Melabein by Yisrael Glassberg


Yisrael Glassberg composed this article when he was a senior at TABC. Kol Torah prints this article in honor of and Lellui Nishmat Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l who passed away this past summer.


The Isur of Melabein, loosely translated as bleaching, is one of the 39 Melachot that are forbidden on Shabbat. It is an extremely important Melachah to be cognizant of, as there are many circumstances where this Melachah is relevant. In this article we will discuss its parameters and applications.


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

Kibus and Shriyah

Rambam classifies Kibus (washing) as a Toladah of Melabein (Hilchot Shabbat 9:10). One of the ways in which Kibus can be accomplished is through Sheriyah (soaking). In describing the reason for the Isur of Sheriyah, the Gemara (Zevachim 94b) uses the phrase “Sheriyato Zo Hi Kibuso” - soaking something is considered cleaning it, and it therefore falls under the parameters of this Melachah. 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 applies only to a garment that has stains or dirt on it. Rosh, commenting on 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 Sheriyah is done BeDerech Kibus. 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 prior to the Shabbat meal. Cleaning the towel is totally beyond one’s intentions and purview and would therefore be permissible. A fourth opinion is that of the Yerei’im, who denies Rabbeinu Tam’s Heteir of Derech Lichluch. He therefore advises that one strongly shake off his hands from the water droplets prior to drying them. Rama (302:10) rules in accordance with the ruling of Rabbeinu Tam.

Dealing with a spill or stain

The Mishnah Berurah (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 Sechitah (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 Isur DeOraita of Sheriyah according to all opinions, for it is done BeDerech Kibus, not BeDerech Lichluch. However, Posekim rule leniently regarding the use of disposable paper materials, such as paper towels or napkins, to soak up spills. Rav 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 Isur of Sheriyah does not apply to something which becomes ruined or spoiled by any wetness. The primary goal of this Melachah is soaking the garment in order to improve the garment’s appearance. However, even when the DeOraita problem of Sheriyah can be avoided, there is still an Isur DeRabanan 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 Heteir one should be careful to not deliberately squeeze out the water from the paper towel.

Glasses and contact lenses

Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchatah (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 Isur of Sheriyah, in accordance with Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion. He therefore instructs one to wet the glasses first and then wipe them 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, Posekim 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 Elyashiv (Kovetz Teshuvot #26) argues that they have a status of cloth and therefore are subject to this Melachah. However, if they are completely clean prior to Shabbat it is permissible to soak them on Shabbat. 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. Rav Elyashiv 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 Sheriyah accomplishes nothing in regards to the Kibus but merely serves to maintain moisture, then even Rabbeinu Tam would allow it. However, Rav Elyashiv 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.

Sechitah and Shifshuf

Rambam (Hilchot Shabbat 9:11) identifies Sechitah (squeezing) as “MiTzorchei HaKibus” and is therefore prohibited. The Avnei Neizer explains this concept, stating that when water is 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 Cholent pot or any such stain in one’s suit on Shabbat 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 Melabein 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. 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 Sechitah when shaking out the garment. Tosafot is perplexed by Rashi’s explanation, as they 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 HaTziyun (O.C. 302:41) elucidates Rashi’s opinion, claiming that since shaking this garment accomplishes a significant goal, it is prohibited. The Shulchan Aruch rules in accordance with Tosafot and Rama adds that we should accommodate Rashi’s stringent opinion. Therefore, the Mishnah Berurah 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 Mishnah Berurah (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 Kevod HaBeri’ot (human dignity, e.g. getting up to speak in front of a group) one might be permitted to brush off the dust in an unusual manner.

Isurei DeRabanan

Folding a garment on its hemline constitutes an Isur MiDeRabanan. This is quoted in the portion of Rambam where he discusses various Isurei DeRabanan on Shabbat (Hilchot Shabbat, 22:22). This is because folding is most often done after the completion of the Kibus process in order to maintain the quality of the garment. Accordingly, one must be careful not to fold one’s Shabbat pants or Talit on his 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 MiDeRabanan because of Mar’it Ayin (it appears that one washed the item on Shabbat). This is because a passerby might conclude that the clothes were washed on Shabbat (O.C. 301:45). The Mishnah Berurah (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 violation of Kibus. 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, it is unreasonable to suspect they were washed. Thus, it does not pose a problem of Mar’it Ayin.


We have discussed some of the parameters of the Melachah of Melabein and highlighted some of its primary applications. Hopefully we shall make every effort to observe these Halachot properly, thereby enhancing the Kedushah of Shabbat.

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