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Shabbat Parashat Vayakhel 5774

Ask the Rabbi: Folding Over a Page in a Book

Question: Is it permitted to fold the page of a book on Shabbat so that I will be able to find the page I left off on?


Answer: We will start from the related question of making simple marks in a book to highlight a specific place on the page, which is discussed in classical sources.

The Tur (Orach Chayim 340) says that it is permitted to make a mark with one’s fingernail on a book because it does not last. The Bach (ad loc.) argues because Rabbi Yossi (Shabbat 103b) says that the etchings made on the beams of the Mishkan were a classic example of kotev (the Torah prohibition of writing) and the lack of permanence only reduces the violation to a Rabbinic level. One strong response to the Bach is that we accept the opinion that argues on Rabbi Yossi, and since a simple marks is only Rabbinically forbidden, it is permitted when it is not permanent (Eliya Rabba 340:13). Other answers are given to lower the issue to no more than a Rabbinic level.

The Shulchan Aruch (340:5) allows making a mark in a book, but the Mishna Berura (340:25 and Biur Halacha ad loc.) is stringent on the matter, especially regarding a scratch on paper (as opposed to parchment), as the Taz (OC 340:4) says that it is considered a permanent mark. In our generation, the Yalkut Yosef (340:6) permits it, whereas the Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata (28:15) forbids it.

Folding a certain page to help one find it later is significantly more lenient than making a mark. Certainly, if one folds the page gently, even if the pressure on the book makes the line impression stronger over time, that indirect consequence is likely not considered a violation of Shabbat. However, even if one presses down hard, his intention is not to make a line but to create the effect of a folded page (which helps both by “thickening” the page and creating a tab-like indentation at the corner where the folded part is “missing.”) Several authorities (including Yalkut Yosef ibid.) say this is an example of p’sik reishei d’lo niche lei. In other words, although the ostensibly permitted action that one is doing (folding) includes a definite, direct, forbidden outcome (a line), the forbidden outcome is not desired (one has no interest in having a line after unfolding the page). While most poskim forbid p’sik reishei d’lo niche lei, many say it is permitted when the violation is only Rabbinic in the first place. (See Yabia Omer V, OC 28, who is lenient. The Mishna Berura 314:11 is among many who generally rule stringently). In our case, the situation is even more lenient, as even purposely making the mark is permitted according to many important authorities. Therefore, it is not surprising that the consensus of poskim is that it is permitted to fold the page (see Yalkut Yosef ibid.; Shemen Afarsimon 7; Piskei Teshuvot 340:19).

It seems to me that there is a more fundamental reason to permit the folding. Some melachot are quite subjective, and without a certain level of intent for the outcome, the action/result is not considered a melacha at all. It seems to me that leaving an imprint that is neither a word nor a picture is such a case. Thus, even according  to the opinions that p’sik reishei d’lo niche lei is forbidden even regarding Rabbinic violations, folding without intent for the line is permitted. This thesis can explain why the line that is made when one folds a napkin is not considered writing (see Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 11:40, who permits simple folding). Poskim struggle with the reason it is permitted to walk on soft ground with shoes that have writing on the soles that leaves an imprint on the ground (see Yabia Omer ibid.). Yet, the question is not even raised on shoes without writing, even though they also leave a clear imprint. Our thesis can explain why there is no question in such cases. (Thank you to my son for presenting this idea to one of the leading authorities on Hilchot Shabbat, who agreed with the analysis.)

For one reason or another, it is quite clear that it is permitted to fold the pages of a book on Shabbat.

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