The Melakha of Makeh Be-Patish (Completing a Manufacturing Process)

  • Rav Moshe Taragin

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This shiur is dedicated le-zekher nishmot Amelia Ray and Morris Ray
on the occasion of their tenth yahrtzeits
by their children Patti Ray and Allen Ray

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One of the most intriguing melakhot is the act of makeh be-patish, “striking with a hammer.” It is typically associated with activities performed at the end of a manufacturing process to complete the manufacture. In this shiur, we will explore the nature of this prohibition.

The gemara in Shabbat (75b) asserts that any activity that completes the manufacture of an item is prohibited as makeh be-patish. Earlier, the gemara provides a classic example: blowing a glass utensil violates makeh be-patish, as it is the final stage of manufacture. Another gemara (Shabbat 47a) provides an additional example: tight assembly of a retractable bed (mita shel tarsi'im) would also violate makeh be-patish, since it completes the assembly, and by extension the creation, of this bed. Rashi (Shabbat 102b) appears to take this position when he presents the following scenario as an example of makeh be-patish: during excavation, the final strike that loosens the boulder from a mountain is considered makeh be-patish. Since the final strike completed the excavation process, makeh be-patish has been violated.

An interesting alternative emerges from a discussion of the melakha of kotev, writing (Shabbat 103b). Typically, this melakha is only violated if a minimum or two letters are written. However, if a person writes one letter that completes a book, he violates the melakha of kotev despite only writing one letter. The Mei'ri (103b) poses an interesting question: by completing the book, shouldn’t this person also violate makeh be-patish? He cites an answer (in the name of “Yesh omrim”) that activities which complete manufacture processing are not considered makeh be-patish. Makeh be-patish prohibits activities typically performed at the latter stages of a manufacture process, such as removing imperfections from a garment or applying imagery to pottery, but the final stage of the actual manufacturing process itself cannot be forbidden.

This position frames makeh be-patish in a very different fashion. Above, we defined makeh be-patish as completing the manufacture process. This position defines makeh be-patish as peripheral activities associated with the conclusion of manufacture, but not the completion itself. By definition, any act that completes a manufacture process is not defined as makeh be-patish.

To summarize, the question is: Is makeh be-patish defined as completing a manufacture process, or does it prohibit secondary activities that normally coincide with the conclusion of a process but are peripheral to its conclusion?

This issue of the chronology of makeh be-patish may have already been debated by the Tanna’im. R. Shimon ben Gamliel asserts that banging a hammer on an anvil would constitute makeh be-patish (Shabbat 103b). Most assume that since striking the anvil does not affect the actual metal being crafted, this is not a classic example of makeh be-patish, but rather only represents a minority opinion of R. Shimon ben Gamliel. However, Rashi (Shabbat 73a) describes this hammer scenario as a violation of makeh be-patish even according to the Chakhamim – but with a significant difference. R. Shimon ben Gamliel prohibited striking the anvil at any stage of the crafting; striking a hammer to level it or remove imperfections is a necessary subsidiary of any manufacture process and is forbidden at any stage. Evidently, he viewed makeh be-patish as prohibiting any peripheral activities associated with and necessary for manufacture, regardless of when they are performed. By contrast, the Chakhamim viewed makeh be-patish as completing the manufacture process or absolutely vital toward its completion. Only hammer leveling at the very end of the manufacture process would constitute a violation. The question of whether makeh be-patish prohibits completion of manufacture of peripheral activities was thus actually debated by R. Shimon ben Gamliel and the Chakhamim (at least according to Rashi's version of this machloket).

A related question would surround the possibility that the same action would violate a general Shabbat melakha as well as makeh be-patish simultaneously. The gemara (Shabbat 75b) describes a makeh be-patish violation for affixing an image onto a vessel. Rabbeinu Chananel claims that makeh be-patish is only violated if the emblem does not contain letters; if it does, ketiva would be violated, and not makeh be-patish. Apparently, the two violations cannot overlap. A similar issue emerges from Rashi (Shabbat 75b), who claims that a mesatet, someone who shaves and carves stones for construction, has violated makeh be-patish. Tosafot disagree, arguing that carving stones would be a violation of mechatekh (diminishing in size) or memachek (shaving off of smoothening material) and could not also violate makeh be-patish. Instead Tosafot explain the scenario of mesatet which violates makeh be-patish as making aesthetic engravings on the stones.  Some claim (see the Chiddushei Ha-Ran) that Rashi claims that one activity –carving stones to size – can constitute both makeh be-patish and a general Shabbat violation (in this instance, mechatekh).

Logically, there should be room for overlap between makeh be-patish and general Shabbat melakha. If makeh be-patish is defined as accessory activities during manufacture, no exclusivity should exist. If those subsidiary actions happen to also entail general Shabbat violations, two violations should occur. Presumably, the logic behind the principle of exclusivity – that makeh be-patish can only be violated if a different melakha is not – stems from a definition of makeh be-patish as the conclusion of a process of manufacture. If the conclusion of that specific manufacture process is subsumed under a different category of melakha, makeh be-patish has not been violated since the conclusion of the manufacture process entails a violation of a different Shabbat process.

Another interesting question surrounds the shiur, the minimum quantity, of makeh be-patish. The gemara (Shabbat 103) cites a dispute between R. Shimon, who requires an entire completed "element" for makeh be-patish violation, and the Rabbanan, who say that any installment is sufficient. For example, if only a fragment of an emblem was affixed to a vessel, R. Shimon would claim that no violation of makeh be-patish occurs, whereas the Rabbanan would consider this a violation.

Despite this simple reading, Rashi consistently asserts that partial activities are only considered makeh be-patish violations if the produced effect, though not final, is still complete. For example, affixing a partial emblem is only prohibited if the particular glass is suited for miniature emblems. Essentially, fragmented additions do not entail makeh be-patish violations, whereas complete but less than optimal additions are a violation. Similarly, Rashi (Shabbat 102b) comments that creating individual etches on stone violates makeh be-patish only if that etch will not be redone. Even though all the etches have not been completed, individual etches may be considered final and “completed.” Finally and consistently, commenting on a gemara (Shabbat 103a) that discusses carving out a minuscule vessel of limited volume, Rashi claims that makeh be-patish is only violated if that volume is still used by some people for measuring or drinking.

It appears that Rashi's qualification is in line with his overall opinion of makeh be-patish. As the issur is defined as completing a process of manufacture, it can only be violated if some benchmark is completed. Beginning to etch on stone (when a second etch will be carved in the same location) or commencing an emblem (where no viable emblem has yet been carved) does not constitute the completion of stone preparation or of vessel manufacture. Presumably, those who claim that even partial creation is sufficient (as the simple reading of the gemara yields) would maintain that makeh be-patish entails activities surrounding the manufacture process. Even partial activities that do not affect the status of the item created entail a violation.