The Mishnah (15:3) teaches that one may fold his clothes “even four or five times”. The Bartenura explains that this assumes that one is folding the clothes to put them on again that same Shabbat. The Bartenura continues by citing the Gemara’s further restrictions regarding folding clothing. Firstly, we are assuming that the garment only requires one person to fold it. If it required more than one person, it appears as though he is mataken (fixing them), which is prohibited. Furthermore, we are assuming that we are dealing with new and white garments. Since old garments are readily creased and colour garments benefit more from folding, it once again looks mataken. Finally, the Mishnah assumes that the person has no other clothes to wear for Shabbat. What is wrong with folding clothing?
Rashi (Shabbat 113a) explains, as we have thus far, that it appears as though one is fixing the garments – metaken. The Aruch Hashulchan (OC 302:10) writes that this is the position of the Rambam as well. He continues however, that the Raavad argues that the issue is making efforts (tircha) on Shabbat for a weekday. This would explain why the next case in the Mishnah is the restriction on making one’s bed for use after Shabbat.1 The Aruch HaShulchan continues that this appears to be the opinion of the Tosfot as well. The Tosfot (113a, s.v. mekaplin) comment that from this Mishnah we learn that one may not fold their tallit on Shabbat as they are preparing for the next day. The Aruch HaShulchan maintains that regarding a tallit in shul the only reason is tircha and not metaken.2
The Aruch HaShulchan (302:12) continues by citing the Mordechai who maintains that while it is true one may not fold their tallit after shul (whether it is new or old) one can however fold it, if it is not along the original creases. The Aruch HaShulchan explains that the difference of whether one folds the garment on the original folds can be explained according to both our understanding above – mataken and even tircha. Based on this, he explains that when the Tosfot forbad folding a tallit, it does not mean that they must be cast on the table without any folding, they simply forbad precise folding.3
The Shulchan Aruch also cites this position as a second opinion yet writes “nir’in devarav” – appearing to except this position. The Mishnah Berurah notes that while this appears to be the consensus amongst the achronim, he writes that it is indeed preferable if one wishes to be strict about the matter.
The Chaye Adam (44:24) writes while one can fold the garment not along the original folds, if however one does not want to use the garment again Shabbat then it is forbidden.4
1 On this point of making one’s bed, the Mishnah Berurah (OC 302:19) notes that one would be able to straighten their bed, if it is in a place where it would otherwise be a disrespect to Shabbat.
2 The Tosfot Yom Tov suggests a different reason. He explains that since the clothing were always folded immediately after laundering to ensure the clothes did not crease, the Chachamim instituted gezeira out of concern one might then clean their clothes.
3 When trying to explain the widespread practice of people folding their tallit he suggests that perhaps they maintain the reason for the gezeira is because of metakan only and feel it does not really apply to a tallit. Furthermore, perhaps they understand that our folding is different to the folding in the time of the Mishnah where they were very particular to remove all creases in the process.
4 It would seem that the Chaye Adam is concerned for both metaken and tircha and maintains that folding against the original folds only solves the problem of metaken.
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