Makeh bepatish literally means “striking the [final] hammer blow.” A craftsman’s finishing touches perfect the item and make it complete; likewise, the melachah of makeh bepatish includes any activity that completes the formation of something.1

Unlike other melachot which involve actual tasks, one can transgress makeh bepatish by simply putting a final touch to a longer process. Also, whereas most melachot are associated with a particular set of activities, makeh bepatish is much broader—it is simply the act of completing something, whatever that thing may be. For example, most applications of the melachah of bishul (cooking) involve activities that relate to food preparation, and it will rarely be encountered otherwise on Shabbat. Makeh bepatish, however, can show up all over the place: while preparing food,2 folding clothes, or tearing a piece of paper towel.

Makeh Bepatish in the Mishkan

The walls of the Mishkan were made from planks covered by a thin layer of gold that was nailed to the boards with perfect precision. This act is one possible source. Another act of makeh bepatish in the Mishkan was straightening out tools or utensils that became bent out of shape to make them usable again.

The Relationship Between Makeh Bepatish and Other Melachot

Seemingly, every melachah accomplishes something. Plowing creates a plowed field. Writing forms complete letters and words. Cooking takes something raw and makes it edible. Surely then, every melachah should involve makeh bepatish in addition to its own prohibition. Rabbi Menachem Meiri,3 a great 13th-century Talmudist, provides an insightful solution. He explains that while a melachah’s process is ongoing, makeh bepatish does not enter into the equation. For example, sharpening a knife on Shabbat is considered makeh bepatish.4 Now, there are many steps involved in producing a knife, which include many melachot. Once all those melachot are done and the knife is fully formed but blunt, sharpening the blade, which involves no other melachah, constitutes makeh bepatish.

The Talmud mentions makeh bepatish in several different scenarios which gives us an indication of its broad scope:

1) Making something usable

The Talmud5 rules that one who opens a new neck opening in a shirt on Shabbat, by cutting through the fabric and threads that kept it closed, has transgressed makeh bepatish.

By creating the opening, he renders the shirt fit to wear, thereby fashioning something on Shabbat. This form of makeh bepatish involves taking something that cannot be used in its present form and doing something to make it usable.

(It is interesting to note that there are those who place the use of electricity on Shabbat into this category. When an electric appliance is not connected to a source of electricity, all the parts are there but they do not serve any function. When one flips a switch and closes the circuit, thereby allowing current to flow into the machine, he makes the machine useful which is a form of makeh bepatish.6 )

2) Perfecting something

The Talmud7 says that removing protruding, irregular threads from a garment transgresses the melachah of makeh bepatish. This applies only if the person is particular, and would not wear the garment until all protruding threads have been removed.

In this case, the garment could be worn without removing the protruding threads; however, since the person is particular, removing them perfects the garment, effectively making it usable.

3) Creating something new

The Talmud8 states that one may not place soft material into a pillow or a cushion for the first time on Shabbat, because doing so fashions a new item, which transgresses makeh bepatish.

Previously, there was stuffing and a pillow case but no pillow. By putting the stuffing inside the pillow case for the first time, one has created a new entity, a pillow.

4) Fixing something

The Talmud9 teaches that if the string of a harp breaks on Shabbat, attaching another string is forbidden under makeh bepatish.

When the harp’s string snaps, it is no longer functional. By winding a new string, one has restored it and made it complete.

Rabbinic Prohibitions Associated with Makeh Bepatish

The Sages forbade a number of activities on Shabbat because of their resemblance to the melachah of makeh bepatish, or to prevent one from transgressing it, including:

Folding Clothes

One should not fold clothes, tablecloths, or a tallit in their usual, precise manner, unless intending to use them again on Shabbat.10 Folding them prevents any potential wrinkling and enhances the appearance of the garment, which makes it resemble makeh bepatish. One may, however, fold them in a different way from usual. This can prove useful when laundry (that was hung prior to Shabbat) dries on Shabbat and needs to be put away.11

Immersing New Vessels

Jewish law requires new dishes and kitchen utensils to be immersed in a mikveh. Since this is the final step before one may use the items, doing so resembles makeh bepatish in that it completes the item and makes it fitting to be used. Therefore, one may not immerse new utensils on Shabbat.12

Playing Musical Instruments

It is forbidden to produce musical sounds on Shabbat lest one repair the instrument, a transgression of makeh bepatish.13 This decree has a very broad scope and can include making musical sounds even if an instrument is not used.14

Common activities to avoid:

  • Strumming a guitar, drumming on a bongo, or playing a piano.
  • Bending a pair of glasses back into shape or easing a lens back into the frame.15
  • Pumping air into a new blow-up mattress.16
  • Tearing a piece of paper towel from a roll, even away from the perforated line. 17
  • Inserting a shoelace into a new 18 shoe.19