Tying a decorative knot on Shabbat - Matan - The Sadie Rennert

Tying a decorative knot on Shabbat Rabbanit Dr. Adina Sternberg

July 5, 2022

Topic : Shayla , Shabbat & Yom Tov ,


I have army boots with laces that tie in front – but the lace is only decorative, since the shoe is opened using a zipper on the side. If the laces are opened on Shabbat – am I allowed to tie them, and how?


The melakha of ‘tying’ (קושר) is one of the 39 melakhot prohibited on Shabbat (Mishna Shabbat 7:2). According to the Mishna (in BT Shabbat 15a-b) some knots are prohibited by Torah law, others by rabbinic ordinance, and some are permitted on Shabbat. The Talmud (Shabbat 111b–112a) provides examples for each of these knots, and based on these examples, Rishonim set criteria for various types of knots, taking two primary directions: (a) According to Rashi, the Rosh, and others, the permissibility of tying knots on Shabbat depends on the amount of time a knot is intended to last; a knot that is meant to last through the day is permitted, while a long-lasting knot is prohibited by rabbinic law, and a permanent knot is prohibited by Torah law[1]. (b) According to the Rambam and Rif, there are two different criteria, and their integration affects the level of prohibition; the first is time – whether or not the knot is permanent, and the second is the quality – whether the knot is an expert knot. A simple (‘layman’s’) knot is not prohibited at all; a temporary expert knot, or a permanent simple knot – are both prohibited by rabbinic law; but only a permanent expert knot is prohibited by Torah law. The Shulhan Arukh (Orah Haim 317:1) ruled like the Rif and Rambam, who ruled that a Torah prohibition is based on a combination of both criteria – expertise and permanence; but one or the other constitutes a rabbinic prohibition. This is also the position of the Rema (at the end of 317:1, as explained below).

The question of what constitutes an expert knot according to Rishonim is difficult to determine. The Rema (end of 317:1) writes that it is prohibited to tie a double knot, since it might be considered an expert knot. He also writes that a knot at the end of a single string is similar to a double knot using two threads (or two ends of the same thread). Some Achronim explained that an expert knot is a tight knot, or a knot that will not be undone on its own over time.

Although the Rambam’s approach differentiated between an expert knot and a simple knot, the Gemara indicates that some ‘knots’ are not included in the category of a knot at all. For example, the Talmud does not include a bow in the category of a knot. According to the Agur (Rema, Orah Haim 317:5), a bow is the manner in which shoelaces are tied (a butterfly knot), whereas according to the Mordechai (Menahot 940) this is a knot at the end of a thread (or two threads tied together), which instead of being knotted and undone, always remains knotted, but the knot can be fastened (i.e. a slip-knot). Both of these knots are “incomplete.” If the knot is fastened to its limit, it will become a strong knot; but if puled in the other direction, it is easily undone. In fact, the purpose of these knots is that they could be easily undone, and to be impermanent. Indeed, there is a debate regarding the bow: the Mordechai (Shabbat 386) cites Rabbeinu Porat, who seems to indicate that a butterfly knot would only be permitted if there is no regular knot underneath, whereas according to the Agur, a butterfly knot is permitted also when the thread is knotted.

According to the Shulhan Arukh, a bow is permitted because it is not considered a knot, and the Rema adds that also if there is a knot beneath the bow, this is permitted. The Rema indicates that all bows are permitted – even with a knot underneath, and even if it is a lasting bow – since this is not considered a knot.

However, the Achronim are divided between those who follow the position of the Agur, and those who follow the position of R. Porat in the Mordechai.

Despite the Rema’s explicit ruling, according to Shiltei Hagiborim, the Taz (n. 7), the Magen Avraham (n. 15), the Mishna Berura (n. 29), Arukh Hashulhan (25), and others, a bow can be tied over a knot only to last the same day. When a bow is made alone, without a knot underneath, one may tie ‘a bow over a bow.’ Some explain that this was the Rema’s intention, and the Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchata (15:53) ruled accordingly.

Conversely, according to the Gra, the Rema’s position was that a single knot is not problematic (and since a bow is not considered a knot, neither a single knot, nor a bow over a knot are prohibited on Shabbat). This is also the position of R. Ovadia Yosef in the name of other Achronim (Hazon Ovadia).

In practice – according to Rashi and the Rosh, assuming that a bow over a knot is considered tying on Shabbat, even if it is not an expert knot, it should be prohibited by Torah law, since it is permanent; in this case, since we are stringent when there is a doubt in a matter of Torah law, tying a bow over a knot would be prohibited. On the other hand, the Shulhan Arukh and the Rema both ruled according to the Rambam and Rif, that in order to transgress a Torah prohibition the knot has to be both an expert knot and a lasting knot.

However, all are in agreement that a bow is either a simple knot, or not considered a knot at all. Therefore, even if it is tied in a way that might be lasting, it would be considered a rabbinic prohibition. Regardless, according to those who consider a bow an actual knot, this would also be a rabbinic prohibition. Since this matter may be resolved in other ways (such as tying a bow over a bow, or tying a single knot, or tying a bow and tucking the laces into the shoes, or tying both laces together as a slip-knot) – it is preferable not to rely on the position which do not view the bow as tying a knot at all. Therefore, if the decorative tie opens on Shabbat, it is best to make a single or double bow, without a regular tie beneath it.



[1] there is a separate debate regarding the precise distinctions; see Beit Yosef, Orah Haim 317; Rema, Orah Haim 317:1; Taz, Orah Haim 317:1; Mishna Berura 317:5.

Rabbanit Dr. Adina Sternberg was in the first cohort of the Matan Kitvuni Fellowship program and her book is in the publication process. She has a B.A. in Bible from Hebrew University and a M.A. and Ph.D. in Talmud from Bar Ilan University. Adina studied in Midreshet Lindenbaum, Migdal Oz, Havruta and the Advanced Talmud Institute in Matan. She currently teaches Bible and Talmud at Matan, and at Efrata and Orot colleges. Adina lives in Adam (Geva Binyamin) with her family.

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