The laws of Erasing

General rule:

Whenever something is forbidden to be written on Shabbos, as explained in the previous chapter, it is likewise forbidden to be erased unless stated otherwise[1]. Refer to the previous chapter for all cases that contain the writing prohibition.  

1. The Biblical Prohibition[2]

To write or erase with intent to write: One who writes, and erases in order to write in the erased area, is one of the primary Melachas. [This is derived from the work done in the Mishkan] as [in the Mishkan] they would write on the beams of the Tabernacle as signs to know which beam corresponds to it, and at times they would make a mistake and erase what they wrote and then return and write in that place [the correct signs]. 

Liability is only on two letters: [However the above liability] is when there is enough space [in the erased area] to write or inscribe two letters, and similarly one who writes or erases letters is only liable on two letters, however on one letter he is exempt, although this is [still] Biblically forbidden as are other half measurements.

 

Summary:

One is only liable for a sin offering when one erases an area in which he plans to write two letters. If there is only space to write one letter although it is Biblically forbidden it does not carry liability for a sin offering.


Q&A
 

May one separate letters from a word if the letters will remain intact?[3]

Yes, as there are no letters being erased.[4]

 

Summary:

One is only liable for a sin offering when one erases an area in which he plans to write two letters. If there is only space to write one letter although it is Biblically forbidden it does not carry liability for a sin offering.

 

Q&A

May one separate letters from a word if the letters will remain intact?[5]

Yes, as there are no letters being erased.[6]

 

2. To erase without intent to write:[7]

Erasing without intent to write within that space was not done in the Tabernacle, and is not similar to a Melacha at all.

Rabbinically forbidden to erase even without intent to write: Rabbinically it is forbidden to erase even if it is not being done for the sake of writing [in its space].

 

Summary:

Is Rabbinically forbidden.

 

3. To erase drawings and designs:[8]

One who makes marks and designs on a document and the like, in the way that the artists design, is liable due to an offshoot of the writing prohibition. The same applies for one who erases it.

 

Summary:

Is forbidden just like erasing letters.

 

Q&A

May one erase drawings and designs that were made in condensation of one’s window?

No.

 

May one erase drawings or designs that are on sand?

No.

 

4. Erasing ink/dye splotches and removing wax in order to write:[9]

Liability for erasing ink splotches and removing wax in order to write: Since the liability for erasing is due to him doing so on behalf of writing, which means that he is fixing the area to write on, therefore even if he did not erase letters but rather erased mere splotches of ink [or dye[10]], or wax which fell on a tablet [he is liable]. [This tablet] refers to a wooden writing board which is smeared with wax and inscribed onto using a metal pen. [Thus if it were to happen that] external[11] wax fell on this board and one erased this wax and removed it from there in order to engrave in its place on the wax that is under it which was smeared on the board [to begin with], then he is liable. [However the above liability] is when there is enough space [in the erased area] to write or inscribe two letters, and similarly one who writes or erases letters is only liable on two letters, however on one letter he is exempt, although this is [still] Biblically forbidden as are other half measurements.

Removing wax from parchment in order to write: This law similarly applies by one who erases and removes wax from the parchment in order to write in its place. 

 

Summary:

Is Biblically forbidden.

 

Q&A

May one erase ink splotches without intent to write in its place?[12]

No, doing so is Rabbinically forbidden [as one is preparing the area for writing by doing so].

 

May one remove a fresh ink splotch which is not yet dry?[13]

No, it may not be wiped off in any way, just like the ruling by dry ink.
          

May one remove food splotches or other splotches from a book, such as a bentcher?[14]

If the splotch is not covering letters and one is able to write over it, then this is allowed. If however one cannot write over it, then it is forbidden. If the splotches are covering letters-see next Halacha. 

 

May one remove ink or dye blotches from ones table or other non-writing surfaces?[15]

Yes.[16] Regarding washing them off one’s skin-see General Q&A!

 

May one wash ink blotches, letters, or drawings off his skin?[17]

  • Ink or paint blotches: Ink or paint blotches may be washed off one’s skin[18], although there are Poskim[19] which prohibit this from being done. According to these Poskim one must be careful when washing hands to avoid erasing the ink, as will be explained regarding washing hands that contain letters on them. [However according to all one must avoid wiping the ink on a towel and the like due to a dying prohibition.[20]]
  • Letters: It is forbidden to erase letters from ones skin.[21] Thus if one has letters on his skin he must beware not to erase them while washing his hands. One is to therefore avoid drying his hands after washing[22]. Some[23] go as far to say that one must cover the area of the letter with a towel while washing.

 

If a woman forgot to remove her nail polish from her nails before Shabbos, may she do so on Shabbos in order to immerse in a Mikveh?

Some Poskim[24] rule it is allowed to be done. Others[25] rule that if the polish is complete on all the nails, it is better to immerse with the polished nails then to remove it on Shabbos.[26] If however the polish has begun coming off, then she should ask a gentile to remove it. If no gentile is available she may remove it herself. [When removing the nail polish one may use nail polish remover, although she may not soak a cotton ball in the liquid. She may however rub the polish off using a dry cotton ball.[27]]

 

May one wash his hands for bread or prayer if they have ink blotches, letters or drawings on them?

See above Q&A
 

May one wash his hands from soot, as is common to occur when moving pots?

This has the same ruling as washing off ink blotches from ones hands. See above Q&A!

 

May one remove glue from one’s skin on Shabbos?[28]

Yes.[29] However there are Poskim which are stringent in this just as they are in regards to removing ink blotches.

 

5. Removing wax [and the like] from letters in order to see the letters more clearly:[30]

Following the above ruling in Halacha 4 it is likewise forbidden for one to remove wax which dripped onto letters. The reason for this is because what is the difference if one fixes a place for writing or if one fixes already written letters? On the contrary this [latter erasing of wax to see the current letters] is more of a fixing [then the erasing of wax merely to write on it in the future].

Other Opinions: [However] there are those[31] which are lenient in this matter.

 

See Q&A regarding removing food splotches from letters and regarding a Sefer Torah which has blotches on its letters.

Summary:

Is Biblically forbidden, although there are those which are lenient. [see footnote for summary of Ketzos Hashulchan[32]]

 

Q&A

May one remove food splotches or other splotches from letters in order to see the letters better?[33]

No. [Thus one may not remove food stains from the letters of a Bentcher. If however the splotches are clear color and thus is not concealing the letter, seemingly this may be done[34].]

Regarding if one may remove splotches from blank areas see previous Halacha.
 

May one remove wax blotches [as well as other forms of blotches] from letters of a Sefer Torah and does it invalidate the Torah?[35]

First Opinion[36]: If there is wax [or other blotch] on a letter and the letter is not recognizable due to this then the Sefer is invalid and another Sefer Torah must be taken out.[37] However if the wax is dry enough that folding the parchment between the wax will cause the wax to flick off, then this may be done, and one may continue reading from this Sefer.[38] However one may not remove the wax with his hands due to the Mimachek/smoothening prohibition.[39]

Second Opinion[40]: One should never remove the wax in any case and should rather read that letter orally and continue with the reading.

 

6. Editing letters:[41]

One who edits one letter such as he removed the roof of the “Ches” and turned it to two “Zayins” is liable. (And one who edits another single letter such as he removed the roof of the “Daled” and turned it into a “Reish” is exempt [from liability of a bringing a sin offering] although doing so is Biblically forbidden).  

 

Summary:

Is Biblically forbidden if by editing them one created a new letter.

 

7. Eating cake with letterings:[42]

[Based on above] it is therefore forbidden to break a cake which has on it forms of letters, even though ones intent is simply to eat [the cake] as he is [nevertheless] erasing [these letters]. [It is thus forbidden to eat this cake on Shabbos[43]] [See footnote for opinion of M”B[44]] [See Q&A for letters made from fruit juice, engraved letters, designs, and chopping off the entire layer of the letters]

Permitted to give child the cake to eat: However it is permitted to give this cake to a child [below the age of Chinuch[45], even though one knows for certain that the child will eat it[46]], as a child which does [transgressions] for his own benefit does not need to be separated [from the act].

Forbidden to place the cake in the child’s mouth:[47] However one may not place the cake directly into the mouth of the child. [Likewise it is forbidden for one to tell the baby to eat it.[48]]

Not to break cakes with engraved lettering:[49] The symbols which are made on the Matzos should not be made through forms of letters using a molded imprint [i.e. cookie cutter], or with one’s hands (for the reason explained in chapter 470 and others) being that one is required to break them on Yom Tov, and there are opinions which prohibit to break a cake which has forms of letters on it even though he does not intend to erase the letters, but rather to eat them on Yom Tov, as was explained in chapter 340. [See footnote for other opinions[50]] Rather these symbols are to be made through holes or grooves, as long as one is careful to extremely speed their process, as was explained in chapter 460, see there.  

 

Summary:

Cake which has lettering written on it is forbidden to be eaten on Shabbos if by doing so the letters will break. It is permitted to give it to a child below the age of Chinuch for him to eat, although one may not place it directly into the child’s mouth.

If the cake has letters engraved into it, it is likewise forbidden to be broken [although regarding placing it directly into one’s mouth see Q&A.]

 

Q&A

May one eat a cake that has designs or pictures?[51]

If the designs are engraved into the cake then one may even break a piece and eat it if there are no letters on the cake. If however the designs are formed through icing or any other external item, such as chocolate chips etc, [as opposed to engraving which is within the cake itself] then it has the same laws as does a cake with letters.

 

May one break letters on cakes/food if the letters/pictures are made from fruit juice and the like?[52]

This may be done[53] if the letters are made from a liquidly substance in which case the letters will not last [such as when made from water and honey].[54]  However if the letters are made from a thick substance that hardens, such as today’s icings, then it may not be eaten [even within the process of eating.[55]]

May one break letters/pictures made from candies, such as chocolate chips and the like?

No, this has the same status as all letters. It is thus forbidden to remove a candy from the letter, as doing so ruins the letter.[56]

 

May one slice off the layer of the letterings/pictures and then eat the cake?[57]

Yes, this may be done even if a letter may break in the process, so long as it is not inevitable. Furthermore one may even slice off each individual letter [even though the word will be broken by doing so, as explained in Halacha 2 Q&A there!].

 

May one remove plastic letters from a cake thus ruining the word?

Seemingly this is allowed.

 

If the pieces were cut from before Shabbos may one remove a piece from the cake if doing so will ruin the letters?[58]

Yes. This may be done even if by doing so it will ruin the letter or picture, as since it was already cut before Shabbos the letter or picture was already considered ruined.

 

May one eat biscuits, cakes and the like which have words/letters engraved on them?[59]

To break it and then eat it: According to Admur[60] it is forbidden to break off a piece and then eat it.  [Other Poskim[61] however allow even this to be done. Regarding non-food items that have letters engraved in them-see general Q&A below!]

To take a bite out from it: The Ketzos Hashulchan[62] [and Shabbos Kehalacha[63]] rules that even according to Admur one may break engraved letters within the process of eating. Meaning that one may do so when taking a bite from the food but not by breaking it and then placing it into ones mouth. [See footnote for the reason behind the leniency of engraved letters over external letters[64]] However Rav Bistritzky[65] rules that according to Admur they may not be broken even within the process of eating.[66]

 

May one eat a cake or pastry which was made in the form of a letter or picture?[67]

Yes.

 

8. Closing and opening books with writing on their side pages:

See above Chapter 1 Halacha 8

 

Practical Q&A

May one wash ink blotches or letters and drawings off his skin?[68]

See above Halacha 4 Q&A for all Q&A which relate to this!

 

May one open a cap of a bottle and the like which has engraved letters which will break upon opening it?[69]

This is to be done before Shabbos, however if one forgot to do so, some rule one may be lenient to open it on Shabbos being that the letters are engraved. [It however requires further analyses if this allowance applies even according to the ruling of Admur that one is not to engrave letters on the Matzos.[70]]

 

May one break an egg that contains pink lettering?[71]

One may not break it within the letter area. This transgresses the prohibition of Mechikah/erasing. One however need not be hesitant against breaking it in the non-lettered area as even if it does accidently break the letters, one has not transgressed being that the breaking of the letters was not inevitable.

 

May one cut Chalah together with its label on Shabbos?[72]

One must beware not to cut the letters of the label. [One may only remove the label directly prior to the meal due to the Borer prohibition, and if one is using it for Lechem Mishna one is to only remove it after cutting the chalah in order so it remain complete.]

 

May one tear the wrapper of a food that contains words or pictures on it?[73]

One must beware not to cut the wrapper in a way that the letters will inevitably be torn. [One however need not be hesitant against tearing it in the non-lettered area as even if it does accidently break the letters, one has not transgressed being that the breaking of the letters was not inevitable.]

If it is not possible to avoid cutting the letters, then in a time of need some Poskim[74] allow one to do so with an irregularity.[75]

 

May one use tissues or toilet paper that has letters or pictures on them?

This matter is disputed amongst Poskim. Some Poskim[76] rule that it is Rabbinically forbidden to use such tissues or toilet paper, as is always the law regarding tearing letters and pictures.

However other Poskim[77] rule that it is permitted to use them being that one is destroying the paper in the process and thus it is no longer possible to now write on the item.

Practically if one has nothing else available this may be used.[78]

 

May one erase letters or pictures on a magnetic board?[79]

Doing so is [Rabbinically] forbidden.

 


[1] The one exception to this rule is regarding engraving letters into cake which although is forbidden to be done is permitted to be erased within the process of eating as will be explained here.

[2] 340/4

[3] SSH”K 9 footnote 48 in name of Rav SZ”A; Ketzos Hashulchan 144 footnote 4

[4] As there is no prohibition of erasing by ruining a word and leaving all the letters intact at the same time. Regarding the dispute in the case of opening and closing a Sefer with letters on its edges, there the dispute is due to the fact that one is creating/erasing the actual letter by closing and opening the book, and not that he is separating letters from a word. [based on Avnei Neizer brought in Ketzos Hashulchan 144 footnote 4]  

[5] SSH”K 9 footnote 48 in name of Rav SZ”A; Ketzos Hashulchan 144 footnote 4

[6] As there is no prohibition of erasing by ruining a word and leaving all the letters intact at the same time. Regarding the dispute in the case of opening and closing a Sefer with letters on its edges, there the dispute is due to the fact that one is creating/erasing the actual letter by closing and opening the book, and not that he is separating letters from a word. [based on Avnei Neizer brought in Ketzos Hashulchan 144 footnote 4]  

[7] 340/4

[8] 340/10

[9] 340/4

[10] Ketzos Hashulchan 144/1

[11] Meaning that wax from the outside fell onto the original wax layer, thus making a further wax layer on that part of the board and making it uneven.

[12] Ketzos Hashulchan 144/1, as he understands from Admur 340/4

[13] Ketzos Hashulchan 144 footnote 1

[14] So is implied from Ketzos Hashulchan 144 footnote 1

[15] Ketzos Hashulchan 144 footnote 10

[16] As by doing so one is not preparing the area for writing as it is not common to write on a table.

[17] Ketzos Hashulchan 144 footnote 10; Piskeiy Teshuvos 340/3

[18] So rules Ketzos Hashulchan 144 footnote 10 in defense of those which are lenient in this, and brings strong proofs and reasoning’s behind why this is allowed. He says: Since the blotches of ink was not the Melacha in Mishkan and since the skin is not an area of writing and thus one is not fixing the area for writing by erasing the ink, the Sages therefore did not prohibit erasing ink from one’s skin. This can be proven from fact a) One may wash off the pomegranate and strawberry  dye from his hands and it does not involve a erasing prohibition. And b) One may clean a spill of an item off a table and doing so does not involve an erasing prohibition. Therefore since it is embarrassing to walk around with dirty hands and it is as well a Mitzvah to dry one’s hands after washing for bread and the like, one should not protest those that are lenient in this.

So rules also Kaf Hachayim 161/27

[19] Minchas Shabbos 80/199 , Chayeh Adam [Laws of Netilas Yadayim 40/8]

[20] Kaf Hachayim 340

[21] As erasing letters was the Melacha done in the Tabernacle and thus it has enough resemblance for the Sages to decree against doing so even on a surface that is not meant for writing.

[22] So rules Peri Haaretz and Chayeh Adam. [ibid]

[23] Minchas Shabbos ibid

[24] Yesod Yeshurun brought in Piskeiy Teshuvos 340 footnote 7

[25] Taharah Kehalacha 15/79 p. 505 based on Rav SZ”A

[26] As RSZ”A questions whether removing nail polish is similar to erasing with intent to write, as she does have in mind to repaint it later on.

[27] As dying is not relevant to cotton balls as they are designated for this purpose to become dirty and be discarded. It is hence similar to all items which are designated specifically for a dirty use which does not contain the dying prohibition. This follows the ruling written in “The Laws of Dying” regarding using a tissue to clean a wound, which is allowed based that it is designated for this purpose. [Admur Kuntrus Achron 302; SSH”K 14/19; Piskeiy Teshuvos 320/11 ] This ruling is unlike the ruling of Rav Farkash in Taharah Kehalacha ibid which prohibits the use of a cotton ball in all cases. Vetzaruch Iyun Gadol on his opinion.

[28] Piskeiy Teshuvos 140/3

[29] So rules Tzitz Eliezer 8/15 and others. Doing so does not contain the Mimacheik prohibition, as the Mimacheik prohibition does not apply to one’s skin.

[30] 340/4

[31] Shvus Yaakov 2/4

[32] The Ketzos Hashulchan [144/1] summarizes this Halacha as follows: It is forbidden to remove the wax and there are those which say that one is liable for doing so. Vetzaruch Iyun Gadol, as this implies that the entire dispute is if it’s a Biblical or Rabbinical prohibition and not whether its allowed or not. However after reading the source of the more lenient opinion, the Shvus Yaakov, one sees it clearly written that it is permitted to be done, and so is the simple meaning of the words of Admur “And there are those that are lenient”, that there are those which even initially permit this, and so writes the Ketzos Hashulchan himself in Badei Hashulchan 144/2. Furthermore the Ketzos Hashulchan goes on to say there that Admur did not rule in this dispute as he normally does, and he then goes on to rely on the lenient opinion in certain cases [see the case of a Sefer Torah in Q&A]. It is thus not understood why he mentions the dispute the way he does without mentioning at all a lenient opinion.

[33] Ketzos Hashulchan 144 footnote 1, brought also in Elyah Raba, Chayeh Adam and Mishneh Berurah. [ibid]

[34] So is implied from Ketzos Hashulchan ibid

[35] Ketzos Hashulchan 144 footnote 2

[36] Ketzos Hashulchan 144 footnote 2 and so rules Shvus Yaakov 2/4; Sharreiy Efrayim ; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 24 [ibid]

[37] So rules Ketzos Hashulchan ibid in name of Shaareiy Efrayim and Rav Akiva Eiger.

[38] As this proves that the wax never really covered the letter, as explains Shvus Yaakov in his Teshuvah there.

[39] Shvus Yaakov and Ketzos Hashulchan ibid. However Rav Akivah Eiger writes that the reason is because of Tikkun Keli. See Ketzos Hashulchan ibid which argues that in this case there is no problem of Tikkun Keli.

[40] M”B 340/10

[41] 340/5

[42] 340/4

[43] Admur 343/10.

This comes to teach that even within the process of eating it is forbidden, unlike the ruling of the M”B in next footnote.

[44] The Degul Merevava 340 rules that it is always permitted to break letters of a cake.

The M”B 340/16 thus rules based on this that one may be lenient to break the letters within the process of eating [meaning upon chewing it] as opposed to breaking off a piece with letters and then eating it.

The Chazon Ish 61/1 rules like Admur that even within the process of eating this is forbidden.

[45] If the child is below the age of Chinuch it is obviously forbidden to give him the cake and have him do a prohibition as rules Admur in 343/2

[46] 343/10

[47] 343/10

[48] Ketzos Hashulchan 147 footnote 11

[49] 458/8

[50] So rules stringently Levush and Chok Yaakov chapter 475.

However other Poskim rule that by cakes with engraved letters one is allowed to even break off a piece and then eat it. So rules: M”B 340/15; SSH”K 11/8. Ra”sh Haleivi brought in Magen Avraham 340/6, although he himself concludes with Tzaruch Iyun; Mahril.

[51] Ketzos Hashulchan 144 footnote 3

[52] Ketzos Hashulchan 144 footnote 3 towards end; Bear Moshe 6/94; Piskeiy Teshuvos 340/4; SSH”K 11/7 which only allows breaking it in ones mouth, based on the Mishneh Berurah mentioned above, although to break with one’s hands he agrees that it is forbidden.

[53] So rules Mishneh Berurah 340/15, SSH”K, taken from Agudah brought in Magen Avraham.

[54] So explains the Elyah Raba

[55] According to Admur, while according to the M”B 340/15 [and so rules SSH”K 11/8] it is allowed in the process of eating.

[56] However according to Taz brought in M”B 340/16 [and so rules SSH”K 11/7] one may break the letter within the process of taking a bite from the piece.

[57] Ketzos Hashulchan 144 footnote 3 towards end.

[58] SSH”K 11/7

[59] Ketzos Hashulchan 144 footnote 3

[60] 458/8

[61] M”B 340/15; SSH”K 11/8. Ra”sh Haleivi brought in Magen Avraham, although he himself concludes with Tzaruch Iyun.

[62] Ketzos Hashulchan 144 footnote 3. His final ruling is written on page 151 at the end of the paragraph.

The basis of this ruling is that a) There are Poskim [Degul Merivava] which always allow breaking letters within the process of eating [chewing it] and b) There are Poskim which allow even to break engraved letters. Thus although Admur rules stringently on breaking within process of eating [with regards to letters written with icing] while the Magen Avraham leaves in question braking engraved letters, when both leniencies are combined, such as breaking within the process of eating letters engraved on a biscuit, one may be lenient. [Ketzos Hashulchan there] This seemingly holds true as well in accordance to the ruling of Admur in Hilchos Pesach [brought above] which simply forbids breaking the Matzah with engraved letters, implying that taking a bite from it is allowed.

[To note that the Ketzos Hashulchan did not mention this ruling in chapter 144 and only later was it mentioned by him in the glosses to the end of the 7th volume, nevertheless it is implied from there that his conclusion to allow breaking them while eating remains the same.]

See however the next case of a bottle cap with engraved letters that the Ketzos Hashulchan allows one to break it on Shabbos, although contradicts himself in the glosses to the end of volume 7. Vetzaruch Iyun.

[63] Volume 3 p. 369; 20/73

[64] Engraved letters are not common today, and thus since here one has no intent to write in the area that the letters are erased, and it is thus only a Rabbinical prohibition, in this case we allow it being that in non common cases the Sages did not make their decree. Hence here since engraving is uncommon they did not suspect that one may come to erase engraving with intent to write in its place. [Ketzos Hashulchan ibid]

[65] Shut Ara Degalil p. 35

[66] Rav Bistritzky does not make mention of the ruling of the Ketzos Hashulchan throughout his entire ruling. However at the end in a footnote he mentions that he found a ruling of the Ketzos Hashulchan which contradicts his ruling, and he writes that seemingly the Ketzos Hashulchan forgot the ruling of Admur in 458/8. However in truth the Ketzos Hashulchan in his Hosafos does add the ruling of Admur there and nevertheless does not retract his final ruling said above.

[67] So rules Chazon Ish 61/1, brought in Piskeiy Teshuvos 140/4

[68] Ketzos Hashulchan 144 footnote 10

[69] Ketzos Hashulchan 144 end of footnote 3. Vetzaruch Iyun from the glosses written at the end of volume 7 in which he writes that one may not [according to all opinions] break the engraved letters of a stationary being that in this case the letters have a change of color and being that the allowance was only said regarding food products.

[70] Perhaps this ruling of Admur regarding matzos is only Lechatchilah. Meaning that initially one is not to enter himself into a situation that he will be required to break the engraved letters. After the fact however perhaps Admur agrees that one may be lenient. Vetzaruch Iyun.

[71] Ketzos Hashulchan 144 footnote 10; Kaf Hachayim 340/34; Shabbos Kihalacha Vol. 1 p. 288

[72] Ketzos Hashulchan 144 footnote 3 towards end.

[73] Piskeiy Teshuvos  140/4

[74] Az Nidbaru 10/8

[75] As this is considered a Rabbinical prohibition within a Rabbinical prohibition [1) irregularity and 2) erasing not with intent to write] which is permitted in a case of Pisek Reisha.

[76] Daas Torah 340/3; Bris Olam Mocheik 5

[77] Mahrshag 2/41

[78] As it is being ruined with an irregularity which makes it a double Dirabanan of Piseik Reishei as well as that there are Poskim which always permit this.

[79] A magnetic board is used by using a magnetic pen to lift the small pieces of metal and one can thus form a word.

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