In light of the comment here, that

Koseiv involves creating any meaningful letter or symbol. It doesn’t have to be with ink on paper. A rubber stamp, carving into stone or cutting a letter out of paper all involve koseiv. Even forming a letter out of something temporary – such as those toys where one uses a magnet to manipulate iron filings – is prohibited on Shabbos under this melacha. Koseiv applies to letters or symbols in any language, including Braille, Morse code and the like.

The Biblical prohibition only applies to permanent writing. Temporary writing is prohibited rabbinically. So breathing on a window to fog it up then writing on it with one’s finger (for example) is prohibited at the rabbinic level.

--why is it permissible, as I know it is, to make your hands into letters on Shabbat?

In duchening, which I understand happens most Shabbosos in Israel, and which is obviously allowed, the kohanim are deliberately creating a (very) meaningful letter. I just don't see why there is any serious difference between arranging your hands in the shape of a letter and arranging something else--say, iron filings--in the shape of a letter. Both are temporary; both are achieved through media that are not*(?)* muktzeh; both are very easily reversible. And yet one is a melacha and the other is not.

I know that duchening with the gestures would anyway be permissible because it is done l'shem mitzvah, but is it or is it not a melacha? If not, why not?

Note: My question is based on the assumption that the Kohanic hand sign is intended to resemble a 'shin' for Shakkai. I have heard this repeatedly, but could not find a reliable source indicating as much. In case I am wrong about the relevance of duchening, please instead consider the general case of making letters with one's hands on Shabbos--or, for example, this.

  • 2
    What letter is created while duchening and why is it uniquely meaningful?
    – Double AA
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 23:15
  • 1
    You could probably add using sign language (ASL) in order to "speak" to a deaf person. Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 23:16
  • @DoubleAA I'd like to add the information you are asking for, but I literally cannot find a source for it (I mean other than StarWarsiana and Hebrew4Christians). Can you?
    – SAH
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 23:27
  • @SAH No. I don't think I've ever even heard of it before. Some Kohanim spread out all their fingers. Some make 5 windows through which the blessing can flow (something like that). I don't recall anything about letters.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 23:32
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    Iron filings aren't muktzeh? Seems to me like they would be.
    – Daniel
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 23:38

1 Answer 1


Shulchan aruch harav 340.6 below
(See footnotes there for original sources).

Brings that it is permitted to write in the are or on the table without ink becouse it does not leave any mark at all

I guess making letters with your hands is similar and is permitted since it is not even remotely similar to writing and it was not decreed upon.
I guess the iron letters stay there, but your hands were never placed somewhere,
maybe it will be forbidden to move a sleeping persons hand into a letter position (but maybe not since the letter it will be similar to is not written this way it).

אבל מותר לרשום באויר כמין אותיות כיון שאין רשומן ניכר כלל והוא הדין על השלחן שלא במשקין שגם בזה אין רשומן ניכר כלל ואע"פ שעל ידי כך מלמד ומאמן ידו לכתיבה אין בכך כלום וכן מותר לראות אומנות בשבת אע"פ שלומדה:

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    By tracing letters in the air, no letters are formed; even temporarily. By making letters with you hands, letters are formed temporarily.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 2:58
  • @mevaqesh exept the letter yud in script
    – hazoriz
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 3:00
  • @hazoriz How do you write the letter yud in script?
    – SAH
    Commented Jan 24, 2016 at 2:28

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