A Lousy Shabbas

Daf 75 (Shabbas 12a-12b)

Summary. Although a tailor may not go out on the eve of Shabbas with his needle, there is a baraisa that rules one may go out wearing tefillin.

The gemara discusses the rules for delousing one’s garments on Shabbas: “One who delouses his garments on the Sabbath may roll the louse between his fingers and toss it away, provided that he does not kill it.” Abba Shaul does not permit rolling the louse between one’s fingers. Rav Huna permits it. Rabbah and Rav Sheishess would kill the lice. Rav Nachman not only had them killed, but listened for the sound: “Kill the lice and let me hear the sound of my enemies as they die!”

The rules for visiting the sick on Shabbas are elucidated. R’Chanina says, “It is with difficulty that the rabbis permitted one to console mourners and to visit the sick on the Sabbath.”

The gemara examines the scope of the prohibition against reading by lamplight on Shabbas.


Some prohibitions are instituted to protect the individual from inadvertently desecrating the Sabbath. For example, reading by lamplight is forbidden to prevent one from incurring liability from absentmindedly tilting the lamp. R’Yishmael ben Elisha wanted to read and thought he would not be susceptible to tilting the lamp but discovered himself one Shabbas evening  tilting it, and he wrote in his notebook, “I, Yishmael ben Elisha, read by lamplight and tilted the lamp on the Sabbath. When the Temple will be rebuilt, I will bring a fat chatas offering.” He would have that unpaid debt on his mind until he died, the Temple still not rebuilt.

Some prohibitions are eased to afford the individual the opportunity to maintain a connection with God in unsanctified time. Thus, the risk of carrying tefillin on Shabbas is downplayed (but not denied!) so one may wear them until the last possible moment. It is suggested that one is always conscious of their presence so that the risk of absentmindedly wearing them past the point when they must be removed is fairly low.

Some prohibitions are eased even as they present a contradiction to the perfection of the day. Visiting the sick on Shabbas is a “difficulty” mainly in that it reminds us that there is no rest from illness.

Some prohibitions are lifted since the self-control necessary to observe them would be so acute that they would make the effort to sanctify the day fruitless. Thus, we are permitted to delouse ourselves, even if it means squeezing the life from the louse with our bare hands!

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