Sunday, May 21, 2006


Things to do today:
  • plow
  • sow
  • reap
  • bundle sheaves
  • thresh
  • winnow
  • sort
  • grind
  • sift
  • knead
  • bake
  • shear wool
  • whiten it
  • comb it
  • dye it
  • spin it into thread
  • stretch thread onto a loom
  • make two loops
  • weave two threads
  • separate two threads
  • tie
  • untie
  • sew two stitches
  • tear in order to sew two stitches
  • trap a deer
  • slaughter it
  • skin it
  • salt it
  • tan it
  • scrape it
  • cut it up
  • write two letters
  • erase in order to write two letters
  • build
  • demolish
  • extinguish
  • kindle
  • hit with a hammer
  • transfer from one domain to another


  1. Stretching It On Loom
    make two loops (weaving operations)

    These are all stages in the up/down motion of a loom. There is no practical distinction among them. Why the Mishnah includes these items (and similarly, the sifting operations: thresh, winnow, select, sift) but doesn't mention business which is clearly melekhet avodah, is a mystery. Moreover, the avot melakhot seem to imply making food, clothing, paper, and potpourri/building which flies in the face of the notion that the prohibitions relate to building the tabernacle, unless you accept that the examples were "updated" for the Mishnah. I've also heard that the clothing is tzitzit.

  2. hot!

    benjamin: more info please

  3. Yitzhak Gilat has a book called Hishtalshalut haHalakha be... haDorot on the evolution of Halakha. He was an Orthodox rabbi/scholar at Bar-Ilan. He writes in this book, which I've lent to BZ, that the earliest sources of Shabbat Halakhah show a lack of categorization, and rather a list of prohibition "non shabbatistic" activities. He bring evidences of this but it's been a few years since I read the book.

    He also suggests that this mishnah was once notes in the margin of a copied mishnah and got copied in, some that is not uncommon.

    In particular, if you were even to try to go through Tractate Shabbat and match up all prohibited activities to these activites, you would have a hard time without being told the specific toldah involved. e.g. no swimming because you might wring your towel which is a toldah of laundary which is a toldah of bleaching, not to mention that dripping water on the ground is a toldah of water planting which is a toldah of planting.

    Moreover, electricity doesn't fall under any of these categories yet is clearly just as non-shabbatistic as fire. Any attempts to adopt electricity under the final hammer blow or igniting etc. is flawed.

  4. Benjamin writes:
    Moreover, electricity doesn't fall under any of these categories yet is clearly just as non-shabbatistic as fire.


  5. BZ, I have yet to hear a convincing argument that electricity is a toldah of X. Fire must consume and produce ashes when extinguished-- closing a circuit doesn't "complete it" in the sense that Makeh baPatish means. Hence, "clearly".

  6. Sorry, I answered the wrong question. Oops. The older Halakhic sources see shabbat as a day where everything is prepared and you shouldn't make changes in the environment. Though there are theoretically uses of electricity which don't constitute a melakhah, the vast majority of activities either involve melakhot or are uvdin dekhol. la plug.

  7. But it is less than obvious that electricity itself (and not just specific actions that involve electricity) is a Shabbat violation (especially since you point out that it doesn't really fall into any of the categories), let alone "clearly just as non-shabbatistic as fire".

    Also, "electricity" isn't an action parallel to plowing or winnowing. Electricity is a fundamental force parallel to gravity. It would make no sense to say that gravity is forbidden on Shabbat. And even if we're just talking about electric currents (and not the electrostatic force that holds all matter together, she-im yipateiach echad meihem o yisateim echad meihem, i efshar l'hitkayeim), our bodies run on electric currents - that's how the brain works.

    Really, people are talking about taking actions that indirectly affect the electric current flowing through a circuit. But these actions are so indirect (when considering what is physically happening in each case) that there is no coherent physically meaningful category of "using electricity" that can really encompass flipping a lightswitch, pressing a button on an alarm clock, swiping a MetroCard, and plugging something into a socket.

  8. I've read that heating metal until is glows is a tolda of fire, according to teh mishna, meaning incandescent (but not those wonderful, energy saving flourescent) bulbs are not allowed. Other appliances could then be evaluated on a case by case basis.
    e.g. can you type on the computer if you don't save it?
    -Sarah M

  9. All I'm trying to say is, the use of electric switches and things related to them should be prohibited on Shabbat in order to maintain the atmosphere of shabbat even though, technically, the prohibition of such use would require the creation of a new toldah to be included in the avot melakhot or a classification as shevut.

    I personally use electricity on Shabbat for keypads, lights, cooking, computers, and heating/cooling. However, I do so because I don't consider the paradigm of the avot melakhot to be relevant.

    I agree, BZ, that we shouldn't outlaw electromagnetic radiation, electrostatic forces, and rubbing one's feel on the floor then shocking one's sister. However, I wouldn't make that diyuk on electricity in the first place.

    To be clear, I agree at that the prohibition of using electrical switches and circuits is really a prohibition of the activities contained theirin. I can't think of any external use of electricity that would be permitted.

  10. Not an intellectual comment, but I love your sense of humor. I have been following your omer posts - my personal favorite was 11.


  11. Benjamin, I'm not following your logic.

    How do you get from
    (1) Electricity doesn't fit into the system of avot melachot
    (2) Electricity is only permitted iff one doesn't buy into the system of avot melachot

    It would seem that #1 should lead to the conclusion that the prohibition of electricity and the acceptance of the avot melachot system are entirely orthogonal questions.

    Also, I think this statement...
    All I'm trying to say is, the use of electric switches and things related to them should be prohibited on Shabbat in order to maintain the atmosphere of shabbat
    ...begs the question.

    I've heard it suggested before that electrical devices shouldn't be used or adjusted on Shabbat because they're inconsistent with a "Shabbat atmosphere", but this understanding of a Shabbat atmosphere assumes from the outset that these things are prohibited.

    This past Shabbat at the dar, there was a loud fan on the stage (presumably turned on before Shabbat). I understand why it was there, since the church basement can get stuffy at this time of year. It's been unseasonably cold this week, so the fan proved to be unnecessary, but it stayed on, making a lot of distracting noise. If one were to construct a "Shabbat atmosphere" a priori, without assuming (or deriving from other Shabbat prohibitions) that adjusting electrical devices is prohibited, I think this atmosphere would have included turning the darn fan off.

  12. To me, there's one way that avoiding "using electricity" enhances the "spirit of Shabbat" without begging the question:

    When one takes pains to plan electrically-related things out before Shabbat starts (such as setting light timers or shutting the damn fan off), with the understanding that one can't adjust those things during the day, then there's something freeing about the day. You're at the mercy of the decisions you made beforehand, in the same way that the Jews in the desert were at the mercy of the manna they collected beforehand, or how the agricultural Jews of eretz Yisrael were at the mercy of whatever their land produced during the shmita year.

    This freeing feeling, which is similar to the one I get by walking around with empty pockets when I'm observing Shabbat in a place without an eruv (and have decided not to carry that Shabbat), I think is more fundamental to Shabbat than the direct question of electricity is.

    Having said that, is the gain from this outweighed by the loss created by things like an annoying fan inadvertantly left on? Probably not.

  13. BZ is right when he says that Howard Johnson is right when he says that Bill Johnson is right when he says that Sam Johnson is right when he says that the argument of "electricity" being out so as not to ruin a Shabbat atmosphere is begging the question.

    Additionally, the argument that many make, claiming that Shabbat is "fundamentally" about not changing the world is also problematic. Even if we take Desh's more nuanced version--we are meant to free ourselves from making the sorts of decisions that using "electricity" requires us to make on Shabbat, we end up in trouble. Such a line of thinking will have a hard time explaining why I shouldn't prepare in advance of SHabbat which doors in my house I want open and which I want closed on Shabbat. That's changing the physical world in a far more obvious way then adjusting the air conditioning. Rather, we should try to move to a paradigm in which Shabbat obligations and prohibitions are understood as coming from diverse motivations, one of which may be a concern for excessive involvement in the physical world, but recognizing that that concern is one of many and is by no means solely determinative.

    None of this is meant as an endorsement or attack on the use of "electricity" on Shabbat--just hearty support of BZ's refusal to accept the misleading terms of the debate. We should be talking about fans, incandescent lightbulbs (which, by the way, it seems to me are very clearly a toladah of either igniting or cooking, unless one wants to take a dogmatically literal approach to the tannaitic sources and ignore both the clearly implied content of their meaning and later legal tradition), and whatever other particular issues come up. Not electricity.

  14. It occurred to me while writing here that I would need to explain what a Shabbat atmosphere (uvdin dechol) is and explain why I think using electricity should be prohibited in the traditional system in spite of it being uncategorizable.

    I will think on how to better answer that question. BZ is correct that because my opinion of what uvdin dechol means derives from my experience with the corpus of Shabbat law, it is hard to prove the use of electricity should be forbidden objectively without writing at great length.

    To answer your question al regel ehad, I believe that electricity should be prohibited by halakhah according to my definition of uvdin dechol in spite of it not falling neatly into any category. Therefore, traditional halakhah must prohibit all use of electricity.

    For me, when I redefine Shabbat according to my understanding, I can permit electricity because Shabbat prohibitions are shifted from the avot melakhot to activities which lessen the oneg/hakol muchan/opulent austerity of Shabbat.