Shabbat Parashat Balak| 5765
Ask the Rabbi
Question: On Motzaei Shabbat, I have a lot of laundry to do so I can send my kids off to school for the week. It would be helpful to start the first load while my husband is at shul. However, I heard that it is a problem to do serious work before Havdala, even after saying Hamavdil (a shortened Havdala). Is that true and does it apply in this case?
Answer: Our small survey of knowledgeable people had the following results. Most (including talmidei chachamim)have never heard of the practice you mentioned. A few follow it. Others are “wishy-washy” about what they heard or do. As usual, we hope that some more knowledge will help clarify and put matters in perspective.There are two possible reasons to refrain from serious work before Havdala. One is a weak, halachic concern (or a halachic mistake). The other is a minhag of classical origin, but one that was apparently not widely accepted.
The mishna (Shabbat 150a) says that one can walk near Shabbat’s end to his field and return after Shabbat carrying fruit. The gemara (150b) is troubled how he could do such work before Havdala. It concludes that it is permitted after saying Hamavdil. Rashi(ad loc.) says that the shortened version we say, without a full beracha format, is sufficient mention of the departing Shabbat to allow work before full Havdala withwine. The same, he says, is true after saying Ata Chonantanu in Ma’ariv. Although both the Rosh and Rambam have a somewhat more stringent approach, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 299:10) and the accepted practice is like Rashi.
What is the source of the distinction between different types of work? Rabbeinu Yerucham (=RY), in the midst of discussing these halachot, says that they apply only to “work like weaving and writing, not to lighting a candle or carrying” (12:20). The Rama (299:10) cites RY as a minority opinion, and the Taz (:9) justifies him. The Taz hints (see Acharonim on Rambam (Shabbat 29:5)) that the prohibition on work before Havdala is not a continuation of Shabbat’s prohibitions but an independent problem of starting the week’s work before “saluting” Shabbat as it leaves. Therefore, RY reasons that simple work, even that which is forbidden on Shabbat, is not a problem even before saying Hamavdil. We do not accept this opinion and forbid any type of Shabbat violation (Mishna Berura 299:39). The Sha’ar Hatziyun (:51) mentions one opinion that uses R. Yerucham’s distinction for stringency, saying that exerting work is forbidden even after Hamavdil. The practice you cited may be based on this opinion, making it a very stringent halachic opinion, or it could be a mistaken application of RY (see Machatzit Hashekel 299:17).
Now, let us explore minhag. The gemara (Pesachim 50b) says that he who does work on Motzaei Shabbat will not see good fortune. It is clear from both context and language that this is a minhag, not a halacha, and it is not brought in the Shulchan Aruch. Tosafot (ad loc.) and the Tur (299) limit the minhag to waiting until the end of Ma’ariv or Havdala. If the work the gemara refers to is serious “week-like work” (as is logical), this minhag could be the source of your mysterious practice.
Given that refraining from exerting work before Havdala is either a mistake, an extreme position, or a sparsely kept minhag, you can decide whether you want to follow the practice, especially in your circumstance. (If yes, state that it is b’li neder.) We would not recommend to one who never followed the practice to feel a need to begin. You can opt for the Kaf Hachayim’s (299:61) approach as a compromise. He says that Hamavdil was intended to allow a woman “to do temporary (ara’i) work, but she is obligated to hear a proper Havdala.” In other words, she should not get overly involved to the point that she forgets about Havdala, but she can act to make productive use of her time until her husband returns for Havdala. (One can also distinguish between sorting and scrubbing and simply dumping in clothes and turning on the machine.)
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