The Spectrum of Muktzah Utensils

Our parsha opens by mentioning the supremacy of the importance of observing Shabbos. We therefore bring…

The Spectrum of Muktzah Utensils

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the period of the construction of the second Beis HaMikdash, Nechemiah noticed that many Jews were extremely lax in Shabbos observance. In his own words, “In those days, I saw people in Judea operating their winepresses on Shabbos and loading their harvest on donkeys; and also their wine, grapes, and figs and all other burdens; and transporting them to Yerushalayim on Shabbos… the Tyrians would bring fish and other merchandise and sell them to the Jews” (Nechemiah 13:15-16). Nechemiah then describes how he succeeded in closing the city gates the entire Shabbos in order to keep the markets closed.

To strengthen Shabbos observance, Nechemiah established very strict rules concerning which utensils one may move on Shabbos. These rules form the foundation of the halachos of muktzah (Gemara Shabbos 123b). Initially, he prohibited using and moving on Shabbos virtually all utensils, excluding only basic eating appliances such as table knives. We will call this Nechemiah’s “First Takanah.” By prohibiting the moving of items even indoors, he reinforced the strictness of not carrying outdoors on Shabbos (Gemara Shabbos 124b; Raavad, Hilchos Shabbos 24:13). Furthermore, observing the laws of muktzah protects people from mistakenly doing forbidden melacha with these tools. In addition, the laws of muktzah guarantee that Shabbos is qualitatively different from the rest of the week even for someone whose daily life does not involve any manual labor (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 24:12-13).

As the Jews became more careful in their Shabbos observance, Nechemiah gradually relaxed the rules of muktzah, permitting limited use of some utensils on Shabbos. Eventually, Nechemiah established rules whereby most utensils may be moved and used on Shabbos when necessary, whereas certain utensils that one usually would not use on Shabbos remained prohibited (except for unusual circumstances such as danger). When discussing the halachos of muktzah as they apply today, I will refer to Nechemiah’s “Final Takanah.”

Nechemiah’s Final Takanah established four distinct categories of utensils:

  1. Not Muktzah. Items that one may move without any reason whatsoever. This category includes food, sifrei kodesh and, according to many poskim, tableware (Mishnah Berurah 308:23) and clothing (see Shitah La’Ran 123b s.v. Barishonah).
  2. Kli she’me’lachto l’heter, which means a utensil whose primary use is permitted on Shabbos, such as a chair or pillow. One may move this utensil if one needs to use it, if it is in the way, or if it may become damaged. However, one may not move it without any reason (Gemara Shabbos 123b-124a; Shulchan Aruch 308:4).
  3. Kli she’me’lachto l’issur, which means a utensil whose primary use is forbidden on Shabbos, such as a hammer, a saw, or a needle. Items in this category may be moved if they are in the way or if one has a need to use it for a purpose that is permitted on Shabbos (Gemara Shabbos 124a). Under normal circumstances, one may not move it for any other purpose.
  4. Completely Muktzah. These are utensils that one may not move under normal circumstances.

I will now explain the four categories.

  1. NOT MUKTZAH

One may move food and sifrei kodesh without any reason, and, according to many poskim, also tableware and clothing. Why may I move certain items on Shabbos without any purpose, whereas I may move other items only if I have a purpose?

The answer to this halachic question is historical. When Nechemiah declared his original gezeirah prohibiting muktzah, he applied the gezeirah only to utensils, not to food, and also excluded table knives and similar appliances. Thus, Nechemiah never declared food and table knives muktzah, even during the First Takanah. However, a kli she’me’lachto l’heter was included in the First Takanah, and at that time was completely muktzah. Later, Nechemiah relaxed the takanah to permit moving these utensils under the circumstances mentioned above; however, when these circumstances do not apply, the original prohibition declaring them muktzah remains in effect.

As mentioned above, many poskim rule that forks, spoons, dishes, and drinking glasses are also excluded from any halachos of muktzah (Mishnah Berurah 308:23, quoting Shiltei HaGibborim), although there are opinions who consider them keilim she’me’lachtam l’heter (Ben Ish Chai, 2:Mikeitz). The lenient opinion contends that Nechemiah permitted moving tableware just as he permitted moving table knives. The strict opinion contends that Nechemiah excluded only table knives, but no other tableware. They hold that forks, spoons, dishes, and drinking glasses are included in the gezeirah of muktzah as members of category # 2, kli she’me’lachto l’heter. (This means that they may be moved when needed but not otherwise.) I will soon explain the practical difference between these opinions.

  1. KLI SHE’ME’LACHTO L’HETER

A utensil that is used primarily for a task that is permitted on Shabbos, such as a chair or pillow, is categorized as a kli she’me’lachto l’heter. I may move such a utensil for one of three reasons:

  1. I want to use it on Shabbos. The Gemara (Shabbos 123b) calls this l’tzorech gufo, literally, for its own use.
  2. It is in my way. The Gemara calls this l’tzorech m’komo, literally, to use its place.
  3. I am concerned that it might become damaged. The Gemara refers to this as moving the utensil from the sun to the shade.

However, I may not move a kli she’me’lachto l’heter without any purpose, nor may I use it when I do not really need a utensil. Thus, I may not use a kli she’me’lachto l’heter to help me with a task that I can do it without any tool (Gemara Shabbos 124a; Shaar HaTziyun 308:13).

I mentioned above that the poskim dispute whether we categorize tableware as not muktzah at all, or as kli she’me’lachto l’heter. Ben Ish Chai and others, who contend that it should be considered kli she’me’lachto l’heter, rule that if one placed extra pieces of silverware on the table, one may not move them back into the kitchen simply because they serve no purpose on the table. He points out that this fulfills none of the three conditions mentioned above necessary to move a kli she’me’lachto l’heter. (Ben Ish Chai agrees that one may remove the silverware from the table if they are in the way or if one is concerned that they might become damaged.) However, the other opinion contends that silverware is not muktzah at all and may be returned it to its correct storage place even without any other need.

  1. KLI SHE’ME’LACHTO L’ISSUR

A utensil whose primary use is forbidden on Shabbos, such as a hammer, saw, or needle, may be moved if I need to use it for something permitted on Shabbos or if it is in the way of something I need to do. Thus, I may use a hammer to crack open a coconut on Shabbos or a needle to remove a splinter (Mishnah Shabbos 122b). (When removing the splinter, one must be careful not to intentionally cause bleeding [Magen Avraham 328:32; see also Biur Halacha 308:11]. Also, one may not sterilize the needle on Shabbos [Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 12:1]. ) Similarly, on Shabbos I may remove a hammer or saw that was left on a table, counter, or chair, if I need to put something else there.

However, I may not move a kli she’me’lachto l’issur to save it from becoming broken. When Nechemiah relaxed the takanah that treated kli she’me’lachto l’issur as completely muktzah, he only allowed it to be moved if I need it or its place on Shabbos, but for no other reason.

If I know I will need a kli she’me’lachto l’issur later today, and I am afraid it will get broken or ruined and be unusable by then, I may save it from breaking (Tehillah LeDavid 308:5). This is because moving it now makes it available to me later and thus it is considered l’tzorech gufo.

Once someone picks up a kli she’me’lachto l’issur for a permitted reason, he may put it wherever he chooses (Gemara Shabbos 43a). Some poskim extend this rule further, permitting someone who picked up a kli she’me’lachto l’issur by mistake to place it down wherever he pleases since the item is already in his hand (Magen Avraham 308:7). However, many poskim dispute this, arguing that this lenience applies only when one has permission to pick up the utensil but not when it was picked up in error (Gra, Yoreh Deah 266:12). Thus, someone who picked up a hammer, saw, or needle by mistake may not continue to hold it. Mishnah Berurah (308:13) implies that one may follow the lenient approach when necessary. Therefore, in an extenuating situation, one may hold the kli she’me’lachto l’issur until he finds a convenient place to put it down.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN KLI SHE’ME’LACHTO L’HETER AND SHE’ME’LACHTO L’ISSUR

After Nechemiah’s later takanos, both kli she’me’lachto l’heter and kli she’me’lachto l’issur have an interesting status: sometimes they are muktzah and sometimes not, depending on why one wants to move them. Even within this in-between category of sometimes-muktzah items, there is a “pecking order” whereby kli she’me’lachto l’heter is less muktzah than kli she’me’lachto l’issur. Several differences in halacha result:

  1. As mentioned above, one may move a kli she’me’lachto l’heter if one is concerned it may become damaged, whereas a kli she’me’lachto l’issur may not be moved.
  2. A kli she’me’lachto l’issur may not be moved when a kli she’me’lachto l’heter is available to do the job (Mishnah Berurah 308:12; Elyah Rabbah 308:32).
  3. One may carry a kli she’me’lachto l’heter early in the day even though he does not anticipate needing it until much later that day (Taz 308:2). This is considered as using the kli. On the other hand, a kli she’me’lachto l’issur may only be picked up when one needs to use it.
  4. Many poskim contend that a kli she’me’lachto l’issur that was intentionally left for Shabbos lying on top of a permitted item conveys the law of a kli she’me’lachto l’issur onto the lower item (Tehillah LeDavid 266:7 & 308:1; Aruch HaShulchan 310:9). The lower item becomes a “bosis l’davar ha’asur,” literally, a base for a prohibited item. Thus according to these poskim, if a hammer was intentionally left on a chair in the backyard for Shabbos, one may not move the chair afterwards if one is concerned that the chair may become damaged, just as one may not move the hammer itself. However, according to the poskim who contend that there is no concept of bosis l’davar ha’asur for a kli she’me’lachto l’issur, one may bring the chair into the house to save it from damage (Pri Megadim, introduction to 308). (We will leave a full discussion of the subject of bosis l’davar ha’asur for a different time.)

However, to the best of my knowledge, no posek contends that a kli she’me’lachto l’heter creates a “bosis l’davar ha’asur.” Thus, if someone intentionally left an ice cream scoop on top of a basket of fruit, the fruit does not have the laws of a kli she’me’lachto l’heter but retains the status of the fruit, which is not muktzah at all.

IS SOMETHING MELACHTO L’HETER OR MELACHTO L’ISSUR?

What is the halacha of an appliance that has two equal usages, one l’heter and the other l’issur? This appliance has the halachic status of a kli she’me’lachto l’heter (Magen Avraham 308:9). Thus, if I use an index card as a place mark although I also might write on it, it is melachto l’heter.

What about a utensil whose primary use is for a prohibited purpose, but its typical use includes a permitted purpose, such as a pot? Its primary use, cooking, renders it a kli she’me’lachto l’issur. However, it also functions as a storage vessel after the food finishes cooking, which is a permitted purpose on Shabbos. What is its status?

A FIFTH CATEGORY OF MUKZTAH UTENSIL

This type of utensil has an interesting status: It changes in the course of Shabbos from being a kli she’me’lachto l’heter to a kli she’me’lachto l’issur and back again. When storing food, it has the status of a kli she’me’lachto l’heter. However, when the food is emptied out, it reverts to its primary status and again becomes a kli she’me’lachto l’issur (Rashba, Shabbos 123a s.v. ha disnan, quoted by Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 308:9 and Mishnah Berurah 308:26).

Therefore, while it has food inside it, I may move it if I am concerned it might become damaged. However, once the food has been removed, I may not. I may still move it if I want to use the pot or it is in the way. (Furthermore, I may move a used pot out of the way because it looks disgusting [Gemara Shabbos 124a]. However, this is another topic that we will leave for a different article.)

  1. COMPLETELY MUKTZAH

Most items categorized as muktzah are not utensils and are muktzah because they usually have no Shabbos use. Thus, pieces of scrap wood, dirt, money, ashes and a useless broken item are all muktzah because we do not expect to use them on Shabbos. Even if a use presents itself on Shabbos, or the item is in one’s way, one may not use or move them.

(There are a few instances when one may move such items, such as when someone might get hurt, or when they are very disgusting.)

MUKTZAH MACHMAS CHISARON KIS

Several utensils are completely muktzah. One category includes specialized tools whose primary use is prohibited on Shabbos and are not used for other purposes lest they become damaged. Such utensils are muktzah machmas chisaron kis, muktzah because of financial loss. Since the owner would never use them for any other use, and their primary use is prohibited on Shabbos, he never expects to use them on Shabbos, which renders them muktzah (Tosafos Shabbos 123a s.v. basichi). Thus, a musical instrument, a mohel’s or shocheit’s knife, craftsman’s tools or any other specialty equipment whose owner would not allow it to be used except for its intended purpose is muktzah. Since a shocheit will not use his knife to carve a turkey or slice salami his knife is muktzah. However, an old shechitah knife that its owner no longer uses for shechitah is not muktzah.

MERCHANDISE

Merchandise that one intends to sell is usually muktzah on Shabbos, since one does not intend to use it oneself (Rama 308:1).

A kli that is muktzah machmas chisaron kis that becomes damaged on Shabbos so that it is no longer valuable, remains muktzah machmas chisaron kis for that Shabbos, although for future Shabbosos it will be treated like a kli she’me’lachto l’issur. This is because once a utensil is muktzah at the beginning of Shabbos, it remains muktzah the whole Shabbos (Magen Avraham 308:19; Tosafos Beitzah 2b).

Example: I sell fancy merchandise out of my house that I would never use myself.

On Shabbos, a child opens the package and uses one of the items, so that I could never sell it. Although I will now use the item myself, I must treat it as muktzah until Shabbos is over, since it was muktzah when Shabbos began.

BROKEN UTENSIL

A utensil that broke or tore on Shabbos does not become muktzah unless it has no use whatsoever. This is true even if you immediately threw it into the garbage. However, if it broke before Shabbos and you threw it into the garbage before Shabbos, it becomes muktzah (Gemara Shabbos 124b). Since it was in the garbage when Shabbos arrived, that renders it muktzah.

Thus, a shirt that tore on Shabbos does not become muktzah since you might use it as a rag, even if you threw the torn shirt into the garbage on Shabbos. However, if it tore before Shabbos and you disposed of it before Shabbos, it is muktzah.

TEFILLIN

Where do tefillin fit into the muktzah spectrum? Most people assume that Tefillin are muktzah since we do not wear them on Shabbos. However, the halacha is otherwise. Some poskim rule that Tefillin are kli she’me’lachto l’heter since one may don tefillin on Shabbos as long as one does not intend to fulfill the mitzvah (see Rama 308:4), whereas most poskim treat them as kli she’me’lachto l’issur (Taz, Magen Avraham and others ad loc.). Therefore, if a pair of tefillin are lying in an inconvenient place, one may remove them and then put them wherever is convenient.

Of course, this article cannot serve even as a primer in hilchos muktzah, but merely intends to mention some interesting aspects of the halachos of muktzah.

The entire takanah of muktzah is highly unusual. While observing Shabbos, we constantly need to focus on what we move and how we use it. Thus, hilchos muktzah become more absorbing than the halachos of Shabbos that the Torah itself mandated. Nechemiah instituted these halachos precisely for these reasons. By implementing the laws of muktzah, he accomplished that Shabbos observance is constantly on our minds.

 

Complex Clearings or Removing Muktzah from the Table

loaded tableIt is Mrs. Friedman’s* unmistakable and excitable voice on the phone. “Rabbi,” she begins in her trademark high pitch, “I am married almost twenty years, and have been clearing my Shabbos table the same way all these years: I brush the small items off the tablecloth and pick up the large ones. Last week, a guest, Aviva, politely suggested that I ask my rabbi whether I am doing this correctly. She was taught that she may not remove pistachio shells and used napkins by hand; instead, to place a disposable clear cover on the tablecloth before setting the table, and after clearing the dirty dishes at the end of the meal, to simply roll up the plastic. However, I place my candlesticks in the middle of the Shabbos table; furthermore, I do not consider it Shabbos-dik to have a cover on my exquisite linen tablecloth! Am I indeed doing something wrong for the last twenty years! I was never told this during all my years in Beis Yaakov!”

What would you tell Mrs. Friedman? In order to answer her accurately, we need to understand these halachos well.

In parshas Terumah, the Torah discusses building the Mishkan, which are the same activities that are categorized as melacha activity on Shabbos. As a fence around the Torah, Chazal banned moving items that do not have a use on Shabbos, a law we refer to as muktzah (see Rambam and Raavad, Hil. Shabbos 24:13). For this reason, we may not move on Shabbos items that are not considered utensils, such as stones and pieces of wood. The rules of muktzah are highly complex, and yet at the same time affect each of us every Shabbos. Although we deal with removing items from the table several times every Shabbos, most of us do not realize all the detailed laws that this simple, common activity entails.

HOW, WHAT, AND WHEN

Certain specific questions about the laws of muktzah directly influence how one may clear the table.

I. HOW

How does one remove a muktzah item without violating the laws of Shabbos?

II. WHAT

Which items commonly left on a table are muktzah?

III. WHEN

When may I move an item, notwithstanding that it is muktzah?

Answering these three questions will explain what Aviva was taught and provide Mrs. Friedman with some practical, level-headed advice to keep her table Shabbos-dik.

I. HOW

Since it is likely that the remnants of a meal contain muktzah, how does one remove them on Shabbos? The Mishnah (Shabbos 143a) permits tilting the tabletop, thereby tumbling the muktzah to the floor. However, this leads us to question: If one may not move a muktzah item, how may I tilt the tabletop? This is also moving muktzah!

INDIRECT CARRYING – TILTUL MIN HATZAD

The answer is that (under certain circumstances) Chazal permitted lifting a permitted item that indirectly moves something muktzah.

In addition to tilting the tabletop, the Shulchan Aruch (308:27) suggests two other options to clear the table, both of which permit carrying the entire tabletop to a place where one can then tilt off the muktzah:

  1. If there is bread on the table in addition to something muktzah, the muktzah item is treated as bateil, nullified, to the piece of bread. For this reason, one may now carry the entire table or tabletop to a place where it is convenient to drop off the muktzah. One may even place bread on the table expressly for this purpose (Rosh, as explained by Magen Avraham 308:51).

Based on the above, if nutshells, which are muktzah, ended up on a plate during Shabbos, one may place some bread on the plate and then remove it from the table. Upon arrival in the kitchen, one may tilt the muktzah items into the garbage can. Bear in mind, that when one empties the muktzah items into a garbage can, one can no longer move the garbage can itself. (In all likelihood, the garbage can is already muktzah because of other items it contains. My observation is that people are sometimes not meticulous to treat their household garbage cans as muktzah. One should always leave the garbage can in place. Only under certain unusual circumstances, beyond the scope of this article, may one remove the garbage.)

  1. Even if there is no bread on the tabletop or plate, the Shulchan Aruch permits moving them to remove muktzah if one needs to use the area. Since this is often the situation, one usually does not need to place bread on the table or plate to remove the muktzah.

(All cases in this article assume that both the table and the plates do not qualify as a basis ledavar he’asur, meaning that it was not intended to be a base for the muktzah [see Tosafos, Beitzah 2a s.v. Uveis; Magen Avraham 308:50]. An item that is a basis ledavar he’asur, intended to be a base for a muktzah item, becomes muktzah and cannot be moved on Shabbos, even if somehow the muktzah item was removed. Detailing the laws of basis ledavar he’asur is beyond the scope of this article.)

DISPOSABLES TO THE RESCUE!

Similarly, someone who places a disposable plastic cover atop the tablecloth may remove the plastic cover and dispose of it even though it is covered with muktzah, provided there is some bread on the plastic cover. As we explained, even if there is no bread on the table, one may remove the plastic if one needs to use the table on Shabbos and cannot do so with the muktzah items still there.

AVIVA’S PSAK

Based on the above halachic discussion, Aviva was taught that the easiest way to clear the table without concern about moving muktzah is to remove a plastic table cover with everything on it. In this method, any potential muktzah is being carried indirectly.

For those who do not like placing plastic covers over their tablecloths, one could follow the same rule by removing the plates with the muktzah items on them, and then removing the tablecloth. Alternatively, one could simply lift the entire tablecloth to a different area and shake it out — then return it to the table.

However, what may one do to clear the table if one leaves the candlesticks on the table, thus making it impossible to remove the tablecloth, and one does not cover the tablecloth with a plastic?

CLEARING MRS. FRIEDMAN’S TABLE

Certainly, Mrs. Friedman will not be satisfied with any of the above methods of clearing her table. Although her son Yanky may like the Mishnah’s method of tilting the tabletop, or the Shulchan Aruch’s suggestion of lifting the entire table, I would elect to be absent should he tilt her table and dump her candlesticks along with the leftovers onto the carpet. Therefore, to avoid receiving her phone call should Yanky clear the table this way, we should explore other options how to do so.

My best advice in this situation is to place the muktzah shells, pits, and napkins directly onto a plate rather than on the tablecloth. Afterwards, one may remove the plate with the muktzah on it. Following the conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch, if one places some bread on the plate, one may remove the plate even without knowing that he has any need to use that particular part of the table. If one knows that he will need that part of the table later on Shabbos, then one may remove the plate even without any bread on it.

However, what does one do if someone errantly placed their muktzah item directly on Mrs. Friedman’s gorgeous linen cloth, and there is no practical way to remove the tablecloth from the table?

In this situation, may one remove the muktzah items by picking them up or brushing them off the tablecloth? This is what Mrs. Friedman was doing that attracted Aviva’s attention.

Let us first analyze if indeed Mrs. Friedman’s pristine post-dinner table contains any items that are muktzah. This takes us back to our second original question:

II. WHAT

Which items commonly left on a table are muktzah?

BONES AND SHELLS

When humans consume food, we often leave behind bones, shells and pits that we consider inedible, although other creatures consider them a delicious dinner. Are these leftovers considered useless and therefore muktzah, or are they functional, permitting one to move them?

Indeed, the Mishnah discusses whether bones and shells are muktzah, ruling that food remnants that animals do not eat are muktzah, whereas those that they will eat are not (Tosafos, Shabbos 143a s.v. Atzamos).

However, this definition requires refinement since one can find some creature that will consume virtually every organic substance. Does this mean that no biodegradable substances are muktzah? The answer is that only substances eaten by normally available animals, birds, and fish are not muktzah.

What type of animal food is included?

Items eaten by an animal or bird that someone in your neighborhood may own are not muktzah. Therefore, provisions eaten by dogs, cats, gerbils, hamsters, rabbits, parakeets, or even household aquarium fish are not muktzah since it is not unusual to find these as pets. For this reason, bones that dogs may lick are not muktzah (see Shulchan Aruch 308:27). Similarly, crumbs are not muktzah, even though no one will be eating them. Halachically, these are still considered feed since one could leave them for animals.

ZOO ANIMALS

On the other hand, items that are eaten only by animals not commonly owned by people in your area are muktzah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 308:29). Specifically, the Gemara concludes that items considered food only by a raven, an ostrich, or an elephant are muktzah since it is uncommon to find these as pets in someone’s house. Items eaten only by these types of creatures are muktzah unless one owns them. Therefore, a zoo may consider the feed common for any animal it keeps as non-muktzah, whereas in a private home, nutshells, bones, pits, and peels not suitable to feed locally available animals are muktzah unless there is some food still attached to them (Mishnah Berurah 308:114).

Potentially, other muktzah items could easily end up on a table, particularly if there are young children around who have a knack of placing crayons and similar items on the table. Furthermore, some authorities consider used napkins and tissues to be muktzah since no one utilizes them anymore.

MAY ONE REMOVE MUKTZAH?

We therefore see that one could easily find muktzah items on the table after a meal. How does one remove these items?

We noted above, that one may remove muktzah items if they are placed on a non-muktzah surface, particularly if some bread is placed on the same surface. Therefore, after licking clean a bone or pit one should place it onto a plate or other item that will later be removed. When shelling pistachios or other nuts, one should be careful to place the shells on a plate, and one should follow the same approach when one finishes using a tissue or napkin.

But what do you do with the shells that missed the plate? One now has muktzah items on Mrs. Friedman’s deluxe linen cloth!

This takes us to our third original question:

III. WHEN

When may I move an item by hand, notwithstanding that it is muktzah? Let us explore a possibility.

GRAF SHEL RE’I

The halacha is that a malodorous or otherwise disgusting but muktzah item that ends up in a residential place may be removed. For example, after changing a baby, one may remove the soiled Pamper notwithstanding that it is now muktzah. This halacha is called removing a graf shel re’i, a chamber pot, which one may remove from a residential place where its presence disgusts people.

Why may one remove a graf shel re’i? Chazal permitted the removal of a graf shel re’i, even when it is muktzah, because of their concern for kavod habriyos, human dignity (Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 308:58; Aruch HaShulchan 308:60). This means, that although moving muktzah is an ancient and sacred prohibition, Chazal permitted moving a muktzah item that affects one’s sense of self-dignity if the malodorous item is located in a place where one lives.

However, this halacha only permits the minimum necessary to restore one’s self dignity. For this reason, one usually may not create a kavod habriyus situation in order to facilitate removing muktzah. For example, if the unpleasant muktzah item is located in a part of the house that one does not normally use, one cannot decide to use that area on Shabbos to be able to remove the muktzah. (There is an exception to this rule that is beyond the scope of this article.) Similarly, one may not have a Jew move a graf shel re’i when a gentile could move it (Aruch HaShulchan 308:60).

The question we need to resolve is whether shells and dirty napkins are included under the heading of graf shel re’i. Perhaps one may remove only items far more disgusting, such as vomit and human soil (see Shulchan Aruch 308:34).

Furthermore, even though the lenience of graf shel re’i may not exist for bones, many authorities permit brushing them away with an implement (Taz, 308:18; however, the Chazon Ish 47:14 prohibits.)

Indeed, we find three opinions among the Rishonim regarding this subject. The Raavad prohibited moving muktzah bones and shells even if they are in a residential area, even by sweeping them and certainly by picking them up. He contends that only truly repulsive items are muktzah, and he further maintains that whereas removing a plate or cloth containing muktzah is considered moving muktzah indirectly, pushing muktzah with an implement is considered moving it directly.

On the other hand, the Rashba permitted sweeping away muktzah bones as an extension of the lenience of graf shel re’i (Ran, end of Tenth Chapter of Shabbos). The Ramban allowed sweeping these bones with a broom or other utensil because he considers it removing muktzah in an indirect way, but did not consider them to be a graf shel re’i.

CONCLUSION

The Shulchan Aruch and the Rama (337:2) both imply that one may remove shells and bones even when they are muktzah. The later authorities dispute whether they permitted sweeping muktzah only because this is removing it indirectly (see Shaar HaTziyun 337:7) or because we treat them as a graf shel re’i and permit removing them even by hand (Magen Avraham 337:4; Gra”z 337:2). This last dispute affects Mrs. Friedman’s table tremendously. The rav who advised Aviva suggested an approach that avoids all these questions: By lifting up the plastic tablecloth with all the rubbish on it, one avoids the entire question, since everyone rules that this is permitted. Whether Mrs. Friedman must push the muktzah items off the table with a knife or napkin or whether she may pick up some of the objectionable items by hand depends on the last dispute quoted. However, it is still preferable that as the muktzah items are created, one should place them directly on a plate.

Observing the halachos of muktzah properly forces us to constantly focus on what we move and how we use it. Thereby, these laws imbue our whole Shabbos observance with greater focus and meaning!

*all names have been changed

 

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