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Weekly Halacha

Selected Halachos relating to Parshas Emor

By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt

The following is a discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.

The seventh day is a Sabbath day of complete rest... you should not do any work (Lev. 23:3).


The verse cited above raises an obvious question: Isn't the word Shabbason (complete rest) superfluous? Is it not sufficient to simply command: "The seventh day is a Sabbath day... you should not do any work." What is added by the word Shabbason? The Ramban (1) answers that the words "you should not do any work" refer to the prohibition against any of the thirty-nine Biblically forbidden Shabbos Labors. But the word Shabbason refers to the rabbinical obligation to enact shvusim, additional restrictive measures to ensure a superior quality of "rest" beyond that which is achieved by refraining from the thirty-nine forbidden Shabbos Labors. One such measure is the prohibition of muktzeh, which severely curtails the types of objects which may be moved on Shabbos. By decreeing that there are many objects which are "off limits", our Sages ensured a "complete rest" on Shabbos (2).

It is not within the purview of this Discussion to cover all of the complexities of muktzeh. Instead, we will focus on the rationale behind the classification of muktzeh items: How and why does an item becomes muktzeh? (3).


Muktzeh means "set apart". Generally speaking, items which are prepared or designated for use on Shabbos are not muktzeh. Items which - for one of several reasons - are not ready or designated to be used on Shabbos are muktzeh.

Although there are many criteria for determining whether or not an item is muktzeh, for the sake of our Discussion we will group them 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.


Severe muktzeh may never (4) be moved in a normal, straightforward manner (5), while light muktzeh may be moved in either one of the following two 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 (6) 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. Contemporary poskim disagree whether moving it is permitted (7).]


  • Animals (8),
  • bar of soap (9),
  • camera,
  • detergent,
  • eye-shadow,
  • flour,
  • glue,
  • light bulb,
  • lulav (10),
  • matches (11),
  • mascara,
  • money,
  • nutshells,
  • raw barley,
  • roll of silver foil or toilet paper (12),
  • shatnez garment (13),
  • shofar (14),
  • Vaseline,
  • toothpaste.
  • Car (15),
  • car key (16),
  • comb,
  • crayon,
  • empty wallet,
  • empty kettle,
  • fan (17),
  • flashlight (18),
  • garden hose,
  • hammer,
  • mop and pail,
  • pen (19),
  • pencil sharpener,
  • potato peeler,
  • rolling pin,
  • ruler,
  • scales,
  • scissors,
  • screwdriver,
  • stapler,
  • store catalog (20),
  • telephone book (21),
  • toaster,
  • whistle.

There are some muktzeh items - an unlit candle, a candlestick, lipstick, copy paper - whose status is debatable (22). 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 they do not, some poskim (23) consider them as severe muktzeh, and forbid moving them even if the place they occupy is needed to perform a permissible activity. Other poskim (24) 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 (25).


  • Pictures or clocks on the wall (26),
  • buttons that fell off a garment (27),
  • snow (28)


1 Lev. 23:24.

2 See Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 24:12) for other reasons why our Sages enacted the prohibition of muktzeh.

3 The laws of muktzeh differ somewhat from Shabbos and Yom Tov. This Discussion covers Shabbos only.

4 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.

5 Indirectly, however, even severe muktzeh may be moved. The many details involved will be discussed elsewhere.

6 Mishnah Berurah 308:12, as explained by Igros Moshe OC 5:21-12.

7 Igros Moshe OC 5:22-31, Harav S. Y. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah pg. 11) Az Nidberu 8:30 are stringent, while Harav S.Z. Auerbach (quoted in Shmiras Shabbos K'hilchasah pg. 235) and Machzei Eliyahu 46 are lenient.

8 OC 308:39.

9 Igros Moshe OC 5:22-15; Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Tikunim U'miluim pg. 32.); Harav S.Y. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah pg. 158).

10 Mishnah Berurah 308:25 (because it is not a utensil); Aruch Hashulchan 308:17 (because it is "delicate").

11 The muktzeh status of matches is questionable. Some (Harav M. Feinstein) consider them severe muktzeh; others (Harav S. Z. Auerbach; Harav B. Silber) rule them to be light muktzeh, while others hold they are a questionable muktzeh, similar to the those listed below. See Meorei Eish pg. 37, Shmiras Shabbos K'hilchasah pg. 154 and 239, Sefer Tiltulei Shabbos pg. 82 and Shalmei Yehudah pg. 74 for the various views and reasons.

12 Shalmei Yehudah pg. 98 and pg. 171.

13 OC 308:47.

14 Although Rama 308:4 considers a shofar to be light muktzeh, contemporary poskim (Harav S.Y. Elyashiv - Shalmei Yehudah pg. 32; Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Shmiras Shabbos K'hilchasah pg. 361 and in Tikunim U'milluim pg. 32) agree that nowadays a shofar is too "delicate" to be used for anything other than blowing which is prohibited on Shabbos.

15 Igros Moshe OC 5:21-11; Shalmei Yehudah pg. 201.

16 Harav S.Y. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah pg. 202). If the key opens the door, then it is not muktzeh. See Tikunim U'miluim pg. 254 where Harav S.Z. Auerbach holds that if a light goes on when the car door opens, then the keys are severe muktzeh.

17 Igros Moshe OC 3:49; 5:22-22. Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Shalmei Yehudah pg. 51) does not consider a fan muktzeh at all.

18 Zachor V'shamor 41:4. Shalmei Yehudah pg. 55 quotes Harav S.Y. Elyashiv's opinion that a flashlight is severe muktzeh.

19 Igros Moshe OC 5:22-32; Harav S.Y. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah pg. 197). There are some who hold that pens are included in the questionable category listed below, see Shmiras Shabbos K'hilchasah pg. 234.

20 Igros Moshe OC 5:22-19.

21 Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Shmiras Shabbos K'hilchasah pg. 239. See also Tikunim U'miluim.)

22 Harav S.Y. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah pg. 180) includes nails and screws in this category. Zachor V'shamor 41:9 considers those items to be severe muktzeh.

23 Pri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 308:12); Mishnah Berurah 308:34 quoting the Yaavetz; Aruch Hashulchan 279:1;308:23; Chazon Ish 44:13.

24 Tosfos Shabbos 308:29; Shaar Hatzion 279:4 based on Magen Avraham; Igros Moshe OC 5:22-28,32.

25 Harav S.Z. Auerbach and Harav S.Y. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah pg. 19); Shevet Halevi 2:32; Az Nidberu 8:67; Zachor V'shamor 41:4.

26 Some poskim (Chazon Ish OC 43:17) hold that they are severe muktzeh, while other poskim (Igros Moshe OC 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.

27 Mishnah Berurah 308:35 seems to hold that a button that is going to be reattached is not muktzeh. Igros Moshe OC 5:22-20 disagrees and prohibits all buttons. Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Shmiras Shabbos K'hilchasah pg. 178) and Harav S.Y. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah pg. 80) hold that according to the basic halachah it is permissible but it is proper to be stringent.

28 Mishnah Berurah 338:30 rules that rain is not muktzeh. Some poskim (Har Tzvi - Soser; Harav S.Y. Elyashiv - Shalmei Yehudah pg. 203; Shmiras Shabbos K'hilchasah pg. 190) hold that snow is similar to rain, while others (Igros Moshe OC 5:22-37) hold that snow is different and is considered severe muktzeh.

Weekly-Halacha, Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and Project Genesis, Inc. Rabbi Neustadt is the principal of Yavne Teachers' College in Cleveland, Ohio. He is also the Magid Shiur of a daily Mishna Berurah class at Congregation Shomre Shabbos.

The Weekly-Halacha Series is distributed L'zchus Hayeled Doniel Meir ben Hinda. Weekly sponsorships are available--please send email to the moderator, Dr. Jeffrey Gross

The series is distributed by the Harbotzas Torah Division of Congregation Shomre Shabbos, 1801 South Taylor Road, Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118--HaRav Yisroel Grumer, Marah D'Asra



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