Nisht Oif Shabbos Geredt? The Guide to Proper Speech on Shabbos

Shabbos is the most beautiful day of the week, and our Neviim and Chazal have enhanced its sanctity by establishing various mitzvos d’rabanan. These mitzvos include activities that maintain kedushas Shabbos and render it more enjoyable, and prohibitions to ensure we do not perform a melachah d’oraisa. One example of an issur d’rabanan is what Yeshayahu Hanavi1 refers to as “daber davar”, a restriction on business and melachah-based discussions on Shabbos.

According to the Talmud Yerushalmi,2 when we are careful with speech on Shabbos, we emulate the Ribono Shel Olam, Who rested from speech3 on Shabbos Beraishis following the completion of the creation of the world.

The following halachos are based upon the psak of Harav Moshe Heinemann, shlit”a, Rabbinic Administrator of STAR-K Kosher Certification.4

I. Discussions of Melachah

In general, on Shabbos one is not allowed to say that he will perform a melachah after Shabbos. For example, it is forbidden to say, “Tonight I will write down your address” or “I will water my flowers tomorrow”, as these activities are not permitted on Shabbos. Furthermore, on Shabbos one may not say, “Let’s go shopping tomorrow”5 or “Can you bake a cake after Shabbos?”6

The following are exceptions and may be discussed on Shabbos:

    1. One is allowed to speak about a melachah that already occurred. For example, “Last Thursday we drove from Los Angeles to San Diego”.
    2. One may discuss plans to take place after Shabbos if no melachah is involved. For instance, one may say, “I will walk over to your house tomorrow.” Since this can be done on Shabbos, it may be discussed on Shabbos. It is also permitted to say, “I will come over to your house tomorrow,” even if the house is 20 miles away, since a melachah was not stated and it is possible to walk.
    3. One may discuss something “potentially” permissible on Shabbos. For example, if someone lives in a city with no eruv he may say, “I will bring some pictures to your house tomorrow.” Since this activity could be performed if that city had an eruv, it is permissible to make such a statement on Shabbos.7
  1. An extension of the previous halacha allows one who resides in a city to say, “Tomorrow, I am going to another city” (e.g., someone in Lakewood may say he is going to Baltimore on Sunday). Although there are at least two prohibitions involved in this activity – driving a car and leaving the tchum – such a statement would be permitted since he did not say he is driving.8 Furthermore, one could theoretically walk to another city using a route if it would be built up with burganin,9 so that it falls within the tchum. Therefore, someone in Los Angeles may say, “I am going to New York tomorrow.”10
  2. If the melachah is about performing a d’var mitzvah, one may discuss it if necessary.11 For example, if it were necessary on Shabbos to discuss specific travel arrangements for attending a levaya in order to avoid “losing a ride”, one may discuss this on Shabbos. Although this activity is a melachah, it is permitted to discuss since it involves a mitzvah.

II. Speaking About Business

One may not speak about business issues on Shabbos. This includes the following:12

  1. Prices – One may not discuss the price of various items with someone who can utilize this as business information. This applies to a “big ticket item” (e.g., “The house around the block is selling for $500,000”) or one of lesser value (e.g., “Cookies at the kosher market are on sale for $1.00”), or any case in between. This includes prices on almost any item – food, travel, household items, etc.13
    This also includes conversations about free items including, “If you want a free round trip ticket to Eretz Yisroel you can get one on United Airlines if you have 85,000 frequent flyer miles.” Generally, speaking about stocks, bonds, mutual funds, banks and credit cards is forbidden even without mentioning specific financial information.
  2. In general, one may not give “business advice” on Shabbos. An accountant may not discuss financial matters with a client or anyone else. Asking an accountant for tax advice on Shabbos (e.g., “Can I count my married child as a dependent if her chasunah was last December?”) is not permitted. This also applies to asking a mechanic for automobile advice (e.g., “What do you recommend for squeaky brakes?”) or a computer expert for recommendations (e.g., “What is the best program for graphics?”). Furthermore, one may not make certain calculations,14 especially those related to business. For example, one may not say “I bought a tie for you which cost twenty dollars plus 5% tax. So the total amount you owe me is twenty dollars plus one dollar tax, or twenty-one dollars.”15
    If someone asks you something that is prohibited to discuss on Shabbos you should not discuss such issues. The correct response is to say, “Let’s speak after Shabbos.” One should not respond, “Let’s speak about ‘it’16 after Shabbos.”
  3. The following situations are exceptions and may be discussed during Shabbos, even though they are financial or business related:
    1. Tzedakah Matters – This is a heter for the gabbai to announce nedavos (donations declared following aliyos), as this financial discussion is for the purpose of tzedakah. Calculations for tzedakah and other mitzvos are also allowed.
    2. Public Affairs – Something that will benefit the general public is permitted. An example is a city engineer who comes on Shabbos to survey the area in order to install a traffic light and crosswalk in an area frequented by the tzibbur (e.g., outside the shul). In such a case, one may speak with the engineer about the project as it will benefit the entire community.
    3. If one’s “business” is teaching Torah or other divrei mitzvah, then one may discuss such topics on Shabbos. For example, one may speak to his son’s rebbi or teacher on Shabbos regarding how his child is performing in shiur. He may hire a tutor17 to teach Torah, provided salary is not discussed on Shabbos. One may also discuss shidduchim on Shabbos. One may even say “support will be available.” Some opinions allow even specific financial arrangements for the shidduch to be discussed on Shabbos.18 Consult your rav.
      Likewise, one may ask a kashrus professional for advice (e.g., “Can I eat this product that has no hechsher?”). One may also speak with others who work for chesed organizations (e.g., asking a member of the Bikur Cholim organization about a hospital).
    4. Health care professionals may give advice on Shabbos (but may not discuss related financial issues). This includes speaking to one’s doctor or two doctors who are conferring about a medical technique or issue. Nurses and occupational, physical or speech therapists, etc., may discuss health issues or techniques for helping others. They may also speak to a patient who is seeking their advice on Shabbos.

III. Miscellaneous Cases

  1. One should avoid sharing sad news or something that brings tzaar (distress)19 on Shabbos, unless it is necessary. For example, on Shabbos one should not tell his friend, “Did you hear that Ploni died?” However, one may tell a relative or someone who is involved if they need to know (e.g., “Your uncle, who was my neighbor, was niftar this morning. I think your cousins would appreciate if you came over on Shabbos for guidance.”).
  2. One may ask a shayla or “speak in learning” regarding a case that involves business (e.g., asking a rav, ‘Reuven is lending Shimon $10,000 and would like to charge 5% interest. How should I tell him to set up a heter iska?”).
  3. Thinking about a melachah or business (hirhur) is permissible; however, for oneg Shabbos it is best to avoid doing so.20
  4. Similar prohibitions apply to Yom Tov, as well. However, there are “exceptions” in the case of Yom Tov:
    1. On Yom Tov, one may discuss a melachah that is permissible on Yom Tov, even if it is forbidden on Shabbos. For instance, one may not say on Shabbos, “Let’s bake a cake after Shabbos.” However, on Yom Tov one may say, “Let’s bake a cake after Yom Tov.” This is because under certain conditions, it is permissible to bake on Yom Tov.
    2. On Yom Tov, one may discuss non-melachah prohibitions related to that particular Yom Tov (e.g., on Yom Kippur one may say, “I know you find fasting difficult, before Yom Tov I brought food for you to eat immediately after Havdalah in shul.”).

It is noteworthy that the restriction of Daber Davar is the basis for the prohibition of handling muktzah on Shabbos. According to the Rambam,21 Chazal realized that if “business speech”, which is intangible, was prohibited by the Neviim on Shabbos, kal v’chomer (how much more so) would the Neviim forbid one from handling items that are related to business or have no normal Shabbos use. Furthermore, one of the reasons for the prohibition of Amira l’Akum (asking a non-Jew to perform work on Shabbos) is Daber Davar. The fact that Daber Davar is a m’kor (source) for muktzah and Amira l’Akum illustrates the importance of how we speak on Shabbos.22

The enhancement of Shabbos through proper speech is illustrated in a story found in Sefer Ktzos Hashulchan.23 A king once gave his subjects the opportunity to request their needs. A homeless individual with a skin disorder, who normally picked through garbage cans for food, approached the king with the following request. “Today there are no garbage cans available. My request is that you provide me with garbage cans through which I can rummage for food.” Everyone who heard this ridiculous request laughed and said, “You fool! The king could have had the best dermatologists treat your illness or he could have given you a house in which to live. Instead, you choose the same garbage cans from which you eat every day?”

On Shabbos, the Ribono Shel Olam grants us the opportunity to spend Shabbos in an enhanced way with divrei Torah, which spiritually and physically heal and protect us. It is a day with more time for Torah, tefillah, our families, inspiring seudos, gemilas chasadim and proper speech. Why would anyone want to treat this special day as just another day to discuss business and financial matters, as we do every other day of the week?

  1. Sefer Yeshayahu (58:13). This pasuk is read in the Haftorah of the morning of Yom Kippur and some recite it as part of Kiddush on Shabbos morning. Some halachos are addressed in the Shabbos Zemer, “Mah yedidus… chafatzecha assurim…”
  2. End of 15th perek of Meseches Shabbos.
  3. As it says, “B’asara maamaros nivra haolam” (Avos 5:1).
  4. Many of these halachos are based on Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim (S.A., O.C.) and Mishna Brura Siman 306 & 307.
  5. This is because Daber Davar applies to Rabbinic prohibitions, as well.
  6. It does not help to preface your prohibited statement with the words “Nisht oyf (or im) Shabbos geredt.” For example, you may not say, “Nisht oyf Shabbos geredt – Can you bake a cake after Shabbos?” In this case, although you are stating the halacha that it is prohibited to say this, your obvious intent is to ask the person to bake the cake after Shabbos.
  7. S.A. O.C. 307:8 based on the Gemara Shabbos 150b that states one can speak about leaving the tchum because “burganin” (huts for guards) could be built to make it in the tchum (by spacing the huts close enough).
  8. Driving was not stated, and since it does not have to definitively happen it is considered as hirhur on the part of those listening (see Rashi, Shabbos 150a Hanireh).
  9. See footnote 7
  10. One may even say, “I am going to Eretz Yisroel”, since under optimum conditions one could walk through Canada and Alaska, then over the Bering Strait (when frozen) through Russia. Furthermore, one may travel on a boat during Shabbos under certain conditions (e.g., the journey does not begin or end on Shabbos). Therefore, one may even say, “I am going to Australia tomorrow.”
  11. S.A. O.C. 306:6
  12. The prohibition applies even if one derives “oneg”, pleasure, from discussing business matters. (The Rama – 307:1 only allows interesting news, etc. for oneg, not business affairs.)
  13. One may mention a price that was paid for an item in the past which has absolutely no current relevance to himself or the listener.
  14. However, one may make a calculation to “sharpen skills” if it has no relevance, e.g., one may ask a third grader, “What is 5 times 5?”
  15. Even to simply say “You owe me twenty-one dollars for the tie” is prohibited.
  16. Stating that we will discuss the business issue (“it”) after Shabbos is assur because one would be stating that he wants to do an issur D’rabanan (Daber Davar) after Shabbos. However, one may simply state, “Let’s talk after Shabbos”, since the prohibited activity is not referenced.
  17. One may even hire a teacher for limudei chol, such as math or science (provided salary is not discussed), because it is a mitzvah l’lamdo umnos (see Mishna Brura 306:30 based on Kiddushin 29a).
  18. See Ktzos Hashulchan 107:14
  19. Mishna Brura 307:3
  20. S.A., O.C. 306:8
  21. Hilchos Shabbos (24:12)
  22. On Shabbos, when people come together at family gatherings and social events one should be extra nizhar (careful) in all halachos of proper speech that are relevant every day. See Chofetz Chaim, footnote at the end of Psicha Asin Os 6.
  23. Written by Rav Avraham Chaim Noeh, zt”l, in Chalek 4, Siman 107, Os 29 in the name of Aishel Avraham m’Butchoch in the name of Toldos Yaakov Yosef.