Rabbi Zvi Alon
Former Shaliach in Montevideo
Since the mitzvah of tzitzit appears at the end of our parsha, I would like to address a related issue which arises each Shabbat in shul: May one fold a talit on Shabbat and how should one do so?
The source for this discussion is the Mishnah (BT Shabbat 113a) which states:
“Garments (literally, keilim)may be folded even four and five times. And beds may be made on leil Shabbat (Friday night) for Shabbat [day], but not on Shabbat for motzai Shabbat.”
The problem with folding is tikun kli (literally, fixing a tool, utensil, or – in our case – a garment). A wrinkled garment does not last long, and folding it prevents wrinkling. The Gemara stipulates four conditions for folding on Shabbat:
Two people may not fold together, in order to avoid the appearance of tikun.
The Mishnah applies to new garments only. Since wrinkles are less evident in new garments, folding is not fully considered to be tikun. However, folding an old garment is forbidden, because that would be tikungamur.
The Mishnah applies to white garments only, because – again – wrinkles are less apparent. However, folding colored garments is forbidden.
The Mishnah only applies in a case where a person has nothing else to wear on Shabbat. However, if he has other clothing, he may not fold.
Note that the Mishnah is only lenient when the garment is to be used on Shabbat itself. However, if the garment is not to be used until after Shabbat, one may not fold it because of the prohibition against preparing from kodesh to chol.
Thus, there are two problems with folding on Shabbat:
Is folding considered to be tikun?
The issue of folding on Shabbat for motzai Shabbat – i.e. the issue of hachanah (literally, preparation).
“From here we learn that it is forbidden to fold the shul’s talitot, because it is needed for the following day.”
The Ra’avayah upholds the prohibition but adds:
“What does this refer to? When one folds along the lines of the original crease, but not along the lines of the original crease – it is permitted.”
The Ra’avayah’s reasoning is that when one does not fold along the lines of the original crease – in our case, this means not folding along the talit’s fold marks – a person indicates that the folding is not for the sake of tikun. Moreover, an “unprofessional” folding cannot be considered hachanah, because the folder accomplished nothing.
The Kol Bo wonders if folding a talit on Shabbat may actually be permitted, because it does not resemble folding in the time of the Mishnah, when a press was used for folding. Without a press, the Kol Bo posits, perhaps one may even fold along the original crease or fold marks.
In his commentary on the Tur, the Beit Yosef cites the Kol Bo to the effect that our folding does not resemble the Mishnah’s folding. However, he does not refer to this view in the Shulchan Aruch (302:3), where he states:
“Garments may be folded on Shabbat for the needs of the Shabbat to wear them that day. And specifically… one person… and specifically new… and specifically white… And if one of these conditions is missing, it is forbidden. And there is one who says that folding not along the original crease is permitted no matter what, and his words make sense.”
Note that the Shulchan Aruch does not even cite the Kol Bo in order to distinguish between the different types of folding.
Interestingly, in Yafeh LaLev, R’ Yitzchak Palagi cites the Kol Bo’s leniency but then adds two important caveats:
Folding a talit should be considered a hiddur mitzvah (an enhancement or a glorification of the mitzvah), because it is not fitting for the talit to be wrinkled. Thus, due to the principle of “‘This is my God and I will beautify Him’ (Shmot 15:2) – Adorn yourself before Him with mitzvot.” (BT Succah 11b), folding a talit has merit.
If one has a special talit for Shabbat, one may certainly fold it on Shabbat. In this case, there is no issue of hachanah, because the folding is in anticipation of the following Shabbat.
We can summarize the assorted opinions as follows:
According to the Mishnah, one may not fold a garment on Shabbat if he needs it for after Shabbat.
The prohibition is based on the fact that folding is considered tikun and the fact the folding involves hachanah.
The Kol Bo asserts the folding is only prohibited when it is done using a press (such as a heavy iron), and therefore, the way we fold today is permitted. In other words, one may fold a talit on Shabbat.
The Ra’avayah and the Shulchan Aruch permit folding on Shabbat as long as it is not done along the lines of the original crease. In other words, one may fold a talit on Shabbat as long as one does not do so along the fold marks.
The Yafeh LaLev concurs with the Kol Bo that one may fold a talit on Shabbat and adds that it is considered to be a hiddur mitzvah.
Furthermore, the Yafeh LaLev holds that if one has a special talit for Shabbat, there is no problem of hachanah.
The Mishnah Brurah observes that most Achronim rely on the leniency of “not along the original crease” but others are more stringent in this regard.
Rav Ovadiah permits, lichatchilah, folding a talit on Shabbat but not along the fold marks.
Shmirat Shabbat K’Hilchatah also permits one to fold a talit on Shabbat but not along the fold marks.
In conclusion, Rav Chaim David Halevi zt”l cites the custom of waiting to fold one’s talit until right after Shabbat has ended. This custom adheres to the principle of “going from strength to strength” – a principle which is also the basis for building one’ssuccah on motzaiYom Kippur. There are also kabalistic reasons for folding one’s talit on motzai Shabbat. Therefore, if one forgot to fold one’s talit on motzai Shabbat, one should shake it out before putting it on the next time because of the “mezikin” (loosely, harmful spirits).