Parshas Ki Sisa.
Laws of work forbidden on Shabbos from the Torah.
1. We will now try to describe briefly the laws of work forbidden on Shabbos. We will first describe those types of labor prohibited by the Torah and then discuss additional fences instituted by Rabbis. In general, the laws of Shabbos are quite complicated, sometimes one of two similar actions may be permitted while the other – forbidden. It is a great Mitzvah to learn the laws of Shabbos, there are many excellent books in English that can be helpful. We will only describe the most basic laws, certainly, in case of any doubts one should ask a competent Orthodox Rabbi.
2. There are 39 general types of work that our Torah forbids to perform on Shabbos. These works were done by our nation on weekdays in the wilderness when we were commanded to build the Mishkan – Tabernacle. According to the teachings of Kabbalah, the Tabernacle was a projection of the entire universe. Thus, just as 39 types of work were used to create the universe, the projections of those works were used to build the Mishkan. There is also the fortieth work that was used in the beginning of creation – making out of nothing. However, this work can not be preformed by people anyway and therefore it is not counted. Many of the 39 forbidden works are quite uncommon, and we will only describe the ones that occur frequently.
3. The Torah forbids us
to light or extinguish fire. It is similarly forbidden to enlarge or diminish
an existing fire. For this reason, one is also not allowed to drive a car on
Shabbos, after all the driver constantly causes
changes to the combustion in the engine. It is also forbidden to turn on, turn
off, increase or decrease electric light. For this reason, one should take out
electric bulb from the refrigerator before Shabbos,
otherwise light would turn on as we open the door. Despite the fact that
electricity was discovered quite recently, all Orthodox Rabbis from one end of
the world to the other agree that electric light can not be turned on Shabbos.
This is another wonder of our Talmud which records the Oral Law received on
4. The Torah does not forbid doing work on a weekday even if it causes an automatic activity on Shabbos. It is thus permitted to set special electric timers before the Shabbos starts and they turn the light on and off automatically. With all that, the Talmud forbids causing such Shabbos activity that would make loud noise as for example a watermill. After all, this would subtract from the spirit of the day of rest. For this reason, one should not set radio and similar devices on a timer. Setting an alarm clock so that it rings on Shabbos is permitted, since everyone knows that alarm clocks always ring at preset times. It goes without saying that a competent Orthodox Rabbi needs to be consulted for any concrete question.
5. It is forbidden to cook on Shabbos even on the fire that was lit before Shabbos started. Moreover, even pouring hot water from a tea pot on leaves of tea is forbidden. The detailed laws of preparation of hot food for Shabbos are quite complicated; the best advice is to learn from a Shabbos observer. The general method is to leave semi cooked food on a metal sheet that covers the stove. The food continues to be cooked until it is removed on Shabbos. Under certain circumstances one is permitted to return the pot back after taking out what is needed for this meal. Some Rabbis permit preparing tea as follows: the water from the teapot that was on the stove from before Shabbos is poured into a cup and then from it into a different cup, where the tea bag is inserted. Others require the tea essence to be prepared before Shabbos, and on Shabbos hot water can be poured to a cup and from there to the essence. Generally we can not use on Shabbos the hot water that runs in our sinks. The reason for this is that when hot water is taken out from the boiler, new cold water enters and starts to get heated. Moreover, any hot water that was heated on Shabbos can not be used even if the heating was done automatically. Some people living in private houses are able to close the fire that heats the boiler as well as the new cold water access and then use the hot water for washing hands, face and dishes. However, taking a shower even using such water is prohibited Rabbinically as we will describe later.
6. The Torah forbids taking an object from a mixture or sorting any articles on Shabbos. Only those utensils or foods that are needed right now can be removed. Thus, for example one can take out some nuts from the mixture of nuts and nutshells if he is planning to eat them now, one can choose a pair of socks than he wants to wear. However, it is forbidden to use special tools to sort any objects. For example, one can not pass liquids through a sieve. When one is eating eggs or fruits that have shells, the shells can be removed only right before the eating. When one is eating meat or fish that has bones, the food should be removed from the bones, but not the bones from the food. According to some opinions, one is allowed to remove pits and bones as he is eating, but not before the meal. According to this, one can take away the watermelon pits from a slice of water melon. Most Sephardic Rabbis rely on this opinion; however Ashkenazi Jews permit this only when there is no other way, like during feeding the children. Otherwise, one should try to eat the fruit and spit out the pits.
7. It is forbidden to squeeze out fruits on Shabbos. According to many opinions one is allowed to squeeze the fruits right into solid food. Those foods that absorbed liquids can be squeezed if one's purpose is to get rid of the liquid but not in order to drink the liquid they absorbed. It is also forbidden to grind or cut into very small pieces those foods that grow from the earth.
8. The Torah forbids us to mix various powders and liquids if the end result is a solid substance. For this reason, one can not prepare various instant jellies, puddings etc. There are many other applications of this prohibition and when one is in doubt he should consult a Rabbi. It is also forbidden to salt vegetables on Shabbos. When making a salad, one should mix the salt with oil first, so that its strength is decreased, and then one can pour the mixture into the salad.
9. The Torah forbids carrying any objects on the outside. Note, that the forbidden activity as defined by the Torah does not depend on the amount of exertion. One is not allowed to carry the smallest object on the street, but it is permitted to move even heavy objects inside the house. It is sometimes forbidden however to carry from one apartment to another even within the same building, or even from one room to another in the same apartment, if they are owned by different people. However, using an "eiruv" the various domains can be mixed and then the carrying between them becomes permitted. Certainly, in making an eiruv one has to consult a competent Rabbi. In some cases a whole neighborhood or even a city can become one domain in which carrying is permissible, obviously the decisions of when this is possible are made by leading Rabbis.
10. The Torah forbids us to sew up, unstitch, glue together, break up and cut various objects. For this reason, toilet paper should be cut before Shabbos or one should use napkins. If one has no precut paper, he is permitted to tear off from a roll in an unusual manner, for example using his elbow. (The matter is that any work on Shabbos, if it is done in an unusual way, is forbidden only by Rabbis, not by the Torah, and in this case the Rabbis removed their prohibition because of human dignity.) It is forbidden to tie or untie complex knots on Shabbos, but it is permitted to fasten a temporary bow (for example, shoe laces.) One is not allowed to knit and weave anything; girls cannot braid their hair or unbraid it. It is forbidden to smear thick substances on Shabbos. For this reason, we do not use a solid soap and we do not apply creams. The above mentioned prohibition does not apply to foods.
11. It is forbidden to build or break anything. Breaking in order to fix is forbidden by Torah itself, while breaking for destructive purpose is forbidden by the Rabbis. One should try to open all food packages and cans before Shabbos. If this was not done, they should only be opened in destructive manner, making the vessel useless. (This is another example where a rabbinical prohibition is removed when there is no other way to enjoy the Shabbos meals.) It is forbidden to open even temporary tents or make any roofs. One can not carry an umbrella even in places where there is an eiruv, even if it was open before Shabbos.
12. The Torah forbids washing or rinsing clothes. Similarly one can not squeeze out a wet cloth. If wine got spilled on a shirt, one is not allowed to pour some water on the spot.
14. One can not write or erase any writings on Shabbos. It is also forbidden to paint or color any objects, a woman may not put on makeup. Those women that want to have their makeup on put it before Shabbos and it stays for the whole day.
14. It is forbidden to catch animals or insects as well as to kill and wound them. Also, the Torah forbids pulling out what grows on the body of a person or an animal. It is therefore forbidden to cut nails or hair. It is also forbidden to pluck any plants from the ground or fruits from trees. It is prohibited to water plants, therefore one should not pour out water in a court yard where flowers or trees grow. Similarly, one cannot through seeds on the ground where they could grow.