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The Shabbat Laws

The Shabbat Laws

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The Shabbat laws are quite complex, requiring careful study and a qualified teacher. At first, it's often overwhelming and seems like an impossible number of restrictions. But spending shabbat with others who are shabbat observant will show you that eventually, you, too, will become comfortable with the Shabbat laws, as long as you realize that becoming shomer shabbat (shabbat observant) is a gradual process rather than an overnight transformation. You will also recognize that the wealth off details provides for a lifetime of scholarship--even those who have been keeping Shabbat for years find that there is always more to learn on this subject.

Following is a brief summary of some of the Shabbat laws you are most likely to encounter.

Let's start with some basic activities from which we refrain on Shabbat:

  • writing, erasing, and tearing;
  • business transactions;
  • driving or riding in cars or other vehicles;
  • shopping;
  • using the telephone;
  • turning on or off anything which uses electricity, including lights, radios, television, computer, air-conditioners and alarm clocks;
  • cooking, baking or kindling a fire;
  • gardening and grass-mowing;
  • doing laundry;

Does all this mean that Shabbat is somewhat of a miserable affair, where we sit hungry in the dark? Not at all. It simply means that we have to prepare for Shabbat in advance, so that, on the contrary, we celebrate in luxury, without doing any of the actual work, on Shabbat.

For example: Lights which will be needed on Shabbat are turned on before Shabbat. Automatic timers may be used for lights and some appliances as long as they have been set before Shabbat. The refrigerator may be used, but again, we have to ensure that it's use does not engender any of the forbidden Shabbat activities. Thus, the fridge light should be disconnected before Shabbat by unscrewing the bulb slightly and a freezer whose fan is activated when the door is opened may not be used.

Another example: We may not cook or light a fire, so we cook before Shabbat and keep the food warm through special methods that do not violate any Shabbat prohibitions. See Food Preparation on Shabbat for the laws and methods involved.

In addition to those mentioned above, two other important categories which are not permitted are using or touching items that are considered muktzeh and carrying outdoors.

Muktzeh

Many objects have been designated by our sages as muktzeh--we are forbidden from moving them, in some cases, even for activities permitted on Shabbat. Muktzeh may not be moved directly with one's hand or even indirectly with an object (such as sweeping it away with a broom). However, muktzeh may be moved in a very awkward, unusual manner, with other parts of the body, e.g.: with one's teeth or elbow, or by blowing on it.

Some of the categories of muktzeh are:

1. Objects which have no designated use, e.g.: Stones, plants, flowers in a vase, raw food (inedible in its present state, such as beans); an object that has broken and become no longer useful, such as a broken bowl, a button that falls off;

2. Valuable objects or those which would be used only for their designated task, for fear of damaging it, e.g.: Expensive items: camera, crystal decoration; professional tools: scalpel, electric wiring; important documents: passport, birth certificate;

3. Objects that are forbidden from use because of Torah prohibition, e.g.: Non-kosher food, chametz on Passover; also included are objects used for a mitzvah, such as sechach (rooftop greenery) that fell off a sukkah;

4. An object whose primary purpose is for an activity forbidden on Shabbat, e.g.: Hammer, stapler, pen. However, one is allowed to move these objects if a)they are needed for an activty permitted on Shabbat and nothing else can perform that task, e.g., a hammer to open a coconut or a telephone book as a booster seat or b) The place the object occupies is needed, e.g., if a pen is on a chair you want to sit on.

Anything that a muktzeh object rests upon is a basis--base for the muktzeh and becomes muktzeh itself if:

A. The muktzeh item was left on the spot intentionally, so that it remain there for at least part of Shabbat;

B. The object was placed there by the owner or with the knowledge of the owner;

C. At the start of Shabbat, the basis supported only the muktzeh and no non-muktzeh items.

An example of basis encountered every Shabbat is the Shabbat candles on the table. The candlestickrd s are muktzeh, and may not be removed from the table on Shabbat. The table holding the candlesticks may thus become a base for muktzeh and muktzeh itself, preventing it from being moved if necessary. To remedy this, we simply put another non-muktzeh item required for Shabbat on the table before the onset of Shabbat. Thus, although the candlesticks are muktzeh, the table holds the challah or prayerbook as well and may therefore be moved after the flames have gone out.

Carrying

On Shabbat one may not carry or transfer objects between a "reshut ha-yachid" (private, enclosed domain, such as the house); and a "reshut ha-rabim" (public domain, such as the street). Neither may one carry an object in a reshut ha-rabim for more than four cubis (sixt feet). Examples of this prohibition include: carrying in one's pocket; carrying anything in the hand; wheeling a baby carriage or shopping cart, going outside with gum or food in the mouth. This prohibition also includes carrying in public hallways or yards of multiple dwellings, unless an eiruv chatzeirot is made. An eiruv chatzeirot is an arrangement whereby carrying in some of the above situations is permitted. In addition, the area in which one wishes to carry must be enclosed. This enclosure, commonly referred to as an eiruv, can occur naturally or be man-made, and must be constructed before Shabbat.

The Jewish community in some cities or neighborhoods constructs an eiruv which encloses several blocks. The area within the eiruv is then considered a private domain where carrying is permitted. If there is an eiruv, it is important to know its boundaries so as not to carry beyond them, and also to ensure before Shabbat that the eruv is up and not damaged.

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Discussion (66)
January 15, 2017
Thank you
I did receive the response before Shabbos and wrote to thank you for that. I decided that touching coins was not so important to do and that it was not worth putting myself at risk to do it on Shabbos. Anyway, handling coins has the appearance of preparing to do business and as i admitted, if i were to come across one that looked crazy valuable during Shabbos and sold it during the week, i would have been acting in furtherance of a business transaction on Shabbos and that feels wrong to me. Thanks for helping me think this one through. I feel better about my decision not to deal with coins or touch coins on (during) Shabbos.
M. Diane
Flushing, NY
January 13, 2017
In general, a coin collection that does not contain coins which can be used currently as legal tender and is not valuable enough that one takes great care in its handling would not be considered "Muktzeh". That being said, there may be differences based on some specific circumstances - therefore I strongly recommend discussing each specific case with a competent rabbinic authority.
Simcha Bart for Chabad.org
January 8, 2017
Enjoying coin collection on Shabbat
Is it prohibited to enjoy looking at and handle a coin collection on Shabbos if all the coins are the same denomination, same country and none will be thrown away? The coins are not being touched because they will be spent in a transaction during Shabbos. They will end up put in order in books at some point. On the other hand, if i were to come across a valuable coin I probably would sell it; but, when I enjoy the coin collection it's the beauty of the coins and the unusual die grease marks, cracks, double die marks, their age, interesting mint marks that i find entertaining. I would appreciate learning if there is a prohibition against touching coins at all for any reason. I tried to find the answer to coin collections on Shabbos but did not find an answer. If it exists, Can someone please point me to it so I can read it? Thank you.
M. Diane
Flushing, NY
January 6, 2017
Re: Alarm clock
An alarm clock can be set before Shabbat, to ring on Shabbat. According to some opinions, the alarm shouldn't be loud enough to be heard from another room. An electric alarm cannot be turned off on Shabbat though, and care should be taken to ensure that you don't forget that it's Shabbat and silence the alarm when it rings.
Rochel Chein
January 5, 2017
The prohibition on "carrying" (it prohibits carrying and things that aren't considered carrying by the basic denotation of the word in any language) seems to make no sense at all. I would like to know the source of it, and I wonder whether it has historical precedent beyond the modern era, and whether that precedent applies to all carrying, or just carrying for a creative activity/carrying a load or objects in a way that is considered work like in thw book of Jeremiah. I know of many orthodox jews that carry guns, their keys, and perhaps a phone for emergencies, as well as roll strollers on shabbat without an eruv (which is just a legalistic technicality that does not change the nature of the space).
Chase
January 4, 2017
Get the Shabbos Alarm App on your phone or get a kosher clock or shabbat alarm clock on Amazon.
Anonymous
January 4, 2017
Alarm clock?
If you are planning on attending Saturday morning services, how are you supposed to make sure you're up in time without an alarm clock? (Asking as a serious question - I would love to turn it off for the day, but I'm worried I'll never go to services without it!) Do you just set it ahead of time? Is that permitted, or does it need to be actually off?
Anonymous
Illinois
December 8, 2016
Accidentally Carrying
In general, one should not stop walking and let go of the object in an unusual manner (known as a "Shinui). For example, turning out a pocket that the item is in and letting it fall to the ground, or just letting go of an object that is in their hand.

If it is too valuable to leave - and there is no way he can watch it until Shabbat is over, then he may pick it up and carry it home stopping after walking less than 4 cubits (about 6 feet), and dropping it just outside his home and leaving it there until Shabbat concludes. If he must bring it inside on Shabbat, he should do so in an unusual manner, like throwing it in or carrying it in his elbow etc.

Simcha Bart for Chabad.org
November 14, 2016
Carrying in College Dorm
Carrying in the hallways of a college dormitory falls under the category of carrying in public hallways - and would not be permitted unless one could make an eiruv chatzeirot (mentioned in the article above) in the dorm. This would need the guidance of a rabbi to see if and how this can be done.

Simcha Bart for Chabad.org
November 11, 2016
To Anonymous
On Shabbat we eat, laugh, pray and yes sleep and rest too. We take walks, play board games read, study, talk and spend quality time without electronics.
We may not drive to synagogue on Shabbat, if moving is not an option, create your own Shabbat atmosphere by hosting a Shabbat meal and inviting fellow Jews who live in your area and perhaps once in a while stay over at friends who live near the synagogue.
Mrs. Chana Benjaminson
for chabad.org