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Can I wash dishes on Shabbat?

Can I wash dishes on Shabbat?

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Washing dishes or flatware does not, in of itself, violate any of the Shabbat rules. Nevertheless, there are some other considerations involved which certainly complicate the process. Here are the most basic ones:

a. It is forbidden to turn on the hot water tap on Shabbat. The reason for this is that when you turn on the hot water, you are releasing new water into the hot water tank that supplies the sink. This would be a violation of the prohibition against cooking on Shabbat.

b. It is forbidden to use a sponge or washcloth, this because using these materials invariably involves squeezing them to the point where water is expelled—a violation of the prohibition against "pressing (out liquid)" on Shabbat. Non-absorbent bristled brushes may be used instead.

c. Washing dishes is permitted on Shabbat provided that you may possibly need to use these dishes again on Shabbat. However, it is not permitted to wash dishes simply to spare yourself the hassle of doing so after Shabbat.

The last two rules also apply to major holidays. Using hot water, on the other hand, is permissible on holidays that do not fall on Shabbat, when cooking is permitted. (This applies to most water-heating systems, those whose pilot flame stays on all the time. One would not be allowed to turn on the hot water if the sink is hooked up to a system whose pilot ignites when the hot water tap is turned on.)

And one more note: It is permitted to ask non-Jewish household help to wash the dishes on Shabbat. If they choose to use hot water and/or a sponge, that is their prerogative. Since the act of washing dishes itself is permitted, the methods they choose to employ is not our concern.

Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for Chabad.org.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
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Anonymous near Chicago December 14, 2011

To Joseph I understand the guidance given on observing the Sabbath. I'm glad you once had a job washing dishes, which is work and can be put off very easily during the short hours of the Sabbath.

The letter and the spirit of the law is true rest and celebration. Reply

Rob W. Pittsburgh, PA December 12, 2011

Response to Anonymous, near Chicago To follow up on Joseph Lathrop's words: The English word "work" is not a perfect translation of the Hebrew word "melakha." There is a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding about this in the English-speaking world. On the one hand, there are some very strenuous behaviors which Jews are actually permitted on Sabbath. Example: Moving furniture within the home. On the other hand, there are some very easy behaviors which Jews are prohibited on Sabbath. Example: Turning electrical devices on and off. This sounds very crazy to a lot of people, and having grown up very secular, I understand how people feel. However, by learning Jewish mystical philosophy, I am coming to appreciate this stuff more and more. Of course, I would never advocate stoning anyone over it! I like Eve's suggestions. Last Sabbath I just rinsed the dishes with cold water, and then I washed them after Sabbath. Reply

Joseph Lathrop Lafayette, Indiana November 1, 2011

Anonymous, near Chicago I have been employed as a dish washer many times and what you don't seem to understand is what work on Shabbat actually is refering to. It is not say moving a couch in our home but the work that was done to build the tabernacle, in short, creative work. This type of work is broken down into the 39 melakhot basically 39 categories of work, if it would fall into these then it is considered working on Shabbat. Reply

Anonymous near Chicago November 1, 2011

Janet - no offense intended... Have you ever washed [to wash or clean] dishes? It's work. It's lifting, scrubbing, checking, stacking, rinsing... all the details and the sweeping descriptions = Work. It isn't even easy and is honestly unnecessary during the short hours of Shabbat. It may be allowed by some, but any personal examination will show that washing dishes is not resting. Some are employed as 'dish washers'. Reply

Janet Clare Maale Levona, Israel October 31, 2011

Unfortunately, Anonymous,. doing dishes isn't "work". : ) You're right, though, that we can't ask anyone to do something on Shabbat that we can't do. Ask a halachik rabbi for further details. Reply

anonymous near Chicago October 30, 2011

I don't understand how 'non-Jewish household help' can do any work for us during Shabbat, since the Creator clearly included slaves (or servants) and strangers (non-Jews) in the prohibition. If they were free to do what they hadn't committed to avoid when they are not in our community or home as soon as they enter it, [according to the exact wording of the law], it would be forbidden for them to do work in our company, and with our knowlege or even at our request. The letter and the spirit of the law is true rest and celebration. Reply

Anonymous San Rafael, ca August 23, 2011

washing dishes on shabbos May we put the dirty dishes into the dishwasher on shabbos? Reply

Karmiya richmond, va July 20, 2011

washing dishes on shabbat Though paper plates and throwaways might be economically cheap, we should think about the environmental concerns and tikkun olam.
I don't think that it's right to damage the environment by using disposable goods on Shabbat. Reply

Eve Mesa, AZ June 24, 2010

Washing Dishes on Shabbat 1. Use paper plates , throw-away cutlery and drinking cups! You don't have to worry about washing dishes then. Go to the Dollar shops to buy them.

2. Keep a basin of sudsy water in the sink and spay some bleach in it for sanitary reasons. Plates can be soaked or simply dipped or rinsed in the basin without a hassle. Use one for meat and one for dairy and/or parve.

The post by Joseph Lathrop makes good sense. Doesn't this fall under the Chabad teachings of treat others as you would want them to treat you? Reply

J. Clare Maale Levona, Israel June 24, 2010

Asking someone to wash dishes on Shabbat "If I can do dishes on Shabbat, I can ask someone else, Jew or non-Jew to do it instead. If they are a non-Jew, they can do so in any manner that is comfortable for them, including using hot water or sponges, within the bounds of guarding the kashrut of the home (e.g. not using a milk sponge for cleaning meat dishes). Since I can't use hot water, I can't ask that they use it, for example. However, if the person is a non-Jew, he can choose to use hot water and not be breaking any Shabbat laws"

I am not a rabbi, but I think this is what is meant here. In general, anything a Jew can do, he can directly ask someone else to do. HOW that someone does it depends on the laws, if any, that apply to him.

P.S. Sure wish I could get someone to do the dishes for me on any day! :-) Reply

FFB June 23, 2010

Thank you for making that so clear! Reply

Jim Rogers escondido, ca June 23, 2010

altering the perspective Hi marconium, its important to realize that we non-Jewish friends of the chosen people really enjoy doing work for the Jewish people and we feel it helps the world become a better place. when the Messiah comes we will be proud to say we worked for the chosen people on the sabbath.
thanks Reply

Mr. Joseph Lathrop June 22, 2010

Wouldnt this Apply I am a Gentile, but I have studied the law in the Torah, though not the teachings in the Talmud from a "how would it apply today perspective." You said that your Gentile servant could be ASKED to do the dishes and how they choose to do them would be up to them, but wouldn't this apply to the asking a servant part of your statement: Exo 23:12 - Six days thou shalt do thy work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest; that thine ox and thine ass may have rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed.
Because they would be under your authority just as the handmaiden or their son or they would be considered a guest as the stranger? Reply

marconium montreal , canada June 22, 2010

altering the perspective " that we can find a meaningful way to help our non-Jewish assistants to observe the dish-washing procedures?" I think you have misconstrued the issue. The sabbath is G*d's first gift to man. The first use of the death penalty in the bible was for breaking the sabbath. of interest, it seems the person may have been a non-jew. So within G*d's kingdom rule it is critical that both parties to the transaction respect the Law. So while the issue seems insignificant, within the larger framework, the issues are critical to a deeper understanding of inter-related, mutual obligations. Reply

Anonymous SF, CA June 21, 2010

Is it possible that in the very last 'one more note', (the last sentence), it should be our concern because we are here, as we remember, to be a 'light unto the nations', and that we can find a meaningful way to help our non-Jewish assistants to observe the dish-washing procedures? Reply

marconium montreal, canada June 21, 2010

isn't there a contradiction here? "...provided the work is not done on the Jew's premises and it is not known that it is being done for him" ... washing dishes is clearly on the premises and it is obvious what the person is doing as regards to the washing of dishes. Doesn't numbers 15.32-34 clearly lay out the law as it regards work of this sort on the Sabbath: "And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks upon the Sabbath day..." This is interesting in that the first instance of the death penalty in the book of G-d is for the breaking of the Sabbath. So I do not see how a Jewish person can turn a blind eye to the obvious work of washing dishes on the Sabbath. Reply

Stephen Goldenberg El Paso, Tx June 20, 2010

Work done by a non-jew on shabbat. A Jew must not ask a non-Jew to do work for him on the Sabbath; However, a Jew is allowed to hire a non-Jew to do work or business for him as long as he does not specify that it be done on the Sabbath and does not benefit from it being done then, provided the work is not done on the Jew's premises and it is not known that it is being done for him, and provided the payment was specified in advance or the work was given to the non-Jew before Friday.
A non-Jew may be told to do things on the Sabbath that are only rabbinically forbidden to Jews, provided sickness, or great need, or religious purposes are involved; A Jew must not even hint that a non-Jew should do work for a Jew on the Sabbath, except in an emergency, but it is permitted to hint that he should do such work after the Sabbath. A Jew's converted slave is forbidden to do work on the Sabbath even for himself; if he has not converted, he may do work for himself, provided it is evident that he is not doing it for his owner. Reply

marconium montreal, canada June 20, 2010

Use of non-jews .... "It is permitted to ask non-Jewish household help to wash the dishes on Shabbat. If they choose to use hot water and/or a sponge, that is their prerogative. Since the act of washing dishes itself is permitted, the methods they choose to employ is not our concern." should the non-jew do this sort of work for free? If wages are entailed, then hasn't work been performed thus violating the sabbath? Reply

Dina MA June 16, 2010

Response to Gershon I'm sorry, should have been more clear. I mean plastic grocery bags, which are non-absorbent. Reply

Gershon McMoshe June 16, 2010

Dina I would suggest that you discuss this with your rabbi. Are you sure that paper is different than a sponge? Squeezing in squeezing. Reply

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