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My son recently stopped wearing a necktie and lace-up shoes on the Sabbath. He explained that otherwise he fears transgressing the prohibition against tying knots on the Sabbath. I am concerned, as I do not wish that he appear slovenly, especially on the Sabbath, which might not reflect well on him regarding possible shidduchim. Is he correct in this matter?

A Concerned Mother
Via E-mail



Answer: Chayyei Adam (Topic 26-27: 1-2) states, “One who ties or unties a knot of permanence [on the Sabbath] that meets the criteria of a craftsman, such as knots used by camel drivers, sailors, shoemakers in the course of crafting shoes and sandals, and all the like, is liable according to all views. There are those who say that any knot tied to last for a lengthy period is considered a knot of permanence… A knot that is tied albeit to be untied every day is not considered a knot, and one is allowed to both tie it and then untie it [on the Sabbath]. However, in deference to those who view any knot that is squeezed tight as one that lasts with permanence, one should avoid untying any [such] knot save for where it entails great discomfort…”

Your son’s concern has basis. The halacha cited above is unusually classified by Chayyei Adam as one klal (topic), but has a twin numeric, 26-27, since in many instances the melacha (prohibited labor involved) might actually involve a violation of not just one but two melachot – tying and untying.

The source of this halacha is the Mishna in Perek Klal Gadol (Shabbos 73a). The Mishna lists the 39 primary labors [that are prohibited on the Sabbath]. These were the labors that were generally encountered in the construction of the Mishkan. The only exception is ofeh (baking), which Rashi (s.v. “ha’ofeh”) notes was not found in the construction of the Mishkan.

The biblical source for the prohibition of these melachot on the Sabbath is derived from the beginning of Parashat Vayakhel, which is the parasha that details the construction of the Mishkan. The description of the construction is preceded by the following verse (Exodus 35:2): “Sheshet yamim te’aseh melacha u’va’yom ha’she’vi’i yih’yeh lachem kodesh Shabbat shabbaton la’Shem, kol ha’oseh bo melacha yumat” – On six days, work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy for you, a day of complete rest for Hashem; whoever does work on it shall be put to death.” Rashi cites the Mechilta who explains that this passage precedes the construction of the Mishkan to serve as an azhara (warning) that the melachot – those labors entailed in the construction of the Mishkan – do not override the Sabbath.

Listed among the 39 prohibited labors is “ha’kosher v’ha’matir” – tying [a knot] and untying [a knot]. The Mishna at the beginning of Perek V’elu K’sharim (infra 111b) states: “And these are the knots for which one is liable [for a Sabbath violation]: the knot of the camel drivers and that of the sailors. And just as one is liable for having tied them, he is also liable for untying them…” Rashi (ad loc “V’elu K’sharim”) explains: “These, where the knot is of permanence – kesher shel kayama, whereby it is never undone, are considered Avot Melachot – principal labors [prohibited on the Sabbath], similar to the tying of the threads of the curtains [in the Tabernacle] that were torn.”

The Mechaber (Orach Chayyim 317:1) adds to the discussion when he states: “…albeit that it is ‘ma’aseh uman’ – labor of a skilled craftsman, then he is liable [for a Sabbath desecration and is to bring a Korban Chatat – a sin offering in atonement]. Examples: The camel drivers’ knot or that of the sailors and the knots on shoes or sandals that the shoemaker ties in the course of their manufacture and all that are like these. However, if one ties a knot of permanence [on the Sabbath] but it is not [a knot] in the manner of a skilled craftsmen, he is not liable [biblically, but to do so is rabbinically prohibited].

Rema (ad loc) notes: “There are those (Rashi, Rosh, Rabbeinu Yerucham, and Tur) who disagree and opine that for any knot of permanence, even where it is not that of a skilled craftsman, one is liable [for a Sabbath desecration]. There are others who [narrow it even further and] opine that any knot that is tied that is not meant to be untied on that day [i.e., it will remain tied for a 24-hour period] is considered to be [a knot] of permanence. And there are others who are lenient and consider any knot that remains tied for less than seven days as not being of permanence.”

Further to this, the Mechaber (infra) notes: “And a knot that is not of permanence and not that of a skilled craftsman, one is allowed to tie it ab initio.” Rema adds: “This applies as well to its being untied.”

Rabbi Moshe Sofer (Kaf HaChayyim, Orach Chayyim, ad loc sec. 2) makes the following observation: “It would seem to me that the Mechaber’s words – ‘that he is liable [for a Sabbath desecration] – this is for a sin offering, and where his tying is not liable but is rabbinically prohibited [there is no sin offering]’ is of no consequence today as we have no chatat (sin offering). However, I do see a consequential difference and that is as regards those whose testimony as witnesses is invalidated. If one intentionally transgressed a violation that requires him to bring a Korban Chatat, he is considered pasul l’eidut – an invalid witness whose testimony may not be accepted. Also, if one betroths a woman in his presence [depending on him as a witness], there is no need for a get [in the event the couple wish to divorce]. However, if his transgression is only rabbinically prohibited, then in the same circumstance, they will need a get to divorce, because he is not deemed an invalid witness…” What this says basically is that if the kiddushin was dependent on this individual’s testimony [as one of the two witnesses at a wedding], then in the view of Kaf HaChayyim, no valid kiddushin took place.

Whether all authorities agree with Kaf HaChayyim or not, we nevertheless see quite clearly that in matters of Sabbath observance, one has to take great care so as not to come to any transgression because the transgression might not only affect the one transgressing but others as well.

Please bear in mind that while the young man is to be commended for his apprehension notwithstanding, we shall see that this is far from a clear-cut matter of simply avoiding any tying, and we shall amplify further.

(To be continued)

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.