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The Melachot of Kindling and Extinguishing a Fire

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Jun 26, 2008
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The Melachot of Kindling and Extinguishing a Fire


Two of the thirty-nine melachot (categories of prohibited activities) on Shabbat are hav'arah (kindling a fire) and kibui (extinguishing a fire). In this week's issue we will discuss the parameters of these melachot. Additionally, we will discuss some contemporary practical applications of these melachot.




Hav'arah for a Destructive Purpose


One of the challenges in understanding the melacha of hav'arah is that it seems to contradict the principle of the Mishna, Shabbat 105b, that an act performed in a destructive manner cannot constitute a melacha. If an act is performed in a destructive manner, it is only prohibited on a rabbinic level. As such, the melacha of hav'arah should be limited to a situation where one lights a fire for a productive purpose. In fact, the Gemara, Shabbat 106a, cites a dispute between R. Yehuda and R. Shimon regarding this issue. According to R. Yehuda, one is only culpable for a violation of the melacha of hav'arah if he lights the fire for a productive purpose. One example is lighting a fire in order to produce ash. R. Shimon is of the opinion that both the melacha of hav'arah and the melacha of chovel (wounding) serve as exceptions to the rule in that they are both inherently destructive melachot. According to R. Shimon, one violates these two melachot even if the act is performed in a destructive manner.


Rashi, Shabbat 106a, s.v. U'Beraita, implies that R. Yehuda and R. Shimon dispute how to view lighting a fire in order to cook. According to R. Shimon, while one does positively benefit from the fire, the kindling of the fire is viewed as a destructive act because the fuel of the fire is consumed. According to R. Yehuda, even though the fuel is consumed, if there another positive benefit of the fire, it is considered a productive act.


Rashi's comments help explain Rambam's opinion. Rambam, Hilchot Shabbat 12:1, rules that one is only culpable for hav'arah if he lights a fire for a productive purpose such as producing ash. Yet, Rambam, rules that if one kindles a fire to produce light or heat, he is culpable for hav'arah. One must conclude that the reason why lighting a fire for heat or light is also considered for a productive purpose - even though the act destroys the fuel - is that the benefit of the light or the heat render the act a productive act.




Kindling and Extinguishing Metal


The Gemara, Shabbat 42a, states that if there is a glowing hot piece of metal in the public thoroughfare and there is a concern that it may cause injury, one may extinguish it. However, if there is a wood coal, it is prohibited to extinguish the coal.


The Rishonim provide three reasons to distinguish between a wood coal and a hot piece of metal. First, Rashi, ad loc., s.v. Gachelet (and Shabbat 134a, s.v. B'Gachelet) states that the melacha of kibui is limited to materials that can produce charcoal through the extinguishing process. Since metals cannot become charcoal, there is no biblical violation for extinguishing metal. Therefore, the rabbis allowed violation of the rabbinic prohibition against extinguishing metal in order to avoid injury. However, the rabbis did not allow extinguishing a wood coal in order to avoid potential injury, since it produces charcoal which is a biblical prohibition. [The Gemara implies that according to the opinion that melacha she'aina tzricha l'gufa is not culpable, it is permissible to extinguish a wood coal in this situation. This concept is beyond the scope of this article.]


Second, R. Eliezer of Metz, Sefer Yerei'im no. 174, states that metal is not subject to the melachot of hav'arah and kibui. Therefore, extinguishing a hot piece of metal is only prohibited on a rabbinic level and is permissible to prevent potential injury. Since wood is subject to the melachot of hav'arah and kibui, it is prohibited to extinguish a wood coal in order to prevent potential injury.


Third, Rabbeinu Chananel, Shabbat 42a, s.v. L'Meimrah, states that the permissibility to extinguish the hot piece of metal is based on the fact that it poses a public danger. Although this is not a life-threatening danger, Rabbeinu Chananel permits violation of Shabbat in order to prevent public injury. The difference between metal and coal is practical in nature. When metal is heated it is not visibly hot and presents a greater threat than wood which is visibly hot.


According to Rabbeinu Chananel, metal and wood are equally subject to the melachot of hav'arah and kibui. According to Sefer Yerei'im, metal is not subject to either of these melachot. According to Rashi, metal is subject to hav'arah but not kibui.


In a previous issue, we noted that the status of metal vis-א-vis hav'arah and kibui is relevant to incandescent bulbs. R. Shlomo Z. Auerbach, Minchat Shlomo 1:12, notes that Rashi's opinion is the normative opinion. He compares the filament of an incandescent bulb to a glowing hot piece of metal and therefore rules that activating an incandescent bulb on Shabbat constitutes a biblical violation of hav'arah.


Regarding deactivating an incandescent bulb, R. Auerbach notes that according to Rashi, there is no biblical violation of kibui on metal. Therefore, deactivating an incandescent bulb would not constitute a biblical violation of kibui. Nevertheless, R. Auerbach suggests that perhaps the reason why extinguishing a hot piece of metal only constitutes a rabbinic violation is that the metal is only storing heat that it receives from a heat source. However, regarding an incandescent light bulb, the heat is produced by its own resistance to the flow of electrons. Therefore, it is arguable that extinguishing the filament by deactivating the light would constitute a biblical violation of kibui.


 


Adding Fuel to a Fire or Removing Fuel from a Fire


The Gemara, Beitzah 22a, states that one who adds fuel to a fire violates the melacha of hav'arah and one who removes fuel from a fire violates the melacha of kibui. In a previous issue, we discussed whether removing a pin from a timer so that a device connected to it will remain on longer is comparable to adding fuel to fire. We noted that many poskim are of the opinion that they are not comparable and that it is permissible to remove the pin from the timer.


Regarding removing fuel from a fire, there is a dispute between Tosafot, Beitzah 22a, s.v. V'HaMistapek and Rabbeinu Asher, Beitzah 2:17, concerning the nature of this prohibition. According to R. Asher, the reason why it is prohibited to remove fuel from a fire is that by removing the fuel, one causes the fire to extinguish earlier. Tosafot disagree and maintain that the prohibition cannot be causing the fire to extinguish earlier because that would constitute gerama (indirect action). Rather the reason for the prohibition is that by removing oil from a fire, one is causing the flame to flicker slightly and that is a violation because it appears to look like kibui. [Tosafot imply that it is not a violation of the melacha of kibui but rather a rabbinic prohibition.]


Tosafot note that it is permissible to cut the bottom of a burning candle on Shabbat because that does not cause the flame to flicker. Rabbeinu Asher prohibits cutting the candle because it causes the fire to extinguish earlier. He explains that it is not considered gerama because gerama is not applicable when one manipulates the actual system. Gerama is only applicable when one manipulates a force external to the system.


R. Natan Z. Freidman, Netzer Matai 1:9, discusses whether it is possible to close the intake valve of the pipe leading to a gas stove on Yom Tov in order to cause the fire on the stove to extinguish. He notes that according to Tosafot, it is permissible since the remaining gas in the pipe of the stove will continue to flow and the fire will only extinguish moments later. Therefore, it is considered gerama. He then adds that even Rabbeinu Asher will agree because the gas that has not yet entered the stove is considered external to system and by closing the valve, one is merely preventing more gas from entering the stove.


R. Ovadia Yosef, Yabia Omer 3:30, notes that when R. Freidman's ruling was publicized many rabbinic authorities objected to his ruling. He explains that Rabbeinu Asher would not consider the intake valve external to the system because the gas is flowing continuously from the municipal gas reservoir directly to the stove. [It should be noted that R. Auerbach, op. cit., raises the possibility that deactivating an electric device is merely preventing additional electron flow and should be considered gerama. He summarily rejects this possibility because he views the device as receiving its electron flow directly from the battery or the power plant (even though it is alternating current). R. Auerbach would ostensibly agree to R. Yosef regarding a gas line.]


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