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Weekly Shabbos Halacha Series
Halachos Series on Hilchos Shabbos

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Published by
Pirchei Shoshanim

A Project of
The Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Written by

Rabbi Dovid
Ostroff, shlita


These Halachos were shown by Rabbi Ostroff to
HaGaon HaRav Moshe Sternbuch, shlita



Questions for the Week of Re'eh


        Are there any cases where erasing will be beneficial and constructive and thus ossur mid’oraisso?

            Besides the obvious case of erasing in order to be able to write in the place of the erroneous letters, there is another case. The P’ri Megadim writes [1] that erasing an IOU note that has been paid would be an issur d’oraisso, because it is beneficial. Usually erasing is destructive unless done with the intention of writing in its place, but in this case the erasure is beneficial on its own.

            Is there an issur d’oraisso to write over existing letters?

            The gemora says that it depends: writing with black ink over black ink is only an issur d’rabanan because one has not added anything; writing with black ink over red is an issur d’oraisso because of the added quality to the existing writing. [2] As it happens one is also violating an issur d’oraisso of erasing, by erasing the red ink beneath the black. It follows that if the original black ink has faded and one reinforces the writing, one would is for violating an issur d’oraisso.

            Why is it so important to know which writing is an issur d’oraisso and which d’rabanan, after all - all are prohibited?

            There are a few answers to this question.

1) It is part of learning Torah. One’s Torah learning must be clear and precise.

2) One who violates an issur d’oraisso must bring a korban chatas. This carries implications nowadays even though there is no Beis Hamikdash with respect to giving tzedaka (charity) the equivalent of a korban. Also, we find in the gemora that one of the Tana’im violated an issur d’oraisso unintentionally and said that he must write in his notebook that when the Beis Hamikdash will be rebuilt he will bring a korban chatas.

3) It is sometimes necessary when dealing with pikuach nefesh (life saving) to write down crucial details. In an emergency situation of dire proportions one would write in the normal fashion -  that is with a normal writing implement on paper etc., but when the situation is not critical, even though writing is imperative, one should try and find other methods of writing which will not involve the violation of an issur d’oraisso.

            Name a practical example of writing that is not a d’oraisso.

            A right-handed person writing with his left hand is only violating an issur d’rabanan. [3] Therefore, if time permits, one should write with one’s left hand.

Writing with self-erasing ink, according to some poskim [4] is only an issur d’rabanan. This is because we learnt in the last shiur that one of the criteria for writing to be an issur d’oraisso is for the writing to be long lasting. One would therefore write on Shabbos with self erasing ink and copy it down after Shabbos. [5]

Although writing a single letter is an issur d’oraisso [6] nevertheless one is only liable to bring a korban for writing two letters. Therefore, when possible (and extremely necessary) one would write a letter with an apostrophe, such as î', which is not considered as writing a word (or even two letters) even though it is understood what is meant. 

            Does the issur d’oraisso of writing apply to lashon hakodesh only or does it encompass other languages as well?

            The Mishna in Shabbos 103a says that one is chayav for writing two letters in any language – áë́ ́ùåï. The Bi’ur Halacha [7] writes that except for the Ohr Zarua, [8] all the Rishonim concur that writing in any language is a violation of an issur d’oraisso.

            What is the halacha if one writes a single letter in one place and another letter somewhere else - is it an issur d’oraisso?

            We must first state that writing one letter is an issur d’oraisso but for the violator to be liable to bring a korban chatas  two letters must have been written.

Another interesting halacha is that for two letters to be considered a proper melacha they must be written in such a way that they could be read together.

The source for this halacha is the Mishna in Shabbos 104b, which says the following: One who writes a single letter on the ceiling and a single letter on the floor is pottur (not liable) for bringing a korban. The Mishna continues, if one writes on two different walls (not adjacent to each other in the corner) one is pottur because they cannot be read together.

If however one would write a single letter on two separate pieces of paper one would be chayav because the two pieces can be held next to each other and read as one.

            Is there an issur to write with one’s mouth?

            There certainly is an issur d’rabanan, but it is not an issur d’oraisso because it is a deviation from the normal way of writing. It is interesting to note that the halacha is that one must write a sefer torah, tefilin and mezuzos in the normal writing manner, and if a right-handed person writes with his left hand they are not kosher. [9] The Mishna Berura brings a case [10] where someone in Egypt wrote with his mouth and the poskim ruled that it was not kosher being that it was a deviation from the normal manner of writing.

            What is the status of drawing figures or pictures on Shabbos?

            The Rambam writes [11] that one is chayav for drawing a picture, being that it is a Toladah of the melacha of ëåúá – writing. The Bi’ur Halacha [12] understands from the Yerushalmi (the Rambam’s source) that one would be chayav for drawing a single picture, [13] unlike letters where the liability to bring a korban is for writing two letters. The reason is probably because in the Mishkan it required two symbols (letters, numbers etc.) in order to make a relationship between two letters written on the planks, but a drawing or picture stand on their own and do not require a partner.

Accordingly, when tearing a wrapper in the permitted manner one must take precaution that letters or drawings are not torn, [14] because in effect one is erasing the letters and drawings.

[1] Cited in the Bi’ur Halacha in siman 340:3 ă"ä äîåç÷ ăéå.

[2] M”B 340:22 (3).

[3] See the SS”K 32:49.

[4] Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach in his sefer Minchas Shlomo siman 91:11. HaRav Yitschak Weissz, in his sefer Minchas Yitschak argues with Rav Shlomo Zalman and says that if it lasts for the Shabbos it is an issur d’oraisso.

[5] Obviously when a medical condition necessitates.

[6] M”B siman 340:22 (4).

[7] Bi’ur Halacha siman 306:11 ă"ä áëúá ù́äí.

[8] Cited in the Rama 306:11.

[9] Siman 32:5 (18).

[10] M”B siman 32:19.

[11] Rambam Shabbos 11:17.

[12] Siman 340:4 towards the end of ă"ä áîù÷éï ̣́ äù́çï.

[13] A picture is worth a thousand words?

[14] SS”K 9:12 based on the M”B 340:41.


Orchos Chaim LaRosh

îăáø ù÷ø úøç÷ – distance yourself from falsehood. Hashem’s signature is emes, and everything but the emes is detested in His eyes. Last week’s parsha – Eikev began with keeping Mishpatim, the monetary laws, because it is with those laws we try find loopholes and escapes from commitments and obligations.

One of the gedolim told a family member that he is going to visit another gadol in a neighboring town, and because he was needed back he said ‘he won’t sit there’, meaning to emphasize that

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Note:  The purpose of this series is intended solely for the clarification of the topics discussed and not to render halachic decisions. It is intended to heighten everyone's awareness of important practical questions which do arise on this topic.  One must consult with a proper halachic authority in order to receive p'sak.