It is Shabbos morning after Shacharis in shul and a man is putting away his tallis. Mr. Schwartz approaches him with an admonishment: “You know, you are not supposed to do that.”
“Fold your tallis.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s a Mishnah Brurah—you aren’t supposed to fold your tallis.”
“You’ve got some nerve! What are you talking about? I never heard of this! And besides, my father folded his tallis, and his father folded his tallis! And my rabbi never said anything about this ever, and he’s seen me fold my tallis plenty of times!”
In all probability, this conversation has taken place thousands of times in hundreds of shuls across the country and throughout the world since the Mishnah Brurah was written. Is it accurate? Does the Mishnah Brurah really hold this way? What is the prevalent minhag?
SOURCE FOR THE HALACHA
The original source for this halachah is the Gemorah in Shabbos (113a.) The Mishnah had previously informed us that one may fold clothing even four or five times. The Gemorah, citing the academy of Rabbi Yannai, qualifies this: It may only be done for that day, and by one person, and only a new, white (not colored) garment. The Tosfos on that section of the Gemorah comment: From here we learn that it is forbidden to fold the talaisim of the synagogue, for they are needed [only] for the next day.
Let’s, however, look at the final contemporary halachah, first the Mishnah Brurah’s position and then the opinion of the Aruch HaShulchan.
The Shulchan Aruch states (Orech Chaim 302:3): One may fold clothing on Shabbos for the needs of Shabbos to wear them that day.
THE FOUR REQUIREMENTS
The Mishnah Brurah (302:13) quotes the Magen Avrohom:
Therefore it is forbidden to fold a tallis. Even though the mitzvah of tzitzis all day and he may wear it, nonetheless, since he does not have in mind to wear it further, it is forbidden, unless it is a place where it is the custom to wear a tallis at Mincha.
Even in a situation where he wishes to use it that day there are four other requirements that must be met: (1) It must only be one person folding it; (2) it must be new, one that has never been laundered; (3) it must be white; and (4) he must not possess another one that he can use. If any one of these four is missing, he cannot fold it even for that day’s use, writes the Mishnah Brurah.
The Mishnah Brurah elaborates upon each of these four requirements.
(1) Only one person may fold it, because with two people the creases spread out and it appears as if he is “mesakein manah,” fixing something. If he is folding it on a sofa or chair, it is as if two people are folding it. (2) It must never have been laundered, because if it was never laundered it is somewhat hard and does not crease easily. Folding it is not considered so much of a “fixing” that it would be prohibited under mesakein manah. (3) It must be white, because if it was colored it is more of a mesakein. (4) He must have no other one; but if he has another one, even if it is not as nice as this one, they did not permit him to fold it. Nonetheless, on a Yom Tov that falls on a Friday, it is permitted when it is new and white, even if he has no intention to wear it that day. There is a debate as to whether this is true only if he made an eiruv tavshilin or even without it. (Eliyahu Rabbah requires an eiruv tavshilin, while Rabbi Akiva Eiger does not require one.)
There is an opinion, however, that when one folds it not on the original lines, it is completely permitted. This type of folding has no lasting endurance, and there is no mesakein manah (a sub-category of makeh b’patish, one of the 39 prohibited categories of activity) at all. It is, therefore, permitted even if none of the four requirements above are met. It is even permitted when he has no intention of wearing it that day at all.
The Shulchan Aruch concludes that the words of this second opinion appear to be correct. The Mishnah Brurah notes that the majority of authorities agree with this second opinion. However, he adds a quote of the Machatzis HaShekel: One who wishes to be stringent upon himself and not fold it at all (unless all five conditions are met)—this is certainly preferable.
Clearly, the Mishnah Brurah’s position is that it is forbidden to fold it on the lines. He even cites the stringent position not to fold it at all. Is this the minhag? Is Mr. Schwartz correct?
ARUCH HASHULCHAN’S VIEW
The Aruch HaShulchan (302:12 in the middle of the paragraph) writes: And in our times there are many people who fold their tallis on Shabbos. One can answer that they hold that our folding poses no problem of tikkun manah whatsoever. And the reason that is explained by Rashi that it is forbidden on account of tirchah (exertion) is not held by the Rambam, Tur, or Shulchan Aruch.
The Aruch HaShulchan goes on to quote the Kol Bo: “And nowadays, where it has become the custom to fold all clothing, it is possible that our folding is not comparable to their folding. They were careful to remove any crease, while we do not do that.”
The Aruch HaShulchan is clearly discussing folding the tallis on the line of the original crease. It is clear that he is disagreeing with the Mishnah Brurah in providing a rationale for the prevalent custom. In a previous paragraph, he described the folding process as some sort of professional folding, clearly distinguishing our folding from theirs.
So what is the conclusion? While it is certainly appropriate to follow the Mishnah Brurah, if someone does wish to rely on the Aruch HaShulchan’s explanation, there is certainly room to do so. Rav Ovadiah Yosef, in Yechaveh Da‘as (2:40), also writes that one should not protest against one who is lenient, even though he advises that one should fold it not on the original creases. The final conclusion? The corrector was not correct in correcting—he should have merely educated.
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