Question: My son recently stopped wearing a necktie and lace-up shoes on Shabbat. He explained that he doesn’t want to transgress the prohibition against tying knots on Shabbat. Is tying a necktie or shoelaces really forbidden?
“A Mother in Israel” (Via E-Mail)
Answer: The proximity in Parshat Vayakhel of the mitzvah to rest and refrain from work on Shabbat to the description of the construction of the Mishkan teaches us (says Rashi, citing the Mechilta) that the 39 melachot used for the Mishkan are forbidden on Shabbat. Among them is “hakosher v’hamatir – tying and untying a knot.”
The Mishnah (Shabbos 111b) states that the knots in question are those of camel drivers and sailors. Rashi explains that these are permanent knots. The Gemara (Shabbos 74b) states that knots were tied for the Mishkan either when weaving the curtains or in preparing nets to capture the chilazon.
The Chayyei Adam (topic 26-27:1-2) states that any knot tied to last for a lengthy period is considered permanent, but some view a tightly tied knot as permanent as well (even if it is not tied to last a long time). The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 317:1) adds that knots similar to those of skilled craftsmen are also included.
The Rema cites Rashi, Rabbenu Yerucham, the Rosh, and the Tur who disagree about the length of time a knot must remain tied to be considered permanent (24 hours to a week). According to the Taz (Orach Chayim 317:1) the knot must be firm, sturdy and lasting. If, however, one intends to untie a knot on the same day or if the knot is not sturdy, tying it is only rabbinically prohibited (see Tur ad loc.).
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After we read from the Torah in shul, we perform hagbaha and gelilah. But is tying a knot for gelilah permitted on Shabbat? (In Sefardic and oriental congregations, hagbaha and gelilah are one act performed by one person, who closes the box in which the Torah sits; our discussion does not relate to this custom.)
Rabbi Stern, the Debreciner Rav, zt”l (Responsa Ba’er Moshe, Vol. 6:55) discusses this matter at length. He cites the Minchat Shabbat (responsum 80) who prohibits tying a permanent bow during gelilah at Minchah on Shabbat since it will remain tied until Monday or the following Shabbat.
Similarly, according to his view, it is prohibited to tie a permanent knot during gelilah at Shacharit on Shabbat if the shul knows it will use a different Torah scroll at Minchah. He also cautions against reading from a Torah whose belt is tied with a bow over a knot, because in his view this type of knot may only be untied if the bow was in place for less than 24 hours.
Rabbi Stern states the halacha actually does not follow the view of the Minchat Shabbat. Rather, the prevailing view is that to Rabbi Shimon Greenfield (Responsa Maharshag vol. 1:60) who permits tying a knot with a bow on top of it (this is essentially the Rema’s view, Orach Chayim 317:5). In fact, he states that even if a person ties a knot over a knot he shouldn’t be criticized or stopped. (Of course, one is duty bound to speak to him later in private and explain the halacha to him.)
He also cites the Munkaczer Rebbe (Minchat Elazar in his notes to Orach Chayim 317) who likewise maintains that one may tie a bow on top of a knot when securing the belt around the Torah at Minchah on Shabbat (for reasons which he notes in his discussion).
Rabbi Stern also addresses your question regarding shoelaces. “Be aware,” he writes, “that regarding a bow on top of a knot when tying shoes, all would permit it because surely he is going to untie it within 24 hours. Therefore [even] in the afternoon after his [Shabbat] nap, he may tie a [a bow on top of a knot] since at night on Motzei Shabbat he will [surely] untie it and there is no apprehension in this matter.”
Neckties present a different set of circumstances for some individuals. I present myself as an example. Since I find that at times I have to tie the knot more than once in order to assure that the front of the tie is longer than the back half, I tie all my ties in advance and keep them together with the matching suit. When I put my ties on, I simply loosen the loop so that I am able to slip the tie over my head and adjust it around my neck. When I wish to remove the tie, I do the same in reverse order.
What is not so simple is the following: According to all views, since I leave the knots tied constantly (save for when I send my ties to the cleaners), they are considered permanent and I would not be allowed to untie them on Shabbat.