Sewing, the av melachah of tofair is forbidden on Shabbat. The purpose of sewing is to attach two pieces of clothing by stitching them together with thread. Similarly, the melachah of tofair refers to attaching two different items using any medium which firmly holds them together, like gluing, stapling,1 or pinning.2 Most authorities say that tofair is permitted if the person does not intend to keep the items attached for longer than 24 hours.3

Tofair in the Mishkan

Tapestries of woven fabric were used to cover the Mishkan. When complete, the tapestries were stitched together to cover the entire length of the Tabernacle.4 Alternatively, some commentators source this melachah to the sewing required to repair the tapestries when they became torn.5

Some activities are not forbidden under tofair, even though they involve joining items together. For example, buttoning a shirt or attaching something with velcro would seem to be included, but these activities are actually allowed to be done on Shabbat, because they are only ever connecting in a temporary manner (as they are meant to be used), which can easily be undone, putting them in a different category from tofair, which is indefinite. The same logic can be applied to magnets, which may be used on Shabbat.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe was once asked if a safety-pin may be used on Shabbat. The letter that was sent to the Rebbe is not available to the public, but it is clear from the Rebbe’s response that the questioner had suggested it may be Biblically forbidden under the melachah of tofair. The Rebbe begins his response6 by noting how common it is for people to use safety-pins on Shabbat, pointing out that the very fact that it has become so widespread among Torah observant Jews surely indicates that it must be allowed. The Rebbe contends that using a safety-pin on Shabbat is permitted because: a) Whereas sewing is usually done by making stitches out of fiber, in the case of a safety-pin, the metal serves as the stitching to hold the two parts of the garment together. Therefore, it does not resemble the sewing performed in the Mishkan and is not included in the melachah of tofair. b) A safety pin is used as a temporary solution to a problem, and tofair is not an issue unless it is intended to last. However, making more than three stitches with the safety-pin is problematic because it is regarded as being more permanent. Practically, however, safety-pins are rarely used to make more than one7 or two “stitches,” and they may be used on Shabbat, provided that they are not meant to remain in place for an extended period of time.8