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Thought for the Day: Temporary and Almost Temporary Knots

Sewing and tying are two ways to create a permanent connection.   Buttons and buckles are often used to create temporary connections; that is connections that by there very nature are meant to be  broken.  Buttons and buckles, in fact, are only used to create temporary connections, so it is always permitted to button/unbutton and buckle/unbuckle on Shabbos.  That's true even if the intent is to leave the connection till after Shabbos (putting on my shoes for mincha), or the garment came into Shabbos connected (my suit jacket Friday night).  Sewing is almost always meant to be permanent, and so is essentially forbidden on Shabbos.  (There are some possible exceptions.)

Knots are funny because they can be used both for temporary and permanent connections.  Knots that are meant to be undone soon (preferably within the day, but up to a week in case of need) are permitted l'chatchila.  Tying shoes, putting on a gartel, cinching my robe closed; all no problem.  Knots that are meant to be permanent because they are creating something, such as to form a loop in a camel's nose to which I can attach his leash, are forbidden m'd'oraisa.  Knots that are meant to last a long time to perform a useful function, attaching a rope to a bucket so I can draw water from a well for example, are generally prohibited by Rabbinic decree; but, of course, there is wiggle room there.

Then there are knots that perform some useful function -- and I definitely want them to remain until that task is completed -- but then I couldn't care less what happens.  One example of that is new paired garments (shoes and mittens, for example) that are tied together to prevent them from becoming separated until they are sold.  The manufacturer certainly wants that knot to remain in place until sold.  After that, however, he couldn't care less what happens.  The pokim allow cutting those knots off.  (Cutting is generally preferred to untying because it's less work and destructive; both factors increasing the permissibility.)  R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach says the heter is because any knot meant to be undone cannot be categorized as permanent.  R' Nissim Karelitz says the reason is because the knot is intended to prevent the items from being functional, so (again) it is by nature temporary.

Another kind of knot that I don't care about after some time is tying a plastic garbage bag closed before disposal or taping closed a dirtied disposable diaper.  In both cases I really, really want the knot/tape to stay solid until it gets to the dump, but don't give it a second thought once it is gone.  This is worse than the glove/shoe case, because these knots are never likely to actually be undone.  There is also the fact that taping a diaper closed is more like sewing.  There is also the fact (mentioned above) that some sewing is also by nature temporary and so there my be some leniency in undoing it.

Out of time/space, though; we won't be able to sew up all the knotty issues today.


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