Today’s daf is a doozy with plenty of discussion on fashion, questions of sexual impropriety and thoughts on what behaviors Jewish girls should or should not engage in. And like yesterday, the rabbis continue to be concerned with appearances — especially the appearance of violating the law (marit ayin).
The scenario that we are working with is clothing that has fallen into water during a holiday, when laundering and many of the activities associated with it (including wringing) are forbidden. What should one do to avoid a moldy mess post-holiday? Initially, the following solution is provided:
One whose clothes fell into water on a festival may not dry them in the conventional manner; however, he may spread them out in the sun, but not before the people, who may suspect that he laundered his clothes on Shabbat.
Spreading clothing in the sun does not violate the laws against forbidden labor, but the rabbis are nonetheless concerned that if people notice they will wrongly assume the person has laundered clothes on Shabbat, so they suggest spreading the clothes out in a private location. But, of course, there are dissenters, in this case offering a stricter opinion:
Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Shimon prohibit doing so [spreading clothes to dry] even in a place concealed from view. The Rabbis disagree about whether or not an action prohibited due to the appearance of prohibition is prohibited everywhere.
This is the same concern that was raised yesterday by Rav. In some ways, this disagreement is a sort of spin on that old koan: if a tree falls in an empty forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound? If an act can be performed in a permissible manner but is generally not performed so as not to give the appearance of violation (marit ayin), should it be allowed in secret? Or should it be prohibited entirely, perhaps as a safeguard for the appearance of violating the Sabbath?
The individual who spreads out wet clothes is not violating the law by doing laundry, but when someone walks by their house and sees clothes drying in the front yard, they might assume laundry was done on Shabbat. And just as Rav was concerned on yesterday’s page with private acts of marit ayin, similarly on today’s page Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Shimon will not allow the person stuck with wet clothes to dry them privately.
Yesterday, Rabbi Elliot Goldberg suggested that the reason for this stringency with respect to marit ayin was one of habit-building: we should not get in the habit of performing acts that amount to marit ayin, even in private, lest we forget and perform them in public. I’d like to offer another perspective.
While avoiding acts of marit ayin can ensure that people do not gossip about others, it can also nurture a culture of judgement. Perhaps by forbidding an act of marit ayin even in private, Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Shimon seek to nurture a culture where nobody feels guilt or a need to hide their actions simply to avoid the gossip grapevine. And at the end of the day, while the person with wet clothes needs to wait a few more hours to lay out their clothes, they can enjoy those hours focused on the holiday rather than one more chore.