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30. Tofair: Making a Connection

July 21, 2015 | by

Tightly attaching two flexible surfaces by means of a third material.

Among the melachot within the 'Order of Garments', Tofair1 (sewing) is one with several everyday (or 'every-week') applications.

As compared to Koshair, where two items are tied together but can be separated, Tofair is "tightly attaching two flexible surfaces by means of a third material."2 The paradigm activity is sewing, as the name of the melacha suggests. When you sew, you combine materials in such a way that they become one. Sewing was performed in the Mishkan in order to combine the woven cloths which we've been discussing for the past several lessons.3

Beyond using needle and thread, other types of 'attaching' fall under the heading of Tofair. Some examples:

  • taping – e.g., taping together parts of a paper that has torn
  • gluing – e.g., by using glue or sealing a gummed envelope
  • stapling4

What's Not Included?

There are a number of actions that involve 'attaching' but are not considered a violation of this melacha.

Buttoning – Securing something with a button is not Tofair, because the items are not fused together (as they are with sewing).5

Fastening with Velcro – When you use Velcro, you are connecting one side of the item with the other. Why, then, is this not an act of Tofair?

Here we need to understand the concept of "a thing's normal use" (in Hebrew, derech tash'misho). When I use an object in the way that it was meant to be used, that action is generally not a melacha.6 There needs to be some other creative element to my action in order for it to qualify as 'labor' for Shabbat purposes. With Velcro, its very purpose is to be closed and opened repeatedly. As a result, when I use it, I am not doing any melacha.7 In addition, as we'll see below, Velcro closures are temporary, which provides another basis for permitting them.

Safety pins – In light of what we've just said, it would seem that safety pins should also be okay for use on Shabbat. In fact, this is the case, although there are differing opinions. Unlike buttons, safety pins penetrate the surface of the fabric they are being used to connect, which makes them a more serious mode of fastening with respect to the laws of Shabbat. However, because the pins are so easily detached from the fabric, and their essential use is only temporary, safety pins are, indeed, 'safe' for Shabbat use8 (most of the time – see the next section).

A straight pin is forbidden to be used in an "in, out, in" manner, because this too closely resembles an act of stitching.

'Temporary' vs. 'Permanent'

An act of attaching that would be considered 'permanent' is not allowed. This is because of an opinion that the primary prohibition of Tofair is in connecting something in a permanent way.9 As we saw in Koshair, 'permanent' means anything lasting for at least 24 hours.

Thus, an action that is permitted when it is 'temporary' in nature can become a violation of Tofair when it becomes 'permanent.' As an example: you are attaching something with a safety pin, and you intend for it to remain closed for more than 24 hours, there is a limitation on your use of the pin. You can pierce the fabric once, but not more.10 Piercing it twice would strengthen the permanence of the connection.

On the flip side, connections that are temporary in nature are acceptable. We've already mentioned this regarding Velcro; other classic examples are zippers and magnets.

Another application is Band-aids (or similar bandages). You are allowed to tape the Band-aid onto skin, since it will be there for only a short period of time.11

In the same category are disposable diapers. These often have adhesive tabs on either side, which fasten the diaper onto the baby. You can attach the diaper with these tabs because – and this is certain – the diaper will not remain on the baby for 24 hours.12

Koraya: A Ripping Good Subject

Tofair has a partner melacha, known as Koraya (tearing).13 Indeed, all the halachot of Tofair will apply in their opposite form to Koraya.

Let's look at a few illustrations of this melacha:

  • Tearing a piece of paper: If tearing paper is Koraya, then what about using things like tissues and napkins?

Tissues and napkins may rip during normal use; however, since this tearing isn't intended or inevitable, we can use these things. If they happen to tear, it is not a violation of Shabbat.14

(Toilet paper is more complicated, because it comes on a roll, and needs to be intentionally torn in order to be used. We will discuss this in lesson #34, the melacha of Mechataich.)

  • Removing a glued label from a bottle or other item: This is prohibited, since the rule is: Any time two objects are attached together (i.e. glued or sewn), separating the objects is an act of Koraya.15
  • What about pages of a book that you find accidentally glued together (e.g. by way of a dried food stain)? This may be separated.16

Koraya in the Kitchen

In our kitchens, we use many packaged goods, as well as fresh items that come in packages. Of course, to remove the food from its container usually involves some form of tearing. We therefore need to understand what kind of package-opening is allowed on Shabbat.

The most practical approach is to open necessary packages before Shabbat. For example, if I know my children will want crackers on Shabbat afternoon, I should open the package before Shabbat begins.

However, not everything can be opened ahead of time, and you don't always know what you're going to need. So pre-opening is not going to be a complete solution.

The basic rule in halacha is that food packaging may be opened on Shabbat if it wasn't possible to open it before, or you forgot to do so. Although the Sages extended the melacha of Koraya to include even destructive tearing, they made an exception for tearing that is needed to obtain food, medicine, or other necessaries.17

Sounds pretty straightforward, but it's not quite that simple. Depending on the type of packaging and how you're opening it, there are situations where one or more additional melachot are implicated. In these cases, you would not be allowed to open the item. The melachot most commonly involved are Mechataich18 (cutting something along a specific line or to size), Boneh (building or otherwise creating an object), and Makeh B'patish (putting the final touch on a project or object).19 Since we have not studied any of these melachot yet, we will defer the numerous cases of opening packages on Shabbat to the upcoming lesson on Boneh.

But before ending this lesson, let's take one example:

On Shabbat afternoon, your children are clamoring for milk, but the cardboard carton is unopened. Can you open it?

We are not allowed to open the flaps at the top of the carton along the glued seams, as this is a classic example of Koraya.20 What we can do, however, is open the box in a non-conventional way. For example, we could cut the box open along one of the edges, preferably so that it is destroyed and no longer usable.21

With this lesson, we've finished 'The Order of Garments', which began with shearing wool from our neighborhood sheep and ended up with a completed unit of fabric.

Next up: All about animal hides.

  1. Pronounced toe-FAIR.
  2. Aruch Hashulchan Orach Chaim 317:18; Principles of Hilchos Shabbos, ‘Tofair’. See 39 Melochos, p. 784.
  3. Rashi (Exodus 26:3); 39 Melochos, p. 811.
  4. Rambam (Shabbat 10:11); Biur Halacha 340:14 s.v. ‘Harei Zeh’; 39 Melochos, p. 812 and 821.
  5. 39 Melochos, p. 815-16. However, removing a button that is partially detached is not allowed. Similarly, if a button comes off on its own, you can’t then remove the threads that remain in the place the button used to occupy. Shemirat Shabbat K’Hilchato 15:68. These two actions do not violate Tofair, but they involve other melachot.
  6. Shemirat Shabbat K’Hilchato 15:78; 39 Melochos, p. 815.
  7. See Principles of Hilchos Shabbos, ‘Tofair’.
  8. Shu”t Igros Moshe 2:84; 39 Melochos, p. 816-17.
  9. Orach Chaim 317:3; 39 Melochos, p. 812.
  10. Principles of Hilchos Shabbos, ‘Tofair’.
  11. While it is possible for the Band-aid to remain for more than 24 hours, this is generally not its usual use. When using the Band-aid, you cannot put a piece of gauze or other fabric underneath it, since connecting these two fabrics would be a true act of Tofair. Orach Chaim 340:14; Shemirat Shabbat K’Hilchato 35:25; 39 Melochos, p. 821.
  12. Shemirat Shabbat K’Hilchato 15:81; Addenda 35 (63); 39 Melochos, p. 813. Some contemporary Sages are strict regarding two issues with diapers:
    • Issue #1 – Although the adhesive is designed to be removed (and that’s its normal use, as we saw with Velcro), the reality is that the adhesive could stay that way forever. This gives rise to the idea of “preparing the diapers before Shabbat” – i.e. the adhesive should be opened (and then it can be closed again) before Shabbat. This argument would apply to Band-aids as well.
    • Issue #2 – When removing the baby’s dirty diaper and throwing it in the garbage, some Sages suggest that you do not close it using the adhesive strips, since the strips could now stay attached this way indefinitely. Other contemporary Sages do not accept the reasoning for these stringencies, but we mention them here for the sake of thoroughness.
  13. Pronounced koh-RAY-ah.
  14. Mishnah Berurah 340:45.
  15. Orach Chaim 340:14; 39 Melochos, p. 830.
  16. Mishnah Berurah 340:45.
  17. Mishnah – Shabbat 22:3; Shemirat Shabbat K’Hilchato 9:11-12; 39 Melochos, p. 831.
  18. Pronounced meh-chah-TAYCH (with the ‘ch’ as a hard sound, as in Bach).
  19. For more explanation, see 39 Melochos, p. 831-32.
  20. Orach Chaim 314:1; 39 Melochos, p. 837. Newer cartons, which have a spout on the side sealed by a plastic ring, present different issues.
  21. Shemirat Shabbat K’Hilchato 9:3. One must be careful not to tear through any writing on the box; see the upcoming melacha of Mochek for more on this.
Laws of Shabbat
Article #30 of 34


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