Fire Breaking out on Shabbos
4.[The following rules apply to the residents of] homes which are close
to the blaze, but have not yet caught fire, who fear that the fire will
reach their property: Since they are less anxious, they are permitted to
save any article by taking it to a place into which one is permitted to
carry on Shabbos (1).
There are authorities who maintain that leniency is also granted with
regard to saving money or other valuable items which are "muktzah" (2). It
is permissible to save them from sudden loss in a fire, a flood, or a
robbery by placing an article of food upon them and then carrying them out
together (in other situations, this method may not be employed to move
articles which are "muktzah").
Other authorities rule even more leniently and allow these muktzah articles
to be taken out by themselves (that is, without a piece of food on top of
them); [according to these authorities], the [rabbinical] prohibition of
muktzah is lifted in the face of the possibility of a sudden and extensive
loss of property (3). [This leniency] applies only to taking the articles
to a place into which it is permitted to carry on Shabbos (4).
(1) In other words, because their house is not yet on fire, we are not
concerned that in all the panic they will forget it is Shabbos, and end up
accidently transgressing. Therefore, there are no restrictions on the
amount they may carry out, as long as it is carried to a permitted area.
(2) "Muktzah" refers to items which one is rabbinically prohibited to move
(3) There is a dispute among the authorities as to the type of situation in
which one is permitted to violate the "Muktzah" prohibition in order to
avoid a monetary loss. The basic assumption underlying this leniency is
that if one would not be allowed to violate the rabbinical prohibition of
"muktzah" in order to save one's property, one might end up violating a
biblical prohibition in order to do so.
Based on this reasoning some authorities apply this leniency also to the
residents of the house that is actually on fire. In other words, the sages
limited the amount of food and non-valuable items one may save from the
burning house, because if they didn't impose this limit, one would forget
that it was Shabbos in the rush to save all the food and household items,
and end up accidently transgressing. However, if the sages would have
imposed a limit on valuable items that may be saved, for example, by
prohibiting the moving of muktzah items, one would end up intentionally
violating a Biblical prohibition in order to save one's valuables.
According to the Mishna Berura (334:5), we follow the opinion which rules
that the permission to save even muktzah items applies only to the homes
which have not yet caught fire; however, he does say that one cannot
reprove those who follow the more lenient opinions (See Biur Halacha).
There are authorities who rule that there is no permission granted to
violate the muktzah prohibition to save one's valuables, even to the house
that are not yet on fire.
(4) Even those who permit saving muktzah items, do not permit carrying them
even to an area into which it is only rabbinically prohibited to carry.