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Cleaning Up Your Act on Shabbos


In order to properly understand the issues involved in removing leftover scraps from the table, we must first discuss some concepts in muktzah. Although muktzah is a very broad topic, we will concentrate solely on the issues relevant to our discussion.

In order to enhance the Shabbos so that people will not involve themselves in weekly, mundane matters, the concept of muktzah was instituted. This decree forbids the moving of several categories of items, which include a wide variety of objects. One of these categories is called “muktzah machmas gufo,” or things that are inherently muktzah and refers to items that serve no function on Shabbos. This includes things that are not serviceable utensils, and food unfit for human or animal consumption (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 308:7; Mishna Berurah, Introduction to 308).

It is not possible to list all of the different objects that are included in this category, however a few of them are: foods that cannot be eaten raw, e.g., flour, raw potatoes; money; animals, birds and fish; stones, dirt and sand (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 308:8).


More to our topic, another subcategory of muktzah machmas gufo is inedible food scraps: peels, shells, pits and bones.

When discussing this group of items, we must differentiate between various levels:

1) If these scraps are inedible for both humans and animals, or they are fit for animal consumption but the animals that would normally eat these particular scraps are uncommon in that area, they are muktzah and may not be moved. This is because they serve no function (Shulchan Aruch 308:29 and Mishna Berurah ad loc.)

It is worthwhile to point out a common mistake regarding shells. When people serve peanuts, almonds, walnuts and the like which need to be shelled, one must realize that as soon as the edible nut has been removed from the shell, the shell becomes muktzah and must be put down immediately (Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 20:26).

2) Peels, pits and bones that have edible food still attached to them are not considered muktzah, even if no one is interested in eating them (Biur Halacha 308:30, s.v., gar’inei).

3) Similarly, if the scraps themselves are fit for humans, or they are fit for animals and there are animals in the area that would normally eat them, they are not muktzah (Shulchan Aruch 308:29).


Before discussing how to remove the waste items from the table, we must first introduce a relevant concept.

When we say that an item is muktzah and may not be moved, we mean that it cannot be moved directly by touching it with one’s hands. However, it is permissible to move muktzah in an indirect manner. There are two such methods:

1) Tiltul b’gufo – moving it with one’s body. It is permitted to move muktzah with other parts of the body aside from one’s hands. Hence, one can use his foot or elbow. Similarly, one may blow muktzah items out of the way (Rama 308:3; Mishna Berurah 308:13)

2) Tiltul min hatzad. Literally, this means, moving it from the side. This refers to moving the muktzah by way of another item. For example, if one unintentionally left his wallet on his bed before Shabbos and now wishes to go to sleep, he may either tip the mattress or shake the sheet so that the wallet falls on the floor.

In this example, I specifically mention that the wallet was left on the bed unintentionally. The reason for this is because had the wallet been left there intentionally, and it remained on the bed the entire bein hashmashos (from sunset until tzeis hakochavim), the bed becomes a bosis, a base, for the muktzah and is also muktzah. In that situation, it would be forbidden to tip the bed or shake the sheet in order to remove the wallet (Shulchan Aruch 309:4).


There is an important halachic distinction between tiltul b’gufo and tiltul min hatzad that will determine which one a person may use in order to move muktzah. One is not permitted to make use of tiltul min hatzad for the sake of the muktzah. He may only move the muktzah in this fashion if it is for some permitted purpose. An example of this is the previously cited situation of the money on the bed. One may move the muktzah by way of tiltul min hatzad because he requires the bed to be uncluttered. He is not moving the money for the sake of protecting it.

However, in a situation where one is afraid that the muktzah item will get ruined or stolen, and he wishes to employ tiltul min hatzad to avoid that possibility, this is forbidden. For example, if one discovers on Shabbos that someone left a tape player on a chair on the patio outside and he is afraid that it will either get stolen or ruined by rain, it is forbidden to bring it indoors by carrying the chair (Shulchan Aruch 311:8).

With regards to tiltul b’gufo, one may use this method even to move the muktzah for the sake of the muktzah. For example, if one finds money on the floor during Shabbos, assuming it is in a location where moving items in general is permitted, i.e., there is an eiruv or it is indoors, he may push the money with his foot until it is concealed (ibid.).


Obviously, when clearing the table from the various leftover scraps, using tiltul b’gufo would prove to be very difficult. One could not be expected to pick up peels, shells or bones with his elbows or teeth! Therefore, we must make use of the tiltul min hatzad. This can be done in one of two ways:

1) If one uses disposable plastic table covers over the regular Shabbos tablecloth, one can simply roll up the plastic with the scraps and deposit the entire thing into the garbage. Since he is not touching the muktzah directly, this is permitted.

2) Those who do not use plastic covers on the table may scrape the leftover scraps with a knife or some other utensil onto a plate or something similar and then overturn the plate into the garbage pail. Using a utensil for both the scraping and the carrying is tiltul min hatzad as he is not moving the muktzah directly, but rather by way of something else.

Both of these examples of titul min hatzad are permissible since he is not moving the muktzah for its own sake, rather because he wishes to clean off the Shabbos table.


Aside from the two aforementioned methods of indirectly removing the muktzah scraps from the table, there is a halachic dispensation that permits direct removal. This is the concept known as “graf shel re’i.” Literally, this term refers to a bedpan made of pottery. Although a bedpan and its contents would be classified as muktzah machmas gufo, Chazal permitted removing them because they are considered unappealing. By way of extension, any item which is found to be disgusting may be removed from the room on Shabbos even when muktzah. For example: a dead mouse, spoiled food or a soiled diaper. Therefore, if one finds the leftover scraps on the table repulsive or otherwise embarrassing, he may remove them (Shulchan Aruch 308:34-35 and Mishna Berurah ad loc.).

There is an important difference between tiltul b’gufo and tiltul min hatzad on one hand and graf she re’i on the other. When moving an object using either tiltul b’gufo or tiltul min hatzad, one may not touch the muktzah directly with his hands. However, when making use of the permissibility of graf shel re’i, one may actually touch the muktzah with one’s hands in order to remove it. Therefore, in our situation where one wishes to clear the table of food scraps, if he finds the mess repulsive, he may physically touch the muktzah items directly and throw them into the garbage (ibid.).


Practically speaking, when MUST one use tiltul min hatzad and when may he make use of the permissibility of removing graf shel re’i? In truth, this will actually depend on the amount of refuse left on the table and how the homeowner feels about it. If it is a relatively large amount of scraps and he finds it either repulsive or embarrassing, it is considered graf shel re’i and he can remove it directly. However, if it is only a small amount, and not so repulsive, but he still wants to tidy up, he should use tiltul min hatzad.


When the tablecloth is basically clean and one merely wishes to remove the remaining breadcrumbs, some people find it convenient to shake it out outdoors. When doing so, one must ensure that area into which the breadcrumbs fall is a reshus hayachid, otherwise he would be guilty of transferring from one domain to another. In order that an area be considered a private domain, it is insufficient that it is privately owned. Rather, it must be properly enclosed with valid halachic partitions. Details on this subject are beyond the scope of this article.

Additionally, if the area where he shakes out the tablecloth is common to several families, e.g., the backyard of apartment building or two-family house, one may not transfer from his home to the yard unless an eiruv chatzeiros is made. For details on this, one should consult a competent halachic authority.


Over the course of Shabbos, it often occurs that the garbage pail fills up and there is no room for additional refuse. What can one do in this situation?

As we have seen, garbage scraps are very often muktzah and cannot be moved. Once these items are placed in the garbage pail, the pail also becomes muktzah. However, if one finds the sight of the full pail repulsive, or it emits a disgusting odor, it attains the status of graf shel re’i and can be removed. Similarly, if the garbage pail is full and one has no additional receptacles in which to place garbage, the pail can be emptied, even if it is not yet a graf shel re’i (Shemiras Shabbos K’Hilchasa 22:45).

Of course, if one wishes to move the pail outdoors, he must be careful that that area is a proper reshus hayachid, as we outlined earlier regarding shaking out the tablecloth.


In introducing the concept of muktzah at the outset of this article, we mentioned that this decree was enacted in order to enhance the Shabbos. Another Shabbos enhancement instituted by Chazal was that one should not involve himself in activities unrelated to Shabbos. It is for this reason that washing dishes is forbidden on Shabbos. One is permitted to do so only when the dishes are needed for Shabbos, otherwise, this is an activity that is viewed as an unnecessary tircha or bother (Shulchan Aruch 323:6).

Although one may only wash what he might need for Shabbos, once it has been decided that a particular type of dish is required, all of the dishes of that type may be washed, even where only one will be used. For example: If one has five dirty fish plates after the Friday night meal, and he knows that for either of the Shabbos day meals he will only require three, he may still wash all five. This is because each dish on its own could be the one that will be used (Mishna Berurah 323:26).

In a situation where one knows for certain that he will not require any more dishes on Shabbos, he may wash them. The most common example of this is that one may not wash up after seudah shlishis. This is because generally, after seudah shlishis, people do not eat again until after Shabbos.

However, this will depend on the situation. It is possible that one may not be allowed to wash dishes after lunch; for example: 1) if fleishig dishes were used for lunch and milchig ones will be used for seudah shlishis. 2) If he will be eating seudah shlishis elsewhere and the dishes will no longer be needed on Shabbos. On the other hand, if one is planning on eating again after seudah shlishis, it is permitted to wash dishes, if needed.

One exception to these rules is drinking glasses. Unlike eating, which generally has specific times during the day, there are no fixed times for drinking. Therefore, unless a person is positive that he will no longer be drinking on that Shabbos, he is allowed to wash the glasses (Shulchan Aruch 323:6 and Mishna Berurah 29). Additionally, some maintain that dishes and utensils used for snacks can similarly be washed throughout the day, as long as there is a reasonable possibility that they will be used on Shabbos. This is because snacking is similar to drinking in that it has no fixed times (Ketzos Hashulchan 146:16 and Badei Hashulchan 30).

There is a disagreement among the poskim whether one may wash dishes on Shabbos in a situation where one has enough dishes without washing. Some maintain that since he has additional dishes that are clean, he does not need the dirty ones and washing them is an unnecessary tircha on Shabbos (Aruch Hashulchan 323:7). Others contend that one may wash dishes even where there are clean ones available. This is based on the fact that the Gemara simply states (Shabbos 92) that the dishes one used at night can be washed in order to use for the morning. The Gemara does not make any distinctions whether there are additional dishes or not (Shu”t Mishna Halachos, vol. III, #40).


In a situation where one is not washing dishes, is he permitted to soak them in soapy water on Shabbos to facilitate the cleaning on Motzai Shabbos, or is this considered preparing from Shabbos to the week?

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l maintains that any activity that a person does as a matter of course without considering the practical benefits of that action, is permitted on Shabbos even where preparation from Shabbos to the week takes place. This is provided that no tircha is involved and one does not say explicitly that he is doing so for after Shabbos. For example: After seudah shlishis, one may return perishables to the refrigerator even before Shabbos is over. Even though it appears as he is preparing for the weekday by reducing what needs to be done after Shabbos, this is not considered preparation for after Shabbos, as it is common practice to put food away at the conclusion of a meal (Shemiras Shabbos K’Hilchasa 28:81 and footnote #190).

Similarly, one is allowed to soak dishes at the conclusion of the meal even though this will make it easier to wash after Shabbos, as this is normal procedure and he is not doing it as a preparation per se. This is only true however, where the dishes are still freshly soiled and soaking them will merely maintain the current situation. If the food residue has already hardened, it is forbidden to soak them, as doing so is a clear preparation for after Shabbos (ibid. and 12:3).

Other poskim contend that soaking the dishes on Shabbos is considered to be preparation for after Shabbos. Since it is possible to soak the dishes after Shabbos, soaking them on Shabbos is an unnecessary tircha. Some recommend placing the dirty dishes in a dishpan in the sink, and then to wash his hands and otherwise use the sink as needed on Shabbos. In this manner, the dishpan will fill up with water, thereby soaking the dishes. This is not forbidden because of preparation for after Shabbos, since no special effort was expended in order to soak the dishes (The 39 Melachos, pg. 121).


The concept that it is permissible to do activities as a matter of course can also be applied to putting dirty dishes into the dishwasher. If it is standard procedure during the week to store the dirty dishes in the dishwasher until it is time to wash them, one is permitted to do so on Shabbos as well. This is not considered as preparation for after Shabbos, since this is the normal procedure.

If it is not standard procedure in the home to store the dishes in the dishwasher and he does so on Shabbos in order to expedite the washing up after Shabbos, it is considered preparation and therefore forbidden (Shemiras Shabbos K’Hilchasa 12:35).


One of the dangers that one must take heed of when washing dishes on Shabbos is the possibility of transgressing boreir, selecting, one of the thirty-nine categories of forbidden Shabbos labor. Let us briefly outline this melacha and then apply it to our topic.

Simply stated, it is forbidden to choose food or other items from a pile or a mixture on Shabbos, unless the following requirements are met: 1) One takes the item that he wants, leaving behind what he does not. 2) He takes that item for immediate use and not for some need later in the day. 3) He does the selecting with his hand and not with a utensil. Obviously, this last requirement is more apropos for food preparation than our subject (Shulchan Aruch 319).

With regards to dishwashing, a very common scenario is as follows: After the Friday night meal, the sink is full of: 1) fish plates, 2) soup bowls, 3) dinner plates, 4) drinking glasses and 5) silverware. This is classified as a mixture and in order to avoid boreir, one must fulfill the above-mentioned requirements, namely taking what he wants and for immediate use. Therefore, if he knows that he will not require the soup bowls for the Shabbos morning meal, and he wishes to wash the dishes Friday night, there is an issue of boreir here. This is because he will be removing the fish plates, dinner plates, glasses and silverware from the mixture (leaving behind the bowls), but it is not for immediate use, since they will not be used until the morning.

In this situation, there are three methods to avoid boreir:

1) Find some use for at least one of the soup bowls at the Shabbos morning meal and he may then wash them along with the other dishes.

2) Do not place the soup bowls into the sink until after the other dishes are washed.

3) Wash the dishes that will be used at the Shabbos morning seudah immediately prior to the meal. Even though there are items that will not be used that are mixed in with those that will, it is permissible to remove the desired items from the mixture since it is for immediate use.


There are also several boreir situations that must be avoided when storing the dirty dishes in the dishwater. A typical scenario is when two or more types of plates, e.g., serving plates and dinner plates, are piled up on the table, removed and brought to the kitchen. This pile is classified as a mixture and one may only sort them for immediate use. Therefore, one may not remove the dishes from the stack in order to place them in the dishwasher in an organized manner. In order to avoid this problem, one should use one of these options: 1) when removing the dishes from the table, one should remove each dish separately and place it directly in the dishwasher, or 2) he should avoid making piles of different types of dishes. Rather, he can make a pile of dinner plates and a pile of fish plates and a pile of bowls.

The same applies to silverware. Often, in order to fit more into the dishwasher, people want to group the different kinds of silverware according to their type, e.g., fish forks, dinner forks, tablespoons, teaspoons, etc. If two or more types of silverware are in a pile, the pile is a mixture and it cannot be sorted.

Incidentally, the issue of boreir with regards to silverware also comes up when washing them on Shabbos. If one is not washing them immediately before the meal, one must take care to avoid boreir. If he has a pile of silverware in the sink, he should not seek out any particular type of silverware, e.g., fish forks, so as to be able to wash all of them together. Rather, he should pick up whatever comes to his hand. Once he has any particular item in his hand and he is washing it, he may then put it down in a particular place and thereby group them by category. This is not called boreir, since he picked up a piece at random.


One can take the must mundane act and turn it into a beautiful mitzvah and on the other hand he can perform a mitzvah that should be full of kedusha and devoid it of its sanctity. It all depends on one’s attitude.

For many people, housecleaning, dishwashing and the like are a drag. This is an unfortunate attitude. One must realize that all of these mundane acts that are part and parcel of running a household are in actuality acts of chessed for the other members of the family. And when one cleans up on Shabbos, the reward is doubly great, for not only is one doing chessed for the household members, he or she is fulfilling the mitzvah of honoring the Shabbos!

This article originally appeared in the US edition of Yated Neeman.


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