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MBY 502 Kindling a fire on Shabbos (abridged)
MBY 502 Kindling a fire on Shabbos (abridged)

This next siman contains a very important Yom Tov topic. As technology has changed greatly since the days of the Gemara and Shulchan Aruch, and not all of the scenarios apply to our modern times, I would like to, instead, quote from my favorite Yom Tov source, The Laws of Yom Tov, by Rav S. B. Cohen, loosely excerpting from Chapters 3 and 12. WARNING: Please do not stop reading in the middle of the lesson, as things may not end as they began…

“Kindling a fire. Since making a fire is critical to preparation of food, the melacha of ‘mav’ir’/kindling a fire, is permitted on Yom Tov, under the general permit to perform melacha of ‘ochel nefesh’ (melachos that relate to food preparation – see MBY 495, esp. section 1).”

Before we can proceed with our discussion about kindling, a very important and fundamental introduction is in order. For this, we will turn back to Chapter 3 of Rav Cohen’s sefer.

“The principle of ‘mitoch’. The permit to perform certain melachos on Yom Tov for ‘ochel nefesh’ is considerably broadened by a principle known as ‘mitoch’ (lit. “since”), which states: “Since this melacha was permitted for a food-related purpose, it was likewise permitted for a non-food-related purpose.” In other words, when the Torah permitted the performance of melachos needed for the preparation of food, it actually meant to permit their performance for any purpose.
Please read this next idea carefully: Whichever melachos are permitted under the rule of ‘ochel nefesh’ may be done for the sake of any common physical necessity. (Ed. i.e. ‘ochel nefesh’ can be expanded to include some non-food-related purposes, even without the principle of ‘mitoch’.) The principle of ‘mitoch’ states that these melachos may be done even for a purpose other than a physical necessity! For example, transporting food from a public domain to a private domain (the melacha of ‘hotza-a’/transporting), where it is needed for consumption, is permitted on Yom Tov. Even transporting water to another domain, where it will be used for washing someone’s hands or face, is permitted under the rule of ‘ochel nefesh’, since washing with hot water is a common physical need (i.e. the expanded definition of ‘ochel nefesh’.) The principle of ‘mitoch’ permits transporting items that are needed for any purpose on Yom Tov. Thus, one may carry a Sefer Torah into a different domain in order to read from it on Yom Tov. [Ed. Do you see the three levels: food, other physical necessities, non-physical necessities?!]

More about the principle of ‘mitoch’. There is a dispute among the authorities regarding the scope of the principle of ‘mitoch’. Some poskim rule that ‘mitoch’ applies to all melachos that are permitted for food preparation. Other poskim, however, limit its application to specific melachos. In practice, we rely on the principle of ‘mitoch’ in regard to only four melachos.
These are:
1) ‘hotza-a’/transporting
2) ‘afiya u’vishul’/baking or cooking
3) ‘shechita’/slaughtering
4) ‘hav’ara’/kindling.
These four melachos may be done even for purposes unrelated to physical needs. All other melachos that are permitted under the rule of ‘ochel nefesh’ may be performed only for the sake of fulfilling common physical needs.” (Note: Even the four melachos listed above may be done only to fulfill a Yom Tov need – i.e. for the purpose of enhancing the enjoyment of Yom Tov or to enable someone to perform a mitzvah. Furthermore, benefit that is gained from the melacha being done must be one that is common to the majority of people - Heb. ‘shaveh l’chol nefesh’ – not one that is required by only a minority of people, even if that sector requires it daily, e.g. carrying medicine outside.)

Please make sure you understand the principle of ‘mitoch’ well, before moving on to the next part.

Taking ‘mitoch’ back to kindling. (We return back to chapter 12 in Rav Cohen’s sefer.) “As we learned above (Ch. 3), the principle of ‘mitoch’ teaches that once the Torah permitted a certain melacha on Yom Tov for the purposes of food preparation, the Torah also permitted it for other purposes of the day as well. As noted there, this principle does not apply to all melachos. One of the melachos to which it does apply is the melacha of ‘hav’ara’/kindling. Accordingly, it is permitted to kindle a fire on Yom Tov for purposes unrelated to food preparation as long as it serves some other Yom Tov need (that is common to most people – Ed.); for example, to give light or heat. Kindling a fire not for a (common) Yom Tov need is prohibited. [Ed. Based upon what we have learned so far, would it permissible to light up a cigarette on Yom Tov? (…assuming it is permissible to do so any day of the year, which I am not sure it is!!!) What do you think?]

Creating a new flame.

Although it is permitted to kindle a flame on Yom Tov, the Sages forbade creating a NEW fire on Yom Tov, i.e. to make a fire where none previously existed. Thus, it is forbidden to strike a match or heat a piece of metal until it becomes red hot. For this reason (as well as others), it is forbidden to turn on an electric light or appliance on Yom Tov. One may only light something from an existing fire.”
The following are some practical methods of lighting (i.e. transferring) a fire on Yom Tov (Ed. We will give headings only; see sefer for full explanation):
1) Lighting from an existing flame
2) Lighting from an electric coil
3) Enlarging or prolonging an existing flame
Though we have arrived at the end of our formal lesson, we now have the tools to begin to navigate such questions as: transferring fire for the purpose of creating a heat source, transferring fire for the purpose of illuminating a dark room, or to kindle the special candles in shul in the front of the chazzan, or on a table set up for a mitzvah meal, such as a bris, or to light a yahrzeit candle. Even if we may not know the specific answer, we should be more knowledgeable in terms of when and how to ask a ‘sheila’ (halachic question). (Note: There are additional restrictions, such as not using an intermediary, e.g. lighting a match from a burning flame and using the match to ignite a candle. Sometimes this restriction is lifted, such as when lighting without an intermediary is very difficult.) Also, we have not yet broached the topic of the melacha of ‘mechabeh’/extinguishing on Yom Tov, which is the companion melacha of ‘mav’ir’/kindling. A complete halachic treatment of using fire for cooking depends on that as well. Iy’H, it will be covered in a future lesson.

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