THIS SITE IS NO LONGER SUPPORTED            בית מדרש הוירטואלי עבר דירה
PLEASE FIND US AT OUR NEW TORAT HAR ETZION WEBSITE                                  
     English shiurim @          לשיעורים בעברית @

Shiur #01: Introduction to the Laws of Shabbat

  • Harav Baruch Gigi
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

The Laws of Shabbat
Yeshivat Har Etzion

Shiur #01: Introduction to the Laws of Shabbat

By Rav Baruch Gigi

Translated by David Silverberg




            Although the Torah makes frequent mention of the obligation of Shabbat observance, its importance and the severity of its violation[1], the Mishna in Masekhet Chagiga (10a) declares, "The laws of Shabbat are like mountains suspended by a hair."  These halakhot, with which we will deal in this series, entail fundamental principles described by the Mishna as "mountains," all of which are "suspended by a hair," as the written Torah offers very little information concerning the halakhic details of Shabbat.  It only alludes to them in various places, such that they can be determined only through Chazal's derashot (extrapolations from the text).


            We will open this series with a preliminary overview of the different areas included under the general category of Shabbat.  Needless to say, we will not, at this stage, address the halakhic details.  The purpose of this overview is to acquaint ourselves with the range of topics associated with Shabbat, and develop the conceptual concepts that lie at the heart of Hilkhot Shabbat.


The Basic Principles of Shabbat


            The Rambam writes (Hilkhot Shabbat, chapter 30):


Four things were said about Shabbat – two originate from the Torah, and two originate from the words of the Sages and are explicated by the prophets.  From the Torah: "Zakhor" ["Remember" Shabbat] and "Shamor" ["Observe" Shabbat].  Explicated by the prophets: kavod [displaying honor] and oneg [enjoying oneself], as it says, "and you shall call Shabbat "[a day of] delight," and the sacred [day] of the Lord, "a respected [day]."


The Rambam divides all the laws of Shabbat into four categories: zakhor, shamor, kavod and oneg.  Before we briefly discuss the precise definition of each term, let us first try to understand the Rambam's comments concerning kavod and oneg, which he claims "originate from the words of the Sages and are explicated by the prophets."


            A famous debate exists as to whether the Rambam viewed kavod and oneg as Biblical or rabbinic obligations.[2]  From the Rambam's formulation in this passage, it seems quite clear that he classified them as rabbinic obligations.  In any event (as can be seen from the citations in note 2), the poskim who approach kavod and oneg as Torah obligations explain that the Rambam employs the term "divrei sofrim" in reference to laws that originate from Torah law but are not explicit in the Torah, derived instead by Chazal through the various rules of halakhic exegesis (the midot she-ha-Torah nidreshet ba-hen).  These laws constitute dinim de-orayta (Torah laws) in every sense of the term, differing from other Torah laws only with respect to their title.[3]


            We, too, will try to make our own contribution to this topic, by paying careful attention to the Rambam's formulation: "from the words of the Sages and are explicated by the prophets."  How is it possible that the "words of the Sages" establishing the obligations of kavod and oneg were already explicated by the prophets, who lived much earlier?  And if we explain this passage to mean that the prophets themselves instituted kavod and oneg, then what role did the Sages play in this process?  These obligations were already in place since the times of the prophets, and thus constitute what in common terminology we call "divrei kabbala"!


            The Torah emphasizes many times with regard to the holy days, Shabbat first and foremost among them, that these are days of mikra kodesh.  We may suggest several definitions to this ambiguous term:

  • One must recite a text dealing with the sanctity of the day, similar to the obligation of kiddush.
  • One must recite on these occasions special prayers that lend them a quality of sanctity.
  • People must assemble to proclaim the day holy.  (The word mikra would thus denote the holding of a public assembly, as in the phrase, "Kir'u atzara" – Yoel 2:15).
  • One must perform actions on these occasions to express their being sacred days, such as refraining from workweek activity, conducting special meals, wearing special clothes, and so on.

These and other explanations of mikra kodesh appear in the classical commentaries to the Torah.  Echoes of the final explanation can be found in Targum Onkelos, which translates the term as "me'ara kadish," or "a sacred event."  Chazal similarly comment on this verse in the Sifrei, "Make it a special event through eating, drinking and fine clothing."  As we saw, this interpretation, adopted by Onkelos and the Sifrei, is but one of several possibilities in explaining this expression.  It would seem that Chazal chose this interpretation because Yeshayahu had already issued a prophecy to this effect: "and you shall call Shabbat '[a day of] delight,' and the sacred [day] of the Lord, 'a respected [day]'."  This, then, is the prophet's interpretation of the term "mikra kodesh."


            We may thus explain the Rambam's comments as follows.  Kavod and oneg are the Sages' "translation" of the expression mikra kodesh, based on the prophet's interpretation of that expression.  And it was Chazal who determined the content of kavod and oneg – eating, drinking, and fine clothing.  According to this approach, it emerges that kavod and oneg are indeed Torah obligations, but since the Torah did not formulate them explicitly, and they are determined only through rabbinic interpretation, the Rambam refers to them as "divrei sofrim."


            We might further suggest that the Torah issued a general imperative requiring that one conduct himself in a manner that expresses the day's sanctity, and Chazal established specific modes of conduct for this purpose.[4]


            Let us now return to our overview, following the Rambam's sequence of zakhor, shamor, kavod and oneg.


1. "Remember the Shabbat day, to sanctify it"


A.                 This verse is the origin of the Biblical obligation of kiddush.  Some sources place particular emphasis on the word zakhor as the basis of this mitzva.  The Rambam formulates the obligation as follows:


There is a Biblical mitzvat asei ["positive commandment"] to sanctify the day of Shabbat with words, as it says (Shemot 20), "Remember the Shabbat day, to sanctify it," meaning, mention it with words of praise and sanctity.  One must mention it both when it begins and ends: when it begins – with kiddush ha-yom, and when it ends – with havdala.  (Hilkhot Shabbat 29:1)


Others, however, emphasized specifically the word le-kadesho as the source of this obligation.  The Ramban, in his commentary to this verse, writes:


There is a further extrapolation from the word le-kadesho – that we must sanctify it by making mention of it, as in the verse, "You shall sanctify the fiftieth year" (Vayikra 25:10), which demands sanctification by the Court, that it [the Court] declares, "Mekudash, mekudash" ["It is sanctified; it is sanctified"].  Here, too, He commanded that we make mention of the day of Shabbat by declaring it holy.[5]


B.         The Rishonim debate whether this verse introduces an additional obligation as well.  Rashi, in his commentary to the Torah, writes regarding the word zakhor, "Make a point of remembering the day of Shabbat at all times, such that if one comes upon a nice portion [of food], he should set it aside for Shabbat." 


            This interpretation is based on a berayta in Masekhet Beitza (16a):


It has been said of Shammai Ha-zakein that every day of his life he would eat for the honor of Shabbat.  How?  If he discovered a nice animal, he would say, "This will be for the honor of Shabbat."  If the next day he discovered another, nicer animal, he would leave the second [for Shabbat] and eat the first.  But Hillel Ha-zakein had a different practice; all his actions were for the sake of Heaven, as it says (Tehillim 68:20), "Blessed is the Lord; He supports us each and every day."


It is also stated in another berayta: Beit Shammai [the followers of Shammai] say, "From Sunday [start looking ahead] to Shabbat," whereas Beit Hillel [the followers of Hillel] say, "Blessed is the Lord; He supports us each and every day."


The Ramban offers the following response to Rashi's comments:


This is a berayta which appears in the Mekhilta as follows: "Rabbi Elazar Ben Chananya Ben Chizkiya Ben Garon says: 'Remember the day of Shabbat to sanctify it' – keep it in mind [already] from Sunday, such that if you come across a beautiful item, designate it for Shabbat."  But this [berayta] is presented as a minority view, and is not in accordance with Halakha.


It would appear that for Rashi, Hillel does not necessarily disagree with Shammai with regard to the fundamental issue of having the honor of Shabbat in mind throughout the week.  Rather, Hillel perhaps felt that this need not manifest itself in the realm of food preparation, since doing so conflicts with another value which Hillel championed, namely, a person's trust in God, in the sense of "Blessed is the Lord, He supports us each and every day."  The Ramban, by contrast, understood that Hillel disagrees with Shammai on the fundamental issue of whether one must keep the needs of Shabbat in mind all week long.  Later, the Ramban draws proof to this position from a passage in the Mekhilta De-Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai:


The mention of Shabbat would never leave the mouth of Shammai Ha-zakein: when he purchased a good item, he would say, "This is for Shabbat"; [when he purchased] a new item, he would say, "This is for Shabbat."  But Hillel Ha-zakein had a different practice, in that he would say, "All your actions should be performed for the sake of Heaven."


This berayta indicates that Hillel disagreed with Shammai even with respect to new items, claiming that one need not designate such an item specifically for Shabbat.  Thus, the point of contention between Hillel and Shammai is clearly not restricted to the question of food preparation.


            The Ramban therefore infers a different point from this verse, based on the Mekhilta:


This is a mitzva to constantly remember Shabbat, that we should not forget it or confuse it with the other days.  For through our constant remembering of Shabbat, one recalls the act of creation at all times, and we will acknowledge at all times that the world has a Creator, and He commanded us with regard to this sign, as it says (Shemot 31:13), "for it [Shabbat] is an eternal sign between Me and you."  This constitutes a fundamental principle in the belief of God.


On this basis, some authorities inferred an obligation to recall Shabbat each day, and wrote that one must have in mind to fulfill this obligation while reciting the daily shir shel yom, which we introduce by saying, "Hayom yom… be-Shabbat" ("Today is the… day to Shabbat).


2. "Observe the day of Shabbat, to sanctify it"


            The Ramban (Shemot 20:7) writes:


Our Sages wrote in this regard (Rosh Hashanah 27a), "Zakhor and Shamor were proclaimed in a single utterance."  What they z"l intended through this [remark] is that zakhor [introduces] a mitzvat asei, commanding that we remember the day of Shabbat to sanctify it, and that we do not forget it; whereas shamor in their view [introduces] a mitzvat lo ta'aseh ["negative commandment"], for wherever it says "hishamer," "pen" or "al," it refers to a lo ta'aseh (Eruvin 96a).  It warns that we must observe it to sanctify it, [meaning,] that we should not desecrate it [by performing forbidden activity].


Shamor thus includes all the Shabbat prohibitions:


  • The thirty-nine categories of melakha, which Chazal derived from the work performed in the Mishkan.
  • The prohibition against the performance of melakha by one's servant or animal[6], and the prohibition of techum Shabbat [traveling beyond 2,000 cubits outside one's city].[7]
  • I believe that we should include under shamor also the entire system of shevutim – the prohibitions established by Chazal based on the verse, "on the seventh day you shall rest", as the Rambam writes (Hilkhot Shabbat 21:1):


It says in the Torah (Shemot 23), "tishbot" ["you shall rest"] – [meaning,] you must abstain even from activities that are not [deemed] melakha.  There are many activities that the Sages forbade for the purpose of shevut ["resting"], including activities forbidden because they resemble melakhot, and activities forbidden as a decree lest they lead one to violate a prohibition punishable with sekila [stoning].


These comments correspond to the Ramban's remarks in his commentary to Parashat Emor (Vayikra 23:24):


"It shall be for you a shabbaton [day of complete rest]" – [meaning] that is shall be a day of cessation [of work], on which to rest.  Our Sages commented (Shabbat 24b), "shabbaton constitutes an asei."  Now one who performs forbidden activity on Yom Tov transgresses both a lav [prohibition] and an asei, whereas one who abstains [from forbidden activity] on [Yom Tov] fulfills an asei.  I saw in the Mekhilta, in the section of Ha-chodesh: "'You shall observe this day' (Shemot 12:17) – why is this stated?  Does it not already say, 'no melakha shall be performed on them' (ibid. verse 16)?  This tells me about only those activities involving melakha; from where [do we derive the prohibition concerning] activities forbidden for purposes of shevut?  The verse states, 'You shall observe this day' – to include activities forbidden for the purpose of shevut"…

Now they explain shabbaton as requiring that one cease activity on this day entirely, even from activities that are not included among the principal melakhot or their derivatives… It seems to me that this Midrash means to say that we are commanded by the Torah to rest on Yom Tov [by abstaining] even from activities that do not constitute melakha, rather than exerting oneself the whole day measuring grain, weighing fruits and gifts, filling barrels with wine, moving utensils and stones from house to house and place to place.  And if it were a walled city with its doors locked at night, they would load wine, grapes and figs onto the donkeys and bring all types of cargo on Yom Tov, and the market would be fully open for all transactions.  Stores would be open, storekeepers would sell, money-changers would sit at their tables with their gold coins in front of them, and laborers would arise early for work and hire themselves out for these and similar jobs like during the week.  This is [otherwise] permissible on Yom Tov, and even on Shabbat itself, for none of this involves melakha.  The Torah therefore said shabbaton – it should be a day of cessation [from activity] and rest, and not a day of exertion.


According to the Rambam and Ramban, we should not perceive the mitzva of shabbaton as but the converse of the prohibition of melakha, or, in halakhic jargon, as coming merely "liten asei al lo ta'aseh" ("to impose a mitzvat asei in addition to the lo ta'aseh").  In their view, the mitzva of shabbaton encompasses areas of activity well beyond the narrow parameters of the thirty-nine categories of melakha.  It obligates a person to lend Shabbat a quality of menucha (rest) in all areas of human activity.  Although the Torah did not specify the particular activities included under this mitzva, this is an example of a situation where Chazal came along and specified the modes of action from which one must abstain in order to fulfill a command issued by the Torah in general terms.  It thus turns out that one who performs one of these activities proscribed by Chazal has violated a rabbinic prohibition, but if one engages in several such activities to the point where he infringes upon the nature of Shabbat as a day of rest and cessation from weekday activity – he transgresses as well the Torah obligation of shabbaton.


3. "Li-kdosh Hashem Mekhubad" – Honoring Shabbat


            Included under the category of kavod is any activity performed in the house or within one's general framework in honor of Shabbat, such as preparing special food, cleaning and tidying up one's home for Shabbat, placing a white tablecloth, making the beds, putting out flowers, etc.  Candle lighting and conducting a meal by candlelight also serve as an expression of kevod Shabbat.  A second point of focus of kavod is the preparation of one's body for Shabbat, which includes all means of grooming: bathing, shaving, shoe polishing, fine clothing, and so on, as mentioned in the Midrashic passage cited earlier.


4. "Ve-karata La-Shabbat Oneg" – Enjoying Oneself on Shabbat


            Oneg includes all activities that give a person enjoyment and gratification: Shabbat meals (eating one's meal by the light of the Shabbat candles is also included under oneg), making meals out of wine and fine foods, Torah study, sleep, and so on.[8]


            Earlier, we classified the laws of Shabbat according to the four categories outlined by the Rambam (zakhor, shamor, kavod and oneg).  I believe, however, that we may, essentially, speak of two basic requirements of Shabbat: zakhor and shamor.  The other two obligations – kavod and oneg – are merely details within the broader mitzva of zakhor, which entails speaking of and sanctifying the day, and, as we have seen, kavod and oneg serve as expressions of the sacred nature of Shabbat.  We might thus arrange the laws of Shabbat as follows:


ZAKHOR: kiddush, remembering Shabbat during the week[9], kavod and oneg.

SHAMOR: the thirty-nine categories of melakha, activities proscribed by Chazal for purposes of shevut, techum Shabbat, and the prohibition against the performance of work by one's animal.


            In this overview, we identified the various fundamental principles of Shabbat, without embarking on a thorough analysis of the issues or the positions presented here.  Starting with next week's shiur, we will be"H begin an in-depth, thorough study of various topics in Hilkhot Shabbat.  Most of our attention will be devoted to the area of shamor, that is, the forbidden activities.  This year, we will deal with the melakha of bishul – cooking and baking.




1. See Shemot 20:7-10, 31:12-17, 35:1-3; Vayikra 23:1-3; Bamidbar 15:32-36; Devarim 5:11-14, and elsewhere.


2. The Chatam Sofer (responsa, vol. 1, O.C. 168) writes:


Now he [the Rambam] does not mean that it is merely a rabbinic obligation or [an obligation] from divrei kabbala [the prophets], such as Purim.  Rather, it is actually from Torah, orally conveyed to Moshe Rabbenu a"h – a halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai – and Yeshayahu came along and found a textual source for it.  For if you say otherwise, that it is not a halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai, [how could the prophet introduce a new obligation;] a prophet is not permitted to introduce a new law from this point [after the Torah was given] (Shabbat 104a)!  Necessarily, then, it is a halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai, and the Rambam refers to it as divrei sofrim, as is his wont.


Rav Moshe Feinstein adds (Iggerot Moshe, O.C., Dayish, 60):


It seems that the obligation of kavod also constitutes a Torah obligation. For the Rambam wrote, "are explicated by the prophets," rather than "were instituted by the prophets," suggesting that it is from the Torah.  The term "mi-divrei sofrim" is consistent with the Rambam's tendency to refer to anything not explicit in the Torah as divrei sofrim, even if it is a Torah law… The same is true of honoring Shabbat, which originates from the oral tradition and was explicated by the prophets through the Scriptural text.


The Divrei Yatziv (189) writes:


The Ramban comments in Parashat Emor (Vayikra 23:2) that regarding Shabbat it says mikra kodesh, requiring making it a day of feast and celebration.  The Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav (242) writes that they [kavod and oneg] essentially originate from the Torah, as Shabbat is among the mikra'ei kodesh… One might explain the Rambam's view to mean that they were explicated through the words of the Sages, but they have the status of Torah law.  He also cites from the Tzemach Tzedek (28), who wrote that oneg originates from the Torah, and the Yerei'im's view in chapter 99 (412) is that the obligation of oneg was known through oral tradition, until Yeshayahu came and found a textual source for it.


By contrast, Rav Ovadya Yosef writes in Yabi'a Omer (1:15):


We learn from his [the Rambam's] comments that the obligation of oneg originates only from divrei sofrim, and not from the Torah.  Mahari Taib indeed writes this in Erekh Ha-shulchan (end of 242).  The Rashba's position, however, in his responsa (127) and his chiddushim to Yevamot (93), is that oneg Shabbat originates from the Torah, and that it is derived from the verse, "in order that you learn to fear the Lord your God forever."


3. I believe the Rambam had two reasons for distinguishing between laws that are de-orayta (from the Torah), and those which originate mi-divrei sofrim (through the process of rabbinic exegesis):

A.     In the second of thirteen principles listed in the Rambam's introduction to his Sefer Ha-mitzvot, he establishes that only laws mentioned explicitly in the Torah should be counted among the 613 Biblical commandments.  This list does not include laws extracted through the midot she-ha-Torah nidreshet bahen (techniques of extracting halakha from the Biblical text).  He thus employs different terminology in referring to these two different categories of laws.

B.     The Sanhedrin of later generations is empowered to utilize the thirteen exegetical tools to arrive at different conclusions than those reached by an earlier Sanhedrin.  The Rambam writes in Hilkhot Mamrim (2:1):


If the High Court interpreted [verses] through one of the exegetical methods in accordance with what appears to them to be the law, and they decided upon the law, and then a later Court arose which adopted a different reasoning that opposes it [the earlier Court's conclusion] – it may oppose it and rule in accordance with its reasoning, as it says, "[you shall come] to the judge who will be in those days" – you are obliged to follow only the court in your generation."


            Compare this passage with his remarks in the first chapter of Hilkhot Mamrim:


There can be no dispute on divrei kabbala [laws that have been transmitted through oral tradition].  Anything regarding which you discover a dispute – it cannot be an oral tradition from Moshe Rabbenu.  And matters derived through deduction – if the High Court decided upon them in unison, then they have decided [and their conclusions are binding].


4. Later, we will mention a similar idea regarding the obligation of shabbaton.  There, too, the Torah issued a general command to lend the day a quality of rest and cessation from standard activity, and Chazal established the halakhic details to which we generally refer as shevut.


5. This question might impact our understanding of the essence of kiddush, whether we perceive it as merely a declaration of the sanctity of Shabbat, or if it itself sanctifies the day.  For although the sanctity of Shabbat takes effect each week regardless of human involvement, nevertheless, through the recitation of kiddush one perhaps adds to the kedusha of Shabbat and becomes a partner with the Almighty in this regard.  Of course, this issue requires further elaboration in a separate context.


6. Rambam, Hilkhot Shabbat (27:1):


It is forbidden to transport cargo on an animal on Shabbat, as it says (Shemot 23), "in order that your ox and donkey rest."  This includes oxen and donkeys, as well as any animal, beast or bird.  If one transported [cargo] on an animal he is not flogged, even though he is commanded with respect to its [the animal's] cessation from activity, because this prohibition emerges as a result of an asei [the positive command to allow one's animal to rest on Shabbat].  Therefore, one who directs his animal on Shabbat while it carries a burden is exempt [from punishment].


7.  On the basis of the verse, "No man shall leave his place on the seventh day" (Shemot 16:29), the Rambam writes (Hilkhot Shabbat 27:1):


One who leaves outside the boundary of the municipality on Shabbat is flogged, as it says, "No man shall leave his place on the seventh day."  "Place" refers to the city's boundary.  The Torah gave no measurement for this boundary, but the Sages transmitted [through tradition] that this boundary means beyond twelve mil, corresponding to the Israelite camp [during their travels in the wilderness].  And this is what Moshe Rabbenu told them: "Do not leave outside the camp."  From the words of the Sages [we are taught] that one may leave the city only [a distance of] two thousand cubits.  Beyond two thousand cubits, however, is forbidden, for two thousand cubits comprise the outskirts of the city.


8. We hope to discuss the obligations of kavod and oneg in greater depth at a later point.  For now, we refer the reader to the Rambam, Hilkhot Shabbat, chapter 30.


9. Earlier, we discussed the explanations given by Rashi and the Ramban for this mitzva.