one has a body and a soul, so, too, the week has a body (the work days) and a soul (Shabbat). Just as a wholesome person’s body and soul work together harmoniously – the body receives spiritual inspiration from the soul and in turn serves as the vehicle for the soul’s expression – so, too, an ideal week is one in which Shabbat and the weekdays are closely linked. During the week we prepare for Shabbat, thus elevating and sanctifying the weekdays, which draw their value from Shabbat.

The Sages recount that Shammai would always eat in honor of Shabbat. When he saw a fine animal he would say: “This is for Shabbat.” If he found an even better one, he would eat the first one and leave the better one for Shabbat (Beitza 16a). In other words, all week he would eat lower quality food, always saving the best for Shabbat. In this way, whenever he ate he honored Shabbat and considered how he could honor and sanctify it. Hillel possessed a different trait. All his actions were undertaken for the greater glory of God. He would make a point of honoring and sanctifying the weekdays as well as Shabbat, thus fulfilling the mandate to “Bless God every day” (Tehilim 68:20). Therefore, when good food came his way during the week he would eat it, trusting that just as God made sure he had good food during the week, He would make sure that he would have even better food for the holy Shabbat. Thus Hillel honored and valued each day (Rashi ad loc.; Ramban, Shemot 20:8).

According to halakhic authorities, even Hillel agreed that for most people it is preferable to act like Shammai and designate the best food for Shabbat. However, Hillel’s trust in God was exceptional, so he was certain that God would provide him with better food for Shabbat. One who does not possess this degree of faith must follow Shammai and honor Shabbat by designating the best food for Shabbat (MB 250:2).

Nowadays, this law is almost irrelevant. There is such a vast selection of food in contemporary supermarkets at all times that there is no reason to think that if one eats a particular food during the week, he will not be able to find food as good for Shabbat. Therefore, today one must simply plan his shopping such that the foods for Shabbat will be the best.

While shopping for Shabbat, it is most proper to articulate that “this shopping is to honor the holy Shabbat,” thus fulfilling the commandment of Zakhor (Ramban op. cit.). It is also good to taste the food being prepared for Shabbat in order to season it correctly and enhance the pleasure of Shabbat (MA 250:1 in the name of Arizal; MB 250:2).

02. Friday

Although there is a certain amount of preparation for Shabbat that should go on all week, the primary time to prepare is on Friday, as is stated: “But on the sixth day, they prepare what they have brought in” (Shemot 16:5). Just as in the desert first thing Friday morning the Jews gathered the manna that had fallen the previous night, so too it is a mitzva to be industrious and to prepare for Shabbat on Friday morning (SA 250:1).[1] It is an admirable custom for women to wake up early on Friday, bake challah bread for Shabbat, and perform the mitzva of hafrashat ĥalla (Rema 242:1).

Even though there is a mitzva to shop early Friday, one should not do so before Shaĥarit. Similarly, if one normally studies Torah after praying, he should keep this routine and then immediately purchase food and prepare for Shabbat. One may go shopping before Shaĥarit only if there is a real concern that if he waits there will not be food for Shabbat left in the store (MB 250:1).

Aĥaronim have written that it is preferable to buy food for Shabbat on Friday than Thursday, since it is more apparent on Friday that the purchases are being made to honor Shabbat. There is also another reason: in the past, when there was no refrigeration, there was no way to keep food fresh. Therefore, to make sure that Shabbat food would be of superior quality, one had to shop and cook on Friday. However, if there are foods that might not be available on Friday or whose preparations are very time-consuming, they should be purchased on Thursday; this was true then and is certainly true now (MB 250:2).

If one is faced with two possibilities – cooking all the food on Friday and being exhausted Friday night, or cooking on Thursday, refrigerating the food, and entering Shabbat calmly – he should finish cooking on Thursday and leave some small things to be done on Friday. This is because the primary mitzva is to honor and enjoy Shabbat, so it is important that he enter it in an alert and relaxed state of mind.

There are families where there is so much tension involved in trying to get everything done before Shabbat that Friday becomes an aggravating day, full of arguments and anxiety. As it were, there are satanic forces at work, trying to foment anger and disagreement and prevent Israel from welcoming Shabbat properly and peacefully. The Talmud tells of a couple who would have horrible fights each week before Shabbat. R. Meir was visiting their neighborhood, and for three weeks he visited them on Friday, until he made peace between them. He then heard the voice of a prosecuting angel lamenting: “Woe is me, for R. Meir has chased me out of this home” (Gittin 52a). In order to avoid giving this angel an opening, one must organize Shabbat preparations so well that he welcomes Shabbat joyfully and peacefully (this is also implied by Ezra’s takana [ordinance]; see below, section 4).

There is a holy custom to finish all Shabbat preparations by midday on Friday and then to rest and study Torah in the afternoon. All who follow this custom are privileged to welcome Shabbat joyfully and peacefully and become truly aware of the neshama yeteira given them on Shabbat.

[1]. Editor’s note: Here and henceforth, references to SA and Rema are to Oraĥ Ĥayim, unless otherwise indicated.


03. Buying Food for Shabbat

It is a mitzva to make Shabbat enjoyable through superior food and beverages, depending on one’s means. Spending generously and preparing many tasty foods is praiseworthy (MT 30:7) and a fulfillment of the verse: “Call Shabbat ‘delight’” (Yeshayahu 58:13). The Sages state that whoever fulfills the mitzva of oneg Shabbat (making Shabbat a delight) merits great things: he receives a limitless portion; his heart’s desires are fulfilled; he is saved from the birth-pangs of the Messiah, from the pre-messianic wars, and from hell; and he becomes wealthy (Shabbat 118-119a). This is because life and blessing depend upon the connection between the material and spiritual realms. One is alive if his soul inhabits his body; when one dies, his soul departs his body. When one’s material existence is linked to higher realms, it is invigorated and blessed at its root; when it is distanced from the source of its vitality, from faith and spiritual values, its life is diminished, it deteriorates, and it is cursed. What makes Shabbat special is that it has increased sanctity expressed in both body and soul – through Torah, prayer, and festive meals. This unifies the spiritual and material, the body and the soul. Life is strengthened, and blessing flows to the world. Therefore the Sages state that whoever properly enjoys Shabbat merits many blessings and is saved from evil (see also below, 7:1).

One must spend as much as he can on Shabbat food, taking into account his weekday habits. In other words, he need not buy the most expensive foods in the market to honor Shabbat, but he must buy better food than what he and his family normally eat on a weekday. The specifics vary from family to family. It seems reasonable to suggest that one should spend twice as much on food for Shabbat as on food for a weekday. Those who go above and beyond spend even more, and they receive great reward for this.

One who is struggling financially and is unable to buy superior food for Shabbat should cut back on his food expenditures during the week, so that at the very least he will be able to buy something special, like small fish, in honor of Shabbat (Shabbat 118b). There are many people who waste money on luxuries, but when they have expenses connected with mitzvot they suddenly become thrifty and stingy. In fact, it is appropriate for one to cut back on luxuries and indulge in mitzvot. The Sages state that one’s annual earnings are allotted by God on Rosh Ha-shana (Beitza 16a), and that one must take care not to waste money on frivolous purchases, because he may exceed his allowance and be left penniless. This allotment, however, excludes money spent on Shabbat and Yom Tov and on his children’s Torah study. If he spends less on these, it is deducted from what was allotted to him; if he spends more on them, his allotment is increased (Taz 242:1).

One who does not have money available to buy food for Shabbat should borrow money in order to make Shabbat enjoyable. He should not worry that something will happen to prevent him from repaying the loan. God assures the Jewish people: “My children, borrow money and sanctify the day. Trust Me, for I will repay it” (Beitza 15b). This is on condition that one does not rely on a miracle, but rather has a business or a regular salary or savings upon which he can rely. The Sages have such a person in mind when they state that one should not worry that he might not succeed in repaying the debt; if he acts properly, works diligently, and is not a spendthrift, God will help him repay.

But one who does not know how he will repay his debt must not borrow money to make Shabbat enjoyable, because he may become a wicked person who does not repay his debts.[2] He also should not ask for charity. Rather, he should eat simple food on Shabbat, following R. Akiva’s recommendation: “Make your Shabbat like a weekday, and do not rely on others” (Pesaĥim 112a). As a reward for not becoming a burden to others, one will become rich (m. Pe’ah 8:9). However, a poor person who has already been forced to accept charity to meet his various needs should also accept charity in order to make Shabbat enjoyable (MB 242:1).

[2]. This is implied by Tosafot, Beitza 15b and stated explicitly by Eshel Avraham – Buczacz, second edition, §242. According to AHS, one should take out a loan only when he has a business and can repay it. Hagahot Asheri states that one should take a collateral-based loan so that there is no concern that the borrower will fit the description: “The wicked man borrows and does not repay” (Tehilim 37:21), for, if he is unable to repay, the collateral will be the payment. This is also the opinion of Eliya Rabba and SAH 242:3. However, the Vilna Gaon maintains that one who takes a loan to buy Shabbat necessities may rely on a miracle. It is possible that this is a ramification of the disagreement between R. Yishmael and R. Shimon b. Yoĥai in Berakhot 35b about whether one must act in accordance with the laws of nature, or whether one may rely upon a miracle. See Harĥavot.

04. Honoring Shabbat via Clothing

It is a mitzva to honor Shabbat, as it is written: “Call Shabbat ‘delight,’ the Lord’s holy [day] ‘honored’” (Yeshayahu 58:13). Part of honoring Shabbat is making sure that one does not dress on Shabbat as he would during the week (Shabbat 113a). Rather, Shabbat clothes should be nicer and clean. Some authorities write in the name of Arizal that it is best not to wear anything on Shabbat that one has worn during the week (MA 262:2). This means that one’s outer garments should be special for Shabbat and Yom Tov, and one’s undergarments should be freshly laundered. Some buy special shoes for Shabbat as well (see SSK ch. 42 n. 206). One who is spending Shabbat alone should still dress up, because the clothes are not meant to honor the people who see them, but to honor Shabbat (MB 262:6).

One who unexpectedly finds himself somewhere for Shabbat and does not have Shabbat clothes available, or a poor person who owns only one garment, should do his best to make his clothing look nicer before Shabbat. Thus we read in the Yerushalmi that R. Simlai publicly taught that everyone should have two sets of clothing, one for weekdays and one for Shabbat. His students cried, saying: “We are poor and we have only one garment.” He said to them: “Nevertheless, you must beautify it before Shabbat” (y. Pe’ah 8:7). Thus soldiers must wear their dress uniforms on Shabbat, and if that is not possible they must clean their clothes and make them look as best they can.

One of the ten ordinances instituted by Ezra the Scribe is that clothing be washed on Thursday (BK 82a). There are two reasons for this ordinance: first, one should not wear dirty clothes on Shabbat. Second, since laundering was hard work, it was ordained to be done on Thursday, so that people would have time to cook and to clean the house on Friday. Nowadays, however, when washing is done by machine, one may do laundry on Friday because it is not too burdensome and it does not disrupt Shabbat preparations. Nevertheless, it is preferable that Shabbat clothing be washed on Thursday, in accordance with Ezra’s ordinance.

We can generalize from Ezra’s ordinance that one should be careful not to turn Friday into a day full of hard and aggravating work. Rather, Friday should be left relatively free, so that people can prepare for Shabbat in a relaxed and calm way (as explained in section 2 above).

05. Honoring Shabbat by Preparing One’s Self and One’s Home

Just as one must prepare nice, clean clothing for Shabbat, so too, one must prepare one’s body for Shabbat. This is part of the mitzva of honoring Shabbat. Thus, the Sages state that it is a mitzva to take a hot bath or shower before Shabbat (Shabbat 25b), because hot water cleans better. One who uses cold or lukewarm water does not fulfill the mitzva (SA 260:1). In the past, when it was difficult to lug water inside in order to wash, the mitzva was limited to washing one’s face, hands, feet, and hair. Those who went above and beyond washed their entire bodies in hot water. But nowadays, when we have showers and electric water boilers, it is a mitzva to wash one’s whole body with hot water. If one normally washes his whole body for a social event, certainly going to greet the Shabbat Queen deserves the same care.

One should not shower or bathe too close to Shabbat, so as to avoid the possibility of unknowingly desecrating Shabbat by turning off the bathroom light or turning off the switch that controls the hot water heater (a common feature in Israeli homes) after Shabbat has already begun. The positive of washing close to Shabbat is outweighed by the risk of desecrating Shabbat.

It is a mitzva for one who needs a haircut to get it on Friday. One who shaves regularly should shave before Shabbat. Similarly, it is a mitzva to cut one’s nails in honor of Shabbat. It is preferable to shave and cut one’s fingernails after midday, because then it is clear that it is being done as part of Shabbat preparations; nevertheless, one may prepare even before midday. One who knows that he will be busy on Friday should cut his hair and nails on Thursday (SA 260:1; AHS 260:6).

The home must also be prepared for Shabbat. It should be cleaned, the table should be set with a nice tablecloth, and the chairs should be neatly arranged around it. One should take care that throughout Shabbat, even between meals, the house and table look nice (SA 262:1). It is also proper to set the table with nice dishes, glasses, and silverware.

Often people think that holiness is expressed only in spiritual activities like Torah study and prayer, while physical needs like eating, sleeping, and beautifying and caring for the body oppose and impede spiritual progress. They think that one should afflict his body, the root of the evil impulse. But then Shabbat arrives and teaches us that it is possible to sanctify the physical. Holiness can be expressed through enjoyable food, nice clothing, and a clean house. Furthermore, perfection is attained specifically when holiness is revealed in all aspects of existence, the spiritual and the physical. Therefore we greet one another with “Shabbat Shalom,” because Shabbat brings peace between the material and the spiritual, and as a result there is peace between husband and wife as well as among people in general (see above, 1:15).

Thus, the Sages inform us:

Two ministering angels accompany one home from the synagogue on Friday night, one good and one wicked. If he arrives home and the candles are lit, the table is set, and the bed is made, the good angel says: “May it be His will that it be this way next Shabbat as well,” and the wicked angel is forced to respond, “Amen.” If this is not the case, the wicked angel says: “May it be His will that it be this way next Shabbat as well,” and the good angel is forced to respond, “Amen.” (Shabbat 119b)

On Shabbat holiness can come to its full expression, in the material and spiritual realms alike. This is why, with the house clean and the table set, even the wicked angel is forced to respond “Amen.” Nevertheless, even if the house is not properly clean, the table not properly set, and the Shabbat food ruined, one must be very careful not to fight or become enraged. Honoring Shabbat requires that the household be at peace, as is stated: “Better a meal of vegetable where there is love than a fattened ox where there is hate” (Mishlei 15:17), and “Better a dry crust with peace than a house full of feasting with strife” (ibid. 17:1). Sefer Ĥasidim elaborates on the former verse:

“Better a meal of vegetable” – on Shabbat, “where there is love” – with his wife and children. “Than a fattened ox where there is hate” – one should not say “I will buy delicacies for Shabbat” knowing full well that he will argue with his wife, parents, or other guests…. This is as it says: “Honor it” (Yeshayahu 58:13) – honor Shabbat by not arguing. (§863)

06. The Mitzva to Take Part in Shabbat Preparations

The Torah states: “On the sixth day, they shall prepare what they have brought in” (Shemot 16:5). It is inferred from here that there is a mitzva to prepare for Shabbat on Friday. Even a rich and dignified person who has servants who take care of all his needs during the week, and who does not lift a finger around the house, must try to do something himself to honor Shabbat. He should not say: “Should I toil at these simple labors that are beneath my dignity?” Rather he must be aware that it is an honor for him to honor the holy Shabbat by preparing for it. Even if one diligently studies Torah and has others who prepare Shabbat for him, he is commanded to participate personally in some type of Shabbat preparation (SA 250:1; Rema 251:2).

The Talmud tells of great rabbis and respected leaders throughout the generations who personally participated in Shabbat preparations. Rava would salt fish before Shabbat, and R. Ĥisda would chop vegetables. Rabba and R. Yosef would chop wood to fire the oven. R. Abahu and R. Zeira would light the cooking fire. R. Huna and R. Papa would prepare candles for Shabbat, and R. Naĥman would clean the house and replace the weekday furniture with the Shabbat furniture (Shabbat 119a).

This is not the place to expand upon the status of each one of the great leaders that we just mentioned, but we must note that we are speaking of extremely well-respected people, the most honored of their generation. They were Torah scholars and community leaders. For example, Rabba and R. Yosef headed the prestigious Babylonian yeshivot of Sura and Pumbedita, and at that time the heads of these yeshivot, together with the Exilarch, constituted the leadership of the entire Jewish world. In the areas under their jurisdiction, no one was appointed to any public office without their agreement, and no ordinance was passed or decision reached regarding tax collection without their approval. Yet these leaders, despite their dignified positions and greatness, would chop wood in honor of Shabbat. R. Huna, R. Ĥisda, R. Papa, and Rava all served as rashei yeshiva in Babylonia, and R. Abahu was the leader of the Jewish community in Eretz Yisrael.

The Sages state that there are three things one must say in his home as it gets dark on Friday: (1) “Has the produce been tithed?” If it has not, he must do so; (2) “Has an eruv ĥatzerot been set up?” If it has not, he must do so. (3) “Remember to light the candle on time” (Shabbat 34a). Today, when we generally buy our produce already tithed, and there are community representatives in charge of the eruv, we no longer need to ask about the first two. But each person still needs to make sure that his home is ready for Shabbat: that the timers controlling lights and the heat/air conditioning are set, that the refrigerator light is off, and that the food is on the plata (a warming tray with no temperature controls), and, with the new type of refrigerator, that it has been set to “Shabbat” mode (see below, 17:8-9). It is also proper on Friday to separate the attached plastic containers of some dairy products (below, 15:14), and to open bottles that have metal caps (15:13). It is good to open those cans and packages that will be used to store food for a few days or longer (15:11-12).

07. The Prohibition of Eating a Large Meal on Friday

On Friday one is meant to be preparing for Shabbat. The Sages forbade sitting down to an unusually large meal on Friday, because doing so would spoil one’s appetite for Friday night dinner (SA 249:2). It also would be disrespectful toward Shabbat, since it would make it seem like Shabbat meals and weekday meals are no different from one another (Pri Megadim ad loc.). Furthermore, it is possible that dealing with a large meal would get in the way of necessary Shabbat preparations (MA ad loc., quoting Rabbeinu Ĥananel). Even a se’udat mitzva (a ceremonial festive meal associated with a mitzva) such as a siyum masekhet (a celebration upon completing a unit of Torah study) may not be planned for Friday. However, before midday one may have a regular meal to celebrate a siyum.

The Talmud tells of a family that lived in Jerusalem and hosted elaborate meals on Fridays. Because of this sin, they first became impoverished and then died out (Gittin 38b).

When there is a se’udat mitzva that must take place at a specific time, such as a brit on the eighth day or a pidyon ha-ben (redemption of the firstborn) on the thirtieth, it may be held on Friday. Since the Torah designates a time for them, it is a mitzva to serve a big meal, and this does not detract from the honor of Shabbat. Nevertheless, it is proper to hold these celebrations before midday, both so as not to disrupt Shabbat preparations and so as not to spoil people’s appetites for the Friday night meal (SA 249:3; MB ad loc. 13 and 695:10; BHL s.v. “mutar”).[3]

It is specifically eating a large meal that the Sages prohibit, but technically one may eat a regular meal anytime on Friday. Nevertheless, the Sages recommend not eating a meal with bread in the three hours before Shabbat, so that at the onset of Shabbat one will be hungry. One may partake of a snack of cake or fruit before Shabbat starts, as long as it does not diminish his appetite.

There were pious individuals who set very high standards for themselves and did not eat at all on Friday; they felt that if they ate they would reduce their appetite for the Shabbat meal. However, one who finds fasting difficult should not do so, as we are not supposed to enter Shabbat while suffering (SA 249:2-3; MB ad loc. 18). In any case, each person should plan his meals on Friday such that he will begin Shabbat hungry and will enjoy the Friday night meal.

[3]. According to MA 249:3, a man may perform Kiddushin (betrothal, the first stage of a Jewish marriage ceremony) on Friday, to ensure that no one preempts him. In this opinion, one may also perform nisu’in (the second stage of a Jewish marriage ceremony) on Friday, in order to expedite the fulfillment of the mitzva to be fruitful and multiply. Following this approach, one may hold a wedding on Friday with both Kiddushin and nisu’in. Authorities who agree with this include the Vilna Gaon and Ben Ish Ĥai (Year 2, Lekh Lekha 21). However, many disagree and maintain that one may not have a wedding feast on Friday unless it is impossible to hold it on another day (Eliya Rabba, Even Ha-ozer, and AHS). Nowadays, when the wedding date is set far in advance and the couple can choose the time, it is clear that a wedding and its feast should not be planned for Friday. This is also the opinion stated in Ĥazon Ovadia, pp. 32-34. According to MB, the law does permit a Friday wedding, but it is preferable to choose a different day if possible. It should be noted that this discussion is not relevant to the earlier, well-accepted custom, primarily among the poor, to hold a wedding on Friday afternoon so that the wedding feast is also served as the Friday night meal, thus reducing expenses.

08. The Prohibition of Doing Melakha on Friday

The Sages prohibit working on Friday afternoon, informing us that work undertaken then will not be blessed with success. The prohibition goes into effect at Minĥa ketana, which is two and a half (seasonal) hours before sunset (Rashi). There is a more stringent opinion that maintains that the prohibition goes into effect earlier, with the onset of Minĥa gedola, which is one half of a seasonal hour after midday (Maharam). Since this is a rabbinic prohibition, one may rely on the more lenient opinion and work until the later time (SA 251:1; MB ad loc. 3). Even if one has finished all his Shabbat preparations, he may not work during this time, because it is disrespectful toward Shabbat for one to work on something unconnected to Shabbat so close to Shabbat (see Harĥavot).

The Sages specifically forbade regular work during those hours, but permitted ad hoc work. Therefore at this time one may not engage in carpentry, tailoring, electrical work, large gardening projects, computer work, writing a Torah scroll or mezuza, or editing books for pay, because these are all forms of regular work. An expert may, however, do something quick, like set a trap to catch animals, soak dye-producing materials in water, or set a computer to carry out a complex operation, all of which are ad hoc types of work. Similarly, one may water the lawn, clean a room, sew buttons, do the laundry in a machine, or write Torah thoughts by hand or on the computer, as these tasks do not require expertise. One may even do these jobs for pay, though he may not do them for pay every Friday afternoon, even if they involve only unskilled labor, because the combination of the pay and the frequency makes it the equivalent of a regular job (see Rema 251:1; BHL s.v. “igeret”; SSK 42:38-39 and n. 133).

One may engage in regular work, including paid work, on Friday afternoon if it is clear that this work is done in the service of Shabbat. For example, one may give haircuts then because it is obvious to all that people are getting their hair cut in honor of Shabbat. It is permissible for a driver to take people places before Shabbat because this too is considered part of Shabbat preparation. An electrician may perform repairs necessary for Shabbat for pay. However, a tailor may not sew clothing then, even if the clothing will be worn on Shabbat, since it is not apparent that it is being done for Shabbat, as it is possible that the garment is meant for a different time. If, however, he is working for free, he may sew clothing to be worn on Shabbat, whether for himself or for a friend. Accordingly, a non-professional may certainly sew or fix clothing for free in honor of Shabbat (SA 251:2; MB ad loc. 7; BHL s.v. “le-taken”).

There are two additional cases in which the Sages allow people to undertake regular work on Friday afternoon. A poor person who does not have enough money to buy Shabbat necessities may continue to work then (MB 251:5), and anyone may work then in order to avoid damage or loss. Thus, a craftsman may finish his work if there is a possibility that if he does not finish it he will lose customers (BHL 251:2 s.v. “ve-eino”). Similarly, one may do on Friday afternoon everything that one may do on Ĥol Ha-mo’ed (MB ad loc. 5).

According to many authorities, commerce is not included in the prohibition of work, so stores may remain open late on Friday. Nevertheless, stores should be closed at least half an hour before Shabbat begins, in order to leave time to wash and get dressed for Shabbat. Nowadays we are customarily more stringent and close shops a few hours before Shabbat. Only stores that sell Shabbat necessities stay open late (MB 251:1, 4; BHL s.v. “ha-oseh,” “ve-eino”).

Those who are going away for Shabbat must plan their trip so that they will arrive at their destination at least half an hour before the start of Shabbat. This way they will be able to organize things for Shabbat when they arrive. If they are taking a long trip, they must take into account possible delays on the way. R. Mordechai Eliyahu advised allowing for double the normal travel time, so if a trip normally takes two hours, one should leave home four hours before Shabbat.

09. Tasks that Begin before Shabbat and Continue into Shabbat

One may begin tasks on Friday that will automatically complete on Shabbat. For example, on Friday one may place a pot with uncooked food on the plata so that it will continue to cook on Shabbat, as long as from the onset of Shabbat until the food is fully cooked one neither touches the pot nor adjusts its temperature (below, 10:16). Similarly, one may place cloth into a vat of dye so that it will absorb the color during Shabbat. This is because the prohibitions on Shabbat are only relevant to actions performed on Shabbat, and not to activities that take place automatically during Shabbat. According to Beit Shammai, just as one is commanded to rest his animals on Shabbat, so too he is commanded to rest all his tools and appliances on Shabbat. However, the halakha follows the opinion of Beit Hillel, and Shabbat prohibitions do not apply to one’s inanimate possessions. Therefore one may use a tool for a task on Friday that will complete automatically on Shabbat (SA 252:1).

Thus, one may set a timer on Friday to turn lights on and off during Shabbat as needed (below, 17:6). Similarly, one may set up irrigation and sprinklers before Shabbat, even though one may not water the lawn on Shabbat (below, 19:4); as long as the watering is set before Shabbat, it is not prohibited. This is also the case when it comes to industrial machines that work nonstop. As long as there is no concern that a Jew will need to turn them on or fix them on Shabbat, it is not necessary to turn them off before Shabbat (Heikhal Yitzĥak §19).

However, when it comes to leaving on machines that are very noisy, like grinding mills, there are differing opinions. Some are stringent and maintain that one may not leave them on during Shabbat because it is not respectful toward Shabbat. Others feel that since they were turned on before Shabbat and no melakha is being done on Shabbat, it is not prohibited. The latter opinion is followed in SA 252:5. Rema, in contrast, writes that ideally one should be stringent and not begin an activity that will produce noise during Shabbat; however, if this will lead to a loss, or if there is some other pressing need, one may be lenient in this regard (see 22:19 below about the prohibition to listen to the radio or watch television on Shabbat).[4]

[4]. Shabbat 18a records a dispute between Rabba and R. Yosef. According to Rabba, a melakha that produces noise (using a mill, for example) is forbidden because it dishonors Shabbat. This is the position of Rabbeinu Ĥananel, Tosafot, Rosh, and Smag. According to R. Yosef, though, it is permitted. This is the position of Rif, Rambam, R. Tam, and SA 252:5. Rema says that le-khatĥila one should be stringent, but if a loss is involved he may be lenient. Based on this, Aĥaronim write that according to SA one may turn on a washing machine close to Shabbat even though it is noisy, while Rema prohibits this. But in a time of need, such as when a soldier arrives from the army on Friday with his clothes needing to be washed, and he has to return to the base immediately after Shabbat, even Rema would agree that one may put them in the wash on Friday afternoon (see Yeĥaveh Da’at 3:18 and SSK 42:43). It is possible that one may use the newer washing machines, which make almost no noise, le-khatĥila even according to Rema.

10. Taking a Boat Trip That Will Continue into Shabbat

The prohibitions of Shabbat apply only on Shabbat. Accordingly, at first glance it would seem permissible to go on a dangerous trip on Friday, keep traveling until a minute before Shabbat, and then when Shabbat begins, decide that one is in a dangerous place. Since danger to life supersedes Shabbat, in order to save himself from danger he would have no choice but to continue traveling to the nearest inhabited area. It is true that if one finds himself in a dangerous place on Shabbat, he may desecrate Shabbat in order to save himself. But a Jew may not put himself in a situation that will require him to desecrate Shabbat. The Sages tell us that starting from Wednesday a Jew must plan things in a way that will not cause him to desecrate Shabbat.

Therefore, from Wednesday onward the Sages forbade people from setting sail on a boat for recreational purposes, and this prohibition applies even when the crew members are non-Jews (Shabbat 19a). There are several reasons for this: first, there is the concern that a dangerous situation will arise and the Jew will have to engage in prohibited activities to help steer the boat (Ha-ma’or). Second, even if there is no chance that the sailors will request his help, if half of the passengers are Jewish then the sailors are working for them on Shabbat, and it is rabbinically prohibited for a Jew to benefit from work that a non-Jew undertook on his behalf on Shabbat (Ramban). Furthermore, even when most of the passengers are non-Jews, if the boat is traveling in shallow water where fewer than ten tefaĥim (handbreadths; each tefaĥ is 7.6 cm) separate the boat from the ocean floor, the Jews are violating the prohibition of being outside teĥum Shabbat (Rabbeinu Ĥananel; see ch. 30 below for the definition). Even if the boat will be sailing in deep water or will be anchored on Shabbat in the middle of the ocean, there may still be a prohibition: since many who travel on boats suffer from seasickness in the first days, the voyage negates the mitzva of oneg Shabbat (Rif).

But in a situation where none of these reasons are relevant – where the sailors and the majority of the passengers are non-Jewish, there is no chance they will ask Jews for help, they are sailing in deep water, and the boat is large and stable so seasickness is unlikely and he will be able to enjoy Shabbat – in such a case one may set sail, even one minute before Shabbat begins, and even if the trip is recreational.[5]

On the first three days of the week, one may set sail for recreational purposes even if it is possible that when Shabbat arrives one may be faced with the necessity of transgressing. This is because on those days, one is not required to limit his actions for fear of desecrating Shabbat or negating the mitzva of oneg Shabbat (but if it is clear that he will definitely need to desecrate Shabbat, then according to Ha-ma’or, Rivash, and Shulĥan Arukh [248:4] one may set out at the beginning of the week, whereas according to Mahari b. Lev and Radbaz it is forbidden. See n. 7).

[5]. In halakhic literature, the example cited of a type of sailing that would not negate enjoyment of Shabbat is sailing on a river, which is assumed to be wave free. However, in today’s modern, large boats, there is almost no fear of seasickness, and the fact is that people sail in them for pleasure. Only those who are super-sensitive are likely to get seasick.

It should also be noted that the Rishonim disagree whether the prohibition of setting sail is in force three days before Shabbat, i.e., from Wednesday (starting on Tuesday at night, which is the start of the halakhic day), or if it applies from Thursday (with Shabbat being included as one of the last three days of the week). See Beit Yosef §248 and MB 248:4. The answer to this question depends on the reason for the prohibition. If the fear is that one will desecrate Shabbat either by performing a melakha himself or by having a non-Jewish sailor do it for him, or alternatively if the concern is for teĥum Shabbat, these prohibitions all go into effect from Wednesday through Friday since these three days are referred to as “before Shabbat” (Gittin 77a). During this period he must not do anything that will lead him to desecrate Shabbat later on. However, if the concern is for oneg Shabbat, that is relevant only from Thursday; several of the Rishonim who mention this concern (including Rosh) specify that the prohibition of setting sail goes into effect on Thursday, because by the journey’s third day the passenger is already used to the water and can still enjoy Shabbat. See Menuĥat Ahava, 1:1:2.

It is also important to note that the condition that most of the passengers be non-Jews is relevant only to a boat whose departure depends upon a certain number of places having been reserved. However, if the boat has a set schedule and does not depend on the number of passengers, then even if by chance most of the passengers are Jews, one may set sail during the three days before Shabbat, since the non-Jewish sailors would sail even if there were no Jews aboard (SSK 30:66).

11. Sailing for the Sake of a Mitzva and Traveling on a Boat Owned by Jews

The aforementioned prohibition on setting sail within three days of Shabbat in order to avoid its desecration or the negation of the mitzva of oneg Shabbat is limited to cases where the trip is not undertaken in service of a mitzva. If, however, the trip is for the sake of a mitzva, and the boat belongs to non-Jews, then one may set sail even on Friday. Some maintain that this permission is contingent upon the owner of the boat agreeing that he will drop anchor on Shabbat; if he is unwilling to agree to this stipulation, it is forbidden to set sail. However, most authorities maintain that even if the non-Jew did not commit to drop anchor, one may still set sail with him for the sake of a mitzva.[6]

On Shabbat itself one may not set sail, even if the boat belongs to a non-Jew and one is on a mitzva mission. The Sages forbade sailing on Shabbat out of the concern that one might come to fashion a raft (Beitza 36b; SA 339:2). If the boat is scheduled to set sail on Shabbat, one may board it before Shabbat starts and remain on it until departure time. Some are lenient, allowing one to accept Shabbat while on the boat and then return home until the departure time; one should not object if people choose to follow this practice (SA and Rema 248:3).

So far we have been discussing boats that belong to non-Jews. If the boat belongs to Jews who are Shabbat desecrators, there is disagreement about the proper practice. Some maintain that on the first three days of the week one may set sail in these boats, because during this time one does not have an obligation to take into account what will happen on Shabbat (Tzitz Eliezer 5:7). However, in practice one may not support Shabbat desecration, and even at the beginning of the week one may not set sail on a boat owned by Jews who desecrate Shabbat (R. Menachem Mendel Schneerson; Minĥat Yitzĥak 3:39; Yeĥaveh Da’at 6:16).[7]

[6]. Shabbat 19a records a disagreement. According to R. Yehuda Ha-nasi, one must stipulate with the non-Jewish owner that he will drop anchor on Shabbat; according to R. Yehuda’s father, R. Shimon b. Gamliel, this is unnecessary. The Rishonim disagree whom the halakha follows. Rambam and SA follow R. Yehuda Ha-nasi, while Rabbeinu Ĥananel and Tur follow R. Shimon b. Gamliel. Furthermore, the Aĥaronim disagree about R. Yehuda Ha-nasi’s position in a case where the non-Jew refuses to accept the stipulation. According to MA, if the non-Jew says that he will continue sailing on Shabbat, one may not board the boat within three days of Shabbat even for the sake of a mitzva. Only if there is a possibility that the boat will drop anchor on Shabbat may he board. However, Eliya Rabba and SAH maintain that R. Yehuda Ha-nasi’s position is that the Jew must request that the non-Jew drop anchor, but may set sail with him even if he refuses. MB 248:2 and SHT ad loc. 1 state that most Aĥaronim adopt the latter position.

What qualifies as a mitzva for these purposes? Studying Torah, collecting charity, and the like. Rema writes that some maintain that traveling for the sake of one’s livelihood is also considered a mitzva mission, even if one has enough to survive and is traveling to earn more. Those who choose to be lenient in this case have an opinion to rely on. However, according to MB 248:36, where there is no custom to be lenient, one should not be lenient le-khatĥila, since many authorities feel that it is only for the sake of an uncontestable mitzva that one may set sail before Shabbat. Moving to Eretz Yisrael is definitely considered a mitzva. However, the status of one traveling to visit Eretz Yisrael is disputed. Pri Megadim maintains that this too is a mitzva, whereas MA maintains that it is not.

[7]. In the case of a Jewish-owned boat that is setting sail for over a week, if it is safe for them to drop anchor at sea and stay still on Shabbat, they must do so. R. Menachem Mendel Schneerson writes that he consulted with experts and was told that it is not dangerous to drop anchor at sea for 25 hours. He is quoted in Minĥat Yitzĥak 3:39 and Yeĥaveh Da’at 6:16. However, there have been experts who felt that this would be dangerous, and that one would have to continue sailing on Shabbat. If they are correct and it is not possible to drop anchor at a port on Shabbat, Tzitz Eliezer 5:7 declares that for a mitzva one may set sail even during the three days preceding Shabbat. If it is not for a mitzva, then one may set sail only during the first three days of the week. His position is based on the opinions of Ha-Ma’or and Rivash, who maintain that even if there is no mitzva involved and it is clear that one will be forced to desecrate Shabbat due to danger to life, one may set sail during the first three days of the week because one does not have to take into account then what will happen on Shabbat. During the three days preceding Shabbat, one may set sail only for a mitzva mission, since at that point he is required to take Shabbat into account, though involvement in a mitzva exempts him from this concern. This is the decision of SA 248:4. See Igrot Moshe OĤ 1:39. However, it seems that one can in fact drop anchor at sea, in which case one must refrain from aiding transgressors. Furthermore, according to Radbaz and Mahari b. Lev, if it is certain that the Jewish owners will desecrate Shabbat, it is rabbinically forbidden to set sail even during the first three days of the week and even for the sake of a mitzva. Some believe that one must follow their view and be stringent (Minĥat Yitzĥak 3:39). See the next section.

12. Traveling by Plane or Train on Friday

One may not board a train or plane on Friday if it will be traveling on Shabbat. This is the case even when the driver or pilot is not Jewish. There are several reasons for this: (1) It violates teĥum Shabbat – it is rabbinically prohibited to leave a populated area on Shabbat and travel for more than 2,000 amot (which is the distance of a mil, the equivalent of about half a mile, or 912 m). If one travels farther than twelve mil, some authorities view it as a transgression of a Torah prohibition (see below, 30:1). Thus one who boards a plane or train for an intercity trip is causing himself to transgress. (2) One will not be able to fulfill the mitzva of oneg Shabbat. Traveling by plane or train is wearying, and generally the seats are very crowded and it is difficult to enjoy Shabbat. (3) The Sages prohibited driving in an animal-drawn wagon that is driven by a non-Jew, out of concern that the Jew would pluck a branch in order to help prod the animal. Even when this concern does not exist, the prohibition stands. (4) Taking such a trip belittles Shabbat; it is very much a weekday activity (uvdin de-ĥol). Ĥatam Sofer, basing himself on Ramban, writes that anyone who does not properly rest on Shabbat and treats Shabbat the same way that he treats a weekday, negates the Torah commandment to rest on Shabbat (6:97; see below, 22:1. Also, see below 30:11 for how the laws of teĥum Shabbat pertain to one whose plane landed or whose boat dropped anchor on Shabbat).[8]

[8].See She’arim Metzuyanim Ba-halakha 74:1 and 74:4; Tzitz Eliezer 1:21 (regarding a plane); Yalkut Yosef 248:3-5. The status of one who wishes to travel for the sake of a mitzva is subject to dispute. According to Ha-ma’or, Responsa Rivash §17, Tashbetz 1:21, and SA 248:4, one may join a caravan even if it is clear that it will inevitably lead to the desecration of Shabbat, since he is setting out on a weekday for the sake of a mitzva. This is the ruling of Tzitz Eliezer 5:7 and Yabi’a Omer YD 5:23:1. However, according to Responsa Radbaz 4:77 and Mahari b. Lev, one may do so only if the desecration of Shabbat is possible but not definite. If he will definitely transgress a Torah prohibition, he may not set out. This is the opinion of MB 248:26 and Minĥat Yitzĥak 2:106, based on Ĥatam Sofer 6:97. (This dispute is connected to the disagreement mentioned above in n. 7 as to whether the law follows R. Yehuda Ha-nasi or R. Shimon b. Gamliel. One may assume that those who follow R. Shimon b. Gamliel would follow Ha-ma’or here, while those who follow R. Yehuda Ha-nasi can be understood to follow either Ha-ma’or or Radbaz.)

Halakhic principles would seem to dictate that we should rule leniently, in accordance with Ha-ma’or and those who concur, since even according to Radbaz the prohibition to set out on Friday is rabbinic in nature (so states Tosefet Shabbat §105). Moreover, it is not clear that one would violate a Torah prohibition by riding in a train or airplane on Shabbat (see Harĥavot). Thus even according to Radbaz there is room to rule leniently. Nevertheless, it seems that in practice we should be stringent nowadays according to all opinions, even Ha-ma’or, since it is stated in Shibolei Ha-leket (Shabbat §111) that the basis for the Sages’ leniency, according to Ha-ma’or, is necessity, for otherwise it would be very difficult to set sail or travel by caravan. Nowadays, however, every flight and train ride, even to the most far-flung places, can begin and end during the weekdays. Therefore, one has no permission to set out knowing that he will have to desecrate Shabbat. It is also possible that setting sail or traveling were only permitted on rare occasions, as temporary measures. But nowadays, when flights and travel are common, there is no such license (a similar ruling appears in Meshaneh Halakhot 3:37; see Harĥavot).

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