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Carrying in the Public Domain


The last three parshiyos: Bamidbar, Naso, and Beha’aloscha mentioned Machane Yisroel — the Jewish nation’s desert encampment. Of the various halachos learned from this camp, the most relevant to us is the prohibition of carrying items in the public domain on Shabbos. In this week’s article we will discuss various clothing items, and whether they may be worn in the public domain on Shabbos. Halacha mentions that wearing articles of clothing is permitted, however carrying loads is not. What is considered a load, and what is an article of dress? Many people spend the summer months in a bungalow or camp in the mountains. If there is no eiruv surrounding the area, can the cook wear his apron between bunks? Is there any difference among aprons? Many ladies wear a decorative white apron on Shabbos. Can it be worn where there is no eiruv? What about a girl or boy’s scout badge or scarf? Can a blanket or sack be used for protection against the wind? And can a plastic cover be used to protect a hat from the rain? Of this, and more in the coming article.

Machane Yisroel

These past weeks’ parshiyos dealt with the Jewish nation’s desert encampment. Many halachos are learned from the Jew’s desert camp, the most relevant today being the prohibition of carrying on Shabbos outside an eiruv, in a place resembling that original camp.  The prohibited area is called reshus harabim – the public domain. Chazal extended the prohibition to include other semi-public areas called carmelit. Where there is no reshus harabim, there are conditions that allow constructing an eiruv. However, where the is no eiruv, what can leave our home with us and what cannot? This is the topic of this week’s article.

Clothing or Burden?

The prohibition of transporting items from the private to the public domain or carrying in the public domain four cubits (2-2.4 meters) only applies to items of burden. Wearing clothing, however, is permitted. Therefore, we must first define what is considered an article of dress, and what is considered an article of burden.

Chazal forbid wearing certain items outside an eiruv despite their status as clothing, out of concern that the wearer will come to carry them. This list contains the following items:

  1. A loose item which is likely to fall, causing the wearer to lift and carry it in his hands to avoid losing it (Shulchan Aruch OC 301:7).
  2. A strange item which may cause its wearer shame or If the wearer feels humiliated because of what he is wearing, he may remove it and carry it in his hand (ibid).
  3. A woman who takes her jewelry off to show her friends cannot leave the house adorned in those pieces out of concern that she may remove them to show them off and end up carrying them in the public domain.
  4. Tefillin may not be worn outside despite being an article of dress, because if one needs to relieve himself he will remove them, and perhaps carry them four cubits or transport them from the public to the private domain to protect them until his needs are tended for (ibid).
  5. Anything a woman must remove before tevilah, such as a string tied into her hair, cannot be transported into the public domain out of concern that she may remove it on her way to the mikveh and carry it in her hand (OC 303:1).

These examples, and particularly jewelry, will be the topic of the next instalment. This week we will focus on items of dress.

Defining Dress

A clothing article must meet one of the following three criteria:

  1. Its purpose is to protect the body of the wearer.
  2. Its purpose is to adorn its wearer. Jewelry meets this criterion.
  3. It is worn in the way that clothing is generally worn.

The third criterion is understood differently by various halachic authorities:

The Mishna Brura (301:50) understands that clothing articles must cover both front and back of the body. Therefore, an article that protects the wearer from becoming dirty and is only tied on either the front or back does not meet this criterion.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, OC volume I, chapter 108-9-10) understands a garment must fulfill a function of clothing — either covering, adding to body temperature, or decoration. An article that does none of the above is not considered a clothing article even if the entire body is enclothed in it. Many contemporary poskim disagree with this distinction. See below for further details.

Rabbi Feinstein writes further that wearing a garment for the sole purpose of transporting it, even though its addition to body temperature is unnecessary or undesirable (like wearing a mink coat in July), meets the above criteria and is permitted. Similarly, one who wears overalls to prevent his elegant clothing from getting dirty, even if the overalls makes him hot and sweaty, since it is worn in derech leviahsa (as a manner of dress) wearing it in the public domain is permitted.

A button-down housecoat worn over one’s clothing to prevent them from getting dirty is considered a garment and can be worn outside in the public domain. However, an apron worn in the front and tied in the back requires additional conditions to permit wearing outside (Mishna Brura 301:50).

An apron worn for adornment (as is customary in several Chassidic communities) may be worn in the public domain despite covering only the front of the body. However, an apron tied in the back only worn in order to protect its wearer’s clothing is not considered an article of dress.

If the purpose for wearing he apron is also to protect the wearer from getting wet during dishwashing, since it protects the body, it is considered derech levisha. However, if wet clothing will not be uncomfortable, and the only reason for wearing it is to prevent the embarrassment of walking around in wet clothing, or to prevent clothing from getting ruined, one may not wear it outside in the public domain (Mishna Brura 301:54) if it does not cover the front and back of the body.

Additionally, even when the item’s purpose is to protect the body, the article must be something people normally wear. A cardboard box, while providing protection, is not considered an article of dress and forbidden. However, a sack, although only worn by poor people or shepherds, is permitted since it is an article of dress, (Shulchan Aruch 301:21; Mishna Brura footnote 72-73).

Apron Summary

Some Chassidic ladies wear a decorative white apron in honor of Shabbos. Since it is considered an ornament, walking outside dressed in it is permitted on Shabbos even where there is no eiruv, despite not doing anything to protect the body and being only tied in the back.

A sack or heavy cloth tied around the body as protection from a storm or wind, despite not being decorative or comfortable, may be worn outside even if the only people who wear it are farmers or homeless.

Where an article will cause discomfort or shame, wearing it is forbidden, out of concern that one will be suddenly ashamed to be seen wearing it in public and remove it and carry it in his hand instead.

A housecoat intended to keep one’s clothing clean may be worn outside on Shabbos. However, according to the Igros Moshe the housecoat must add either warmth or decoration. Since housecoats commonly do neither, wearing them outside — according to the Igros Moshe — is forbidden without an eiruv despite covering both sides of the body and perhaps even sporting sleeves.

An apron tied in the back which only protects the front of the body: if worn only to protect one’s clothing and not the actual body, cannot be worn outside without an eiruv. The same is true if one’s body will get wet, but the moisture doesn’t bother him (such as on a hot day, when wet clothing are welcome.)

An apron emblazed with a logo or picture, as well as patches, scarves, or medals that display one’s affiliation, political party, or achievement are considered an ornament. If the item might be removed to show a fellow fan or in an attempt to conceal one’s association, wearing it is forbidden just as a woman may not wear jewelry which she may remove to show her friend.

Rain Hat

Another example for this can be found with rain hats and bonnets.

The Rama, (OC 301:14) writes that an expensive silk scarf which will be ruined by the rain cannot be covered with cloth if the addition does nothing to warm its wearer. Since it serves solely as a protection for the scarf, it is not considered clothing and cannot be used where there is no eiruv.

The Mishna Brura adds that this is also the case when covering one’s hat to protect it from the rain. However, he adds, where the added cloth or scarf also shields one’s body from the rain and prevents the moisture from drenching him, using it is permitted despite the main reason being the protection of the expensive scarf.

According to Rav Moshe Feinstein, using the outer garment is only permitted if it adds something to its wearer – if, for example the outer hat is larger than the inner one, and affords its wearer better protection, for example.

Therefore, practically, if it is raining and one is only wearing an expensive hat, using another larger hat is permitted if it provides better protection from the rain or warmth. However, where the larger hat adds nothing but protection for the hat, according to Rav Moshe using it where there is no eiruv is forbidden. Therefore, a plastic hat cover made to fit the hat’s dimensions and protect it from the rain cannot be used according to Rav Moshe, because it only protects the hat, not its wearer. The Chazon Ish (Karyana D’agarta II 351); Rav Nissim Karelitz (Chut Shani IV 88:13); Minchas Yitzchak (III 26:8); and Ohr LeTzion (II 23:3) all agree that the cover is not used like clothing because it’s only purpose is to protect the hat .

Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank (Har Tzvi 296), Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Shmiras Shabbos Kehilchaso 18:46), and Shevet Halevi (I, 61:3) maintain that the cover is used like clothing since it fits right over the hat and is made to size. Therefore, in their opinion, a plastic hat cover is permitted despite being used only for the hat. Har Tzvi adds that since one’s head will get wet if the hat is drenched by the rain, and since the plastic cover is made to size, it is part of the hat (batel), and permitted.

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Shevet Halevi however, add another condition: delaying removal. Only a person who is not careful to remove the cover as soon as it stops raining can use it on Shabbos, because firstly that is needed to prove that the cover is an article of clothing.  Secondly, one who removes it immediately might remove it as soon as it stops raining and carry it in his pocket even in the public domain. Therefore, the Shevet Halevi writes, where carrying is a possible Torah prohibition, a plastic cover should not be used because most people remove it as soon as it stops raining. Shevet Halevi thus wrote to the Rivevos Efraim that in Toronto one should not permit it, since Toronto is a large city where there is likely to be a Torah-defined public domain.

Although some people protect their hat from the rain with a plain plastic bag, it is certainly not considered a manner of dress and forbidden according to all on Shabbos.


A similar discussion surrounds galoshes, which are plastic covers used to protect shoes from the rain. The Igros Moshe writes (OC 108-9) that using them where there is no eiruv is permitted because they warm one’s feet, and even during the summer, when added heat is unnecessary, everything that adds to the body’s temperature is considered clothing. Additionally, if one’s shoes are soaked his feet will suffer and he might catch a cold. However, the Shmiras Shabbos (18:46) lists many Achronim that permit galoshes without the additional reasons of increasing body temperature.


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