Question: I notice that in some synagogues I visit on Shabbat, some people do not fold their tallitot but rather leave them in their place unfolded. Others do fold them. I asked one person why he doesn’t fold his tallit, and he responded that doing so is not permitted. Is that true?
Answer: One is, in fact, allowed to fold one’s tallit at the conclusion of the Shabbat morning service.
The Mishnah (Shabbos 113a) states, “We may fold articles [of clothing, on Shabbat], even four or five times. We may arrange the beds from Friday night for Shabbat day but not on Shabbat for Motza’ei Shabbat…”
Rashi (s.v. “mekaplin et hakeilim”) explains that generally clothes that are removed are also folded because the cleaning/washing process softens the material and causes the garments to wrinkle easily. In other words, folding garments improves their appearance and possibly prolongs their usage after Shabbat. Yet, we may fold garments on Shabbat, even four and five times, if the intent is to wear them again that day.
If there is no further need for the garments that day, one may not fold them. Tosafot (s.v. “mekaplim keilim”) states as follows: “From here we derive that it is forbidden to fold the tallitot of the synagogue [on Shabbat] because that is [equivalent to providing for] a need for the next day.”
The Gemara, in explaining the mishnah, cites something expounded in the school of R. Yannai – that folding is permitted for one person but not for two. Two other rules: folding new garments is only permitted if they are white and folding is only permitted if one has no other garments to wear.
Based on this Gemara, the Mechaber (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 302:3) rules, “We may fold, on Shabbat, garments that are needed that day provided the following conditions are met: only one person is doing the folding; they are new garments that have not yet been laundered; they are white; and one has no other garment to change into. If any of these stipulations are not met, one is prohibited from folding.”
The Mechaber then concludes, “There is an opinion stating that folding [a tallit] not on its original creases is permitted in all cases, and [this opinion] seems to be correct.” The Mechaber is referring to both the Mordechai (Shabbat 113) and the Kol Bo (Hilchot Shabbat 31). The Kol Bo attributes this ruling to the Ra’avad..
There appears to be an inconsistency in the Magen Avraham regarding folding a tallit and arranging a bed. The Magen Avraham (ad loc.) states, “And it seems to me that a bed that stands in a room in which a person lives may embarrass him and be unpleasant if it remains unmade. Therefore, it may be made for it has become a need of Shabbat itself.” The Mishnah (Shabbat 113a) stipulates that one may not make a bed on Shabbat day in preparation for Saturday night. Nonetheless, the Magen Avraham states that a person may make his bed if he is using the room and its untidy appearance will bother him. In such a case, the unmade bed will impinge on the holiness of Shabbat.
The Mechaber (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 14:4) states as follows, “A person is permitted to take his friend’s tallit [without his knowledge] and recite a blessing upon it as long as he folds it when he’s done if he found it folded.” This is based on the rule in Bava Metzia (29b), “Nicha lei le’inish de’tiavid mitzva bemamoneih – A person is pleased when a mitzvah is fulfilled with his possessions.” The Magen Avraham writes, however, that on Shabbat a borrower should not fold a tallit. Borrowing it is still permitted, though, because the owner will be glad that his possession enabled a fellow Jew to fulfill a mitzvah. While the Magen Avraham permits a person to make his bed on Shabbat, he does not permit folding a tallit.
The Mechaber seems to rule that as long as one does not fold the tallit in the original manner (on the creases), folding it is permitted on Shabbat. The Mishnah Berurah (Orach Chayyim 302:3-18) explains: “Because this type of folding has no lasting effect – and therefore there is no liability at all for transgressing the labor of metaken [lit., fixing – it is permitted even if one of the four above-mentioned conditions [i.e., only one person, only white garments, etc.] is not met, and even if there is no intention to wear the garment again that day [Shabbat].”
The Mishnah Berurah writes that the Mechaber’s “words seem to be correct” and notes that “so have the Acharonim, the later halachic authorities, concluded in their rulings.” The Mishnah Berurah, though, adds: “He who wishes to be more stringent and not fold at all [is acting in a praiseworthy fashion].” He then concludes with the statement of the Magen Avraham regarding the making of beds on Shabbat. Since leaving the bed unmade will mar one’s Shabbat, one may make it since making it now is a Shabbat need (as opposed to a preparation for after Shabbat).
As far as metaken is considered, the Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chayim 302:11-12) writes that there is no violation of it when one folds a tallit the way we do, which is not derech uman (lit., the manner of a craftsman). Regarding the concern of tircha (lit., extra exertion), he cites the dispute of the Rambam (Hilchot Shabbat 22:22) and the Raavad. The Rambam believes there is no violation of tircha, while the Raavad believes there is.
The Aruch Hashulchan notes that to throw a tallit about without folding it is not proper human behavior. Indeed, we can only imagine what our synagogues would look like if everyone were to leave their tallitot unfolded and strewn about. We must consider, as well, that although we go home following the Shabbat morning service, we return to the synagogue later in the day for Minchah. As such, the situation resembles that of the unmade bed discussed by the Magen Avraham. Both are ones of embarrassment and infringements on the sanctity of Shabbat.
I remember many years ago as a young man I davened in a shul where there was an individual, a fine gentleman, who would, very ceremoniously, fold his tallit every Motza’ei Shabbat. When asked why he did this, he explained, rather humorously, that perhaps it would assure him shalom bayit for that week. He was actually re-folding his tallit, which he had already folded after the morning tefillah against the creases (i.e., inside out).
Indeed, people’s scrupulousness to fold their tallitot undoubtedly relates to shalom bayit. Since it has become traditional for a kallah to buy her chattan a tallit as a wedding present (see Ohr Hameir, Sukkot, cited by Ta’amei Ha’minhagim, Inyanei Ishut), it is only proper to show gratitude to her by treating her present with great care.
Rabbi Yaakov Klass