Question posed by a Ba’al Teshuva: If one laundered one’s clothing on Shabbat when one was still non-Torah-observant and has since mended his ways and become a Ba’al Teshuva, will one be prohibited to benefit from these garments forever?
Answer: First of all, if one launders a garment in a forbidden manner on Shabbat, one may not even wear this garment on Motza’ei Shabbat. However, if one does so unintentionally, the garment may be worn immediately on Motza’ei Shabbat, as Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Chapter 318) rules, “If one cooks on Shabbat intentionally, one may not partake of the food forever; however, others may partake of the food immediately on Motza’ei Shabbat. If this was done unintentionally though, it is prohibited (for all) on Shabbat, but it is permitted on Motza’ei Shabbat even for him.”
If Actions Performed by a Non-Religious Individual Can be Considered “Intentional”
In our situation, if we consider the laundering to have been done unintentionally, the clothing may be used on Motza’ei Shabbat. The question here was from a non-religious Jew who probably lacked Torah knowledge and fear of Heaven and was probably raised to view religious Jews as deprived and primitive people. Therefore, it is quite possible that we may consider him “unintentional” and permit him to use the garments which were laundered on Shabbat.
A Mixture of Clothing
An additional reason for leniency here is that this person does not know for certain which garments were laundered on Shabbat, for some of the clothes in his house were washed on Shabbat and others were washed during the week. If so, we are now dealing with a “mixture” of clothing laundered on Shabbat and clothing laundered during the week. Since the prohibition to benefit from a forbidden work on Shabbat is not a Torah prohibition, rather, it is only a rabbinic enactment, this only constitutes a doubt regarding a rabbinic law. This is especially true since we have before us a mixture of clothing laundered on Shabbat and clothing that was not laundered on Shabbat and most of the clothing was certainly laundered during the rest of the week, we can rely on the majority of clothing that was not laundered on Shabbat. (Since laundering the clothing again will incur an additional expense, this does not fall into the category of “an item which will eventually become permissible” which cannot be nullified. Unfortunately, we cannot explain this matter at length at this point.)
A Garment Laundered on Shabbat and then Laundered Again on a Weekday
Although all of the garments were at some point laundered on Shabbat, either the last time they were laundered or one of the times before, nevertheless, since the garments have since become soiled again and were laundered again on a weekday, it is no longer prohibited to wear them.
Although Hagaon Ben Ish Hai writes that if a handkerchief was laundered on Shabbat and was since soiled again and laundered once again on a weekday, there is no way to permit it, nevertheless, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l in his Chazon Ovadia-Shabbat, Volume 4 (page 441) disagrees with his opinion and writes that our Sages only banned benefitting from the product of a forbidden work on Shabbat when one benefits from the actual forbidden work; however, if the garment is soiled again and is laundered on a weekday, there is no longer any benefit from the forbidden work which was performed on Shabbat and the handkerchief may be used without any concern.
Summary: Regarding our scenario where it is uncertain whether or not the garments have been laundered last on Shabbat and the individual has now merited returning to his roots, he may use these garments as he wishes.