Thursday, November 13, 2008

Adhesive Name Tags on Shabbat

The questions surrounding adhesive name tags are those that surround the activites of sewing and tearing, which are activities already explicitly forbidden on Shabbat in the Mishnah. As in the case of all problematic activities on Shabbat, the concerns involve avoiding any kind of professional activity as well as not engaging in activities that are physically transformative in a significant way. Rambam Shabbat 10:11 is the first to make explicit that our concerns about sewing and tearing also apply to gluing and separating items.

In this case, there are probably three different stages of the process of using these sorts of tags that gave you pause, such that you asked the question: 1) Removing the sticker from its protective backing, 2) Applying the sticker to the piece of clothing, and 3) Removing the sticker from the clothing once the activity is over. Let's address them one at a time.

1) Removing the sticker from its protective backing

Rav Ovadiah Yosef, in Yehaveh Da'at 6:24, says this is not a problem, since the backing was only ever placed there with the intention of being removed by the consumer. [This is true, for him, of opening soda bottles and any other kind of packaging that is closed up only in order to open it later.] There are indeed some poskim who are stringent about this--see Mahazeh Eliyahu #70--claiming that the backing was intended to be on for a long time and separating it off is thus undoing what was at least a quasi-permanent connection. R. Ovadiah prefers being strict, if possible, and advocates removing the backing before Shabbat as a way of covering all bases. But in the current case, where you are describing an issue of higher cost and there is no feasible way to remove all the backings before Shabbat and still have the stickers work, he would agree that it is permissible to go ahead and remove the stickers on Shabbat. [Tzitz Eliezer 16:6 suggests another reason to be lenient here: One is not at all interested in the backing, such that it becomes like opening a disposable container to get at what is inside, which is permissible. He also offers a way of satisfying all views in this case: remove the backing and replace it before Shabbat, so that the new adhesion is obviously short-term and temporary.]

2) Placing the sticker on one's clothes

There is a long running debate among poskim as to whether the temporary stitching of two items together is forbidden or not. R. Yoel Halevi b. Yitzhak (Germany, 12th c.) and others permit this sort of temporary action, whereas R. Yeshayah of Trani (Italy, 12th-13th century) and others forbid. Beit Yosef seems to follow the lenient view in Siman 317, though recommends being strict in front of the unlettered halakhic masses, since they will have a hard time distinguishing between permitted and forbidden kinds of tearing and sewing. Indeed, Rema cites this approach as well in SA 317:7.

The case of a name tag is quite plainly a temporary adhesion and therefore is clearly permitted according to the lenient view above, which seems to be the core holding of the Shulhan Arukh. But given the concern about the uninformed masses, though one might be lenient in general, one might be hesitant in this sort of public situation (a community lunch), where people might get the wrong impression that connecting things with glue or other adhesives is simple not forbidden on Shabbat. But there is reason to be lenient here even according to those who are strict with temporary sewing and adhesions. Iggerot Moshe OH 2:84 (R. Moshe Feinstein, US, 20th c.) rules that it is permissible to fasten diapers and pendants with pins on Shabbat. He reasons that there is no issue of sewing at all, because sewing only applies in cases where two items have been made as one. Since the pin and the cloth are never truly joined into one entity, there is no issue. Similarly here, the tag and the clothing quite obviously always remain totally separate, and name tags are designed to be easily removable from clothing. [Hazon Ish OH 156, when he permits the use of safety pins in clothing, uses similar logic to explain why we should not be concerned about the halakhically unlettered masses when dealing with safety pins: this concern only applies to acts that look like the involve real stitches and real connections. This would seem to extend to something like an adhesive backing as well, where it is a fairly sui generis category not easily extended to other areas of practice.]

3) Removing the tag from one's clothes

On most clothes, there is no additional concern here above and beyond what we addressed above. Once the adhesion is not considered a Shabbat problem, neither is the removal. With some clothes (such as wool sweaters), however, little pieces of thread may tear off in the process of removal. Here, the relevant source is Yerushalmi Shabbat 7:2, 10a, where R. Huna rules that one whose clothing got entangled in thorns may remove them carefully in private, provided that he does not tear through his clothing. Rambam Shabbat 22:24 clarifies that even if the clothing rips in the process, there is no cause for concern, given that it was unintended. We are indeed often strict to forbid activities leading to unintentional consequences when we know for certain that the problematic consequence will occur, such that one might still see a problem for a person wearing the kind of sweater that will certainly tear somewhat when the name tag is removed. But R. Ovadiah Yosef in Yehaveh Da'at 6:24 permits removing an adhesive in a similar case, even if some tearing will certainly occur, since the maximal offense will be on the rabbinic plane, given that tearing is only a core biblical concern when it will be followed by some constructive/productive activity. Given that this is a case where the name tag will just be thrown out and no longer used for any other purpose, there is little reason to be concerned here. For those who might be uncomfortable, you can suggest that they may want to leave the name tag on until the end of Shabbat.

By Jaclyn Rubin and Rabbi Ethan Tucker

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Purim on Friday

Seudat Purim on Friday: Level I

When Purim falls on a Friday, is it possible to schedule the seudah (festive meal) such that it is eaten very close to Shabbat, thus making it easier for people who work on Purim to fulfill the obligation of the seudah?

            The earliest rabbinic sources feature a debate over whether one can, on any week of the year, eat in the hours leading up to Shabbat, though formal legal consensus quickly forms around the lenient view.  There is also general consensus that one may begin eating before Shabbat and continue through the onset of Shabbat, provided that, by sunset, one pauses to make iddush and only then continues with one’s meal.  However, other sources frown on scheduling even an occasional major meal for Friday afternoon, for several possible reasons: 1) This deprives one of a proper appetite on Shabbat (possibly only a concern for a Friday afternoon meal that ends before Shabbat, as opposed to one that carried over into Shabbat); 2) This deprives one of time to prepare adequately for Shabbat.  These concerns led most Ashkenazi authorities to hold that the Purim seudah should be held in the morning when Purim fell on Friday.  But many hold that the above concerns do not apply in the context of a seudat mitzvah, where the meal has its own religious value (as in the case of a Purim seudah).  Indeed, many Jewish communities throughout history and until today had a regular practice, whenever Purim fell on Friday, to begin the meal in the late afternoon and have it continue into Shabbat.

            In brief: It is a well-attested and perfectly legitimate practice to begin the Purim seudah late in the afternoon and have it continue into Shabbat.  Even those who normally have the practice to have the seudah in the morning in these situations would be justified in changing their practice in order to accommodate people who would otherwise not fulfill this mitzvah.  One should make sure to have made all necessary preparations for Shabbat in advance and to be sure to remember to pray Minhah before the meal.  The meal should be begun early enough so that a significant portion of it can be eaten before sunset.  Once sunset arrives, one should temporarily stop eating and drinking.  The two loaves to be used for Shabbat should be brought out if they are not already on the table and be covered.  Kiddush should then be made over a full cup of wine.  If wine was already consumed earlier in the meal, בורא פרי הגפן should not be said as part of iddush and one begins directly with אשר קדשנו במצוותיו ורצה בנו.  Assuming bread was eaten earlier, hands need not be washed again.  The bread should be uncovered and then distributed to those present without saying המוציא.  [If bread was not eaten during the earlier meal, then hands should be washed and המוציא said.]  People can then resume eating.  At the conclusion of the meal, ברכת המזון is recited without על הנסים and with רצה.  [Some advocate the inclusion of על הנסים as well.]  Kabbalat Shabbat and Arvit then follow.

[Since this practice is today often advanced to aid those who work on Purim, it should be noted that it is preferable not to work on Purim, if at all possible.  The Megillah itself describes Purim as a Yom Tov and several early sources actually speak of a ban on doing work.  Over time, this more stringent take on Purim was stamped out by rabbinic leaders and popular practice, but voices still persisted frowning on those who treated Purim like a normal work day except for the practice of its distinctive mitzvot.  This tension has persisted until the modern day (and pressure to work only increased with the advent of the industrial revolution and its rigid work hours).  One can fairly say that the equilibrium point for most poskim is tolerance for those who work on Purim combined with a strong preference for a religious culture that devotes the entire day towards its distinctive mitzvot and more general joyfulness.]

Friday, February 22, 2008

Switching Torah Readers in the Middle of an Aliyah

Question: Is it an option to switch readers in the middle of one aliyah such that no berakhot are said between readers?  Or does it have to become a 2nd aliyah?  This question is particularly important as our minyan would like to honor the tradition of reading the entire story of עגל הזהב as part of the second aliyah reserved for a Levi, but we have no one skilled enough to read the entire first aliyah.

Answer: The practice of prolonging the first aliyah of Ki Tissa in order to have the entire story of חטא העגל contained within the second aliyah is mentioned in Magen Avraham 428:8 (R. Avraham Gombiner, Poland, 17th c.).  The practice seemingly reflects the fact that Levi was the only tribe that did not participate in this sin and it would thus be shameful for any other Jew to receive the aliyah about this story.  However, in the case you describe, there is no problem with having a second Torah reader come up in the middle and take over; see Responsum Har Tzvi OH 1:72 (R. Tzvi Pesah Frank, 20th c., Israel) for one explicit statement to this effect.  This has no effect on the aliyah numbering, which is determined solely by the number of sets of berakhot that are said by olim.  It is prefereable for the second torah reader (and any others reading parts of that aliyah) to be there for the beginning of the aliyah to hear the opening berakhah such that all readers are a part of this unit in its entirety.

I will note that the one hesitation one should have with this system is the possibility that it will lower standards for Torah reading and that it may dampen individual and communal enthusiasm for cultivating expert readers who can show true כבוד התורה through their investment in this important and public reading of our most sacred text.  I will just quote Rosh Megillah 3:1 (R. Asher b. Yehiel, Germany/Spain, 13th-14th c.) to this effect.  He argued that one should not have a professional Torah reader and that people of inadequate skill should indeed feel somewhat inadequate and cede the floor to those more skilled, such that they be inspired to work towards a greater skill level.  While there is an important role for encouraging participation, splitting aliyot in this way should be done sparingly so as not to deprive people of the chance to stretch themselves to improve their Torah reading skills.

Written by Steven Exler and Rabbi Ethan Tucker