Halacha for Sunday 2 Shevat 5777 January 29 2017

Making a Bookmark on Shabbat

Question: If one is reading a book on Shabbat and would like to mark a certain page by making a slight scratch with one’s nail or by slightly folding the corner of the page, would this be permissible on Shabbat?

The Forbidden Work of Writing
Answer: One of the forbidden forms of work on Shabbat is writing. Even if one merely writes two letters on Shabbat, one is liable for Shabbat desecration (even writing one letter is prohibited, but it is not as grave as writing two letters).

Making a Mark by Scratching Wooden Boards
The Mishnah in Masechet Shabbat (103a) states that the Tannaim disagree whether or not scratching a mark on wooden boards and the like will make one liable for the forbidden work of “marking” or does the Torah only prohibit actual writing. According to Rabbi Yoseh, if one makes a scratch onto a wooden board on Shabbat, one is liable for performing a forbidden work on Shabbat. Halachically speaking, the Tur (Chapter 340) writes that the Halacha does not follow Rabbi Yoseh. Similarly, Rabbeinu Ovadia of Bartenura and the Mishnah Berura (Be’ur Halacha ibid.) rule likewise. Indeed, Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch and most Rishonim rule likewise.

Nevertheless, it is still forbidden to scratch a mark onto wooden boards on Shabbat as a result of a rabbinic decree. We shall now discuss whether scratching a light mark onto the page of a book with one’s nail constitutes at very least a rabbinic prohibition similar to scratching a mark onto a wooden board on Shabbat or is scratching on paper not considered a forbidden form of marking on Shabbat at all.

Scratching Paper or Parchment on Shabbat
Indeed, the Tur (Chapter 340) writes that one may scratch a mark onto paper on Shabbat. Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (ibid. Section 5) rules likewise. Their rationale is that any scratch which does not last for a prolonged amount of time is not prohibited at all on Shabbat. This is because our Sages only prohibited scratching on Shabbat when the mark will last for a long time, such a scratching wooden boards; however, a scratch made in a book only lasts for a short while and is not considered a forbidden form of marking on Shabbat. (We should point out though that making a scratch skin on Shabbat is forbidden.)

Some Acharonim, including the Turei Zahav, write that there is only room for leniency when the scratching is being done on parchment, for only then does the mark only last for a short while. However, one may not act leniently by scratching a mark onto a book. Nevertheless, the words of Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch imply that there is no distinction between them, for in the days of Maran there were books being printed on paper and he nonetheless rules leniently in this regard.

Thus, one may scratch a mark, such as a line and the like, on the side of a page, for this kind of marking does not last for a prolonged amount of time, as we have discussed.

Ask the Rabbi


8 Halachot Most Popular

The Proper Time to Light Chanukah Candles

One should preferably light Chanukah candles immediately when the stars appear in the sky, which is approximately fifteen minutes after sunset during this time of year. Some Ashkenazim, however, customarily light at sunset. The Earliest Possible Time to Light Chanukah Candles Chanukah candles sh......

Read Halacha

Lighting Chanukah Candles on Motza’ei Shabbat and Electric Chanukah Candles

This year, 5777, the first time we light the Chanukah candles is this coming Motza’ei Shabbat, Parashat Vayeshev On Motza’ei Shabbat Chanukah, in the synagogue, Chanukah candles are lit first and only following this is Havdala recited in order to delay the departure of Shabbat as much......

Read Halacha

The Order for Lighting Shabbat and Chanukah Candles

There is a disagreement among the Rishonim as to the order of lighting Shabbat and Chanukah candles on Erev Shabbat Chanukah. The Ba’al Halachot Gedolot (commonly referred to as “Behag”) is of the opinion that Shabbat candles must be lit before Chanukah candles because women cu......

Read Halacha

The Proper Time for Lighting Chanukah Candles On Erev Shabbat

Praying Mincha Before Lighting Candles On the Friday afternoon of Chanukah, it is preferable to pray Mincha before lighting the Chanukah candles. The reason for this is because the Mincha prayer was established in the place of the daily “Tamid” sacrifice that was brought in the Bet Hami......

Read Halacha


Megillah Reading-The Proper Procedure for One Who Has Missed Hearing a Portion of the Megillah

Every member of the Jewish nation is obligated to read the Megillah on the day of Purim. One must read it during the night and once again the next day, as the verse states, “My G-d, I call out to you during the day and you do not answer; during the night I have no rest.” This verse is wr......

Read Halacha

The Customary Order of Rosh Hashanah

It is customary to eat certain symbolic foods during the two nights of Rosh Hashanah which signify good fortune for the entire upcoming year. It is therefore customary to eat black-eyed peas, pumpkin, leek, spinach, dates, pomegranates, apples dipped in honey, and meat of a sheep’s head on the......

Read Halacha

The Laws of Taking Haircuts During the “Three Weeks"

The Customary Prohibition of Haircuts As a result of the mourning observed during the “Three Weeks,” the Ashkenazi custom is to abstain from shaving and taking haircuts beginning from the Seventeenth of Tammuz until the Tenth of Av. The Sephardic Custom Nevertheless, the Sephardic ......

Read Halacha

The Custom of the “Commemoration of the Half-Shekel”-5776

It is customary to donate money before Purim as “a commemoration of the Half-Shekel” which was donated by the entire Jewish nation when the Bet Hamikdash stood. This money is customarily collected on the eve of Purim before reading the Megillah, as our Sages tell us (Megilla 13b) that &l......

Read Halacha