Question #1: Placing my feet
“If the wheel of a stroller falls off on Shabbos, may I slide it back?”
Question #2: A benched bench
“If one leg fell off a bench, may I place the bench on top of another so that people can sit on it on Shabbos?”
Question #3: Pulling my leg
While in shul the first day of Sukkos, I noticed that one of the legs of the shulchan on which the sefer Torah is read was loose and fell off. I then noticed that the gabbai used his foot to push the leg underneath the shulchan to keep it balanced, apparently something he has been doing fairly frequently. As I will explain, I was concerned that the entire shulchan and the leg might be muktzah because of a special decree of Chazal. But first we need an introduction.
The manufacture of the mishkan and the vestments of the kohanim, discussed in parshas Tetzaveh, provides the source for the 39 melachos, categories of prohibited activities, of Shabbos. One of the activities prohibited min haTorah on Shabbos is repairing an appliance in a permanent, professional way. The early authorities dispute under which melacha heading this activity is included, some considering it to be a type of boneh, constructing, whereas others incorporate it under makeh bepatish, the melachah involved when completing construction of an item. According to both opinions, repairing an appliance in a permanent, professional way is prohibited min haTorah.
Since repairing an appliance in a permanent way is prohibited d’Oraisa, Chazal prohibited other activities that might lead one to violate the Torah law. Here is an example: In the days of Chazal, a kirah was a type of low, earthenware stovetop that rested on short legs that kept it balanced on the ground. A fire was constructed either inside the kirah or beneath it in a small trough dug into the ground. The Gemara (Shabbos 138b) teaches that if the legs of the kirah became detached, the entire stovetop is muktzah, out of concern that one might forget and insert the legs in a permanent way, an act that is prohibited min haTorah.
At this point, we can already understand the question that was raised above regarding the shulchan with a broken leg. Just as the stovetop is muktzah because of its missing leg, perhaps the same is true regarding the shul’s shulchan. Answering this question will require that we delve into this and other related passages of Gemara, and then study what the early commentators write about this topic – so let us roll up our sleeves. As in all our articles, it is not our purpose to render a final halachic decision – that is the role for an individual’s rav or posek. Our goal is to elucidate the topics in order to enable our readers to be able to ask an intelligent shaylah and understand the answer well.
Rav versus the beraisa
Let us begin by examining the Gemara more carefully (Shabbos 138b):
Rami, the son of Yechezkel, asked Rav Huna to review for him three rulings that Rav Huna had heard directly from the great amora Rav, whose name refers to his role as the teacher of all of Klal Yisroel. One of these rulings was: A beraisa (an ancient teaching dating from the era of the tanna’im that was not included in the Mishnah) ruled that a kirah of which two legs became detached is muktzah and may not be used on Shabbos, whereas if only one leg slipped out of place, the kirah may still be used. According to our text of the Gemara, Rav disagreed with the beraisa, contending that if even one leg slipped out of place, the stovetop cannot be moved because of concern that one might reinsert the leg on Shabbos in a permanent way. This text does not reveal why the beraisa contended that one may move a kirah if it is missing only one leg but not if it is missing two.
Among the early rishonim, we find three ways to explain this passage of Gemara:
According to the Ran, the dispute between the beraisa and Rav relates to whether we need to be concerned that someone might insert the leg in a permanent way when only one leg is missing (Ran’s commentary on Rif ad loc.). Presumably, when two legs are missing, the stovetop is difficult to use, and, therefore, the beraisa was concerned that someone might mistakenly insert the two legs in a permanent way, thus desecrating Shabbos. However, when only one leg is missing, since one can use the stovetop by balancing it on its remaining legs, Chazal did not ban using it. Rav disagreed, concerned that even one missing leg might cause someone to repair it in a way that desecrates Shabbos.
A second approach to understanding the beraisa is that of the Aruch, who holds that the beraisa itself was not concerned that someone might repair the stovetop in a way that desecrates Shabbos. The beraisa held that a stovetop missing two legs is muktzah for a completely different reason: It is considered useless with two missing legs, and a useless item is muktzah on Shabbos. Rav is concerned that someone might forget and repair the stovetop in a permanent way, and this concern exists even if only one leg is missing (quoted in the margin of the Gemara in the glosses added by Rav Yeshaya Pik).
A third approach is that of Rashi, who apparently had in front of him a text of the Gemara that varies from what is printed in our editions. His text omits three words that we have in our Gemara, including the words that Rav disagreed with the beraisa. According to his version, there is no dispute in the Gemara and no one prohibits using a stovetop that is missing only one leg. The beraisa ruled that one may not use a stovetop missing two legs, and Rav explained the reason: We are concerned that someone may insert the legs in a permanent way (see Maharshal and Maharam, Shabbos 138b).
According to Rashi, a stovetop missing one leg is not a cause for concern that someone may repair it on Shabbos and, therefore, Chazal did not rule it to be muktzah. Following this approach, there should similarly be no problem with the shulchan that I found to be missing a leg. However, based on the text that we have in our Gemara, all other halachic authorities conclude that if even one leg is missing, the stovetop is muktzah. This ruling is codified by the Rif, Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 26:6), Rosh, Tur and Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 308:16). Thus, it would seem that our shulchan may indeed be muktzah. We will return to this dispute among the rishonim shortly.
A benched bench
Based on the above quoted passage of Gemara, we find that an early authority, the Terumas Hadeshen, prohibited using on Shabbos a bench missing one of its legs – even by resting the bench on top of another bench or chair. This is because of concern that one might forget and repair the bench (Terumas Hadeshen 1:71). And, according to late authorities, the rulings that we have seen applied to stovetops and benches apply to other tools and furniture with similar issues. For example, although it is permitted to use a hammer on Shabbos to open a coconut, if the head of the hammer fell off before Shabbos, the entire hammer is now muktzah and thus forbidden even for what would otherwise be a permitted purpose. This is because of a concern that someone may re-attach the head in a permanent way, which would desecrate Shabbos (Ketzos Hashulchan 109, Badei Hashulchan #10, at end).
To sum up: We see that Chazal were concerned about someone using a broken appliance because he might forget and, without thinking, repair it in a way that is prohibited min haTorah. To avoid this problem, they prohibited moving the appliance.
We can now explain the concern that I had about the shul’s shulchan. Since the shulchan had a leg that fell off, is the shulchan now muktzah?
Complicating the question
Circumstances complicated the question that I had raised regarding the loose shulchan leg. I discovered the problem on the first day of Sukkos, which means that the coming days are chol hamoed, Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah. Since repairing the shulchan in a professional manner is prohibited on chol hamoed, the repair would have to be postponed until after Yom Tov. However, on Simchas Torah the shulchan will be moved in order to accommodate the dancing. How are we going to do this if the shulchan is muktzah?
Although the above-quoted discussion would lead us to conclude that a damaged appliance that might accidentally be repaired is muktzah, other rulings of Chazal indicate that this is not always the case. A different passage of Gemara quotes a beraisa that one may remove the door of a cabinet, footlocker or bookcase on Shabbos, but one may not reaffix the door afterward, because of concern that one might hang it in a permanent way, which would desecrate Shabbos min haTorah (Shabbos 122b). However, there is no mention that these appliances or their doors may not be moved because of concern that someone will reaffix the door in a permanent way. In other words, although the Gemara prohibits reaffixing the door, it permits use of the cabinet, footlocker and bookcase and of their doors. Thus, although a broken kirah is muktzah, these appliances are not, despite the fact that we are concerned that someone might reaffix their doors in a permanent way. What is the difference between the two cases?
Similarly, we find a passage in Gemara Eiruvin (102b) that demonstrates the same point. There the Gemara records that if a hinge of the door of a cabinet, footlocker or bookcase is slipping out of place, one may push it back into place, but if it has completely slipped out of place one may not put it back, because of a concern that someone will mistakenly repair it in a permanent way, which, as we noted above, is prohibited min haTorah. Again here, although the Gemara prohibits reaffixing the hinge, the appliance itself does not become muktzah. Thus, we see again that the appliance may be moved as long as no one attempts to reaffix the door or the hinge. This contrasts with the cases of the stovetop leg where the Gemara ruled that the entire stove becomes muktzah.
Stoves versus footlockers
How is a stove different from a footlocker?
One might explain the difference between the case of the stove and that of the footlocker as being that it is difficult to use the stove at all without its leg, whereas the cabinet, footlocker or bookcase can be used without its door or hinge operating properly. We can explain this phenomenon as meaning that when someone has an appliance that is functional, he is less likely to forget and repair it on Shabbos. Although Chazal prohibited reaffixing the hinge or door in a temporary fashion, they saw no reason to prohibit using the appliance. On the other hand, since the stove could be used only with difficulty, Chazal prohibited its use altogether, concerned that even using the appliance might cause someone to repair it in a permanent way. Based on this analysis, we can understand why the Terumas Hadeshen banned the use of the bench, since, as it is now, it cannot be used without being repaired.
Return to the shulchan
According to this analysis, it would appear that the shulchan missing a leg should not be muktzah, since the shulchan can be used while missing a leg, notwithstanding the fact that it will obviously be somewhat wobbly. Thus, we can assume that Chazal would not have been concerned that someone might mistakenly repair it in a permanent way.
In addition to the reasoning we have just presented, there are several other reasons why this shulchan should probably not be muktzah. The first reason is based on the fact that the shulchan has already been used without having its leg repaired. This approach is based on the following ruling of the Rema. When he quotes the Terumas Hadeshen’s case (of the bench missing a leg) as definitive halachah, the Rema adds, however, that if the bench had been used before Shabbos by placing one end on top of another bench, one may use the bench and move it on Shabbos. Thus we see that when the appliance has already been used in its compromised status before Shabbos, we are not concerned that someone may mistakenly repair it on Shabbos. Since the shulchan was apparently being used with the broken leg propped up, one could argue that the Gemara’s concern does not apply.
I believe that there is yet another reason why we do not need to be concerned about the damaged shulchan leg. The Taz (Orach Chayim 308:14) explains that, notwithstanding that a kirah whose leg or legs have fallen out may not be used, this is not true if the entire leg of the stovetop was lost, or the leg broke in the middle, rather than having fallen out. The reasoning here is as follows. Reaffixing a leg into an appliance in a permanent way is something that can be done relatively easily. This is why Chazal were concerned that someone might repair this item without realizing that it is prohibited to do so on Shabbos. However, repairing a leg that has broken is more complicated. We are confident that someone who considers making this repair will remember that it is Shabbos before he attempts it. The same is true if the leg is missing completely, since this requires fashioning a whole new leg that is the right size, appearance, and strength. Since this is a more complicated repair, we are not concerned that someone will forget it is Shabbos and do it. The Mishnah Berurah (308:69) rules in accordance with this Taz¸ that in these two situations one may use the stovetop.
In our case of the shul’s shulchan leg, it appears that reinserting it is a complicated task requiring specialized skills and would require the skills of a repairman. If that is so, it would seem that we could be lenient to assume that Chazal did not make the broken shulchan muktzah unless someone could easily make the repair on his own.
Why are we moving it?
Until now, we have not discussed whether the reason that one wants to move the broken shulchan, bench or stovetop affects whether one may move them. In point of fact, some authorities maintain that the prohibition of moving the broken stovetop is only when one wants to use it. Chazal prohibited not only using the stovetop but also moving it. However, there are late authorities who contend that it is permitted to move a kirah whose leg fell out if one is not interested in using the kirah, but its location is needed for another item or because it is in the way of something one needs to do (Ketzos Hashulchan 109:10 in Badei Hashulchan, at end; see also Tehillah Ledavid 308:22). They rally proofs to show that when Chazal prohibited moving a broken stovetop, the prohibition was only when one wants to use it, but that one may move it if one needs its place. In halachic terminology, it is prohibited to move the broken kirah or bench letzorech gufah (literally, for its own sake), but it may be moved letzorech mekomah (literally, for the purpose of its place). Thus, if the broken stovetop was being moved in order to make room for the Simchas Torah dancing, these authorities would permit moving it.
We should note that this question may be dependent on a dispute we quoted at the very beginning of our article between the Aruch and the Ran, whether a kirah with two detached legs is muktzah because one may come to repair it, or because it is no longer functional. If the reason not to move it is because of concern someone will repair it, it stands to reason that this concern exists only when one wants to use it. However, when one moves it to get it out of the way, why should moving it cause someone to mistakenly repair it? On the other hand, if it is muktzah because it is useless, then it makes no difference why one chooses to move it – it is prohibited to do so because the item is muktzah (Tehillah Ledavid 308:22).
Although I initially thought that the shulchan with a broken leg presented a serious problem, my personal conclusion was that the shulchan could be used and moved as is. I am very glad to have noticed the shaylah, because it provided me with the opportunity to research the question thoroughly and to provide our readers with the extensive background that this question entailed. Again, I note that if our readers are faced with a similar, actual question, they should pose it to their own rav or posek.
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos in order to provide a day of rest. This is incorrect, he points out, because the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melachah, which implies purpose and accomplishment. On Shabbos, we refrain from constructing and altering the world for our own purposes. The goal of Shabbos is to emphasize Hashem’s rule as the focus of creation by refraining from our own creative acts (Shemos 20:11). By refraining from building for one day a week, we acknowledge the true Builder of the world and all that it contains.