Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
The Laws of Shabbat
Yeshivat Har Etzion
Introduction to the Laws of Shabbat
By Rav Baruch
Translated by David
the Torah makes frequent mention of the obligation of Shabbat observance, its
importance and the severity of its violation, the Mishna in Masekhet Chagiga
(10a) declares, "The laws of Shabbat are like mountains suspended by a
hair." These halakhot, with
which we will deal in this series, entail fundamental principles described by
the Mishna as "mountains," all of which are "suspended by a
hair," as the written Torah offers very little information concerning the
halakhic details of Shabbat. It only
alludes to them in various places, such that they can be determined only
through Chazal's derashot (extrapolations from the text).
will open this series with a preliminary overview of the different areas
included under the general category of Shabbat.
Needless to say, we will not, at this stage, address the halakhic
details. The purpose of this overview is
to acquaint ourselves with the range of topics associated with Shabbat, and
develop the conceptual concepts that lie at the heart of Hilkhot Shabbat.
The Basic Principles of Shabbat
Rambam writes (Hilkhot Shabbat, chapter 30):
were said about Shabbat two originate from the Torah, and two originate from
the words of the Sages and are explicated by the prophets. From the Torah: "Zakhor"
["Remember" Shabbat] and "Shamor"
Explicated by the prophets: kavod [displaying honor] and oneg
[enjoying oneself], as it says, "and you shall call Shabbat "[a day
of] delight," and the sacred [day] of the Lord, "a respected
The Rambam divides all the laws
of Shabbat into four categories: zakhor, shamor, kavod and
oneg. Before we briefly discuss
the precise definition of each term, let us first try to understand the
Rambam's comments concerning kavod and oneg, which he claims
"originate from the words of the Sages and are explicated by the
famous debate exists as to whether the Rambam viewed kavod and oneg
as Biblical or rabbinic obligations.
From the Rambam's formulation in this passage, it seems quite clear that
he classified them as rabbinic obligations.
In any event (as can be seen from the citations in note 2), the poskim
who approach kavod and oneg as Torah obligations explain that the
Rambam employs the term "divrei sofrim" in reference to laws
that originate from Torah law but are not explicit in the Torah, derived
instead by Chazal through the various rules of halakhic exegesis (the midot
she-ha-Torah nidreshet ba-hen).
These laws constitute dinim de-orayta (Torah laws) in every sense
of the term, differing from other Torah laws only with respect to their
too, will try to make our own contribution to this topic, by paying careful
attention to the Rambam's formulation: "from the words of the Sages and
are explicated by the prophets."
How is it possible that the "words of the Sages" establishing
the obligations of kavod and oneg were already explicated by the prophets,
who lived much earlier? And if we
explain this passage to mean that the prophets themselves instituted kavod
and oneg, then what role did the Sages play in this process? These obligations were already in place since
the times of the prophets, and thus constitute what in common terminology we
call "divrei kabbala"!
Torah emphasizes many times with regard to the holy days, Shabbat first and
foremost among them, that these are days of mikra kodesh. We may suggest several definitions to this ambiguous
- One must recite a text dealing with the sanctity of
the day, similar to the obligation of kiddush.
- One must recite on these occasions special prayers
that lend them a quality of sanctity.
- People must assemble to proclaim the day holy. (The word mikra would thus denote
the holding of a public assembly, as in the phrase, "Kir'u atzara"
- One must perform actions on these occasions to
express their being sacred days, such as refraining from workweek
activity, conducting special meals, wearing special clothes, and so on.
These and other explanations of mikra
kodesh appear in the classical commentaries to the Torah. Echoes of the final explanation can be found
in Targum Onkelos, which translates the term as "me'ara kadish,"
or "a sacred event." Chazal
similarly comment on this verse in the Sifrei, "Make it a
special event through eating, drinking and fine clothing." As we saw, this interpretation, adopted by
Onkelos and the Sifrei, is but one of several possibilities in
explaining this expression. It would
seem that Chazal chose this interpretation because Yeshayahu had already
issued a prophecy to this effect: "and you shall call Shabbat '[a day of] delight,'
and the sacred [day] of the Lord, 'a respected [day]'." This, then, is the prophet's interpretation
of the term "mikra kodesh."
may thus explain the Rambam's comments as follows. Kavod and oneg are the Sages'
"translation" of the expression mikra kodesh, based on the
prophet's interpretation of that expression.
And it was Chazal who determined the content of kavod and oneg
eating, drinking, and fine clothing.
According to this approach, it emerges that kavod and oneg
are indeed Torah obligations, but since the Torah did not formulate them
explicitly, and they are determined only through rabbinic interpretation, the
Rambam refers to them as "divrei sofrim."
might further suggest that the Torah issued a general imperative requiring that
one conduct himself in a manner that expresses the day's sanctity, and Chazal
established specific modes of conduct for this purpose.
us now return to our overview, following the Rambam's sequence of zakhor,
shamor, kavod and oneg.
1. "Remember the Shabbat
day, to sanctify it"
This verse is the origin of the Biblical obligation of kiddush. Some sources place particular emphasis on the
word zakhor as the basis of this mitzva. The Rambam formulates the obligation as
There is a
Biblical mitzvat asei ["positive commandment"] to sanctify the
day of Shabbat with words, as it says (Shemot 20), "Remember the Shabbat
day, to sanctify it," meaning, mention it with words of praise and
sanctity. One must mention it both when
it begins and ends: when it begins with kiddush ha-yom, and when it
ends with havdala. (Hilkhot
Others, however, emphasized
specifically the word le-kadesho as the source of this obligation. The Ramban, in his commentary to this verse,
There is a
further extrapolation from the word le-kadesho that we must sanctify
it by making mention of it, as in the verse, "You shall sanctify the
fiftieth year" (Vayikra 25:10), which demands sanctification by the Court,
that it [the Court] declares, "Mekudash, mekudash" ["It
is sanctified; it is sanctified"].
Here, too, He commanded that we make mention of the day of Shabbat by
declaring it holy.
B. The Rishonim debate whether this verse introduces an
additional obligation as well. Rashi, in
his commentary to the Torah, writes regarding the word zakhor,
"Make a point of remembering the day of Shabbat at all times, such that if
one comes upon a nice portion [of food], he should set it aside for
interpretation is based on a berayta in Masekhet Beitza (16a):
It has been
said of Shammai Ha-zakein that every day of his life he would eat for the honor
of Shabbat. How? If he discovered a nice animal, he would say,
"This will be for the honor of Shabbat." If the next day he discovered another, nicer
animal, he would leave the second [for Shabbat] and eat the first. But Hillel Ha-zakein had a different
practice; all his actions were for the sake of Heaven, as it says (Tehillim
68:20), "Blessed is the Lord; He supports us each and every day."
It is also
stated in another berayta: Beit Shammai [the followers of Shammai] say,
"From Sunday [start looking ahead] to Shabbat," whereas Beit Hillel
[the followers of Hillel] say, "Blessed is the Lord; He supports us each
and every day."
The Ramban offers the following
response to Rashi's comments:
This is a berayta
which appears in the Mekhilta as follows: "Rabbi Elazar Ben
Chananya Ben Chizkiya Ben Garon says: 'Remember the day of Shabbat to sanctify
it' keep it in mind [already] from Sunday, such that if you come across a
beautiful item, designate it for Shabbat."
But this [berayta] is presented as a minority view, and is not in
accordance with Halakha.
It would appear that for Rashi,
Hillel does not necessarily disagree with Shammai with regard to the
fundamental issue of having the honor of Shabbat in mind throughout the
week. Rather, Hillel perhaps felt that
this need not manifest itself in the realm of food preparation, since doing so
conflicts with another value which Hillel championed, namely, a person's trust
in God, in the sense of "Blessed is the Lord, He supports us each and
every day." The Ramban, by
contrast, understood that Hillel disagrees with Shammai on the fundamental
issue of whether one must keep the needs of Shabbat in mind all week long. Later, the Ramban draws proof to this
position from a passage in the Mekhilta De-Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai:
The mention of
Shabbat would never leave the mouth of Shammai Ha-zakein: when he purchased a
good item, he would say, "This is for Shabbat"; [when he purchased] a
new item, he would say, "This is for Shabbat." But Hillel Ha-zakein had a different
practice, in that he would say, "All your actions should be performed for
the sake of Heaven."
This berayta indicates
that Hillel disagreed with Shammai even with respect to new items, claiming
that one need not designate such an item specifically for Shabbat. Thus, the point of contention between Hillel
and Shammai is clearly not restricted to the question of food preparation.
Ramban therefore infers a different point from this verse, based on the Mekhilta:
This is a mitzva
to constantly remember Shabbat, that we should not forget it or confuse it with
the other days. For through our constant
remembering of Shabbat, one recalls the act of creation at all times, and we
will acknowledge at all times that the world has a Creator, and He commanded us
with regard to this sign, as it says (Shemot 31:13), "for it [Shabbat] is
an eternal sign between Me and you."
This constitutes a fundamental principle in the belief of God.
On this basis, some authorities
inferred an obligation to recall Shabbat each day, and wrote that one must have
in mind to fulfill this obligation while reciting the daily shir shel yom,
which we introduce by saying, "Hayom yom
("Today is the
day to Shabbat).
2. "Observe the day of
Shabbat, to sanctify it"
Ramban (Shemot 20:7) writes:
wrote in this regard (Rosh Hashanah 27a), "Zakhor and Shamor
were proclaimed in a single utterance."
What they z"l intended through this [remark] is that zakhor
[introduces] a mitzvat asei, commanding that we remember the day of
Shabbat to sanctify it, and that we do not forget it; whereas shamor in
their view [introduces] a mitzvat lo ta'aseh ["negative
commandment"], for wherever it says "hishamer," "pen"
or "al," it refers to a lo ta'aseh (Eruvin 96a). It warns that we must observe it to sanctify
it, [meaning,] that we should not desecrate it [by performing forbidden
Shamor thus includes all
the Shabbat prohibitions:
- The thirty-nine categories of melakha, which
Chazal derived from the work performed in the Mishkan.
- The prohibition against the performance of melakha
by one's servant or animal, and the prohibition of techum Shabbat
[traveling beyond 2,000 cubits outside one's city].
- I believe that we should include under shamor
also the entire system of shevutim the prohibitions established
by Chazal based on the verse, "on the seventh day you shall
rest", as the Rambam writes (Hilkhot Shabbat 21:1):
It says in the
Torah (Shemot 23), "tishbot" ["you shall rest"]
[meaning,] you must abstain even from activities that are not [deemed] melakha. There are many activities that the Sages
forbade for the purpose of shevut ["resting"], including
activities forbidden because they resemble melakhot, and activities
forbidden as a decree lest they lead one to violate a prohibition punishable
with sekila [stoning].
These comments correspond to the
Ramban's remarks in his commentary to Parashat Emor (Vayikra 23:24):
be for you a shabbaton [day of complete rest]" [meaning] that is
shall be a day of cessation [of work], on which to rest. Our Sages commented (Shabbat 24b), "shabbaton
constitutes an asei." Now
one who performs forbidden activity on Yom Tov transgresses both a lav
[prohibition] and an asei, whereas one who abstains [from forbidden
activity] on [Yom Tov] fulfills an asei.
I saw in the Mekhilta, in the section of Ha-chodesh:
"'You shall observe this day' (Shemot 12:17) why is this stated? Does it not already say, 'no melakha
shall be performed on them' (ibid. verse 16)?
This tells me about only those activities involving melakha; from
where [do we derive the prohibition concerning] activities forbidden for
purposes of shevut? The verse
states, 'You shall observe this day' to include activities forbidden for the
purpose of shevut"
explain shabbaton as requiring that one cease activity on this day
entirely, even from activities that are not included among the principal melakhot
or their derivatives
It seems to me that this Midrash means to say that we are
commanded by the Torah to rest on Yom Tov [by abstaining] even from activities
that do not constitute melakha, rather than exerting oneself the whole
day measuring grain, weighing fruits and gifts, filling barrels with wine,
moving utensils and stones from house to house and place to place. And if it were a walled city with its doors
locked at night, they would load wine, grapes and figs onto the donkeys and
bring all types of cargo on Yom Tov, and the market would be fully open for all
transactions. Stores would be open,
storekeepers would sell, money-changers would sit at their tables with their
gold coins in front of them, and laborers would arise early for work and hire
themselves out for these and similar jobs like during the week. This is [otherwise] permissible on Yom Tov,
and even on Shabbat itself, for none of this involves melakha. The Torah therefore said shabbaton
it should be a day of cessation [from activity] and rest, and not a day of
According to the Rambam and
Ramban, we should not perceive the mitzva of shabbaton as but the
converse of the prohibition of melakha, or, in halakhic jargon, as
coming merely "liten asei al lo ta'aseh" ("to impose a mitzvat
asei in addition to the lo ta'aseh"). In their view, the mitzva of shabbaton
encompasses areas of activity well beyond the narrow parameters of the
thirty-nine categories of melakha.
It obligates a person to lend Shabbat a quality of menucha (rest)
in all areas of human activity. Although
the Torah did not specify the particular activities included under this mitzva,
this is an example of a situation where Chazal came along and specified
the modes of action from which one must abstain in order to fulfill a command
issued by the Torah in general terms. It
thus turns out that one who performs one of these activities proscribed by Chazal
has violated a rabbinic prohibition, but if one engages in several such
activities to the point where he infringes upon the nature of Shabbat as a day
of rest and cessation from weekday activity he transgresses as well the Torah
obligation of shabbaton.
3. "Li-kdosh Hashem
Mekhubad" Honoring Shabbat
under the category of kavod is any activity performed in the house or
within one's general framework in honor of Shabbat, such as preparing special
food, cleaning and tidying up one's home for Shabbat, placing a white
tablecloth, making the beds, putting out flowers, etc. Candle lighting and conducting a meal by
candlelight also serve as an expression of kevod Shabbat. A second point of focus of kavod is
the preparation of one's body for Shabbat, which includes all means of
grooming: bathing, shaving, shoe polishing, fine clothing, and so on, as
mentioned in the Midrashic passage cited earlier.
4. "Ve-karata La-Shabbat
Oneg" Enjoying Oneself on Shabbat
includes all activities that give a person enjoyment and gratification: Shabbat
meals (eating one's meal by the light of the Shabbat candles is also included
under oneg), making meals out of wine and fine foods, Torah study,
sleep, and so on.
we classified the laws of Shabbat according to the four categories outlined by
the Rambam (zakhor, shamor, kavod and oneg). I believe, however, that we may, essentially,
speak of two basic requirements of Shabbat: zakhor and shamor. The other two obligations kavod and oneg
are merely details within the broader mitzva of zakhor, which
entails speaking of and sanctifying the day, and, as we have seen, kavod
and oneg serve as expressions of the sacred nature of Shabbat. We might thus arrange the laws of Shabbat as
remembering Shabbat during the week, kavod and oneg.
SHAMOR: the thirty-nine
categories of melakha, activities proscribed by Chazal for
purposes of shevut, techum Shabbat, and the prohibition against
the performance of work by one's animal.
this overview, we identified the various fundamental principles of Shabbat,
without embarking on a thorough analysis of the issues or the positions
presented here. Starting with next
week's shiur, we will be"H begin an in-depth, thorough study of
various topics in Hilkhot Shabbat. Most
of our attention will be devoted to the area of shamor, that is, the
forbidden activities. This year, we will
deal with the melakha of bishul cooking and baking.
1. See Shemot 20:7-10, 31:12-17,
35:1-3; Vayikra 23:1-3; Bamidbar 15:32-36; Devarim 5:11-14, and elsewhere.
2. The Chatam Sofer
(responsa, vol. 1, O.C. 168) writes:
Now he [the
Rambam] does not mean that it is merely a rabbinic obligation or [an
obligation] from divrei kabbala [the prophets], such as Purim. Rather, it is actually from Torah, orally
conveyed to Moshe Rabbenu a"h a halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai
and Yeshayahu came along and found a textual source for it. For if you say otherwise, that it is not a halakha
le-Moshe mi-Sinai, [how could the prophet introduce a new obligation;] a
prophet is not permitted to introduce a new law from this point [after the
Torah was given] (Shabbat 104a)!
Necessarily, then, it is a halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai, and the
Rambam refers to it as divrei sofrim, as is his wont.
Rav Moshe Feinstein adds (Iggerot
Moshe, O.C., Dayish, 60):
It seems that
the obligation of kavod also constitutes a Torah obligation. For the
Rambam wrote, "are explicated by the prophets," rather than
"were instituted by the prophets," suggesting that it is from the
Torah. The term "mi-divrei
sofrim" is consistent with the Rambam's tendency to refer to anything
not explicit in the Torah as divrei sofrim, even if it is a Torah law
The same is true of honoring Shabbat, which originates from the oral tradition
and was explicated by the prophets through the Scriptural text.
The Divrei Yatziv (189)
comments in Parashat Emor (Vayikra 23:2) that regarding Shabbat it says mikra
kodesh, requiring making it a day of feast and celebration. The Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav (242) writes
that they [kavod and oneg] essentially originate from the Torah,
as Shabbat is among the mikra'ei kodesh
One might explain the Rambam's
view to mean that they were explicated through the words of the Sages, but they
have the status of Torah law. He also
cites from the Tzemach Tzedek (28), who wrote that oneg originates
from the Torah, and the Yerei'im's view in chapter 99 (412) is that the
obligation of oneg was known through oral tradition, until Yeshayahu
came and found a textual source for it.
By contrast, Rav Ovadya Yosef
writes in Yabi'a Omer (1:15):
We learn from
his [the Rambam's] comments that the obligation of oneg originates only
from divrei sofrim, and not from the Torah. Mahari Taib indeed writes this in Erekh
Ha-shulchan (end of 242). The
Rashba's position, however, in his responsa (127) and his chiddushim to
Yevamot (93), is that oneg Shabbat originates from the Torah, and that
it is derived from the verse, "in order that you learn to fear the Lord
your God forever."
3. I believe the Rambam had two
reasons for distinguishing between laws that are de-orayta (from the
Torah), and those which originate mi-divrei sofrim (through the process
of rabbinic exegesis):
In the second of thirteen principles listed in the Rambam's introduction
to his Sefer Ha-mitzvot, he establishes that only laws mentioned
explicitly in the Torah should be counted among the 613 Biblical
commandments. This list does not include
laws extracted through the midot she-ha-Torah nidreshet bahen
(techniques of extracting halakha from the Biblical text). He thus employs different terminology in
referring to these two different categories of laws.
The Sanhedrin of later generations is empowered to utilize the
thirteen exegetical tools to arrive at different conclusions than those reached
by an earlier Sanhedrin. The Rambam
writes in Hilkhot Mamrim (2:1):
If the High
Court interpreted [verses] through one of the exegetical methods in accordance
with what appears to them to be the law, and they decided upon the law, and
then a later Court arose which adopted a different reasoning that opposes it
[the earlier Court's conclusion] it may oppose it and rule in accordance with
its reasoning, as it says, "[you shall come] to the judge who will be in
those days" you are obliged to follow only the court in your generation."
this passage with his remarks in the first chapter of Hilkhot Mamrim:
There can be
no dispute on divrei kabbala [laws that have been transmitted through
oral tradition]. Anything regarding
which you discover a dispute it cannot be an oral tradition from Moshe
Rabbenu. And matters derived through
deduction if the High Court decided upon them in unison, then they have
decided [and their conclusions are binding].
4. Later, we will mention a
similar idea regarding the obligation of shabbaton. There, too, the Torah issued a general
command to lend the day a quality of rest and cessation from standard activity,
and Chazal established the halakhic details to which we generally refer
5. This question might impact our
understanding of the essence of kiddush, whether we perceive it as
merely a declaration of the sanctity of Shabbat, or if it itself sanctifies the
day. For although the sanctity of
Shabbat takes effect each week regardless of human involvement, nevertheless,
through the recitation of kiddush one perhaps adds to the kedusha
of Shabbat and becomes a partner with the Almighty in this regard. Of course, this issue requires further
elaboration in a separate context.
6. Rambam, Hilkhot Shabbat (27:1):
forbidden to transport cargo on an animal on Shabbat, as it says (Shemot 23),
"in order that your ox and donkey rest." This includes oxen and donkeys, as well as
any animal, beast or bird. If one
transported [cargo] on an animal he is not flogged, even though he is commanded
with respect to its [the animal's] cessation from activity, because this
prohibition emerges as a result of an asei [the positive command to
allow one's animal to rest on Shabbat].
Therefore, one who directs his animal on Shabbat while it carries a burden
is exempt [from punishment].
7. On the basis of the verse, "No man shall
leave his place on the seventh day" (Shemot 16:29), the Rambam writes
(Hilkhot Shabbat 27:1):
One who leaves
outside the boundary of the municipality on Shabbat is flogged, as it says,
"No man shall leave his place on the seventh day." "Place" refers to the city's
boundary. The Torah gave no measurement
for this boundary, but the Sages transmitted [through tradition] that this
boundary means beyond twelve mil, corresponding to the Israelite camp
[during their travels in the wilderness].
And this is what Moshe Rabbenu told them: "Do not leave outside the
camp." From the words of the Sages [we
are taught] that one may leave the city only [a distance of] two thousand
cubits. Beyond two thousand cubits,
however, is forbidden, for two thousand cubits comprise the outskirts of the
8. We hope to discuss the
obligations of kavod and oneg in greater depth at a later
point. For now, we refer the reader to
the Rambam, Hilkhot Shabbat, chapter 30.
9. Earlier, we discussed the
explanations given by Rashi and the Ramban for this mitzva.