Writing Shem from Shmuel

Shabbat (12:3) | Yisrael Bankier | 6 years ago

One of the melachot we discussed this week was kotev -writing. In brief, the melacha involve writing a minimum of two letters in a normal fashion using a substance that will endure. We also learnt (12:3) about the opinion of R’ Yehuda who maintains that if one intended to write a word, but stopped after two letters that spell a word, then he is liable as it is still considered kotev. The Bartenura explains that since the shorter word is complete in a different context, it is considered a complete melacha.

Interestingly however, one of the cases is where one intended to write the name Shmuel and stopped after writing the word shem (name). One will note that the second letter, mem in the name Shmuel (שמואל) is an “open” mem, while the mem in word shem (שם) is a “closed” mem. The Gemara (Shabbat 103a) notes this difference and asks how he could be liable for writing shem with an open mem (שמ) since it is not complete in any context. The Gemara concludes that, while this matter is debated, R’ Yehuda maintains that if one wrote tefillin or a mezuza and switched the closed mem with an open mem then it would be valid. Consequently, writing in this manner (שמ) would be considered complete according to R’ Yehuda.

The Avnei Nezer (201:1-2) however asks, granted that teffilin would be kosher, people nevertheless do not write in this manner and on Shabbat one is only liable for melechet machshevet – loosely translated as creative or purposeful work. On Shabbat one is not liable if they perform a melacha in an unusual manner as it is not considered melechet machshevet. For example, while a get that is written with one’s left hand is valid, one would not be liable for writing on Shabbat in that manner. Since writing שמ is unusual why is one liable?

The Avnei Nezer explains that it is true that if one intended to write שמ and wrote it in Shabbat it he would be exempt. In isolation, it is not considered melechet machshevet. However, writing shem as required to write Shimon or Shmuel is. We combine what he wrote (the melacha) with the fact that it was a prerequisite to what he intended to write (the machshevet) to consider it a melechet machshevet. In other words since שמ is considered melechet machshevet when writing שמעון, it is considered melechet machshevet in this context.

When explaining why one would be liable even if they did not complete the entire word, the Rambam explains that we find that if one intended to weave twenty-five amot of fabric, would he only be chayav if he completed the entire length? Surely not. He is liable as soon as he weaves two weft threads – the minimum measure. Consequently it is also true by all melachot.

The Tosfot R’ Akiva Eiger however find the need for this logic difficult. The Gemara cites a Beraita that explains that our law is learnt from the pasuk the discusses the korban chatat - “ve’asah me’achat me’hena” – “and he performs from one of them” (Vayikra 4:2).1 Consequently, this law is no built on logic alone, but rather derived from pesukim.

The Tifferet Yisrael attempts to defend the Rambam. Firstly, he suggests that it is not clear that the Rambam is basing his explanation on logic alone. Perhaps when the Rambam explains that “it is falsehood” to suggest one would only be liable if they wove the entire twenty-five amot length, he means that it is false due to the pasuk of “me’achat me’hena”. The Tifferet Yisrael however continues that even without this answer, one could suggest that logic was required to clarify which cases were covered by the “me’achat me’hena”. For example, there is a debate whether one is liable in the case where one intended to throw an item eight amot but only threw it four amot. In other words we find that the scope of “me’achat me’hena” is debated.


1 The difficulty raised by the Chiddushei Mahariach is that both our case and the case of weaving are cited together in the Beraita. That being the so, the case of weaving is not more obvious than our case. He therefore asks why the Rambam brings the case of weaving as a proof.

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