By: Rabbi Yirmiyahu Kaganoff
Question #1: Nullifying shatnez
“Can a garment contain wool and linen and not be shatnez?”
Question #2: The tryout
“May I sell clothes without first checking to see if they are shatnez?”
This week, we will continue our discussion on the topic of shatnez; more specifically, can something be made of wool and linen and not be shatnez? As we learned in the previous article, there are ways this could happen. We noted that if the linen and wool do not touch, there are rishonim who contend that the garment is not shatnez, although other opinions contend that it is shatnez min haTorah. According to the Rambam, this is shatnez min haTorah, whereas according to the Rash (Kelayim 9:1, 9) and the Rosh (Hilchos Kilei Begadim #5), it is permitted to wear this garment.
We now continue the article:
The majority rules
There is another way that a garment could contain both linen and sheep’s wool and still not be shatnez! How could this be?
When a thread is spun from a mix of fibers, the halachic status of the thread is determined by what constitutes most of the thread’s fiber content and ignores the existence of other fibers inside the thread (Mishnah, Kelayim 9:1). Halachically, the minority fiber is bateil, nullified, to the majority fiber content in the thread. Thus, threads spun from a mix of mostly cotton fiber with some linen fiber are considered cotton and may be used, lechatchilah, in a woolen garment. Similarly, if a garment consists of threads made of a blend of mostly mohair (which is goat’s hair and not wool; see previous article) and a minority of sheep’s wool fiber, and the garment is woven or sewn with linen threads, the garment is not shatnez and may be worn.
Hanging by a thread
It is important to note that linen or wool fiber is bateil only as fiber. However, a thread of linen that is woven or otherwise attached into a woolen garment renders the garment shatnez, and there is no bitul (Rosh, Hilchos Kilei Begadim #5, quoting Tosefta; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 299:1). Once the fiber has been spun into thread, even a single linen thread woven into a large woolen garment renders the entire garment shatnez. In addition, if a spun thread is mixed into a larger thread (a process called twisting, plying or cabling), then there is a shatnez problem min haTorah, even if there is only one linen thread in a large woolen garment or vice versa.
The authorities dispute whether shatnez exists when there is noticeable wool fiber in a thread that is made mostly of a different fiber. The Rosh (Shu’t Harosh 2:5), Mishnah Rishonah and Tiferes Yisrael (both to Kelayim 9:1) seem to consider this shatnez, since the wool is noticeable. However, the Chazon Ish (Yoreh Deah 181:9) rules that this is not shatnez, contending that the definition of a thread is its majority component, and that the minority wool component of the thread is bateil. This dispute will have the following application, which is not uncommon among today’s textiles: The thread of a garment contains a small amount of lamb’s wool in a blend that contains mostly non-wool type fibers. Thus, the wool is noticeable, although it is a minority component of the thread. According to the Chazon Ish, a garment containing this thread and linen is not shatnez, even if the threads touch, since the thread that contains the wool fiber is not considered to be a woolen thread. On the other hand, according to the other authorities mentioned, since the wool is noticeable, this garment is shatnez.
Many garments, quilts and other items contain “reprocessed fibers,” or “recycled fibers,” which is a nice way of saying that used or unsold clothes or fabrics were chopped up and used as stuffing. Also, sometimes used cloth and leftovers from processing are shredded down to be used as an inexpensive replacement in “cotton” garments (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 2:25; 6:114). Another example is baseball gloves and sometimes oven mittens, which are often stuffed with recycled fibers. Since one can never be certain what material is included in the recycled fibers, are they automatically prohibited because of shatnez?
This actually depends on two factors:
Thread or fiber?
Are the “reprocessed fibers” reduced to the fiber stage, or are there actual threads remaining? If they are fibers, then they will probably become bateil in the thread. On the other hand, as we mentioned above, threads are not bateil.
Sewn or pressed?
The second significant factor is whether the recycled materials are sewn, woven or glued into the garment or simply pressed together and inserted. If the recycled fibers are threads and are then woven or sewn into the material, the entire garment may be shatnez. If there are linen and woolen threads sewn together at any point, it is shatnez according to all opinions. If the wool and linen do not touch, but are in different parts of the garment, then the garment is shatnez according to the Rambam, but not according to the Rash.
Rav Chayim Kanievski quotes, in the name of the Chazon Ish, that one could permit clothing using recycled fiber on the basis of a sefek sefeika, a double doubt concerning the prohibition. (The same approach is suggested by Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 2:25.) The possibility exists that this garment contains no shatnez, it is possible that the stitching process did not attach wool directly to linen, which is therefore not shatnez according to many authorities, as I mentioned above (Derech Emunah, Hilchos Kelayim, 10:2, Biurei Halachah, s.v. Levadim). Although Rav Chayim concludes that a G-d-fearing person should avoid use of this heter to wear garments made with reprocessed fiber, he concludes that one may use a mattress stuffed with reprocessed fiber, since lying on shatnez is permitted min haTorah, and is only prohibited miderabbanan. The same rationale permits using baseball gloves, which are also usually stuffed with reprocessed fibers, since the rawhide surface of a baseball glove does not provide any warmth to the hand. Since the hand is not warmed by the glove, the prohibition of shatnez is only miderabbanan. Thus, although you could corner the market by providing a hechsher on glatt kosher baseball gloves by guaranteeing that they contain no linen or reprocessed fibers, those who are lenient not to use your hechsher would have the Chazon Ish’s psak to rely upon.
I want to mention that the heter mentioned by the Minchas Yitzchak and Rav Chayim may apply only to Ashkenazim, since the Rema and many other Ashkenazi authorities rule according to the Rash. However, since the Shulchan Aruch rules according to the Rambam, Sefardim may not be able to rely on this sefek sefeika. I leave this for the individual to discuss with his halachic authority.
So, what is a consumer to do?
Although we have now learned that there are several instances in which a garment may contain wool and linen and yet not be shatnez, according to the shatnez experts I have consulted, these instances are rare. Practically speaking, any garment that may contain either wool or linen should be checked by a knowledgeable, experienced shatnez tester. In addition, men’s suits should always be checked, even if they are 100% polyester. Also, any garment that appears similar to linen or that lists “other fibers” should be checked.
The first step in checking for shatnez is to read the label. Although this cannot ascertain that the garment is not shatnez, it may tell you that it is.
I share with you the following story, which I know is true because I was there when it happened.
As a curious type of fundraiser, a frum shul conducted a men’s fashion show. Haberdashers are usually quite eager to supply the “goods” for such a show because it is free advertising, and sometimes even generates immediate sales.
While the men parade with their garments, the announcer pitches the qualities of the clothing being displayed. One fine, knowledgeable and very frum gentleman was wearing his suit while the announcer read that the garment being worn was 70% merino wool and 30% linen. Another way of describing this garment is 100% shatnez, according to all opinions.
Similarly, at one point, a popular manufacturer of quality men’s socks advertised the fact that their wool socks were reinforced with linen thread in the toe. Yet another shatnez issue exists in certain countries whose uniforms are proudly made of “linsie-woolsie”, which is a blend of – you guessed it – linen and wool!
The second step is to have garments checked by a knowledgeable shatnez checker or laboratory. Most communities have one, and if there is none available locally, one should research becoming one himself. There are also options of using UPS or registered mail to ship a garment for checking, or arranging a community visit by a certified shatnez checker.
At this point, we can discuss one of our opening questions: “May I sell clothes without first checking to see if they are shatnez?”
In the addendum to a question on another topic, Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked whether a haberdasher is required to ascertain that any merchandise he might sell to a Jewish customer is not shatnez. Rav Moshe rules that if shatnez is commonly found in the particular type of garment, one may not sell it. It is insufficient to tell the consumers that the garments might be shatnez, since one cannot assume that the customers will have their purchases checked. Rav Moshe rules that the fact that there are other stores where they could purchase such garments does not permit selling them. However, if a particular garment is unlikely to be shatnez, he rules that one may sell it without first having it checked. He explains that although one should check such a garment, the major financial cost for the haberdasher to check every garment precludes his requirement to check them. However, the customer is required to have them checked (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:72).
Rav Hirsch (Commentary to Chumash, Vayikra 19:19) provides a very deep explanation of the mitzvah of shatnez, definitely required reading for everyone. Because of space constraints, I will oversimplify his approach, to provide our readers with a bit of a taste: Clothing is a feature of our existence that distinguishes man from animal. For man to achieve G-dliness, he must subordinate his lower faculties to his intelligence. The Divine spirit within man is to elevate all the forces within him to the nearness of Hashem, provided that man uplifts himself to Hashem with his whole being. Requiring that we separate wool from linen in our clothing symbolizes that man’s perception and willpower should not service his animal element. Man must separate the nourishment aspect of himself, represented by the vegetable part of the world, from his perceptions, represented by the animal element. The discipline of separating wool from linen in clothing reminds man to follow the laws of Hashem. For further understanding of these ideas, please see Rav Hirsch’s commentary.