of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel


Bet Midrash Virtuali



It is a mitzvah to wash Note: one's whole body; and if this is not possible, one should wash one's face, hands and feet in warm water on Friday. And it is a mitzvah to wash one's head and to trim one's nails on Friday. Note: Also, if one's hair is long it is a mitzvah to cut it; and when one trims one's nails one should not trim them in order, but one should start with the ring finger on the left hand and with the index finger on the right hand.

Just before nightfall one should ask the members of the household very gently, "Have you tithed? Have you prepared the Eruv? Have you separated Ĥallah?" The one should tell them, "Light the candle".


In the two previous shiurim we have seen that the very heart and soul of Shabbat lies in the thirty-nine tasks which are not to be performed on Shabbat - almost (but not quite) under any circumstances. However, these thirty-nine tasks are really major categories, and each has many offshoots. These offshoots are derivative tasks: tasks that are similar to or derive from the major tasks, and these too are equally prohibited on Shabbat. One example will suffice: one of the thirty-nine tasks is baking, but this would include frying, broiling and roasting because they are similar, and even putting bricks into a kiln because this is a derivative of baking.

Shabbat is a "delightful day". The prophet [Isaiah 58:13-14] instructed us that enjoyment of Shabbat is a prelude to Israel's spiritual and material success:

If you refrain from travelling on the sabbath, from pursuing your affairs on my holy day; if you call the sabbath "a delight," God's holy day "honoured"; and if you honour it by not going about your regular ways nor look to your affairs, nor talk about mundane things - then you will delight in God. I will set you astride the heights of the earth, and let you enjoy the heritage of your father Jacob...

Shabbat cannot be enjoyed if we deprive ourselves of 'the simple good things of life', such as tasty food, warmth and light. But cooking and lighting are two of the major tasks that are prohibited on Shabbat. The KaraÏtes in the middle ages adopted a literal approach to the text of the Torah, and denied the validity of the Unwritten Torah of the sages. So they required their adherents to eat only cold food on Shabbat and to have no light or heat in their homes. (In the late middle ages and in early modern times there was a sizeable Karaïte community in various parts of Russia. One wonders how much of a 'delight' a Karaïte Shabbat could have been in the depths of a Russian winter!) When we compare the Karaïte Shabbat with the Rabbinite Shabbat we can easily appreciate the fact that the sages gave a very liberal interpretation to the Shabbat laws.

The basic idea that lies behind the rabbinic interpretation comes from the Torah itself [Exodus 16:22-26], when it discusses the collection of the manna in the desert:

On the sixth day they gathered double the amount of food, two omers for each; and when all the chieftains of the community came and told Moses, he said to them, "This is what God meant: Tomorrow is a day of rest, God's holy sabbath. Bake what you would bake and boil what you would boil; and all that is left put aside to be kept until morning." So they put it aside until morning, as Moses had ordered... Then Moses said, "Eat it today, for today is God's sabbath..."

While one cannot cook food on Shabbat one can prepare cooked food in advance and keep it warm. While one cannot light a fire on Shabbat one can light a fire before Shabbat and let it continue giving its warmth and light during Shabbat. One could think of many other examples. Rambam states the general rule very succinctly in his magnum opus, Mishneh Torah [ Hilkhot Shabbat 4:1]:

It is permitted to start a [prohibited] task before Shabbat and it continues automatically during Shabbat. For we have been told not to do these tasks only on Shabbat itself, but if the task is performed automatically during Shabbat it is permitted for us to benefit from what has been done on Shabbat automatically.

It should now be clear why Rabbi Karo saw fit to include sections 252 to 259 before our present section, which is concerned with last minute preparations before Shabbat. These sections contain rules and regulations concerning the preparation of food before Shabbat, how it is permitted to keep food warm during Shabbat, and similar considerations.

Having prepared everything that is necessary for our enjoyment of Shabbat, one of the last things that we must do on Friday afternoon before Shabbat begins is to prepare ourselves for Shabbat. Ideally, as is mentioned above in Section 260:1, we should wash our whole body in warm water. We should also shampoo our hair and trim our finger nails and our toe nails; if it is long and 'unseemly' we should also have our hair barbered. (We have already mentioned this in Shabbat 007.) The performance of these matters is termed a mitzvah because it is part of what the prophet (quoted above) calls 'honouring Shabbat'. Just as we would keep an appointment with a flesh and blood monarch when we have rendered ourselves 'squeaky clean' so also do we greet 'Queen Shabbat' in similar manner.

In a note that he adds to Rabbi Karo's statements, Rabbi Isserles mentions something that to our modern susceptibilities must seem very quaint. I refer to his description of how one should pare one's nails. My guess is that this is connected in some way or other either with folk superstition or with some quasi-kabbalistic custom. The classic commentators on this section mention many prominent halakhic authorities who personally ignored these recommendations of Rabbi Isserles. If halakhic luminaries such as Rabbi Shim'on Duran and Rabbi Isaac Luria paid no attention to these strictures we can safely ignore them too!

Paragraph 2 of Section 260 is also now quite obsolete. We are required to give tithes from all food grown in Eretz-Israel (regardless of whether it is eaten in Israel or in the diaspora). It is not permissible to separate tithes on Shabbat, therefore any untithed foodstuffs cannot be eaten on Shabbat. In earlier times it was wise to ask (gently!) whether all foodstuffs had been tithed. Nowadays, all fruit and vegetables and processed foods are automatically tithed before they reach the markets, so the issue would only be relevant concerning fruit and vegetables taken directly from a garden or orchard in Eretz-Israel. Similarly, it is no longer customary for each household (or group of households) to make their own Eruv, so there is no need to ask whether this has been done.

The last task in preparation for Shabbat is to light the candles. This will be the subject of our next shiur, on Section 261.


This is our last shiur before the festival of Sukkot, so I take this opportunity of wishing everybody a Ĥag Samé'aĥ. Usually we take a break during Ĥol ha-Mo'ed, but this year if at all possible I will try to send out a shiur next Tuesday.