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The Sages forbade washing dishes on Shabbat, deeming it an activity of excessive toil that is inconsistent with the spirit of the day.1 It may also fall under “hachana,” the prohibition against performing activities on Shabbat to better prepare for the upcoming weekdays.2 One should certainly not intentionally leave over dirty dishes from Friday afternoon to be washed on Shabbat.3

It is permitted, however, to wash dirty dishes on Shabbat that are likely to be needed for an upcoming snack or meal. However, if the dishes are not likely to be needed again for the duration of Shabbat, such as after a late afternoon seudat shlishit, they may not be washed. It is noted, however, that drinking utensils and other frequently used food utensils are an exception to this rule and may be washed at any time on Shabbat. This is because such items are frequently used and may be needed again without notice.4

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As such, one may wash dishes following the Friday night meal if they will be needed for Shabbat lunch the next day. So too, one may wash the dishes after lunch if they will be needed for seudat shlishit. By the same token, if it is known that the dishes will not be needed again for the duration of Shabbat, it would be forbidden to wash them until after Shabbat has ended. When washing dishes is permitted, one may wash all the dirty dishes remaining from the meal even though only a smaller number of dishes are likely to be needed for the next meal.5 There is an opinion that one may wash dishes on Shabbat that will only be used on a future Shabbat.6

A number of contemporary authorities, however, take a very different approach to the issue of washing dishes on Shabbat. While some authorities are quite strict regarding washing dishes on Shabbat – forbidding it entirely if one can make do with other dishes in one’s supply – there are a number of lenient considerations to completely permit washing dishes, as well.7 In fact, even some of the more stringent authorities acknowledge that common custom nowadays is to take a more lenient approach regarding washing dishes on Shabbat.8

For example, one is permitted to wash dishes that give off an unpleasant smell or will attract flies and other insects.9 So too, one who is disturbed by the sight of dirty dishes piling up in one’s sink or kitchen is permitted to wash them.10 According to this approach, washing dishes in these circumstances is actually considered an act that honors Shabbat, as it better ensures that one will enjoy one’s Shabbat rather than looking forward for it to be over so that one can wash one’s dishes. Accordingly, it is therefore permitted to wash the dishes.11 This is similar to the dispensation to make the beds on Shabbat. Although making beds on Shabbat is generally forbidden, it is permitted to do so if one’s intention is to make the house appear tidier and more orderly in honor of Shabbat.12

According to all authorities, one is permitted to place dirty dishes in a dishwasher13 in preparation for washing after Shabbat.14 The use of a dishwasher on Shabbat by means of a timer is a topic that will be addressed in a future article. It goes without saying that it is forbidden to wash dishes on Shabbat if one’s sole intention in doing so is simply to save oneself work after Shabbat.

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    1. Shabbat 118b; Raavad, Hilchot Shabbat 23:7
    2. Mishna Berura 323:28.
    3. Machatzit Hashekel 302:6.
    4. OC 323:6; Mishna Berura 323:28, 29.
    5. Mishna Berura 323:26; Aruch HaShulchan, OC 326:7.
    6. Salmat Chaim 1:74.
    7. Be’er Moshe 6:82; Aruch HaShulchan, OC 323:7.
    8. Shevet Halevi 5:39.
    9. She’arim Metzuyanim Behalacha 80:27; Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchata 12:2; Rivevot V’yovlot 4:282.
    10. Rivevot V’yovlot 4:282.
    11. Tzitz Eliezer 14:37.
    12. Magen Avraham 302:6; Kaf Hachaim, OC 302:23.
    13. Note: In some modern dishwashers, electric circuits are activated when opening, closing, and/or locking them, making doing so forbidden on Shabbat.
    14. 14 Igrot Moshe, OC 4:74.
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Rabbi Ari Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He teaches halacha, including semicha, one-on-one to people all over the world, online. He is also the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (9 volumes), the rabbinic director of United with Israel, and a rebbe at a number of yeshivot and seminaries. Questions and feedback are welcomed: rabbiari@hotmail.com.
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