Melabain by Yisrael Glassberg



Melabain, loosely translated as Bleaching, is one of the 39 Melachot that are forbidden on Shabbat.  This is an extremely important Melacha to be cognizant of as there are many circumstances were this Melacha is relevant.  BA”H, in this article we will discuss its parameters and applications.


“Melabain may be defined as the cleansing of absorbent materials that have absorbed soil, grime, or other impurities (R’ Ribbiat, The 39 Melachos).”  It can occur in a variety of ways, which will be explained in great detail.  However, before defining each of these terms it is important to note that the entire cleansing process does not have to be completely accomplished in order for one to violate this Issur Deoraita.  Additionally, this Issur only applies to things that are actually absorbed in a garment.  Therefore wiping dandruff or lint off of one’s clothing that are merely on the surface is not included in this definition.

Cibbus and Shriyah

The Rambam classifies Cibbus (washing) as a Tolada of Melabain (Hilchot Shabbat 9:10).  One of the ways in which Cibbus can be accomplished is through Shriyah (soaking).  In describing the reason for the Issur of Shriyah, the Gemara (Zevachim 94b) uses the phrase Shriyato Zo Hee Cibbuso- soaking something is considered cleaning it and it therefore falls under the parameters of this Melacha.  This is because the soaking effect loosens soil and stains that are absorbed in the garment.  There is a very important discussion amongst the Rishonim concerning exactly which types of garments are subject to this violation.  Tosafot (Shabbat 111b, s.v. Hai Misuchraita) explains that this rule only applies only to a garment that has stains or dirt on it.  The Rosh, commenting on the Gemara in Yoma 77b, extends this application to a garment that is merely soiled from frequent use even if it does not necessarily have stain on the garment.  Rabbeinu Tam (in the aforementioned Tosafot) claims that this rule applies even to a completely clean garment.  However, he limits this rule to scenarios where the Shriya is done Bederech Cibbbus.  If, however, it is done Bederech Lichluch (in a soiling manner) it is permissible.  A prime example of this would be drying one’s hands on a towel after washing before the Shabbat meal.  Cleaning the towel is totally out of one’s purview and would therefore be permissible.  A fourth opinion is that of the Yeraim who denies Rabbeinu Tam’s Heter of Derech Lichluch.  He therefore advises that one strongly shake off his hands from the water droplets prior to drying them.  The Rama (302:10) rules in accordance with the ruling of Rabbeinu Tam.     

Dealing with a spill or stain

The Mishna Berura (O.C. 302: 41) cautions that if water spills on a table it is forbidden according to all opinions to clean the spill with a garment that one is concerned about, lest he come to squeeze the garment out, thereby violating Sechita (squeezing).  Additionally, it is extremely important to keep in mind that if the spill or stain is on one’s clothes or carpet, the application of water or seltzer to this stain will violate the Issur Deoraita of Shriya according to all opinions for it is done Bederech Cibbus, not Bederech Lichluch.  However, Poskim rule leniently regarding the use of disposable paper materials such as paper towels or napkins to soak up spills.  R’ Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe, O.C. 2:70) rules that the use of such material is allowed when cleaning a spill because the Issur of Shriya does not apply to something which becomes ruined or spoiled by any wetness.  The primary goal of this Melacha is soaking the garment in order to improve the garment’s appearance.  However even when the Deoraita problem of Shriya can be avoided, there is still an Issur Derabbanan of applying water to a garment lest one come to squeeze it out.  However, regarding paper towels or napkins there is no cause for concern that one may inadvertently squeeze out the water from this material.  Therefore it is permissible to wet a paper towel to wipe down a countertop on Shabbat.  Despite Rav Moshe’s Heter one should be careful not to deliberately squeeze out the water from the paper towel.

Glasses and contact lenses

The Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchata (16:31) cautions that one who wants to clean his glasses on the corner of his garment (even if it is clean) is not permitted to wet the garment first and then apply the wet garment to the glasses, for this violates the Issur of Shriya, in accordance with Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion.  He therefore instructs one to wet the glasses first and then wipe it off on the corner of his garment, as this would be Derech Lichluch.  Of course, Rav Moshe permits cleansing one’s glasses with disposable paper materials, even if he would wet them and then cleanse the glasses.  However, one must be extremely careful not to squeeze it too hard during the wiping process.

Hard contact lenses are completely non-absorbent and it is therefore permissible to soak them on Shabbat.  However, Poskim debate the status of soft contact lenses.  Are they the Halachic equivalent of hard leather, which the Gemara classifies as one of the nonabsorbent materials, or are they classified as cloth which is absorbent.  Rav Eliyashiv (Kobetz Teshuvot #26) argues that they have a status have cloth and therefore are subject to this Melacha.  However if they are completely clean prior to Shabbos it is permissible to soak them on Shabbos.  This is certainly true according to Tosafot for there is no dirt on them.  However, this seemingly would still be a problem for Rabbeinu Tam, because even clean items are subject to this prohibition.  He deals with this by positing that the argument between Tosafot and Rabbeinu Tam is limited to a garment that has been blackened from frequent use.  Rabbeinu Tam is stringent in this case only because the cleansing has a positive cleansing effect.  If the Shriya accomplishes nothing in regards to the Cibbus but merely serves to maintain moisture, then even Rabbeinu Tam would allow it.  However, Rav Eliyashiv felt that the best option would be to use a saline solution, which prevents the lenses from drying out but does not clean them.  Accordingly, one should also try to avoid using disinfectant solutions.                      

Sechita and Shifshuf

The Rambam (Hilchot Shabbat 9:11) identifies Sechita (squeezing) as “Mitzarchei Hacibbus” and is therefore prohibited.  The Avnai Neizer explains this concept, stating that when water absorbed in a garment the water particles combine with the dirt particles.  Therefore, squeezing cleans out this dirty water, which in turn cleans the garment.  Shifshuf involves scrubbing or vigorously rubbing a garment even when dry.  It is included under this prohibition because the friction that occurs in this process acts to remove the dirt or soil from the garment.  Therefore one may not scratch a Chulent or any such stain in one’s suit on Shabbos even without the application of any water medium.  One may however scrape off the surface layer of the stain, as this does not constitute a true act of Shifshuf.  This is not defined as Melabain since the surface layer is not truly absorbed into the fabric of the garment.        

Cleaning garments without liquids

The Gemara (Shabbat 147a) states that one who “shakes out a Talit on Shabbat is Chayav.”  Rishonim differ as to what this case refers to.  Rashi (s.v. Haminer) maintains that it is a case where the person’s Talit is covered with dust.  Tosafot, quoting Rabbeinu Channanel, interprets this case as where the Talit had droplets of dew on it and one is violating Sechita when shaking out the garment.  Tosafot is perplexed by Rashi’s explanation, as he does not understand what category shaking out dust would fall under (it is not Shifshuf as one is not scraping or scrubbing the garment but merely shaking it out).  The Sha’ar Hatzion (O.C. 302:41) elucidates Rashi’s opinion claiming that since shaking this garment accomplishes a significant goal, it is prohibited.  The Shulchan Aruch rule in accordance with Tosafot and the Rema adds that we should accommodate Rashi’s stringent opinion.  Therefore, the Mishna Brura cautions that one should not hang his coat or hat in a place where it is subject to fall into dust or dirt.  If one finds himself in a situation where he has dust on his pants, the Mishna Berura (O.C. 302:6) permits relying on the opinion of Tosafot and asking a non-Jew to clean off the dust.  If a non-Jew is unavailable in a situation of Cavod Habriot (you are getting up to speak in front of a group) one might be permitted to brush off the dust in an unusual manner.         

Issurei Derabbanan

Folding a garment on its hemline constitutes an Issur Mederabbanan.  This is quoted in the portion of the Rambam where he discusses various Issurei Derabbanan on Shabbat (Hilchot Shabbat, 22:22).  This is because folding is most often done after the completion of the Cibbus process in order to maintain the quality of the garment.  Accordingly, one must be extremely careful not to fold one’s Shabbat pants or Talit on their respective hemlines.

In addition, hanging up wet garments in places that you normally hang things to dry (clothesline, laundry room, over a shower) is prohibited Mederabbanan because of Marat Ayin (it appears that one washed the item on Shabbat).  This is because a passerby will think you have been Mechabet your clothes on Shabbat (O.C. 301:45).  The Mishna Berura (ibid. 164) notes that clothes that have become wet from the waste of a child may be hung to dry because the waste is visible to all and therefore no one will suspect you of having violated Cibbus.  Similarly, Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach rule that if one’s clothes become wet it is permissible to hang up the clothes if they are dry-clean only (suit jacket, Shabbos coat).  Since these articles are never washed using water, no one will suspect you washed them.  Thus, it does not pose a problem of Marat Ayin.


We have discussed some of the parameters of the Melacha of Melabain and have tried to highlight some of its primary applications.  Hopefully we will all try to observe these Halachot properly, thereby enhancing the Kedusha of Shabbat.

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