Question: [Thursday, 10th Sivan, 5782]
Is it permitted on Shabbos for one to cut a tablecloth from a tablecloth role, or paper from a paper towel rule, or to cut a piece of toilet paper off from the non-dotted line, if one cuts a larger piece than necessary? I have always thought that this is forbidden but recently saw a quite learned individual who serves as a Chabad pulpit Rabbi in his community doing so on Shabbos, and when I asked him as to how this is allowed to be done, he answered me that if you cut a larger size than you need, then it is permitted to be cut, and that so rule some Rabbanim. Is there any truth to this?
You are indeed correct that it is forbidden to do so, and in my opinion, what the individual said is inaccurate according to the opinion of the Alter Rebbe, and is likewise inaccurate according to the final ruling of the Poskim and widespread custom of Jewry, and is based on a minority approach in Poskim which has since been rejected, and therefore by him doing so, he accidentally [due to lack of knowledge, thinking it’s allowed, or due to Shigigas Horah] transgressed the prohibition of Tikkun Keli according to Admur and other Poskim. The rule is as follows: It is forbidden on Shabbos to cut a piece off from a roll for the sake of using the cut piece, whether it be paper or plastic, even if one cuts a larger piece than needed, and doing so transgresses the prohibition of Tikkun Keli. Thus, one may not cut a piece off from a toilet paper roll, or paper towel roll, or plastic tablecloth role even if one cuts it to a greater size than needed, and even if one does not cut it in the dotted line.
It is clear from the Poskim that included in the prohibition of Tikkun Keli is the tearing or breaking of an item for the purpose of making it fit for a use. It is clear from Admur and other Poskim that this applies even if it was already fit for use and the action of tearing or breaking is simply making it more fit, and that this applies even if the cut item will only be used temporarily and then discarded. Therefore, tearing a piece of paper or plastic off a roll on Shabbos for the sake of using it, is forbidden, as is explicitly written in the Poskim.
Now, regarding the argument that if you cut a larger piece the necessary then it circumvents this prohibition, in my opinion, this is completely inaccurate and one may not rely upon it, due the following reasons:
1) Nowhere in the Poskim, including the Shulchan Aruch of the Alter Rebbe, Achronim, Shaalos Veteshuvos, and many Sifrei Melaktim, do we find such a possibility offered. On the contrary, from Admur it is evident that it makes no difference as to how large of a piece one cuts off, and as to whether one cut off more than necessary or cut off a specific dimension, and either way a prohibition applies. The only time that Admur differentiates in the matter of one who cuts more than necessary or to not a specific dimension, is regarding the prohibition of Michateich, however, regarding the prohibition of Tikkun Keli, which is the subject relevant to us, no differentiation is ever made, hence proving that it does not exist. In the many prohibited tearing and cutting examples recorded in the Shulchan Aruch [shortening a wick, shortening a vine, cutting a piece of paper or earthenware], Shaalos Veteshuvos, and Melaktim, nowhere do they offer us the very simple solution offered by the above individual, which in his opinion can circumvent the prohibition, which is to simply cut to a larger size than necessary. How is it possible that none of the Poskim ever thought of this simple idea, and did not convey to us a very simple way of avoiding transgressing Shabbos which still allows the cutting to take place? For example, in all the various dealings in the Poskim and Melaktim on the subject of one who is stuck in the bathroom without tissues, and as to whether he may cut the toilet paper, why does no one mention this advice to simply cut a larger piece then necessary, which according to the above individual is allowed even initially. Clearly, the Poskim reject such a notion and never thought of it to begin with as an option.
2) As to the reason behind why the Poskim do not differentiate in this matter, and do not write that if you cut a larger piece than necessary then it is permitted to be done, this is because in truth regarding the prohibition of Tikkun Keli, it is completely irrelevant, as the prohibition applies towards any action done towards making something more fit for use. It makes no difference if one made it fit for use to the exact prescriptions necessary for the action, or made it fit for use by in a more liberal fashion. In simple words: Whether one cut off a piece of tissue to the exact amount needed, or whether one cut off a larger amount than needed, either way he did an action of cutting to an item for the sake of making use of that item, and that, and that alone, is the definition and prohibition of Tikkun Keli. To what is this argument of differentiation similar? To one who claims that you only transgress building a house on Shabbos if you build it to the exact amount of space that you need, while if you purposely build a larger house than necessary on Shabbos, or purposely build a defected house on Shabbos, then you don’t transgress the building prohibition. Or, to one who claims that if you cook more food than necessary on Shabbos then it is permitted. Obviously, such claims are preposterous, and the same applies regarding the prohibition of Tikkun Keli.
Seemingly, the error that some make in this matter and think the cutting a larger size than necessary is okay is a result of the fact that we do make this differentiation in the Michateich prohibition and seemingly they linked this as well to the Tikkun Keli prohibition, which as we stated is incorrect. Furthermore, there are indeed some Poskim and Rabbanim who practically or theoretically rule that there is no prohibition of Tikkun Keli when cutting off a piece of cotton or toilet paper being that one is not particular on the size, and seemingly as an offshoot of this approach some people think that if you cut into a larger size than usual, then it is okay. This however is inaccurate, as practically we do not rule like these Poskim and do prohibit cutting toilet paper and cotton due to Tikkun Keli, as is the widespread Jewish custom and as is the clear evident ruling from Admur and as most of these Poskim themselves conclude, and hence the cutting of a larger piece than usual is also negated, as the logic for applying the prohibition of Tikkun Keli to cutting a piece of toilet paper applies irrelevant of the amount that one is cutting. Hence, we do not find even amongst the theoretically lenient Poskim who conclude to be stringent not to cut toilet paper, an option to simply cut a larger piece than usual in order to avoid the issue according to all. Either one holds that the cutting of paper does not at all involve Tikkun Keli and hence is permitted to be done to whatever size one desires, or one holds that it does involve Tikkun Keli in which case it makes no difference as to how large of a piece one cuts off, and practically we rule like the latter approach.
Sources: See regarding the prohibition of Tikun Keli: Admur 302:5; 308:54-55, 82; 314:12; 340:17-18; 508:2; 514:18-20; Michaber 322:4; 340:13; M”A 314:14; M”B 322:13; Piskeiy Teshuvos 314:3; See Admur 314:16 “However other detached items which cutting is not considered a mundane action are allowed [to be cut] as long as one does not have intent to cut them to a specific size [i.e. Michateich], and does not cut them into very small pieces [i.e. Tochein], as well as that it is an item that does not contain [the prohibition of] fixing a vessel in cutting it [i.e. Tikkun Keli] as will be explained in chapter 340 [Halacha 17].”Admur 340:17 “Cutting items detached [from the ground]…if through doing so one fixes the item to be used for a certain use, then he is liable for [the] “fixing a vessel” [prohibition] if he cut it using a knife as was explained in chapter 322 [Michaber Halacha 4] regarding the cutting of a twig. Due to this [prohibition of Tikkun Keli] one may not break earthenware and may not tear paper which is permitted to move [i.e. is not Muktzah] in order to use the [torn or broken piece] for a use due to that doing so is similar to him fixing a vessel. See Chapter 508 [Halacha 2]”; Admur 508:2 “One who roasts fish over a grill is not to cut a piece of paper in order to soak it in water and then place it under the fish over the grill in order to prevent the fish from burning. Similarly, one may not break a piece of earthenware in order to place it under the fish. Similarly, one may not break open a cane in order to place its sheath under the fish. As well, one may not break open the cane to make it into a figure like skewer to roast with. The reason for all the above restrictions is because in all cases that one makes and fixes an item to be fit for a use, then it is like he has fixed a vessel on Yom Tov.”; Admur 308:54 “A [detached] vine……is forbidden to use it to draw with, unless the vine was tied to the bucket from before Shabbos due to a decree that perhaps the vine will be too long for him, and one will cut it, being that it is soft and easy to be cut, and will thus end up [transgressing the prohibition of] fixing a vessel on Shabbos.”; Admur 308:55 “It is forbidden to remove a reed from a broom which is used to clean the house, being that through removing it he is fixing it for the use that he wishes to use it for, which is for hitting the children with, and [the law is that] any item that one fixes to be used for any use is included in the prohibition of fixing vessels.”; Admur 308:82 “A vessel which has become damaged [and is thus no longer in use] one may not detach from it a piece of earthenware to use to cover something with or to place something on, being that doing so is like making a vessel, as any item which one fixes on Shabbos for it to be useable for any use transgresses the prohibition of “Tikun Keli” [making a vessel on Shabbos].”; Admur 514:18 “Two vessels which were attached to each other from the beginning of their manufacturing, as is commonly done with two cups or two candles, that they are commonly manufactured attached to each other, it is forbidden to separate them into two parts on Yom Tov [or Shabbos] due to the prohibition of Tikkun Keli.”; Admur 514:19 “A long wick which one desires to shorten, may not be shortened on Yom Tov weather with a vessel, or with a flame or with one’s hands, due to the prohibition of Tikkun Keli, as he is making a long wick into a short wick. Likewise, if you want to turn into two lakes it is forbidden to cut it. See regarding the debate surrounding the prohibition of cutting toilet paper or cotton balls: Stringent: Tzur Yaakov 152; Chelkas Yaakov 3:123; Minchas Yitzchak 4:45; Az Nidbaru 2:31; SSH”K 23:16; Or Letziyon 2 41:6; Mishneh Halachos 6:84; Minchas Shlomo 2:12; Orchos Shabbos 11:20-21 and footnotes 31-32; Piskeiy Teshuvos 340:28; Theoretically are lenient [but many nonetheless conclude to be stringent]: Maharam Brisk 3:35; Mishpitei Uziel 8; Tzitz Eliezer 13:45; Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbauch in SSH”K 35 footnote 4; Yalkut Yosef 12 [Shabbos 5 p. 146] 340:1; Taharas Habayis 2 p. 342; Yabia Omer 9:108-185; Shemesh Umagen 1:4; Shaar Shimon Echad 1:8; Shaar Shimshon 147; Mikveh Hamayim 2:7; Hillel Omer 199; Menuchas Ahavah 16:9-10 and footnotes 25 and 29 and 33; See Rav SZ”A brought in Orchos Shabbos 11 footnote 31