Shabbat 18

 

Shabbat 18a continues to explore questions concerning the initiation of a melacha on Erev Shabbat that continues on Shabbat.

As previously noted (Shabbat 17b), we rule in accordance with Beit Hillel that a melacha may be started even if it continues unaided on Shabbat, and this is because, as Rav Yosef explains, as long as a person is not actively involved in the ‘melacha’ during Shabbat their utensils may ‘perform melacha’.

Based on this logic we would have assumed that wheat may be placed in a water mill to grind on Erev Shabbat even if the grinding continued on Shabbat itself. However, according to a Beraita (on Shabbat 18a) this is not permitted. As Rabbah explains, this is because the noise of the grinding would be heard on Shabbat which, as Rashi notes, would be a diminishment of the honour of Shabbat.

The question addressed by R’ Yosef Karo in his Beit Yosef (Orach Chaim 252) is which opinion do we follow? Should we rule like R’ Yosef whose logic dictates that the water mill may be set to operate on Erev Shabbat? Or like Rabbah who prohibits this due to the noise that it creates?

Significantly, Rambam is silent on this question which is interpreted by R’ Karo to suggest that he rules according to R’ Yosef and allows noise-making activities that have started on Erev Shabbat. This too is the view of Rabbeinu Tam. Based on these authorities, Rav Yosef Karo allows such activities unless they conflict with community norms. Consequently, a Sefardi who follows the rulings of R’ Karo may put clothes in a washing machine on Erev Shabbat which continues to wash on Shabbat, even if the machine makes noise (see Yalkut Yosef, Shabbat 252 section 4).

R’ Moshe Isserles (Rema) disagrees, and basing himself on Tosfot, Rosh and numerous other halachic opinions rules in accordance with Rabbah. Thus, Ashkenazim who follow the rulings of Rema may not put clothes in a washing machine on Erev Shabbat which continues to wash on Shabbat (see Sh’ut Minchat Shlomo Vol. 10 No. 10 sec. 2). However, it should be noted that if a particular machine is sufficiently quiet that its noise may not be heard from afar, it would be permitted. Moreover, since this is a rabbinic enactment, it is important to note that one may be lenient in a case of great need.

Nevertheless, is worthwhile considering why R’ Karo does not rule according to Rabbah whose desire to protect the honour and spirit of shabbat seems compelling. It seems to me that this is a good example of poskim trying to find the right balance between the needs of the people and the spirit of the law. Here R’ Karo is a pragmatist, and especially as this only concerns the realm of rabbinic prohibitions he is lenient and sides towards maximising the opportunities for the ease of Shabbat observance. Contrasting this is the Rema who, aside from the fact that many more poskim adopt Rabbah’s position, prioritises the spirit of Shabbat even at the cost of the convenience of the people.

Of course this is a delicate balance, and as noted above, in situations of great need all opinions would support adopting a lenient view. This is why I was heartened to read a recent ruling of R’ Schachter who, upon being asked with respect to these difficult times of isolation whether a person who lives alone and who might become depressed – especially their depression could lead to suicidal ideation – ‘may leave on a TV or radio over Shabbos to have other voices in the house and to pass the time’, responded that ‘we must not allow someone with such problems to let these problems get worse. One should definitely tell them to leave something on’ (see https://rabbidunner.com/coronavirus-qa-with-rav-hershel-schachter/). Simply put, different times and different situations challenge us to find the right balance between the needs of the people and the spirit of the law.