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The Melacha of Tearing on Shabbat

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Jul 17, 2008

The Melacha of Tearing on Shabbat

One of the thirty-nine melachot of Shabbat is tearing (korei'a). In this week's issue, we will discuss some of the parameters of this melacha and some practical applications.

The Nature of the Melacha

The Mishna, Shabbat 73a, in listing the melachot, lists the melacha of korei'a as "korei'a al m'nat litpor," tearing for the purpose of sewing. Rashi, ad loc., s.v. V'Tofer, explains that since all melachot are derived from the mishkan, the melacha of korei'a is limited to instances where one is tearing in order to sew because in the mishkan, the only instances of tearing were for the purpose of sewing rounded holes in the curtains.

According to Rashi "al m'nat litpor" is part of the definition of the melacha. There can be no violation of the melacha if the tearing is not for the purpose of sewing. Tosafot, Shabbat 73b, s.v. V'Tzarich, seem to be of the same opinion. However, Rambam, Hilchot Shabbat 10:10, implies that the Mishna's requirement of "al m'nat litpor" is not a function of the definition of the melacha. Rather, in order to violate the melacha of korei'a, the tearing must be performed for a productive purpose. If it is for a destructive purpose, it is considered mikalkel (destruction). Any melacha that is performed destructively is not a bona-fide melacha and only constitutes a rabbinic violation. Therefore, there is no inherent requirement of "al m'nat litpor." The only requirement is that the tearing is productive.

The dispute between Rashi and Rambam is further illustrated in explaining a statement of the Gemara, Shabbat 48a. The Gemara states that opening a shirt whose collar was sewn together constitutes a biblical violation. Rashi, ad loc., s.v. Chayav Chatat, explains that by opening the collar, one violates the melacha of makeh b'patish (the final hammer blow, i.e. completing the work on an item). Ramban, Makkot 3b, s.v. HaPotei'ach, explains Rashi's opinion that although there is tearing involved, the tearing is not for the purpose of sewing. Therefore, one cannot violate the melacha of korei'a. One must conclude that by opening the collar one violates the melacha of makeh b'patish.

Rambam, op. cit., implies that opening the collar constitutes a violation of the melacha of korei'a. Rambam is consistent in his opinion that "al m'nat litpor" is not part of the definition of the melacha. Therefore, tearing the collar in order to render it usable is a violation of korei'a even though it is not for the purpose of sewing.

R. Akiva Eger (Glosses on Mishnayot, Shabbat 7:90 and Gilyon HaShas, Shabbat 73b) notes that one can ostensibly prove Rambam's opinion from a Beraita. The Beraita (cited in Shabbat 105b) states that one violates a biblical prohibition for rending one's garment on Shabbat in response to a death. This type of tearing is certainly not for the purpose of sewing. Rambam op. cit., implies that when one rends the garment, he violates the melacha of korei'a. Rambam explains that this is not a destructive act because the rending of the garment gives peace of mind to the mourner. R. Eger notes that since Rambam does not require "al m'nat l'taken," rending one's garments, which is not for the purpose of sewing, constitutes a violation of korei'a. According to Rashi and Tosafot, one must question why one should violate a melacha for rending a garment in response to a death.

The Answers to R. Eger's Question

There are a number of answers to R. Eger's question on Rashi and Tosafot. These answers play a critical role in a number of contemporary questions regarding korei'a. First, R. Chaim Ozer Grodzenski, Achiezer 2:5 (7), suggests that the question of whether "al m'nat litpor" is part of the definition of korei'a is contingent on the dispute between R. Shimon and R. Yehuda regarding melacha she'aina tzricha l'gufa. [There are numerous definitions in the Rishonim for this concept. R. Grodzenski defines melacha she'aina tzricha l'gufa as an activity that is not performed for the same purpose as it was performed in the mishkan.] As we already noted, Rashi derives the requirement for "al m'nat litpor" from the fact that all tearing in the mishkan was performed with the intent to sew. According to R. Shimon, who is of the opinion that melacha she'aina tzricha l'gufa is not a bona-fide melacha, if one tears for a purpose other than sewing, it is considered a melacha she'aina tzricha l'gufa and it is not a bona-fide melacha. R. Yehuda considers it a bona-fide melacha because he is of the opinion that even if the melacha is performed for a different purpose, it is considered a bona-fide melacha. While most Rishonim follow R. Shimon's opinion, Rambam, Hilchot Shabbat 1:7, codifies the opinion of R. Yehuda. Accordingly, Rambam is consistent in his opinion in excluding "al m'nat litpor" from the definition of korei'a. [R. Grodzenski's explanation does not apply to Tosafot.]

Mishna Berurah, Biur Halacha 340:14 s.v. V'Lo, suggests that almost all Rishonim including Rashi and Tosafot are of the opinion that "al m'nat litpor" is not part of the definition of korei'a. If one tears on Shabbat and there is a productive purpose to the tearing, he violates korei'a. However, Rashi is of the opinion that a requirement of the melacha of tearing is that the tearing itself must be an inherently destructive act whose destruction provides a positive benefit. Therefore, Rashi does not consider tearing open the collar as korei'a because that form of tearing is not inherently destructive, rather productive. Rashi would consider rending a garment over a death as an inherently destructive act with a positive benefit and would therefore constitute korei'a.

R. Moshe Feinstein, Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 1:122 (7), presents a similar approach to Mishna Berurah's approach with a slight variation. R. Feinstein also assumes that both Rashi and Tosafot agree that "al m'nat litpor" is not part of the definition of the melacha. However, he differs in explaining why Rashi does not consider opening the collar a form of korei'a. According to R. Feinstein, one cannot violate the melacha of korei'a unless the tear itself is a clearly recognizable productive tear. In the case of opening the collar, R. Feinstein assumes that the collar was sewn closed accidentally and when one tears the threads, there is no indication that the collar was ever sewn and the tear is not clearly recognizable. Therefore, korei'a is not relevant.

R. Feinstein notes that the difference between Mishna Berurah's approach and his own approach is with regards to tearing a package wrapped in paper in order to remove its contents. Mishna Berurah, Biur Halacha 340:13, s.v. HaNiyar, rules that according to Rashi, opening the package constitutes korei'a (albeit as a melacha she'aina tzricha l'gufa) because removal of the contents is considered a productive act. R. Feinstein disagrees and maintains that since the productivity of the act is not recognizable from the tear itself, it is not considered korei'a. R. Feinstein further notes that although it is still rabbinically prohibited to tear the package, if the contents of the package are going to be used on Shabbat, there is no rabbinic prohibition and it is permissible to open the package.

Which Materials are Subject to Korei'a?

Another factor in the discussion of opening packages on Shabbat is whether paper is subject to the prohibition of korei'a. The Tosefta, Shabbat 17:9, states that it is permissible to tear a leather covering from the top of a barrel. Why isn't this considered a violation of korei'a? Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Orach Chaim 340:17, suggests that korei'a only applies to tearing apart items that were connected together. However, if the item was always one unit such as leather or paper, there is no violation of korei'a.

Mishna Berurah, Biur Halacha 340:13, s.v. Ain, strongly disagrees with this approach. He claims that korei'a certainly applies to leather and paper. He suggests that perhaps korei'a is only applicable when one plans to use the pieces that are torn. This is why it is permissible to tear the leather off of the barrel. He further asserts that according to Rashi, if there is some productive purpose, it is a biblical prohibition to tear an item even when one does not plan to use the torn pieces.


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