Shabbat 57

It's all about the accessories.

Today’s portion of the Talmud considers what accessories are appropriate for Shabbat. The concern, however, is not about fashion but legality.

In general, wearing accessories that might serve non-decorative functions in public spaces is not permitted on Shabbat. For example, an observant Jew might wear their key as an accessory — a necklace or a belt — rather than carry it on Shabbat. In some historical periods, swords also qualified as non-decorative accessories.

Initially, the concern on today’s page is whether or not someone might want to remove an accessory to show it off to her friends. In doing so, she could end up violating the rabbinic prohibition of carrying on Shabbat. If a woman mistakenly wears an accessory on Shabbat, however, she is not held liable and is not required to offer a sin offering. (When it comes to violating laws of the Sabbath, or any Jewish law for that matter, the Torah sometimes informs the reader the punishment or consequence. Often it involves purchasing an animal and bringing it to the Temple to sacrifice a sin offering.)

Here are some more examples of accessories relevant to the period:

A woman may neither go out with strings of wool, nor with strings of flax, nor with strips of any other materials that a woman braids in the hair of her head…a woman may neither go out with the ornament called totefet (a packet of spices), nor with sarvitin (similar to totefet but worn on the cheeks) that are not sewn into her head covering, nor with a kavul (the seal of a slave) into the public domain. A woman may neither go out with a city of gold ornament (a piece of jewelry made of Gold that looks like Jerusalem — you can buy similar pieces today!), nor with a katla (necklace) ornament, nor with nose rings, nor with a ring that has no seal on it, nor with a needle that is not perforated, which are merely for decorative purposes. 

In the midst of the description of what a woman may or may not wear on Shabbat and why, the laws of what a woman may wear while immersing in the mikveh comes into play. In both cases, the primary question is what purpose the accessories play in regard to one’s legal obligations. As they relate to immersion, the concern is if the waters of the mikveh will be able to reach through the accessories so that the woman can be completely and fully immersed with the water without any separation. In regard to Shabbat, the concern is if the accessory will transition from a worn accessory to an object that is passed and possibly carried. The rabbis could not care less what the accessory is made of, how large it is nor how expensive it is. The sole concern is will it get in the way of performing the mitzvot of observing Shabbat or menstruation.

On today’s page, the rabbis spend time describing the various types of accessories and are clearly familiar with everything women wore. (How many men today know the difference between a shorts and gauchos?) It is clear that being an effective rabbinic legal mind required knowing far more than what’s contained in some dusty tomes (or, ahem, scrolls). It requires one to know one’s own world and culture in intimate detail.

Read all of Shabbat 57 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on May 2, 2020. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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