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The Shabbat Primer


Preparing Your Home


According to Torah sources,[4] the home should be as clean and presentable as possible for Shabbat, so that the entire family feels ready to greet the presence of the Shabbat Queen. An orderly, shining-clean home adds immeasurably, even to the spiritual atmosphere of the day.

What this means in practice varies from person to person. We are fully aware that our readers may range from renters of studio apartments to owners of twelve-room houses. Our one bit of general advice, then, is to pick a time slot in the second half of the week for cleaning and stick to it. If you have hired help, try to arrange for him or her to come between Wednesday and Friday. If you have a fairly large house or apartment, you can do the bedrooms in the early part of the week and the kitchen, bathrooms, entrance way, and dining-room closer to Shabbat. Or, if the human traffic warrants it, you might clean the entire home earlier in the week and do a last-minute touch-up of the more public areas on Friday.

The point is, you are the best authority on your home. You know what it requires, whether to scrub the floors or merely to sweep them. You know if your bathrooms will stay clean from Thursday until Shabbat or not. Unless you're Wonderwoman or live in a "bed-sitter" (studio apartment), however, don't attempt to cram all the cleaning and all the cooking into the last hours of Friday.

You may also have to decide at times which is the higher priority for you, a thorough cleaning job or another two side-dishes for dinner. We asked our resource women what their choice would be in such a case, and their response was unanimous. On the theory that a well-fed family member or guest will rarely fault one for a few fingerprints on the woodwork, they said that they would make the meals their first priority. "I take as much time as I need on Thursday for the cooking," says Sarah, "I want to make sure that's really done well. Then I use whatever time is available on Friday for cleaning. So what doesn't get polished doesn't get polished, but at least a good Shabbat dinner and lunch are ready."

"My cooking is usually done Thursday night," says Rachel. "On Friday I do just a quick touch-up cleaning, rather than putting everything away properly and getting things really clean. That I try to do Wednesday. Also, especially with little kids around, there are always unexpected things happening at the last minute, like the milk spilling. I generally react with action rather than emotion at those times. No use crying!"

In the same practical vein, most of our resource women had few qualms about delegating the cleaning chores. Those with older children put them to work. Those with several young children almost always found paid help, even if only a teenaged girl living in the building. A woman renowned for her open-hearted hostessing told us that when her eight children were little, she had a cleaning woman every day. In contrast to what we might expect, then, these balabustes have little pride invested in playing Superwoman. They unreservedly advise, "If you hate to clean or don't have the time, get paid help, for heaven's sake! The extra expense is worth it."

Unpaid help, too, is often readily at hand. Husbands can pitch in with some of the chores, and, in fact, they are enjoined to do so in Torah sources.[5] Children, even very young children, can participate in getting the home neat and ready for Shabbat. Rachel, for example, has taught her little kids to wipe fingerprints off the closets, dust the chairs, and scour sinks that are within their reach. According to one homemaking guide, even a three-year-old can put away his pajamas, make his bed, fold small laundry articles, empty the dishwasher and the wastebaskets, pick up his toys before bed, and clear the dishes off the table.[6]

Two tricks for enlisting children's good-humored involvement in Shabbat cleaning are Chana's adaptations of the "Silent Butler Box" and "The Maid."[7] In the "Silent Butler Box" a parent announces that he or she is giving a five-minute warning that the Silent Butler is coming. (It is wise to explain the game, as well as the meaning of "butler", beforehand.) At the end of five minutes, the "Butler" (said parent) walks around the house and, without saying a word, puts anything left out by anyone into a special Silent Butler Box. These items remain in the box for a week, at which time they can be bought back, either by (allowance) money or by doing chores. The Butler might come around every day or, if you're less rigorous, one particular day of the week, such as Wednesdays. On Fridays, however, everything is reversed. A child becomes the Butler, with full rights to charge his parents, as well as the other kids, for any items of theirs put into the box. Part or all of the money collected could go into the tzedakah box.

"The Maid" works on much the same principle of gleeful revenge. During the week, "The Maid" (Mother) announces that she is about to do her rounds and that every misplaced item she picks up can be reclaimed for five cents (or whatever amount you choose). On Friday, again, one of the children gets to play "the Maid" and charge his parents for their sloppiness.

There may be children who respond to sound motivational devices, such as letting them choose from a list of necessary chores, or to more altruistic appeals for pitching in on the cleaning, but these two games win almost any kid's cooperation.

We mentioned earlier that any task can be done any day of the week "lichvod Shabbat." Not everything must be done on Friday. There is also a matter of priorities. In Chana's opinion, for example, polishing can sometimes be skipped, but the bed sheets and pajamas must be changed on Friday. Lying down between fresh, smooth sheets is, to her, an essential part of Shabbat. Others, however, consider it too much of a hassle to bother with the bedding on a short, busy day. They have different priorities. Leah regards polishing the Shabbat items each week as essential, while the sheets can be changed another day. This is obviously a matter of your own personal preference, the time available, and your constitutional makeup.

What's important when it comes to Shabbat cleaning is to live within your energy level. While having an orderly, clean home will certainly enhance your enjoyment of Shabbat, working yourself into a frazzle can ruin it. And if you have small children who promptly undo a whole morning's scrubbing, you need a philosophy to cope with it. Tell yourself you'll do your best. When the kids get older, it will be easier. Make your home as pleasant as you can now, under your personal circumstances. And remember, what counts toward everyone's Shabbat pleasure is not so much the details as the atmosphere.

Try not to compare yourself with others, As Sarah says, "Nobody should think it's perfect at the home of the next person." More than once, for example, she's had to stuff a whole load of laundry under the sofa or the baby's tub.

Our final word about housecleaning lies in a parable, "The Drudge in the Palace and the Princess in the Sty." In this parable, one husband returns from work at the end of a long day to find his home gleaming and immaculate, but his wife slumped, exhausted and disheveled, in a chair. "What is this poor drudge doing in this splendid palace?" he wonders.

The same evening, another husband returns home from work to his run-down, sloppy home. He is greeted at the door, however, by his radiant wife, looking her best to welcome him. "What is this lovely princess doing in this sty?" he wonders.

Neither husband, of course, would be content very long with the state of things in his home. But if you have to choose a general direction, the parable implies, be a princess.

Laundry For Families

Laundry is a fact of life, particularly for large families and those with young children. However, laundry is not merely throwing the clothes into the machine. It usually entails sorting the clothes, drying them, folding them, putting them back into drawers and closets, and perhaps some touch-up ironing or mending, as well. All this is time-consuming. Many women, however, have discovered that, with planning, they can keep the mountains of dirty clothing at bay.

In this section we will describe several time-saving ideas we've either heard about or practiced ourselves. Perhaps one will work well for you.

First, a few words on what not to do. A counter-productive bit of advice handed down to us from our grandmothers' era recommends setting aside one particular day just for laundry. Perhaps this was good counsel in the days of scrub boards and wringer washers. Today, however, it no longer holds true. There's no need to give laundry great amounts of energy or exclusive attention. Shabbat observance also affects your laundry schedule and makes a special laundry day impractical. Obviously, Saturday is out. The need to have fresh clothes, tablecloth, and perhaps bed linens by Friday evening puts a certain time pressure on things, too, as do the cleaning and cooking requirements of Thursdays and Fridays. For all these reasons, then, it's more efficient to find regular slots of time during the week for doing the laundry, rather than scheduling a particular day for it.

Turning now to the actual laundry routine, we first confront sorting. Here we discovered that with a clever arrangement you can almost eliminate your clothes sorting time. For example, a friend with a large family set up a system using three laundry baskets: one for whites, one for colors, and one for baby clothes. So that even her littlest kids could follow the system, she painted a white patch on the first basket and a red patch on the second. The baby clothes basket she fills herself. You might want to try this idea with some variations, such as a basket for delicate items, or a basket for Shabbat clothes and tablecloths that must be finished by your Thursday deadline.

As for mending, it should be done at moments when your brain is employed elsewhere - while you're conversing with family or friends, watching TV, waiting to pick up a child, or even when your husband is chauffeuring you somewhere. In short, then, mending should ideally be relegated to "hands time" only and never take up precious minutes of "head time."

In the course of our interviews we found several efficient methods of handling the washing itself. Shaina sorts her clothes and fills the machine at night after dinner. Then, after rising the next morning, she just pushes the "start" button. Her load is finished by the end of breakfast and ready to hang up or transfer to the dryer. Aviva, who doesn't own a dryer, starts a load in the evening as her family sits down to dinner. Then, sometime after dishwashing, the laundry is ready to be hung. By morning the laundry is dry. These are two good ideas for convenient laundry time slots during the day. Shabbat observance, however, also imposes a deadline, so some attention should be given to a weekly rhythm of doing the wash. Rachel tries to finish all her laundry on Thursday so that Friday is open for other Shabbat preparations. "I sort all the laundry Thursday morning, and any subsequent laundry is for after Shabbat. The laundry basket is not empty when Shabbat arrives, but I have set a deadline on Thursday morning, and I know that all the laundry from before that is folded and put away. This changes the laundry from being infinite to being finite. Even though laundry never finishes, I feel I have finished for the week." Sarah also avoids doing laundry on Friday, leaving any in the basket for later. Saturday night she does her first load of the week. "And if anyone's still washing diapers," she adds, "don't bother folding them. Just drape them smoothly in a single stack over the side of the crib."

Nechoma credits a busy friend for giving her the secret of laundry organization. It goes like this: all the week's laundry gets done from Saturday night through Tuesday. Any wash piling up in the hamper after Tuesday waits until the coming Saturday night. If there are a few vital items that must be done between Wednesday and Friday afternoon, she washes them quickly by hand. That prevents the temptation to wash some more items by machine. That will begin the cycle of doing a whole load, then another. Of course throwing a load into the machine also means drying and removing the clothes, possibly ironing them, folding them and putting them away, thus taking up precious minutes on Erev Shabbat.

In practice, Nechoma's system is to do a major laundry session Saturday night, washing the Shabbat tablecloths, everyone's Shabbat outfits, and anything else remaining in the hamper. On Tuesday she does all the wash that has accumulated since Sunday. And that's it until the next Saturday night. If you've planned well, Nechoma says, you'll rarely have to do even those few urgent last-minute items.

"Granted, this system requires discipline," she continues, "but after I tried it, I found it was liberating. Except for occasional exceptions, I was no longer folding laundry on Friday afternoons when there were other urgent things to do for Shabbat. And as long as the dirty laundry was out of sight, I found I was not bothered by it. I knew its time would come - when it was convenient for me."

Electrical Devices And Appliances

As we mentioned in Chapter One, there is very widespread misunderstanding about what "work" on Shabbat means. And perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of the whole concept is the halacha's prohibition against operating electricity on Shabbat. After all, isn't it more work to walk than to drive? And what work is involved in switching on a light bulb? To one who thinks only in terms of the amount of effort being expended and the number of calories burned, the whole thing seems baffling.

Effort and calories, however, are not what the halacha is concerned with when it forbids the lighting of fires and electricity on Shabbat.

The Sabbath is the time when we rest from participating with G-d in creating and shaping the universe. It is a time when we delight in G-d and know that we are His creature. It is a time for joyful humility which is a welcome respite from the work week in a technological society where man can over-estimate the power of his control.

In fact, one of the acts most liable to induce hubris is the operation of electricity. It is perhaps the closest we come to G-d-like power. In a fiat reminiscent of the Creator's in Genesis, we only have to think "Let there be light," flick a switch, "And there is light." Against the danger of this kind of overweening pride Shabbat provides the remedy - and a great many compensations besides. On Shabbat, therefore, we make no impositions upon the natural world. We let the electric force alone.

It is important, however, to understand what the prohibition really entails. The prohibition on Shabbat is against directly manipulating buttons so that one is actively causing an electrical appliance to start or stop. Even the most scrupulous halachic authorities, though, permit the use of timers which are preset before candlelighting and allow for electrical appliances to be activated and deactivated during Shabbat without direct human intervention. We are permitted to utilize the benefits of electricity but not to operate it actively on the Shabbat.

How is this actually achieved? In practice, it means having to do some advance planning and having to find new resources. Since all washing machines, dryers, dish washers, and hair dryers are turned off before candlelighting, even if in mid-cycle, you have to schedule all your housework and personal grooming for an earlier time slot. Since all cars, TV's, videos, computers, electronic games, radios, and phonographs are silent on Shabbat, you have to find new sources of entertainment for yourself and your children.

Certain gas and electrical devices, however - electric lights, electric clocks, stoves and other food-warmers, electric blankets and sheets, heaters and air-conditioners, elevators, burglar alarms, and the like - are necessary for one's comfort and safety. Under proper halachic conditions, they may all be used.

The first decision to make is whether you want the device or appliance to run through all the 25 hours of Shabbat. You may well choose to have electric clocks, heaters, air-conditioners and refrigerators on constantly. There's nothing to be done, then, except to be sure the device is turned on before candlelighting and doesn't get switched off until after havdalah. (If it is somehow switched off, you may not reactivate it yourself.)

Matters get more complicated in the case of electrical appliances that you want to be running just some of the time on Shabbat, such as most household lighting, electric blankets and sheets and vaporizers. Here too, there are practical halachic solutions.

Depending upon how your home is wired, you can have the central panel which governs the electric flow in several rooms connected to a timer ("Shabbat clock"), which switches the electricity on and off at preset hours. You have the option of connecting it to one or more of the circuits. Another possibility is to have individual devices switched on and off by timers plugged into outlets. With the first option you will have to plan carefully what your needs will be for Shabbat before you call the electrician. Chana had to call hers back twice after the first visit to connect outlets she'd overlooked.

The plan she finally settled on has proved quite workable. About an hour-and-a-half before sunset the Shabbat clock switches on two overhead lights and a reading lamp in the living-dining room, one central light in the kitchen, and one in the main bathroom. The clock then switches everything off at about 11:30 at night and on again Shabbat afternoon. A separate Shabbat clock switches the central heater on and off at about the same times. (Israelis rarely operate heating stoves throughout the 25 hours.) The Shabbat clock does not govern any of the outlets in the kitchen, where the refrigerator, hot plate, and hot water kettle operate all Shabbat.

Nechoma uses a similar arrangement, but with variations suitable to a home with very young children and frequent overnight guests. The following appliances remain on all Shabbat: the refrigerator (no light inside), the freezer, a light in one bathroom that illuminates the hallway off the bedrooms and also helps anyone who needs the bathroom in the middle of the night, a small light in the kitchen for a baby who needs night feedings and perhaps medicine, the hotplate or blech, and a night light in bedrooms where young children or guests are sleeping. Lights in the bedrooms stay off all Shabbat, since there is enough light from the bathroom to prepare the beds and change into pajamas. The lights in the dining room, living room, and large bathroom are regulated by the Shabbat clock. They are generally on from candlelighting until about midnight and then switch on again during the late afternoon until the end of Shabbat. Air conditioners, heaters, and vaporizers, she adds, could be used with a timer, since they usually aren't needed for the entire Shabbat. "It's not so complicated once you've worked out your plan," says Nechoma. "Play around with different arrangements until you find the one which is best for you."

It may seem that all this business with Shabbat clocks would be incredibly Byzantine and hard to adjust to. But actually in practice, it isn't. When Chana's family first started using the system, she carefully taped all the wall switches to prevent absentmindedly flicking them on and off (a step you may also want to take). She found, however, that after the first two weeks everyone's awareness of Shabbat was so deep that she never had to tape the switches again. "I always get a special pleasure from the Shabbat clock," says Chana, "though it's hard to say exactly why. Part of it is the feeling of absolute rest, of the world's going about all its functions for a day without any effort on my part."

Having discussed the Shabbat clock, there still remain some special cases of electrical devices to consider. One is the refrigerator light. Although we usually want the refrigerator itself to run throughout Shabbat, we violate the halacha by causing the inside bulb to be switched on and off whenever we open and close the door. Therefore, observant Jews either unscrew the bulb before Shabbat or remove it permanently. Telephones and answering machines should be unplugged, the phone put into a drawer with the receiver off the hook, or its rings simply unanswered. Elevators should be avoided unless they are programmed to stop automatically at every floor (and are thus termed "Shabbat elevators.")

Most crucial are devices which are necessary for one's personal well-being and security. These are given careful attention by halachic authorities. All monitoring devices for medical needs, for example, if essential for maintaining one's health, may be operated on Shabbat. Consult a Torah-observant doctor and rabbi to discuss your particular case. Knowledgeable authorities should be consulted about proper use of burglar alarms, intercoms and smoke alarms.

If you have an unusual need for an electrical device not mentioned here, please consult with a rabbi. We can assure you that you won't be the first person to have asked. Torah provides for all necessary activities on Shabbat. If Torah prohibits it, it must be possible to live without it, at least for one day.

Perhaps by now you feel that keeping Shabbat is nothing short of a return to the Stone Age. How can anyone manage comfortably without the TV, telephone, dishwasher, or car? Why should anyone?

First of all, we assure you that all the really important needs are provided for. You can enjoy delicious, warm meals and keep your home at a comfortable temperature summer or winter. If you wish, you can have plenty of family and friends around you.

There is no need to suffer from boredom, even without canned amusements. Radios, TV's, videos, and the like are technically permissible if turned on before candlelighting and left running all Shabbat, or if switched on and off by a preset timer. Nevertheless, we strongly agree with almost all halachic authorities that the very act of operating them is not in the spirit of Shabbat. At least one day a week we should learn to wean ourselves away from electronic and secular entertainment. In our age there are enough activities, both pleasurable and permissible, available so that one need not "die of boredom" on Shabbat. Invest in some enjoyable games and a library of Jewish books. There are hundreds of books in English today on all levels and subjects for adults and children. It's very rewarding to spend one day a week delving into Jewish thought and telling Jewish stories to your kids.

We don't mean to gloss over the difficulties of beginning Shabbat observance. Many families do discover that, after the initial trial period, what was thought at first to be an intolerable restriction turns out to be a blessing. Weekend restlessness gradually disappears. Family conversation resurfaces, board games make a comeback, and distant friends agree happily to stay over with you.

When you see how well you can get along without most technological aids and amusements, you experience a new strength and resourcefulness. After the raucous symphony of telephones, TV's, and washing machines ceases, you can truly hear human voices - and silence - again.

Shabbat is in fact anything but a return to some dismal Stone Age. After all, for thousands of years, Jews have called it "the day of Light."

The Eruv: Carrying On Shabbat

Halacha forbids the carrying of objects from the private to the public domain and vice versa on Shabbat. Carrying anything out of the house to the street, regardless of weight or appropriateness to Shabbat - a key, handkerchief, siddur, or baby - is to be avoided.

Needless to say, this creates difficulties. The halacha, however, also provides workable answers, The simplest is to have the objects you need ready at your destination. For example, cakes to be served at the synagogue kiddush or dishes to be contributed to a pot luck dinner on Shabbat can be brought to the synagogue or your host's home before candle-lighting. Although a talit and kipa may be worn (and thus not carried), the synagogue often provides talitot, kipot, siddurim, and chumashim for all worshippers to borrow, so that carrying is avoided.

This solution, however, does not answer the problem of items you will want to have with you when you return home, such as your door key. What can be done in this case is to have the key made into a piece of jewelry and wear it on a lapel or dress. Any jeweler can silver- or gold-plate a key and attach a pin. In New York City - and probably in other places as well - beautiful keys have been designed incorporating initials and other ornaments.

Since, according to halacha, a man does not wear jewelry, however, another solution had to be found which men could use. One answer is for a man to wear his key as a tie clasp. Another, available to both men and women, is to wear the key as part of a belt. There are two important conditions, though: first, that the key belt cannot be worn on a garment which already has a belt, and second, that the key must be an integral part of the belt and not just hung from it. The way this is done is to have one or two holes punched in the key and then to string a piece of elastic or ribbon through them. Then the key functions as the buckle which holds the ends of the belt together.

The ultimate solution to the carrying problem on Shabbat, and one which allows for all sorts of conveniences, is the eruv. For example, with an eruv created, a woman can walk with her baby in a stroller instead of always staying home or depending upon a baby-sitter. A man can carry his own siddur to synagogue. A child can play several games outside which he couldn't otherwise on Shabbat. Life becomes much easier.

The eruv appears to be nothing but a wire attached at many places to the telephone lines which encircles a whole town or Jewish neighborhood. Its legal effect, however, as explained in the Talmud, is to give a public domain the status of an extended private domain, within which a Jew can carry or move items from one place to another as if he were in his own home. The limiting conditions: one may not carry a muktzeh item or one that is not necessary for that Shabbat. One may not, for example, bring a friend something she will need on Wednesday.

A word of warning: Do not try to construct an eruv yourself. The laws are intricate and confusing to a novice. Ask an observant rabbi for guidance and help in this area.

One of the problems in writing a book like this for people who are perhaps just beginning their religious observance is that the inner experience of living a full Jewish life is often very different from the way it appears on the outside. Take the case of not carrying on Shabbat. It may seem that the Torah goes to exaggerated lengths to make us avoid it, which should alert us to the importance of the prohibition. But let us consider the inner experience. The feeling that you have nothing on you but the clothes on your back, nothing in your hands or in your pockets, not even a single coin, can allow you to feel totally unencumbered and free of the world. Wherever you go on this day, you are bringing only yourself, not any of your accretions or accomplishments. And if, thanks to an eruv, you are holding a baby or a siddur, it helps remind you not to take the carrying for granted. Awareness of the eruv can deepen your satisfaction in being part of a community wholly dedicated to living within the Jewish tradition.

Dishwashing On Shabbat

According to halacha, one may only wash dishes on Shabbat that are needed for use again on that Shabbat.[8] Does this give you visions of an impossibly messy kitchen with stacks of greasy dishes on the counters? Don't worry. Halachic authorities have interpreted this ruling quite liberally, so that you can usually find a solution which suits both the halachic requirements and your own needs. After all, Jewish balebustas have found ways for thousands of years to maintain clean and neat kitchens, even on Shabbat. In fact, in modern times things are much easier. Here are some solutions others have found helpful. Pick whichever ones fit your lifestyle and inclinations.
  1. If you want to avoid dishwashing altogether on Shabbat, which is most preferable, acquire a large enough supply of dishes to last all through the day under normal circumstances. After Havdalah, you can do them in the dishwasher or by hand using hot water and suds (prohibited on Shabbat). During Shabbat itself you can hide the dirty dishes in the dishwasher or on a shelf set aside for the purpose in a closed cabinet.

    You may soak the dirty dishes in a tub of water and liquid soap prepared before Shabbat.[9] If you have forgotten to prepare the tub before Shabbat, you may not do so afterwards, except in summer, when there is a risk of odor and bugs. Rinsing (not washing) the dishes under running cold water from the faucet is likewise permitted in summer for the same reasons. If, however, it is very repulsive to you to leave your dishes unwashed, some authorities hold that you may wash them in cold water and liquid soap, regardless of the season and even if only a few hours remain until the end of Shabbat.

    What we have, then, in the case of dishes not needed again for Shabbat is a descending scale of preference and acceptability. Most widely accepted by the halachic authorities is to simply put them away until after Shabbat ends. Most of these authorities also accept soaking the dishes in a tub of water prepared before Shabbat - and so on down the scale. If, however, you find it extremely difficult to postpone your dishwashing, some authorities allow you to wash the dishes rather than to have them ruin your Shabbat.

  2. If you must wash dishes for use again on Shabbat, consider a number of halachic solutions. For example, even if you will probably be needing only a few of the dishes used, say, on Friday night for lunch on Saturday, you may wash all of them, since you are allowed to choose from all those used Friday night which dishes you want to set out for lunch the next day. Glasses and tea or coffee cups, moreover, may always be washed, on the assumption that you never know when unexpected guests will drop by later on. Pots, however, may not be washed, because clearly you will not need them again on that Shabbat to prepare food.

    There are some additional rules to keep in mind. One is not allowed to use hot water from a faucet, cream or bar soap (some authorities permit liquid soap), or any material, such as a sponge, from which water will be squeezed out. Also, in drying dishes, one should avoid squeezing water from the towel. And, of course, there should be no use of electrical appliances such as dishwashers or sink disposals.

    Now for some practical hints about Shabbat dishwashing. You can try washing your dishes after each course, before they pile up, in cold water and liquid soap. Meanwhile the rest of the family and the guests can sing and converse - Shabbat is one occasion when you shouldn't rush through the meal. You will only be gone five or ten minutes, and then you can rejoin them.

    If you wash dishes immediately after use they get very clean, even in cold water. Greasy dishes which will be needed should not be allowed to remain unwashed, because then they are much harder to clean later. Rubber gloves are helpful if you are sensitive to cold water or liquid soap. Alternatively, as we mentioned before, you can prepare a large pot of soapy water before Shabbat and place it on the blech or hotplate. When dishwashing time comes, you can pour the hot water from the pot into a large plastic dishpan, soak the dishes, and rinse them off. They will come out spotless, and you will have done your dishes in a Shabbatdik way.

    After washing, the best thing to do is to let the dishes air dry in a dish drainer overnight. But if you must hand dry them, let them drip a few minutes in the drainer and then towel dry. The slight delay prevents the towel from getting so wet that you must squeeze out the water, which is forbidden.

    After Shabbat lunch, when it is clear that you will not be needing the dishes again, stack them in the sink, a cabinet, or any other convenient place. You may soak or cover them if you wish, and forget about them until Shabbat is over. This is one day when you will not allow the dishes to rule over you!

  3. Use paper plates. Today there is a wide selection of lovely patterns available, some might, at first glance, even be mistaken for china. If you use such attractive paper plates, you need not feel that you are "insulting the Shabbat." The advantage is obvious. You will not have to deal with dirty dishes at any time during or after the day.

Opening Packages

There is a general restriction against opening packages in the usual way on Shabbat. To be more specific, one should avoid the following: (1) Erasing letters. Most boxes, bags, and wrappers have words printed on them, and words may not be "erased" by tearing between letters. (2) Ungluing. Glue may not be unglued. For example, the top of a potato chips bag may not be separated. (3) Creating a vessel. One may not "create a vessel" on Shabbat. Thus, one is prohibited from opening a carton or can in such a manner as to allow that container to be used again as a vessel after its original contents are consumed. (4) Tearing along perforated lines.

Again, we repeat, don't despair. There are plenty of solutions available. The most obvious one is to have someone - this is a suitable Erev Shabbat job for children - open all the cans, boxes, and bags to be used that Shabbat. Even ice pops should have their wrappers unglued or torn before candlelighting. Be sure to remember milk and juice cartons, soda bottles (if they are the kind that requires breaking a seal with words, but the type that requires a can opener is no problem on Shabbat), bags of potato chips, cookies, candies, treats, cans of food you will be using, bottles of wine, packaged bread and so on. Not only food items, but all other items to be used on Shabbat, such as boxes of disposable diapers, bandages, tissues, paper plates, napkins, etc. should be opened as well. Make a list and post it where you can refer to it every Erev Shabbat.

If you have forgotten a container, however, and must open it on Shabbat, there's no need for panic. You may open it in a special Shabbat way. Just bear in mind the following points. It is preferable to tear the wrapper rather than to unglue it, but take care not to break any words. If opening a container would "create a vessel," as in the case of a milk carton or can, open it in such a way as to make the vessel unfit for future use. For example, a small hole should be punctured with a can opener in the other side of the can so that, as you're opening the top with a manual can opener, the contents are slowly dripping out of the other end. Put a bowl or pitcher underneath the can to catch the liquid. If what you're opening is a cardboard container, cut an opening in the side or bottom and transfer the contents to a pitcher.


When doing things on Shabbat, the primary goal is not to do them the "easy, quick way," but rather in a manner that does not violate the thirty-nine forbidden categories of melacha, and therefore to keep the sanctity of Shabbat.


  1. (Back to text) Code of Jewish Law, chap. 72:7.
  2. (Back to text) "Every man, even one who has many servants, must do something himself in honor of Shabbat.... Rav Chisda used to cut the vegetables very thin. Rabbah and Rav Yosef used to chop wood for cooking...." Other examples are also given. Code of Jewish Law, chap. 72:5.
  3. (Back to text) Young and Jones, Sidetracked Home Executives, p. 153.
  4. (Back to text) Ibid., p. 91.
  5. (Back to text) Code of Jewish Law, Hilchot Shabbat, chap. 323:6.
  6. (Back to text) This and the rest of the statements about dishwashing made in the upcoming paragraphs are drawn from the work by Rabbi Padawer, Piskey Hilchot Shabbat, 3 vols. (N.Y.: no pub., 5742), vol. III, chap. 2, p.12 and on. A highly recommended source; also available in English translation.
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