This week I address the critical question of Hilchois Shabbos.
Yoinoison Phey writes:
"Dear Rabbi Schmeckelstein,
"Is it true that the Torah says you cannot wear boxer shorts on Shabbos for fear of making an ohel (ed.: tent) if you get a... well, you know?"
"Your Talmid, Onan"
Thanks you for asking such a serious question that elevates our mundane daily lives to great heights of Toirah, and allows us to deeply penetrate that dark and precious abyss that is Halacha.
Indeed, this issue is a shver inyun that touches upon several halachic questions addressed in the Gemarra, by the Rishoinim, and by Larry Flynt in last year's Hooters Holiday issue. I will try to give the topic its fair due. Questions touched upon include:
-- Binyan: Construction, such as erecting a tent on Shabbos Koidesh
-- Muktza: Using something for which it was not intended
-- Machshava, or intent: Such as, "what is the intent of the owner?"
This exact question is first asked in a Gemarra in Shabbos, Daf Zayin, Amud Aleph. To address this, Rabbah quotes a famois Braisah. According to the Braisah, Rabbi Eliezer Ben Azariah says that a person's body part cannot be counted in establishing a Reshus, an independent territorial domain. However, Rabban Gamliel holds farkhert -- that a body CAN serve as a Reshus. He holds that if someone throws a piece of bread on Shabbos and it lands on top of a woman's double-daled tzitz, it is considered to be in its own Karmelis and it cannot be moved, lest it be carried into Reshus Harabim, the public domain.
Rabbah goes on to note: Given that erecting a tent is an act of construction, and construction is a clear Dioraisa, an Av Melachah no less, "one must take any action to avoid such an occurence." Says Rabbah, Lechatchila, one must always wear a jockstrap on Shabbos, but BiDiyeved, briefs will suffice.
However, the Gemarrah clarifies: "Bammeh Devarim Amurim," when were these words said? Only when the tent is higher than three tephachim (ed.: each tephach is approximately four inches) from the ground, as below three tefachim, the tent would be part of the ground itself.
Abaya and Rava then argue over the implication. Abaya notes that as a person's supine body is at least three tephachim high if you include the torso as part of the tent, only a "little kleinickel man" would be below the three tephach high minumum, according to Abaya. Therefore, most men could not wear boxers. Rava, on the other hand, holds that the tent actually starts at the top of the body, above the torso so that the makom hamilah itself would have to be three tephachim high. Says Rava, "only a freak or the goyyishe porn star Johnny Wad Holmes would have to worry about this Dioraisa, so let's move on to more important things, like using a kli reviyi in making Hawaiian Punch." Shoyn.
So what is the correct position? There is a famous three way machloikess Rishoinim that addresses this. According to the RASHBAM, we hold like Rava, since most men enjoy wearing boxers, and we wouldn't want to deprive them of their Oineg Shabbos.
However, the RAN states that we hold like Abaya. However, the issue, according to the RAN, is not one of Boneh, or construction. Rather, it is an issue of muktza, or the inability to use an item on shabbos. Among the categories of muktza is Muktza Machmas Miyus, or something which is off limits because it is unseemly. And what can be more unseemly than a man's schvantzlach. Consequently, since they serve as the "house" for such gross things, boxers may not be used for any other purpose on shabbos.
But the TUR tells us that this is nisht azuy pashut -- it's not so simple. He notes that not all schvantzlach render boxers off limits -- just those that are K'Baitzah, the size of an egg; however, if they are only KaZayis, the size of an olive, they are considered too small to be offensive, and therefore using boxers is permissible.
But, what about intent? Even if one has a ridiculously large makom hamilah, or if his baitsim are KeBaiyah or even KeEshkoilis, he certainly has no desire to build a tent, so why should he be denied the pleasure of loose fitting cotton? What's Pshat?
There is a famous story about the Kutzker Ruv. The Kutzker was travelling through the fjords of Norway to raise money for his Chassidim. For Shabbos, he stayed in a lodge outside Oslo run by evangelical Lutheran supporters. On Shabbos morning, he woke up to the sound of a knock on the door, and who should be standing there, but Brunhilda, the six foot tall chambermaid. "Rabbi," the chambermaid said, "how can I make you feel more at home?"
The Kutzker responded, "back in Kutzk, on Shabbos morning, I always have a little herring and a shot after davening. Do you think it's possible to do the same here?"
To that, Brunhilda entered the room, closed the door, and said, "Rabbi, if you snack on the matjes for about twenty minutes, I will let you finish with a shot."
That afternoon, the Aimishteh came to the Kutzker Ruv in a dream. "Rebbe, how come you were mezaneh with the groissa shiksa this morning?"
"Rebboinoisheloilum," the Kutzker answered, "I am in freaking Scandinavia. I only wanted to have a little Oineg Shabbos."
"Well, next time," Hakkadoshboruchhu said, "just go whale hunting like everybody else around here, and leave the herring and the shot for the shtibul."
So despite having the proper intent, sometimes we can do something that is inappropriate. So my advice to you, Reb Yoinoison, is that while Halacha Lemaisah it might be okay to wear boxers, truth be told, it is not in the spirit of Shabbos. Wearing boxers is not Shabbosdick.
So it is best to stick with briefs. Although if you see an am haaretz wearing boxers, there is no reason to say anything -- since he is not a true Ben Toirah, he probably has small Schvantzlach anyway.
Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval