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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 muktzah and carrying outdoors.

Muktzah

Many objects have been designated by our sages as Muktzah--we are forbidden from moving them, in some cases, even for activities permitted on Shabbat. Muktzah may not be moved directly with one's hand or even indirectly with an object (such as sweeping it away with a broom). However, Muktzah 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 Muktzah 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 tefillin, schach (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 muktzah object rests upon is a basis--base for the muktzah and becomes muktzah itself if:

A. The muktzah 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 muktzah and no non-muktzah items.

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

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). 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 (23)
June 12, 2014
Re: Exercise
According to the strict letter of the law, walking for the sake of exercise, provided one derives pleasure from such an activity. If it causes a person pain or discomfort, however, it is prohibited, as Shabbos must be enjoyed and pleasurable.

Other forms of exercise, such as those that involve exercise equipment or other items that are not fit for use on Shabbos, should not be done on Shabbos.

Although exercise in itself is permissible according to the strict understanding of the law, it is not necessarily in the spirit of Shabbos, which is supposed to be dedicated to holy activities.
Shaul Wolf
June 10, 2014
Money on Shabbos
Gila,

See Nehemiah 13:15-16.
Noah
USA
June 10, 2014
Is Walking as a form of Exercise Forbidden on Shabbat?
Can anyone tell me if walking as a form of Exercise Forbidden on Shabbat?
Anonymous
Israel
January 26, 2014
I am a non-Jew (so far) who grew up in a (Reform/Conserv) Jewish neighborhood in CA. My father died when I was little, & my mother then worked long hrs. So, our neighbors took me under their wing, & even took me to Temple sometimes. Tho I am (mainly) a life-long student of Zen/Advaita, events (e.g., where I grew up) & spiritual experiences keep pointing me to Chabad-Lubavitch. So, one day I was led here to study.

I've been studying Talmud, & various commentaries about Halacha. Yet, something distresses me.

When G-d tells us that on Shabbos we are not to transport, or kindle a spark, & so on, seems to me He means exactly that, period. Yet, I see so many discussions along the lines of, well, if you carry with yr head instead of yr hands, that's OK...or if a non-Jew turns a light on for you, that is OK...and so on. Seems to me the point is lost. Isn't it that we are to STOP all that & JUST be with G-d for this 1 day? Isn't the difficulty part of the devotion/character growth? Thx -Kim
Kim M.
Northern California
January 8, 2014
You are not allowed to handle money on shabbat. Which melacha is that?
gila
Monsey
December 31, 2013
To Bret
Well, I do respect your knowledge of quantum mechanics.
However, saying that seeing is a creative act because of the properties of light (wave/particle) and therefore is work misses a crucial point.
At the end of the day, work/prohibited activity on Shabbat is what the Torah says it is, not what you or I necessarily think it is.

Hashem commands the people of Israel to keep the Shabbat and tells them that they may not work on it.
So the question becomes what is work? And who decides what work is?

The Torah also commands that the people of Israel should obey the rulings of the leadership.
So the leadership has the responsibility of determining what work is.
This was/is a tremendous responsibility and is not taken lightly
The Oral Torah and its methods of exegesis are the means by which this was done. .
David
December 27, 2013
To David
Thanks for your response.
My brother and I firmly believe that Judaism is a talking mans religion. One could argue anything they wanted and they would and/or could be dualitily right and/or wrong.
I could argue for example that by quantum mechanics, the observer effects the observed; therefore you must not see with your eyes on Shabbos lest you make an impact on the world around you.
Im not looking for anyone to tell me Im right. It would be nice though if someone thought I was brilliant or something like that.
Bret
Pasadena, CA
December 27, 2013
RE: Radio
Although listening to a radio that has been left on before Shabbat involves no actual forbidden work on Shabbat, (due to reasons beyond the scope of a single comment) it is nonetheless forbidden to do so on Shabbat under ordinary circumstances. (See Minchat Yitzchak 1:107 for discussion on the matter.)
Menachem Posner
December 26, 2013
radio
Could I leave my portable radio on for Shabbos as long as I don't turn it off before Havdalah? Also is it allowed for me to change the station?
Samantha Leon
November 20, 2013
"Work"
The term referred to as "work" is melakah. It conveys the idea of creative acts which change the environment. It is used in Genesis 2 as well as in Exodus including the instructions on building the tabernacle in Chapter 31. Since G-d ceased creating on Shabbos, Israel is to cease creating on Shabbos. In Exodus 31, the instructions on building the tabernacle are juxtaposed with a further admonition to keep Shabbos. So it makes sense that any creative, environment- changing act, specifically of the type necessary to the building of the tabernacle, would be prohibited on Shabbos. Seeing, breathing and walking on the ground are necessary for, but not specific to, building the tabernacle.
Also, there are certain acts which are specifically stated as being prohibited on Shabbos, regardless of their connection to the construction of the tabernacle, such as lighting a fire and carrying.
David
MI
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