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Mi-Tokh - The Scope of the Heter Okhel Nefesh

  • Rav David Brofsky

the laws of THE FESTIVALS


by Rav David Brofsky


Shiur #23: Mi-Tokh - The Scope of the Heter Okhel Nefesh




Last week, we introduced the topic of okhel nefesh and discussed the differences between Shabbat and Yom Tov. We noted that the Torah states “No work is to be done on those days, except to prepare food for everyone to eat - that is all you may do” (Shemot 12:16), explicitly permitting work that is done for the preparation of food. We questioned the scope of this leniency: Which labors are permitted for the sake of okhel nefesh?


This week, we will further explore the heter of okhel nefesh and its practical applications.


Mi-Tokh She-Hutra Le-Tzorekh - Expanding the Parameters of Okhel Nefesh


The mishna (Beitza 12a) teaches:


Beit Shammai say that one may not carry a child, a lulav, or a Sefer Torah into the street on Yom Tov. Beit Hillel say that this is permitted.


Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel disagree as to whether one may carry (a violation of the melakha of hotza’ah) non-food items on Yom Tov. The gemara explains that according to Beit Hillel, “Since (mi-tokh) you can carry for eating, you can also carry for non-food related purposes.” This principle is known as “mi-tokh.” The Rishonim debate the scope of this expansion of okhel nefesh as well as its rationale.


For what purposes may one carry on Yom Tov? Rashi (Beitza 12a, s.v. ela) explains that the principle of mi-tokh tells us that mi-de’orayta, carrying on Yom Tov is completely permitted, even for no specific reason. This position is somewhat troubling, especially in light of the limitations upon okhel nefesh that appear elsewhere in the Talmud. It does not appear that the heter of okhel nefesh permits even all food related activities. For example, R. Chisda and Rabba (Pesachim 66a) clearly maintain that it is prohibited to cook on Yom Tov for the next day, although they debate whether one receives malkot or not. Some suggest that although one may cook for no specific purpose, one may not cook explicitly for the next day.


Tosafot (Ketuvot 7a, s.v. mitokh; see also 12a, s.v. hakhi garas) disagree. They explain:


“Since it was permitted for food-related purposes, it was also permitted for non-food-related purposes” – providing that it fulfills a need for the enjoyment of the day or a need to fulfill a mitzva on Yom Tov, such as in the case of carrying a child to circumcise him, a Torah scroll to read from it, and a lulav to fulfill the mitzva with it. However, [a melakha done] not for any need of the day at all, is not permitted. For example, one who carries out stones would be liable... It appears to Ri that carrying a baby out to walk casually is considered a need of the day.


According to Tosafot, the Torah only permitted these melakhot when they fulfill a legitimate purpose.


            What stands behind this important debate? In order to answer this question, we must take a deeper look at the principle of “mi-tokh.”


What is the rationale behind this extension of okhel nefesh? As R. Yeshaya of Trani (d. 1260, Italy) writes, citing a questioner:


Wonder of wonders! What is the rationale to say, “Since it was permitted for [food-related] purposes, it was also permitted for non-[food related] purposes?” Where does this principle come from? Upon what is it based? This is a principle without reason! (Teshuvot Ha-Rid 82)


I would like to present three approaches to this question, based upon our previous discussion of okhel nefesh.


Last week, we suggested different understandings of the heter okhel nefesh. One the one hand, we suggested that the Torah only prohibited a certain type of labor on Yom Tov, known as melekhet avoda. Melekhet okhel nefesh (see Ramban, Vayikra 23:7), however, was never prohibited. If so, we might suggest that entire melakhot associated with okhel nefesh were never prohibited on Yom Tov. Therefore, as the gemara says, “Since it was permitted for food related purposes, it was also permitted for non-food related purposes.” In other words, these melakhot were never prohibited!


            Indeed, the Ra’avad (Shita Me-Kubetzet, Ketuvot 7a, s.v. ve-ze lashon shita yeshana) writes:


In other words, all of those melakhot which were permitted for the sake of eating were never included in the prohibition of “and you shall do not melakha.” And that which the Torah writes, “except to prepare food for everyone to eat - that is all you may do”- simply indicates that those labors permitted because they are necessary for food preparation are [completely] permitted on Yom Tov.


The Ri (Tosafot, Shabbat 95a, s.v. ve-harode) offers an extreme application of this understanding. He suggests that since making cheese, a sub-category (tolada) of the melakha of boneh (building), is permitted on Yom Tov, one should be permitted to build a house on Yom Tov, as “since building is permitted for food related purposes, it should be permitted for non-food related purposes”! He concludes that building a house must therefore only be rabbinically prohibited! Although many disagree with the Ri (see, for example, Me’iri, s.v. de-lo), this shocking position certainly highlights this approach.


            On the other hand, we also suggested that one may understand the heter okehel nefesh differently - the Torah permitted the preparation of food on Yom Tov because Yom Tov is meant to be a festive day. Indeed, R. Aryeh Leib ben Asher Gunzberg (1695–1785) explains (Sha’agat Aryeh 102) that the Torah permitted okhel nefesh on Yom Tov due to the mitzva of simchat Yom Tov. (Incidentally, he proves that there must be a mitzva of simchat Yom Tov on Rosh Hashana as well, since it is permitted to cook!) If so, how are we to understand the extension of “mi-tokh”?


            R. Eliezer of Metz (Yere’im 304) explains that the Torah did not only permit “okhel nefesh” (melekhot necessary for the preparation of food), but rather it permitted those melakhot for all “hana’at ha-nefesh,” all physical and spiritual enjoyments. Therefore, a labor that is permitted for food preparations, such as carrying and cooking, may be performed for other bodily or spiritual needs. The Yere’im bases this understanding of okhel nefesh on the gemara (Pesachim 21a), which states that whenever the Torah states that one may not eat, it intends to prohibit other benefits as well.


Thus, according to our first approach, Beit Hillel argues that certain melakhot were never prohibited; according to the second approach, Beit Hillel expands that the definition of okhel nefesh to include other needs and enjoyments as well.


Returning to the debate between Rashi and Tosafot cited above, it seems that Rashi must maintain that these melakhot were never prohibited; and as a result, mi-de’orayta, they may be performed even when there is no clear need. Tosafot, on the other hand, must understand that these labors were permitted for specific, okhel nefesh related purposes. Although Beit Hillel expanded the definition of okhel nefesh in accordance with a broader understanding of all physical and spiritual benefit, these melakhot may still only be performed for a clear physical or spiritual need.


The Rambam has a unique position regarding mi-tokh. He writes:


Any malakha for which one is liable on the Sabbath, he may be [punished by] lashes for performing it on Yom Tov if it is not necessary for the preparation of food, with the exception of hotza’a (the transfer of articles from one domain to another) and hava’ara (the kindling of a fire). [With regard to these two forbidden labors, an exception is made.] Since it is permitted to transfer articles for the sake of [the preparation of] food [on Yom Tov], [this activity] was permitted even when it is not necessary for [the preparation of] food. Therefore, it is permitted to transfer an infant, a Torah scroll, a key, or the like from one domain to another. Similarly, it is permitted to kindle a fire, even though it is not for the purpose of [the preparation of] food. (Hilkhot Yom Tov 1:4)


With regard to the other forbidden labors, [the following principles apply:] Whenever the activity is necessary for [the preparation of] food - e.g., slaughter, baking, kneading, or the like - it is permitted. If it is not necessary for [the preparation of] food - e.g., writing, weaving, building, and the like - it is forbidden.


The Rambam explicitly applies the principle of mi-tokh to hotza’a and hav’ara, but not to the other melakhot necessary for the preparation for food. What is the different between these two labors and the other melakhot okhel nefesh? The Maggid Mishna explains that those melakhot inherently connected to the preparation of food, such as bishul and shechita, were not prohibited at all on Yom Tov. Hotza’a and hav’ara, which are not inherently related to food preparation, are also permitted even for non-food preparation due to the principle of mi-tokh. Just as we suggested above that one may understand that melakhot okhel nefesh were permitted for certain purposes, or that they were never prohibited in the first place, the Maggid Mishna apparently believes that the Rambam adopts both of these positions. Melakhot directly related to food preparation were never prohibited, and hotza’a and hav’ara were permitted, both le-tzorkh and she-lo le-tzerokh. Others explain that according to the Rambam, even melakhot directly related to food preparation are only permitted for that purpose, and the extension of mi-tokh applies only to hotza’a and hava’ara.


            The Acharonim explain that hotza’a and hav’ara are unique in that they are indirectly related to the preparation of food, and they are both inherently weaker melakhot - hotza’a doesn’t change the food, and hav’ara is by definition a destructive act.


            The Shulchan Arukh (518:1) rules that one may carry a child, lulav, sefer Torah, and utensils, “since it was permitted for [food-related] purposes, it was also permitted for non [-food-related] purposes.” The Mishna Berura (1) applies this principle to hav’ara, shechita, afiyya, and bishul as well.


Defining “Le-Tzorekh Ketzat” - Carrying on Yom Tov


We learned that according to Beit Hillel, one may carry a lulav, a sefer Torah, and even a child in a reshut ha-rabim (public area), even though they are not needed for “okhel nefesh.” Although Rashi permits carrying for no specific need or purpose, other Rishonim insist that mi-tokh only permits one to carry for some, even slight, need. What is considered to be a legitimate need?


Rabbeinu Chananel implies that one may only do these melakhot for the sake of a mitzva: One may carry a lulav or sefer Torah for their respective mitzvot, and a child in order to perform a brit mila. Tosafot reject this narrow definition of “tzorekh,” and maintain that one may even carry a child in a public area on Yom Tov for a “tiyul.” The Rosh (1:18) cites Rabbeinu Tam, who explains that one who wishes to walk to the beit kenesset, or even for a “tiyul be-simchat Yom Tov,” and cannot leave his child at home, may carry a child through a public area on Yom Tov. Indeed, Tosafot even record how people play with a ball, in a public area, as this is also considered to be a “tiyul,” which is permitted.


Interestingly, R. Shlomo Luria (1510 – 1574), known as the Maharshal, sharply criticizes this practice (Yam Shel Shlomo, Beitza 1:34). Although he allows small children to play ball, he maintains that for adults to play ball on Yom Tov in a public area, is “child’s play and frivolous behavior,” or, in short, a “minhag ra,” and is not even considered to be a “tiyul.” 


Regarding carrying machzorim and siddurim to synagogue, the Rosh permits carrying them home, as “hitiru sofan mishum techilatan” - they permitted certain actions lest one otherwise not be able to perform the mitzva at all (see Shabbat 130a, 131a-b, 133a; Eiruvin 102b-103b; Beitza 11b). The Maharshal objects to this leniency unless one truly fears that they may be stolen.


Finally, the Rosh cites the Geonim, who prohibit carrying keys which do not open boxes for food or jewelry. He bases this position upon passages from the Yerushalmi and Tosefta. The Maharshal argues that based upon these sources, one should not carry keys to one’s chests or rooms because one fears that his property may be stolen. Rather, he argues, one should preferably remain at home and not violate the Torah prohibition of carrying for no purpose on Yom Tov. The Beit Yosef (418), however, cites the Hagahot R. Peretz (Semak 282), who permits carrying keys to chests containing money, since avoiding anxiety may also be considered to be a “tzorekh ha-yom” (a legitimate need).   


The Rema (418:1) cites the position of Tosafot, mentioned above, that one may play ball in a public area on Yom Tov. He also cites R. Peretz, and rules that one may carry on Yom Tov, “when there is [even] a small need, or he fears that they may be stolen, or another loss.”


The Acharonim question this ruling. The Taz (1) and Magen Avraham (2), for example, forcefully argue that one may not carry keys which are not necessary for Yom Tov. The Mishna Berura (6) rules that one should preferably act in accordance with the Taz and Magen Avraham. Interestingly, the Arukh Ha-Shulchan (518: 5-6) defends the Rema’s position, and rules that one may carry anything on Yom Tov which fulfills even the slightest purpose, such as keys to a safe which protects one’s money, or utensils that one fears will be stolen. He also records that this is the common custom (minhag ha-olam). 


The Rema concludes that one who lives in an area surrounded by an eiruv may carry anything which is considered functional (i.e. which is not considered to be muktzeh).   


Next week, we will continue our discussion of mi-tokh. We will discuss limitations on okhel nefesh and address contemporary questions, such as smoking and bathing on Yom Tov.