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By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt
A discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the
week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.
HOW DO WE DETERMINE WHEN AN ITEM BECOMES MUKTZEH?
WHAT DOES MUKTZEH MEAN?
Muktzeh means "set apart". Generally speaking, items which are prepared or
designated for use on Shabbos are not muktzeh. Items which - for any of
several reasons - are not ready or designated to be used on Shabbos, are
Although there are many criteria for determining whether or not an item is
muktzeh, for the sake of our discussion we will group all muktzeh items into
two basic types: a) severe (chamur) muktzeh - items which are "set apart"
before Shabbos because they will definitely not be used on Shabbos. [This
includes items which are classified as "non-utensils", such as a rock, as
well as items which are classified as "delicate" or "precision" utensils,
such as a ritual slaughterer's knife, which will not be used for any
permitted Shabbos activity because it is so easily damaged], and b) light
(kal) muktzeh - items which are set apart because they are normally used for
activities which are prohibited on Shabbos, but may, on occasion, be used
for a permitted Shabbos activity, e.g., scissors.
WHAT DIFFERENCE IS THERE BETWEEN THE TWO TYPES OF MUKTZEH?
Severe muktzeh may never(1) be moved in a normal, straightforward
manner(2), while light muktzeh may be moved in either of the following
cases: a) if the muktzeh item is needed in order to perform a permissible
activity, or b) if the place which the muktzeh item occupies is needed in
order to perform a permissible activity. Let us explain:
*In order to perform a permitted activity:*
A hammer, a typical light muktzeh, may be used in order to crack nuts.
A sewing needle, another light muktzeh, may be used to remove a splinter
from one's finger. Since nut-cracking and splinter removal are permitted
activities, a light muktzeh item may be used. [The poskim(3) note, however,
that light muktzeh should only be employed when no other suitable item is
readily available. Therefore, if a nutcracker and a hammer are equally accessible,
the nutcracker should be used. There is no need, however, to borrow a nutcracker
if a hammer is available.]
*If the place which the muktzeh item occupies is needed:*
If a tool was left on a bed and the bed is needed for sleeping, or if scissors were left
on a chair and the chair is needed for sitting, the light muktzeh item may
be picked up and removed, since the muktzeh article is in the way of a need
which is permitted to be met on Shabbos. Also, if the light muktzeh is in
the way of a permitted item, e.g., a hammer is on a bookshelf and it is
blocking a book, it is permitted to move the hammer in order to reach the
book. [It is questionable if one is allowed to move a light muktzeh item
which is simply creating a clutter but not actually interfering with a
permissible activity, e.g. a hammer left lying on the mantel. Most
contemporary poskim maintain that moving the hammer is not permitted in this
SOME COMMON EXAMPLES OF SEVERE MUKTZEH:
Animals(5), bars of soap(6), cameras, detergent, eye-shadow, flour, glue,
light bulbs, lulav(7), matches(8), mascara, money, nutshells, raw barley,
rolls of silver foil or toilet paper(9), sha'atnez garments(10),
shofars(11), Vaseline, toothpaste.
SOME COMMON EXAMPLES OF LIGHT MUKTZEH:
Cars(12), car keys(13), combs, crayons, empty wallets, empty kettles,
fans(14), flashlights(15), garden hoses, hammers, mops and pails, pens(16),
pencil sharpeners, potato peelers, rolling pins, rulers, scales, scissors,
screwdrivers, staplers, store catalogs(17), telephone books(18), toasters,
SOME ITEMS WHOSE STATUS IS QUESTIONABLE AS SEVERE OR LIGHT MUKTZEH:
There are some muktzeh items - an unlit candle, unused candlestick,
lipstick, copy paper - whose status is debatable(19). On the one hand, these
items are utensils like the light muktzeh items listed above, but unlike
those light muktzeh items they do not have a function which is permitted on
Shabbos [e.g., there is nothing permissible that can be done with a tube of
lipstick on Shabbos]. Because of this, some poskim(20) consider them as
severe muktzeh, and forbid moving them even if the place they occupy is
needed to perform a permissible activity. Other poskim(21) hold that it is
not necessary that they have a function which is permissible on Shabbos and
they may be classified as light muktzeh since they are, after all, utensils.
Under extenuating circumstances one may be lenient and consider these items
as light muktzeh(22).
SOME ITEMS WHOSE STATUS AS MUKTZEH IS IN QUESTION ALTOGETHER:
Pictures or clocks on the wall(23), buttons that fell off a garment(24),
1 Severe muktzeh can be "directly" moved in the following cases: 1) when the
muktzeh is foul-smelling or disgusting; 2) when the muktzeh presents a
hazard; 3) when moving the muktzeh will prevent a loss from fire, looters,
etc.; 4) when human dignity is involved. All these exemptions have rules and
limitations, and they will be discussed elsewhere.
2 Indirectly, however, even severe muktzeh may be moved. The many details
involved will be discussed elsewhere.
3 Mishnah Berurah 308:12, as explained by Igros Moshe O.C. 5:21-12.
4 Igros Moshe O.C. 5:22-31; Harav S. Y. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 11);
Az Nidberu 8:30; Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 20:10 [see note 24 quoting
Harav S.Z. Auerbach]. See, however, Machazeh Eliyahu 46 who is lenient in
7 Mishnah Berurah 308:25 (because it is not a utensil); Aruch ha-Shulchan
308:17 (because it is "delicate").
8 The muktzeh status of matches is questionable. Some (Harav M. Feinstein)
consider them severe muktzeh; others (Harav S. Z. Auerbach; Harav B. Silber)
rule that they are light muktzeh, while others hold they are questionable
muktzeh, similar to those listed below. See Meorei Eish, pg. 37; Shemiras
Shabbos K'hilchasah, pg. 154 and 239; Sefer Tiltulei Shabbos, pg. 82;
Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 74 for the various views and reasons.
9 Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 98 and pg. 171.
10 O.C. 308:47.
11 Although Rama 308:4 considers a shofar to be light muktzeh, contemporary
poskim (Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 32) and Harav S.Z.
Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah, pg. 361 and in Tikunim u'Miluim, pg.
32) agree that nowadays a shofar is too "delicate" to be used for anything
other than blowing which is prohibited on Shabbos.
13 Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 202). If the key opens the
door, then it is not muktzeh. See Tikunim u'Miluim 20, note 254, where Harav
S.Z. Auerbach holds that if a light goes on when the car door opens, then
the keys are severe muktzeh.
14 Igros Moshe O.C. 3:49; 5:22-22. Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Shalmei Yehudah, pg.
51) does not consider a fan muktzeh at all.
15 Zachor v'Shamor 41:4. See Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 55 who quotes Harav Y.S.
Elyashiv's opinion that a flashlight is severe muktzeh.
16 Igros Moshe O.C. 5:22-32; Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 197).
There are some who hold that pens are included in the questionable category
listed below; see Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah, pg. 234.
17 Igros Moshe O.C. 5:22-19.
18 Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah, pg. 239. See also
19 Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 180) includes nails and screws
in this category. Zachor v'Shamor 41:9 considers those items to be severe
20 Pri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 308:12); Mishnah Berurah 308:34 quoting the
Ya'avetz; Aruch ha-Shulchan 279:1; 308:23; Chazon Ish 44:13.
21 Tosfos Shabbos 308:29; Sha'ar ha-Tziyun 279:4 based on Magen Avraham;
Igros Moshe O.C. 5:22-28,32.
23 Some poskim (Chazon Ish, O.C. 43:17) hold that they are severe muktzeh,
while other poksim (Igros Moshe O.C. 5:21-13; 22-12) hold that they are not
muktzeh at all. See also Mishnah Berurah 308:8; 308:168, and Shalmei
Yehudah, pg. 71.
24 Mishnah Berurah 308:35 seems to hold that a button that is going to be
reattached is not muktzeh. Igros Moshe O.C. 5:22-20 disagrees and prohibits
all buttons. Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah, pg. 178) and
Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 80) hold that according to the
basic halachah it is permissible but it is proper to be stringent.
25 Mishnah Berurah 338:30 writes that rain which fell on Shabbos is not
muktzeh. Some poskim (Har Tzvi, Soser; Harav Y.S. Elyashiv, Shalmei Yehudah,
pg. 203; Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah, pg. 190) hold that snow is similar to
rain, while others (Igros Moshe O.C. 5:22-37; Harav S.Z. Auerbach, Sefer
Tiltulei Shabbos, pg. 13) maintain that snow may be considered severe
muktzeh. See also Mishnah Berurah 310:32, quoting Chayei Adam.