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Peninei Halakha > Shabbat > 23 - Muktzeh > 12. The Permissibility of Removing Filthy Items – “Graf Shel Re’i

12. The Permissibility of Removing Filthy Items – “Graf Shel Re’i

Even though a truly disgusting item – such as a graf shel re’i (a receptacle that contains excrement), a dead mouse, or food scraps – is muktzeh maĥmat gufo, the Sages permitted removing it for the sake of human dignity. They did not encumber this removal by requiring that it be done with a shinui or min ha-tzad. Rather, one may remove it directly. This is all on condition that the item is in a place where it is disturbing people. However, if it is in a place where it is not bothering anyone, it may not be moved (Beitza 36b; Shabbat 121b; SA 308:34).

The details of this law depend on how disgusting the item is and where it is located. Inside one’s home, even if an item is only slightly dirty – such as a pot with food remnants, a cup with a little wine left over, or an oil lamp covered in soot – as long as it causes discomfort, it is considered a graf shel re’i and may be removed. This is also the case in a yard if people are sitting nearby. However, if there are no people nearby, one may not remove it. If there is excrement in the street or in a yard where people walk, since it is truly repulsive, it may be removed even if no one is sitting nearby. However, if it is in a backyard that almost no one walks through, removing it is forbidden. If there is a dead animal giving off a horrible stench, then even if no one walks by it may be removed (MB 308:131; BHL 308:4 s.v. “keli”; Rema 279:2; MB ad loc. 5).

Even though shells and pits are muktzeh, one may clear them from the table with one’s hands and throw them in the garbage. This may even be done in two steps: first piling them on the side of the table, then collecting them to deposit in the trash (some say that this is the basis for permission to sweep on Shabbat; see n. 14 below).

One who is cracking seeds with his mouth may remove each shell from his mouth by hand and either throw it away or pile it on a plate and then dispose of it later. However, he should not keep them in his hands in order to throw them out later (SSK 20:26). Similarly, one may empty out the refuse that accumulates in a sink strainer.

A garbage can that has garbage in it is muktzeh. However, if it is unpleasant to have a full garbage can, it may be taken out (on condition that there is an eruv). If one lives somewhere that has a dumpster (as opposed to private garbage cans), the garbage pail may be emptied into the dumpster and then brought back inside (SSK 22:48).[11]

[11]. One may not turn something into a graf shel re’i in order to make it permissible to move. If he did so, however, be-di’avad it may be moved. For a great need or to prevent loss, one may to turn something into a graf shel re’i in order to be permitted to move it (SA 308:36-37). Therefore, if a roof is leaking dirty water (which is muktzeh as it is unusable even for washing), or if an air conditioner is dripping clean water (which is muktzeh as it is nolad, a new creation), one may not set out a bucket to collect the water. Doing so would make the bucket unusable, since one may not move an item that contains a muktzeh item within it. While it is true that one may remove the dirty water because it is a graf shel re’i, as we said, le-khatĥila we do not turn something into a graf shel re’i to make an item disgusting for this purpose (Rambam; SA 338:8; MA ad loc. 12). Nevertheless, in a case of great need, in order to prevent dirtiness or damage, one may rely on those who permit placing a bucket to collect the water. Since the water is leaking in any case, and since one may dump the water out of the bucket because of graf shel re’i, the bucket has not become unusable. Therefore, one may pour the water out of the bucket before it fills up, in order to avoid dirtying the floor (Tur §338, Taz ad loc. 4; Ĥayei Adam; BHL ad loc., s.v. “asur”).

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