BET MIDRASH VIRTUALI
of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel



HALAKHAH STUDY GROUP


Bet Midrash Virtuali

Today's shiur is dedicated by Edith Freedman in memory of her mother, Seema Pulier, Seema Bas Ozer z"l, whose Yahrzeit is today.

SHULĤAN ARUKH, ORAĤ ĤAYYIM: The Rules of Shabbat

251:1 Not to engage in one's employment on Friday from Minĥah onwards


Anyone who does any work on Friday from Minĥah onwards will see no sign of a blessing. (Some [authorities] explain [this as referring to] the early Minĥah and some [authorities] explain [this as referring to] the later Minĥah.) Note: This refers only to employment performed regularly; but if it is done casually, on one occasion, and one does not do this regularly, it is permitted. Therefore it is permitted to write a personal letter and all such.

EXPLANATIONS:

1:
The commentators have spilled much ink in their annotations of this Section. The most difficult problem is understanding what the text wishes to imply when it uses the Hebrew term melakhah. On the one hand this term is certainly used extensively in connection with Shabbat to denote any act that is prohibited on Shabbat - however trivial the expended energy may be. But, on the other hand, in its present context it can hardly be understood as prohibiting on Friday afternoons all and any acts that are prohibited on Shabbat. If understood in such a manner how would anybody be able to prepare for Shabbat?

2:
It was in the Talmud that Rabbi Karo found the origin of the statement with which he opens the present section. When we studied Tractate Pesaĥim we found the following mishnah:

Where it is customary to work until noon on the day before Passover people may work; where it is not customary to do so people may not. [Pesaĥim 4:1]

In this context it is quite clear that the term melakhah is being used in the sense of 'earning a living': on the day before Passover one should return home from one's regular workplace by noon. This is understandable since in the early afternoon on the day before Passover the Seder must be prepared and when the Bet Mikdash was available the paschal lamb had to be slaughtered. In its discussion on this mishnah the Gemara [Pesaĥim 50b] quotes a baraita which makes an extension whose relevance to our present topic is immediately obvious:

Anyone who works on Fridays and the day before festivals from Minĥah onwards will never see any sign of a blessing.

3:
The intended meaning of the term melakhah in our present context is now clear: on Fridays one should conclude whatever it is one does to earn one's livelihood from a certain time in the afternoon. And the purpose, obviously, is in order to devote oneself to preparing for Shabbat. This being the case, clearly it is most relevant to ascertain when that 'certain time' begins. Karo hedges his bets. He admits that there is no unanimity among the poskim [decisors] concerning this matter, some offering one time and others offering another.

4:
Over the years there have been many occasions which required me to explain the times of Minĥah. Here is an explanation that I gave when we were studying Tractate Berakhot, nearly nine years ago:

The usual time for the second of the two daily Sacrifices in the Bet Mikdash was half an hour after the ninth hour of the day. This time is referred to for the sake of convenience as Minĥah Ketanah [the Little Minĥah], since there rest only two and one half hours until sunset. But on 14th Nisan in the Bet Mikdash this sacrifice was advanced to half an hour after noon. This time is referred to as Minĥah Gedolah [the Great Minĥah], since there are still five and one half hours to go until sunset.

In my translation of the text, given above, I have rendered Minĥah Gedolah as 'the earlier Minĥah' and Minĥah Ketanah as 'the later Minĥah. Since hours in Halakhic time reckoning are almost always 'relative hours', the length of an hour expands and contracts throughout the year, depending on how much time elapses on any given day between sunrise and sunset. On an imaginary day which has exactly twelve hours of sunshine the time of the earlier Minĥah will be at 12:30 pm and the time of the later Minĥah will be at 3:30 pm. (During the long summer days the time of the later Minĥah will, of course, be considerably later than this.)

5:
The overwhelming majority of Aĥaronim [halakhic authorities in the post Shulĥan Arukh era] say that people who prefer to adopt the more liberal view - that one may engage in gainful employment until the later Minĥah - may certainly do so with no hesitation. Let us note here, parenthetically, that David ben-Gurion pointed out that the Torah [Exodus 20:9] requires us to spend six days at gainful employment. So anyone who continues at gainful employment until the later Minĥah may even be following a biblical injunction - provided that they can prepare for Shabbat in a suitable manner.

6:
We have now ascertained that we may understand the opening sentence of our present section may be rendered as follows:

Anyone who does any work on Friday from the later Minĥah onwards will see no sign of a blessing.

These are harsh words. Can the intention really be to deprive someone who continues at gainful employment after the later Minĥah to be deprived of all blessing in their life? All the commentators seek to soften the blow. A typical example may be quoted from the commentary Mishnah Berurah [291:ii]:

"Will see no sign of a blessing" - from that work: what one earns from this work will be lost elsewhere.

7
We can now understand better the note which Rabbi Moshe Isserles adds to Rabbi Karo's text: continuing one's employment until a late hour on Friday is only prohibited when this is done on a regular basis; but if one occasionally has to 'stay late at the office' in order to do some very urgent work this is permitted - provided always that one arrives home in good time to prepare for Shabbat. There are other exceptions to this general rule: if it is manifest to any understanding Jew that what one is doing is specially for Shabbat then it is permitted even on a regular basis. Shopkeepers, for example, who sell commodities that will be used for Shabbat (Ĥallah, wine, foodstuffs and so forth) may keep their shops open until late.

8:
Isserles makes very clear that the term melakhah as it is used here refers to 'gainful employment' and not to the special Shabbat restrictions (see explanation #1 above) by his last note: on Friday afternoon if one has finished everything that is needful for Shabbat and one still has time to spare one can certainly write a letter - for example - even though such an act is a prohibited melakhah on Shabbat itself.

DISCUSSION:

In Shabbat 005 we noted that Friday should be set aside for the preparation of food, for cleaning and for personal hygiene and so forth. Nehama Barbiru writes:

These days, many women work on Fridays and so start - and sometimes finish - all the cooking and cleaning on Wednesday and/or Thursday. Is there any reason not to do so? Is it enough that the bathing is left for Friday or should some small symbolic item of cooking and cleaning should be left for Friday?

I respond:

That this is definitely the case should become clear from today's shiur. One is permitted to continue one's gainful employment until Friday afternoon. If everybody in the household has to work in this way obviously most of the Shabbat preparation will have to be done on previous days of the week - shopping, cooking, cleaning etc. It is enough that one comes home late, bathes in honour of Shabbat, lays the table, and makes the necessary last minute arrangements for Shabbat (which will doubtless become apparent as this series of shiurim progresses).