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The Music of Halacha: Shabbat: Tied Up In Knots I



It is necessary to tie the ends of a thread into a knot to prepare it for stitching. We also tie the ends of stitches into knots to prevent them from unraveling. Tying these types of knots is the Category of Koshair – Tying.

In the Mishkan, knots were necessary for making the nets used to trap the Chilazon, from which they made Techeilet for the Mishkan coverings.

Koshair as also part of the manufacturing of the Curtains of the Mishkan. These curtains were required to be made as a single continuos fabric with no seams. No loom was wide enough for the cloth of the Curtains, as they used a special technique to knot together the end threads of each bolt of cloth, without the knots being visible.

The two main categories of forbidden knots are “Kesher Uman,” a craftsman’s knot, and “Kesher Shel Kayama,” a permanent knot.

I find it interesting that we refer to the permanent bond of marriage as “Tying the Knot.” We also describe someone totally confused, or something too complicated to understand, as “Tied Up In Knots.”  Knots are used to describe links on the web and connections between people; “He has ties to the mayor.”

The Bible uses “Koshair” to describe a powerful connection between people, as in, “Since his soul is bound up – ‘Keshurah’ – with his soul.” (Genesis 44:30) Ironically, it also uses “Koshair” to describe treason, “Behold, I organized a rebellion against my master.” (Kings II 10:30)

All this to say that the category of “Koshair” speaks to us whether we are tying shoelaces, our ties, or a ribbon, making connections between ideas, or forming relationships. We need only to listen to the Music of these laws:

We will begin by examining whether the laws of Koshair focus on the act of tying a knot, or on connecting two separate things:

Please Note: This essay is meant as a discussion of ideas and is not intended to be used for practical Halacha. For example; a knot that is both very tight and durable, and is made to last indefinitely, is Biblically prohibited according to all opinions. I hope to get to this in more detail in a future essay. I begin with a discussion of general ideas.

The Sefer Yerei’im (274), the Semag (Prohibitions #65), the Mordechai (Shabbat, Notes for page 74), the Ritva (Shabbat 105b), the Beit Yosef and the Ramah(317), all rule that it is Biblically prohibited under Koshair to tie a knot at the end of a rope.

It seems clear that all these authorities focus on tying the knot, and not (unintended pun) on connecting two separate things.

The Alter Rebbe (Likuttei Sichot, Va’etchanan) describes Koshair as “Chibur and Ichud,” joining and unifying two separate things. “Chibur,” or joining, refers to the permanence of the knot, and “Ichud,” or unifying, refers to the two items becoming one. A temporary knot does not create true “Chibur,” and is therefore not included in the Biblical prohibition.

The Merkevet HaMishnah (Hilchot Shabbat 10:9), based on the Yerushalmi, rules that Koshair is only when connecting two separate things, or even two ends of a rope to each other.

The Avnei Neizer (Responsa, O”C 180) rules according to the Rambam as explained by the Merkevet Hamishnah, but explains that there are times when tying a knot at the end of a thread is actually considered connecting two separate things, such as when tying a loose thread on a Tallit; the person is permanently connecting the thread to the garment.

We have two different approaches: 1) We focus on the knot, 2) or, we focus on the connecting two separate things.

“You shall tie them (Tefillin) as a sign on your arms.” Should we focus on the knot or on the connection, the sign of our relationship with God?

Should our first focus be on developing the ability to form relationships, or should we emphasize our connection with another person? Should a Rebbi teach his students the Knot, or skill of how to connect diverse ideas, or shall he simply present numerous connections to his students?

Do we view a necktie or ribbon as a single object that needs to be knotted, or do we look at them as one part of all that we are wearing?

All these authorities may agree on the practical application of the laws of Koshair, but they differ conceptually, in ways that reflect on much beyond the practical Halacha.

To be continued…

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