Responsa from Rav Belsky On Shatnez


rav-yisroel-belskyA] CHECKING FOR SHAATNEZ – Which types of apparel must be checked for shaatnez? When buying clothing from a Jewish store or manufacturer, can it be assumed to be free of shaatnez?

Rav Yisroel Belsky shlit”a: Shaatnez issues arise when there is a mixture of linen and wool in any form. The exception to this rule is where either the linen or the wool becomes batul, or nullified. Questions of shaatnez occur most commonly when strong linen threads are used to sew buttons onto woolen clothing and upholstery, or to sew seams in places that need strengthening. Especially durable linen material is sometimes used for shoulder pads, collar reinforcements, and other areas in need of support. There are also cases where decorative trimmings often found on women’s dresses and other garments, contain various wool and linen components, even if the garment itself is made of synthetic material. Occasionally, the primary fabric of the garments is itself made of a blend of wool and linen. This last concern is almost never present in fabrics produced in the United States. European textile plants, however, weave wool and linen together for reinforcement in a large percentage of their fabrics. The percentage of imported textiles in the U.S. market increases on a yearly basis, and this issue is of growing concern.

As a general rule, any woolen suit regardless of origin, should always be checked by a shaatnez expert to ensure it is free of any concerns. Clothing made of one hundred percent synthetic materials generally does not have to be checked, but to avoid problems, one should keep informed of alerts issued by recognized shaatnez laboratories, such as those in Flatbush, Williamsburg, Lakewood and Monsey, or other reputable shaatnez experts. They are staffed by highly skilled technicians who know the field very well.

With regard to relying on the word of the clothing manufacturers and distributors, there are many fine and upstanding religious Jews in the clothes manufacturing business who are very meticulous and careful to avoid any question of shaatnez. Unfortunately, there are others who are not as particular.

The author has personally appeared before a Rabbinical Board to show evidence of frum-looking Jews who buy, manufacture, and sell shaatnez, whilst reassuring their customers that all their products are totally shaatnez-free. Due to the existence of such disreputable manufacturers and distributors, one must always check with the shaatnez laboratories and ask about a particular garment, or have the garment checked. If a garment is found to contain a mixture of wool and linen, it should be brought to the attention of the Rabbanim who would hopefully raise the proper cry of alarm and protect the public from such deception, as is their sacred duty. The above applies throughout the United States. In other locations one should consult with local Rabbanim who have knowledge of shaatnez issues in their area, and who can advise a person as to how to deal with local circumstances.


If the store says that they had the clothing made especially for them, and they tested several samples from the batch and found them to be free of shaatnez, do the garments still need to be checked?

ANSWER: The shaatnez experts say that if a large percentage of a specific company’s clothing is found to be consistently free of shaatnez, it is highly unlikely that shaatnez would be found in their other garments. If this is the case, according to the strict letter of the law (al pi din), checking every piece of clothing from that company would not be required. To be on the safe side, it is still advisable to have every garment inspected.


Is one allowed to use pillows and cushions which contain a variety of mixed fibers, given the concern that they might contain shaatnez?

ANSWER: There exists a very strong case to permit their use, as will become clear from a brief history of the issue.

The Torah forbids a Jew from wearing a garment made of linen and wool, known as shaatnez. According to the Torah, the mixture is only forbidden if the fibers of linen and wool are combed or blended together, spun and then woven (shua, tavui, v’noz) into one piece of fabric. Chazal decreed that even if the fibers are simply spun or pressed together into felt, the substance is forbidden to use. According to the Rambam, felt made from these fibers is assur min haTorah.

In olden times, the very greatest medakdekim b’mitzvos, those Jews who were exceedingly meticulous in their observance of mitzvos, were careful never to sit on cushions or mattresses made from shredded fibers. It was a very big chumrah for two reasons. Firstly, there was only a very slight possibility that these cushions and mattresses were flexible enough to wrap around a person and give him warmth. It is permissible to sit on stiff objects, even if they contain shaatnez. Secondly, such cushions and mattresses only contain linen and wool fibers, not woven shaatnez, and the halachah follows the other Rishonim, that a mixture of linen and wool fibers is only assur miderabbanan. Thus, these pious Jews acted in deference to the lone opinion of the Rambam, and were machmir even with stiff cushions and mattresses, that could only vaguely be seen as providing warmth and protection in the manner of a piece of fabric that is worn. For these reasons, such cushions were seen by the great majority of Klal Yisroel as entirely permissible, but were avoided by the scrupulous.

The situation with cushion and mattress stuffing today is different than it was many years ago. This is due to the preponderance of cotton and synthetic fibers in the textile industry. By combining the wool and linen with a third substance (min shlishi) that is greater in proportion to either the wool or the linen, any shaatnez that might be present is nullified. Once this is done, the fibers can even be spun and woven into a fabric. Halachah permits shaatnez to be nullified even if the wool and linen combination had been created first, before the introduction of the cotton or synthetic fibers.

The fibers used for stuffing cushions are made entirely from offcuts from the garment and upholstery industries. They are sold in bulk to shredding factories, who make the stuffing that is used in anything from baseball gloves to shoulder pads to upholstery. These shredding factories purchase whatever scrap material is available. In today’s market, most of the fabrics are synthetic and wool, whilst linen accounts for only a very small percentage of the total. It is always the case that the crushed fiber fillings contain at least enough synthetics to nullify the linen, and often there is enough to nullify even the wool. This means that today, there is no reason at all to be concerned about shaatnez in cushions and mattresses.

Recently, a group of people attempted to restore the concern, claiming that linen threads do not completely unravel in the shredding process and pieces of linen thread an inch or longer could be found in textile stuffing. These threads, they claimed, are considered to be significant (davar chashuv), therefore, they can never become nullified, even with the addition of a third type of fiber. Little credence should be given to this claim, however. The reasoning is flawed both with regard to the halachah, and in its portrayal of the reality of the textile-industry today. It is of no halachic concern.


Is it enough to send a sample of the material in question to a laboratory for inspection, or must a person bring the article of clothing itself to a qualified shaatnez checker?

ANSWER: Everyone should take their clothes to a competent shaatnez laboratory for a thorough checking, and never rely on the perfunctory tests done by drycleaners and manufacturers of the material. More and more often, fabrics and articles of clothing are found to be shaatnez by virtue of some hidden lining, or added trimming or stitching. Qualified shaatnez laboratories are privy to the most recent information, and know where to look for a problem. If a person is unsure which articles of clothing are in need of shaatnez checking, he should call a reliable tester and ask.

{The above Questions & Answers have been taken from the sefer Shulchan Halevi, Halachic Responsa from the desk of Harav Yisroel Halevi Belsky Shlita.}

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  1. According to halacha, in our day and age (of synthetic materials) since the vast majority of garments do not have shatnez, it IS NOT NECESSARY to check for shatnez. However, if a certain company, like Hart Schafner & Marx, is a known exception to the majority, then it would need to be checked. This is not the forum for a complete explanation of the halacha, but i will offer one of the numerous sforos. Like trefos, we are not required to check except the lungs, wherein trefos are a miut hamatzuy. the article mentioned “sampling” for shatnez, and inferred that we don’t rely on rov if checking is possible. however, truth be told, even when a suit is checked for shatnez, the checker also sampling and is STILL RELYING ON ROV, because he doesn’t check every single button or gimp thread, he assumes if one or two are good, they are all good. In this case, it is not considered reasonable to check every single possibility since it is a tircha yeserah and perhaps an expense (to repair it), and we are allowed to rely on rov. this rule applies to the entire garment, thus checking is not required by halacha.


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