YESHIVAT HAR ETZION
ISRAEL KOSCHITZKY VIRTUAL BEIT MIDRASH (VBM) *********************************************************
HALAKHA: A WEEKLY SHIUR IN HALAKHIC TOPICS
Tying a Bow Knot on Shabbat
by Rav Baruch Gigi
Translated and adapted by Rav Eliezer Kwass
While tying a knot is one of the thirty-nine types of work forbidden on Shabbat, tying a bow knot is the subject of a talmudic dispute. [We will define a bow as any kind of knot which can be unraveled by pulling on one string.]
The Tannaitic dispute (Shabbat 13a, Pesachim 11a) reads:
If the rope holding a pail snapped, it should not be tied with a normal knot, but with a bow. R. Yehuda says, a belt or leg band should be wrapped around it, but it should not be tied with a bow.
The gemara explains that the dispute is a fundamental, biblical one, over whether making a bow is considered tying or not. The Sages (the first opinion in the mishna) say that it is not tying and therefore permit it. Furthermore, there is not even any reason to make a rabbinic decree, because a knot and a bow are clearly distinguishable.
The Rambam (Hilkhot Shabbat 10:5) therefore writes:
A bow is permissible because it is not mistaken for a knot. Therefore, if a rope snaps, gather both ends, wrap a band around it, and tie a bow.
We will here explore the dispute over tying a bow after first laying down some of the fundamental principles of the prohibition against tying knots on Shabbat.
TYING KNOTS - FUNDAMENTALS
Rishonim argue about what constitute the essential elements of a forbidden knot. Rashi, the Rosh, and others say that there is one guiding principle behind the prohibition against tying on Shabbat, PERMANENCE ("kayama"). If the knot is permanent it is prohibited biblically, otherwise it is not. [Defining "permanence" is the subject of a lengthy debate among the halakhic authorities; see, for example, the Beit Yosef at the beginning of OC 317. As a working definition we will refer to a permanent knot as one that is not intended to be untied.] The Rif and the Rambam hold that there are two necessary elements to a biblically prohibited knot - PERMANENCE and CRAFTSMANSHIP ("ma'aseh uman").
These authorities seem to be working with two different conceptual approaches to the prohibition against tying. Rashi and the Rosh focus only on the results, the CONNECTION created through a knot. Only a permanent knot creates a real connection. The Rif and the Rambam add a process requirement; tying the knot must involve a certain element of craftsmanship.
In evaluating whether a bow is a knot or not, we must ask two separate questions:
1. According to Rashi and those that side with him, we must ask, "Does it form a connection?" If it does, why is it not prohibited? After all, it is possible to decide not to untie a bow for a significant amount of time.
2. According to the Rif and the Rambam, we must ask whether the bow is a knot that requires craftsmanship. Because a bow does not answer the requirements of a craftsman's knot, it might be totally permitted, biblically as well as rabbinically.
It seems plausible that the kind of connection required in order to be defined as a prohibited knot is not dependent on when a man plans to untie it, but on the nature of the knot itself. Even if one plans to never untie a knot, it may still be considered a permitted connection. How is this possible, and what would support could be adduced for Rashi's opinion?
The mishna at the beginning of the fifteenth chapter of masekhet Shabbat states:
R. Meir says, "Any knot that can be untied with one hand is not biblically prohibited."
Even if it was made to last.
A knot that can be untied so easily does not create a significant connection, even though the one who tied it intended to leave the knot indefinitely. The nature of the knot itself, what kind of long term physical connection it creates, is crucial, not only the intention of the one who tied it.
The gemara deliberates over whether "able to be untied with one hand" in R. Meir's statement is a way of referring to a knot that is not tied tightly or is itself the criterion for defining the knot concerning which we are lenient. In the words of the gemara (Shabbat 111b),
Is the reason R. Meir permits because the knot can be untied with one hand (and therefore a bow would also be permitted). Or perhaps the reason R. Meir permits is because the knot is not tight (and a bow would thus be
prohibited because it is tight)? The question stands ("teiku").
In other words, does the ABILITY to untie the knot so easily deem it a non-connection, or is only a connection that is physically weak (not tight) biblically permitted? The practical difference between the two sides of this question is the bow, easily untied yet physically tight.
What is the position of the Sages who argue with R. Meir? Do they prohibit a knot that can be untied with one hand - and certainly a bow? The Ritva and the Rid, cognizant of this difficulty, saw the difference between the Sages and R. Meir as much more subtle. According to the Sages a bow is permitted because it can be untied so easily; R. Meir might only rule leniently about a knot that is a physically weak connection.
Most Rishonim argue with them, though, and prohibit a knot that can be untied with one hand, while permitting a bow. How can this be?
It seems that a bow is unique because it is tied to be untied; it is made to be easily undone. This intention in the mind of the bow maker makes it a non-knot. The Sages rule stringently about a knot that can be untied with one hand (despite its weakness) but are lenient about a bow. The gemara, focusing on the physical nature of the knot, is unclear about R. Meir's position about a bow - it is easily untied yet tight. The Sages see the bow as a unique case because it is created with an undoing mechanism.
THE RIF AND THE RAMBAM
According to the Rif and the Rambam who say that a prohibited knot needs two criteria, craftsmanship and
permanence. Thus, the permissibility of a bow can be explained in one of two ways. It is either
A. not a permanent enough connection; or
B. not a properly constructed knot.
R. Yehuda who prohibits a bow takes either one of two approaches:
1. He believes that there is only one requirement for a knot, permanence. A bow can be considered permanent and is therefore prohibited even though it is not constructed with
craftsmanship. Likewise R. Yehuda would prohibit any knot that is permanent but not made with craftsmanship. 2. He sees the bow as answering both requirements - permanence and proper construction.
Whether a bow can be considered a properly constructed knot is probably dependent on a difference of opinion between amoraim on Eruvin 97a about whether tefillin can be tied with a bow.
However, it seems possible that even R. Yehuda who considers a bow a knot for the laws of Shabbat might still invalidate tefillin tied with a bow. This can be explained in one of two ways: either there are special requirements in the laws of tefillin (based on the rules laid down by the "halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai," the oral law handed down to Moshe); or a bow is not considered a properly constructed knot. Even though it is not, R. Yehuda might not see this as an essential requirement of the laws of Shabbat - here, a mere connection is needed.
Similarly, it is possible to explain that the Sages who permit tying a bow on Shabbat might consider tefillin tied with a bow kosher. This seems to be Abbayei's approach in the passage in Eruvin.
The Meiri brings two approaches about what the final ruling is with regards to tying tefillin with a bow. Even the approach that invalidates tefillin tied with a bow does so because of the halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai, not because of any flaw with the way the knot was constructed.
BOWS - COMPLETELY PERMISSIBLE?
Why did the Sages totally permit tying a bow? Since there is at least a well constructed knot, a bow should at least be prohibited rabbinically?! If a bow is considered a permanent but not properly constructed knot, it should be rabbinically prohibited. If it is considered a non-permanent but well constructed knot, it should also be rabbinically prohibited. It is somewhat far-reaching to suggest that the Sages viewed a bow as both non-permanent and not well constructed and therefore have a polar argument with R. Yehuda!
In order to understand the Sages' opinion we shall offer a reformulation of the Rambam's approach to the prohibition against tying knots on Shabbat. Our previous presentation suggested that he requires two essential characteristics to define a prohibited knot - permanence and craftsmanship. When both are present it is prohibited biblically, when one is present it is prohibited rabbinically, and when none are present it is permitted. This explanation broke down for us because the Sages permitted a bow, forcing us to posit that it is neither permanent nor constructed with craftsmanship.
Our alternate approach is to say that these two criteria are not of equal weight. Permanence, the forming of a permanent connection is the basic requirement of a knot, and the need for craftsmanship is an ancillary condition. Craftsmanship is essential for the knot to be prohibited biblically, but it is secondary. Therefore, a knot that is permanent but not made with craftsmanship is still prohibited rabbinically, but a non-permanent one that is made with
craftsmanship is not a knot as far as the laws of Shabbat are concerned and is not even prohibited rabbinically. This is in line with how the Rambam presents the laws of knots in the 10th chapter of the laws of Shabbat. He first speaks of a permanent craftsman's knot, then of a permanent non-craftsman's knot, then of one that is neither. He speaks of a non-permanent craftsman's knot separately.
This approach explains why a bow is totally permitted. Because a bow has a built-in undoing mechanism it is not considered a permanent knot, despite it being constructed with craftsmanship. Because of its total lack of permanence there is not even room to prohibit it because of a similarity to a normal knot.
This approach also explains why for the sake of a mitzva it is permitted to tie a non-permanent craftsman's knot but not the opposite. A permanent but non-craftsman's knot is a knot missing a condition for a biblical prohibition; a non-permanent knot, despite being made with craftsmanship, is not a knot at all.
Based on the above, we may ask two questions with regards to tying the lulav, hadasim, and aravot. Even though tying them is not obligatory, it is considered the ideal way of performing the mitzva.
Rashi writes in Sukka 33b, "We derive from this that the lulav requires a complete knot, tying the two ends together. Tying it like vegetables are bound together is not sufficient."
1. Can the lulav, hadasim and aravot be tied together with a bow? Perhaps even according to the opinion that tefillin can be tied with a bow, the lulav tie must be a permanent
connection - and a bow is not. The Shulchan Arukh (OC 651) prefers a normal knot over a bow.
2. If the lulav was not tied before Yom Tov, and tying with a normal knot is prohibited, should it be tied with a bow or should it just be wrapped together ("like vegetables are bound together")? The Rif writes that either can be done, not necessarily preferring a bow. This accords with his approach that the lulav requires a permanent connection, that a bow cannot provide. The Mishna Berura rules (OC 651) that a bow is preferable. Perhaps a bow is at least more of a knot than a wrap. It could be though, that there is just a practical advantage, that a bow will not come undone so easily whereas a wrap will. A bow is still not a knot at all.
Adapted from Daf Kesher #590, Adar I, 5757. This adaptation was not reviewed by the author.