Getting a Sponge Wet on Shabbat

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by R. Daniel Mann

Question: I keep my sponge (the type one may not use on Shabbat) hanging from a hook near the sink; when the faucet is on, some water generally splashes onto the sponge. May I leave the sponge there for Shabbat?

Answer: We will focus on halachic permissibility. (Some might convince you to find another place due to Shabbat aesthetics and practicality or hygienic considerations.) 

One issue to explore is the concern that one might come to squeeze it out, which is prohibited in several cases of things getting wet. One of the gemarot is Beitza 30a – one should not cover an open barrel of water with a cloth, lest it get wet and one might squeeze out the water. One prominent case in poskim is the Magen Avraham (326:8) who says that one of the reasons not to allow swimming/bathing even in cold water (when it is not for a mitzva) is the concern that one might squeeze out water. 

However, this will not be a reason to disallow the sponge to be near water, for at least two reasons. 1) Extending the prohibition to cases not discussed in Chazal is a new g’zeira (a prohibition not to do A lest it lead to doing the forbidden B), which we do not create ourselves (see Igrot Moshe, Orach Chayim II:34). 2) The Shulchan Aruch (OC 320:15), in the context of the cloth/barrel prohibition (above), permits hanging a cloth normally used for that purpose because one is not perturbed if it gets wet and we are therefore not concerned he will squeeze it out. In our case, since the sponge is in its regular place and there is no reason to think he will have an urge to squeeze it out, it is permitted. 

The other issue is that putting water on an absorbent material can be a form of laundering (Zevachim 94b; Shulchan Aruch, OC 302:9). Rishonim deal with the fact that a few gemarot (see Yoma 77b; Beitza 18b) allow going into bodies of water with clothes on. Tosafot (Shabbat 111b) presents two distinctions that may reconcile the sources: 1. The Ri – it is permitted to get fabrics wet when they are “clean.” 2. Rabbeinu Tam – it is permitted when the exposure to water is derech lichluch (in a manner of dirtying). Is derech lichluch limited to cases in which the garment becomes dirtier than it was before (e.g., using a rag to soak up water from the floor)? Although we cannot give the matter sufficient clarity in this forum, the stronger approach is that derech lichluch means that this is not the way anyone would want to launder, even if it does get more clean – see Harchev Da’at, Melaben 3). After all, one of the permitted cases is entering a body of water with clothes on, and the classic sources do not limit this to unclear water. In this case, water from the faucet is clean, but no one would wash a sponge by having sink water splash on it from time to time. 

There are different opinions as to whether one can be lenient based on either distinction or perhaps only the two together (Rama, OC 302:9-10). Some of those who are stringent may have low standards of what is considered a clean fabric (Orchot Shabbat 13:(56)). If not, one would have to inspect a towel to make sure it is truly clean before drying his hands on it, against common practice. It might vary from kitchen to kitchen whether a used sponge would be clean enough, but hopefully one’s sponge left out for Shabbat would at least look clean from the outside. One should be able to rely on the leniency of derech lichluch (Be’ur Halacha to 302:9), especially when there is no intent to clean it now (see Tosafot Yeshanim, Yoma 77b).

While the sponge and faucet’s positions are not described exactly, it is unlikely that there is certainty that each time you use the sink, a noticeable amount of water will hit the sponge. If so, beyond the aforementioned reasons for leniency, this is a case of a davar she’eino mitkaven (one does a permitted action (opening a faucet), that may or may not inadvertently cause a melacha (rinsing the sponge)), which is certainly permitted.

In short, leaving the sponge near the sink is always permitted according to most poskim, and often is indisputably permitted.

לעילוי נשמת יואל אפרים בן אברהם עוזיאל זלצמן ז”ל

About Daniel Mann

This column is produced on behalf of Eretz Hemdah by Rabbi Daniel Mann. Rabbi Mann is a Dayan for Eretz Hemdah and a staff member of Yeshiva University's Gruss Kollel in Israel. He is a senior member of the Eretz Hemdah responder staff, editor of Hemdat Yamim and the author of Living the Halachic Process, volumes 1 and 2 and A Glimpse of Greatness.

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