This article is intended to present an overview of the laws of muktzeh. For any practical questions on the subject, please consult your posek.
Sunday. Many of us do not go to work. There is, however, so much to do at home. How many of us have the self-control to make Sunday a voluntary day of rest and refrain from balancing our checkbooks, paying our bills, clearing out the attic or mowing the lawn? On Shabbat, the Torah requires us to rest, “lema’an yanuach.” The rabbis, keenly aware of our workaholic tendencies, declared that all objects that are not conducive to rest are simply out of bounds, or set aside, “muktzeh.” My father, Dayan Grunfeld, zt”l, in his book “The Sabbath,” defined muktzeh objects as those that we exclude from our minds when we think of Shabbat rest. Moreover, declaring a pen or an electric drill muktzeh serves to protect one from inadvertently performing melachot on Shabbat.
There are various degrees of muktzeh. Objects in the category of first-degree muktzeh are so intrusive to the Shabbat atmosphere that they may not be handled on Shabbat under any circumstances, unless they present a danger. Included in first-degree muktzeh, known as muktzeh machmat chisaron kis, are valuable objects, which, if used for activities that are permitted on Shabbat, will become damaged. Common examples are barber’s scissors, knives used for slaughtering, bank notes, rare stamps, pens and stock certificates, just to name a few. Also included in first-degree muktzeh are useless objects, muktzeh machmat gufo, such as sticks, stones, earth, sand and broken crockery. Second-degree muktzeh, known as kli shemelachto le’issur, pertains to objects that are normally used for activities that are prohibited on Shabbat but that can also be used for activities that are permitted on Shabbat. Examples include a hammer, which could be used for cracking nuts on Shabbat, or a match, which can serve as a toothpick. Second-degree muktzeh objects may be handled on Shabbat for a permitted use, and may also be moved if they are in the way. Third-degree muktzeh, known as basis l’davar ha’asur, applies to objects that, although permitted for use on Shabbat, were used at the commencement of Shabbat to hold or support a muktzeh object, for example, a drawer containing money. Even if the money were removed on Shabbat by a non-Jew, the drawer without the money would still remain muktzeh because it was muktzeh at the inception of Shabbat. If, however, the drawer contains both money and a siddur, or any other permitted object that is more important to the owner than the muktzeh object, it may be handled on Shabbat.
Precious candlesticks are first-degree muktzeh, machmat chisaron kis, because they are valuable and used exclusively for lighting Shabbat candles, an activity that, of course, is prohibited on Shabbat. Accordingly, they may not be moved, even if they are in one’s way. Furthermore, any surface on which they are placed before Shabbat may also not be moved because the surface becomes a basis l’davar ha’asur. They can, however, be removed if they are placed on a tray before Shabbat, together with an object that is not muktzeh, such as a siddur or a piece of challah. The tray with the candlesticks and the permitted item may then be removed on Shabbat.
There is also an additional category of muktzeh, applicable mainly to food on Yom Tov, known as “muktzeh machmat hachanah,” which means muktzeh because one had no intention on Erev Yom Tov to eat such food on Yom Tov. For example, the owner of a delicatessen may not eat food on Yom Tov that was part of his stock in trade and intended for sale, nor may one use food on Yom Tov that was stored away for use after Yom Tov. Similarly, on Yom Tov one may not eat the meat of an ox ordinarily used for ploughing or a chicken ordinarily used for laying eggs and not for consumption. This prohibition is based on the principle known as “hachanah de’rabah.” Hachanah de’rabah requires that before Yom Tov we specifically designate in our minds the food that we will use on Yom Tov. It is considered disrespectful to Yom Tov to postpone plans for Yom Tov meals to Yom Tov itself. This type of muktzeh machmat hachanah applies on Yom Tov but not on Shabbat. This is because on Shabbat one is not allowed to cook and, therefore, one naturally plans Shabbat meals before Shabbat, whereas on Yom Tov one is allowed to cook and might postpone such plans to Yom Tov itself. Included in the category of muktzeh machmat hachanah is food one could not have intended on Erev Yom Tov to eat on Yom Tov because such food only came into existence on Yom Tov. This type of muktzeh is known as nolad. Thus, for example, an egg that was laid on Yom Tov, and, according to some opinions, milk taken from a cow on Yom Tov, would be prohibited for use on Yom Tov. Whether or not food in the category of nolad is muktzeh on Shabbat is a matter of halachic debate. The Rema prohibits it but the Magen Avraham permits it.
Although muktzeh objects may not be moved directly by hand, they may, where necessary, be moved indirectly, or in an unusual way, such as with the back of one’s hand. Thus, for example, one may kick aside money dropped on the sidewalk on Shabbat in order to retrieve it after Shabbat. It is also permitted on Shabbat to have a muktzeh object removed by a non-Jew.
Raphael Grunfeld, a partner at the Wall Street law firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP, received semichah in Yoreh Yoreh from Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem of America and in Yadin Yadin from Harav Haga’on Dovid Feinstein, zt”l. This article is an extract from Raphael’s book “Ner Eyal: A Guide to the laws of Shabbat and Festivals in Seder Moed,” available for purchase on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Eyal-Guide-Shabbat-Festivals-Seder/dp/0615118992 or by emailing
Raphael at [email protected]