22 – The Spirit of Shabbat

01. The Mitzva to Preserve Shabbat as a Day of Rest

The Torah commands us to refrain from melakha on Shabbat: “But the seventh day is Shabbat of the Lord your God; you shall not do any melakha” (Shemot 20:9), that is, any of the 39 types of melakha done while erecting the Mishkan, as explained to Moshe at Sinai (see above, 9:1-2). The Sages added safeguards (“fences”) so that no one would do anything that might then lead to the violation of a Torah prohibition (see above, 9:3-4). There is an additional commandment in the Torah to rest on Shabbat: “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease” (Shemot 23:12). The point here is that in addition to avoiding melakha on Shabbat, we are also meant to cease and rest from toils and troubles. Thus one should not open his store or move heavy objects in preparation for the workweek. Even though these are not included in the 39 prohibited categories of melakha, nevertheless acting in these ways negates the mitzva of resting on Shabbat (Ramban, Vayikra 23:24; see MT 21:1 and the next section below).

Continuing with this line of thought, we find the prophets enjoining us to preserve the holy and sanctified atmosphere of Shabbat, a day on which one must avoid mundane activities. One who is careful to follow this merits great rewards, as Yeshayahu proclaims:

If you refrain from trampling the Shabbat, from pursuing your affairs on My holy day; if you call Shabbat “delight,” the Lord’s holy [day] “honored,” and if you honor it, and not go in your own way, nor look to your affairs, nor speak of them – then you will seek the Lord’s delight. I will set you astride the heights of the earth, and let you enjoy the heritage of your father Yaakov – for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (Yeshayahu 58:13-14)

The Sages derive many guidelines about Shabbat from this verse, and the common denominator is that one should not behave on Shabbat as one does during the week. The Gemara elaborates:

“Honor it” – your Shabbat clothes should not be like your weekday clothes…. “Not go in your own way” – the way you walk on Shabbat should not be like the way you walk on weekdays. “Nor look to your affairs” – it is forbidden to look after your own affairs on Shabbat, but one may look after the affairs of heaven [i.e., religious matters]. “Nor speak of them” – your speech on Shabbat should not be like your speech on weekdays. Speaking [about mundane matters] is forbidden, but thinking about them is permitted. (Shabbat 113a).

These directives have a higher status than general rabbinic enactments since they are rooted in the Torah’s commandment to rest and are elaborated upon by the prophets.

We have already explained the mitzvot connected to honoring and delighting in Shabbat (chs. 2, 4, 5, 7). Honor (kavod) is expressed by wearing special Shabbat clothes, showering, cleaning the house, and lighting candles. Delight (oneg) is expressed by making Shabbat enjoyable through meals, sleep, and Torah study. In this chapter, we will explain the mitzvot and the rabbinic safeguards meant to protect Shabbat’s atmosphere as a holy day of rest. These mitzvot are at the root of everything that the Sages through the ages forbade as a weekday activity. Any activity that is unquestionably mundane is prohibited on Shabbat. This includes ball-playing for adults, swimming, working out, and bike-riding. To protect the spirit of Shabbat, the Sages also introduced the prohibition of muktzeh (as explained in the next chapter) and ordained that one may not play musical instruments (sections 17-19 below).

Even though the mitzvot to preserve Shabbat’s spirit and avoid weekday activity (uvdin de-ĥol) are of a higher status than the safeguards of the Sages, nevertheless the halakha is stricter in demanding adherence to the safeguards, such as the prohibition to do melakha with a shinui or to ask a non-Jew to do a melakha, which are forbidden even for the sake of a mitzva (as explained above 9:3-4, 11), whereas the prohibitions connected to preserving the spirit of Shabbat may be disregarded in the service of a mitzva (as explained below). There are some prohibitions that are comprised of both of these elements: if prohibited solely to preserve the spirit of Shabbat, it might have been permitted for the sake of a mitzva, but since the Sages decreed that it is prohibited, it remains prohibited even for the sake of a mitzva.

02. Business

One may not engage in commerce on Shabbat. One who opens his store, buying and selling on Shabbat just as he does on weekdays, negates a Torah commandment. This prohibition applies even if he is careful to avoid transgressing any of the 39 melakhot. The Torah commands that Shabbat be a “shabbaton” (Shemot 31:15), a complete cessation. One who does business in his store is not resting (Ramban, Vayikra 23:24; Ritva; Ĥatam Sofer). Neĥemia faced this problem when he arrived in Jerusalem and found that people were holding a market day on Shabbat. He recounts:

Tyrians (merchants) who lived there brought fish and all sorts of wares and sold them on Shabbat to the Judahites in Jerusalem. I censured the nobles of Judah, saying to them, “What evil thing is this that you are doing, profaning Shabbat day! This is just what your ancestors did, and for it God brought all this misfortune on this city; and now you give cause for further wrath against Israel by profaning Shabbat!” (Neĥemia 13:15-18)

As a result, the merchants began selling their goods outside the city walls on Shabbat. In response, Neĥemia ordered that the gates of the city be closed over Shabbat. “Once or twice the merchants and the vendors of all sorts of wares spent the night outside Jerusalem, but I warned them, saying, ‘What do you mean by spending the night alongside the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands upon you!’ From then on, they did not come on Shabbat” (ibid. 19-21).

The Torah prohibition on commerce applies to one who regularly does business on Shabbat. However, one who buys or sells on Shabbat occasionally still transgresses the words of the prophets, as Yeshayahu said: “if you honor it, and not go in your own way, nor look to your affairs, nor speak of them” (58:13), and the Sages explained this to mean that one should not deal in mundane matters on Shabbat (Shabbat 113a).

It should be noted that those verses do not record a prohibition on buying and selling for the sake of a mitzva. Nevertheless, as a safeguard, the Sages prohibited all business dealings, even in service of a mitzva, out of concern lest one write (Rashi and Tosafot, Beitza 37a; MB 306:11). The only exception to this prohibition is the mitzva of settling the land of Israel, for which one may purchase land from a non-Jew on Shabbat. The non-Jew should write the contract and take the money on his own (SA 306:11; Eliya Rabba ad loc. 22; Mor U-ketzi’a; as opposed to MA ad loc. 19; see above 9:12).

Some are stringent and do not sell aliyot on Shabbat, because of the prohibition of doing business on Shabbat. However, many are customarily lenient, and they have grounds for their leniency. This is because, in this case, there is no acquisition (kinyan) or payment on Shabbat, and the assumption of the obligation to pay for the aliyot is deemed to be for the sake of a mitzva (MB 306:33; Yeĥaveh Da’at 2:41). However, if the synagogue’s income from this practice is minimal, it is improper to be lenient and waste the congregation’s time.

03. Obtaining Products from Stores

One who finds himself short of food on Shabbat for the Shabbat meals, whether on account of poor planning or the arrival of unexpected guests, may approach the owner of a store and ask him for food from his store, with the unspoken understanding that the customer will pay for the food after Shabbat. Payment is not mentioned explicitly. Rather, the customer should request the item from the owner in the same way that he would borrow the food from a neighbor. He should not use the words “buy,” “sell,” or “pay.” He may assure the store owner that later, whether Saturday night or afterward, they will discuss what was taken and settle up. Even though the store owner understands from this assurance that the customer intends to pay him, as long as payment has not been explicitly mentioned (but only hinted at), this is not forbidden.

The store owner and customer should both be careful not to mention the price of a product, nor should they measure it or weigh it out as one would do during the week to determine its price. However, they may fill up a container (not a measuring cup) and agree that the container will be measured on Sunday, with the understanding that the price will be determined based on the amount it holds. One may use a measuring cup to transport food but not to measure out the exact amount to be poured into the customer’s container, because then it is clear that the intention is to measure. For example, one may ask a store owner for five oranges or five bottles because that is the normal way to describe the required quantity. This terminology is not used exclusively for a sale. If this customer has received items from the store owner in the past, the owner may not refer to the accumulating tab nor calculate its updated amount (SA 323:1-4; MB ad loc. 20; SSK 29:18-25).

If the store owner does not trust the customer to remember to pay him after Shabbat, he may ask him to leave an article of clothing or an object, but he should not refer to it as “collateral,” “security deposit,” or the like (Rema 307:11).

One who takes food from a store on Shabbat should not carry it out in a large box, as one would normally do during the week, so that witnesses do not think that he is transporting the food for commercial purposes. Rather, he should hold the items in his hands or place them on his shoulders, as one would normally do when bringing food to a meal. Even if this means he will have to make multiple trips in order to bring all the necessary food, this extra walking is preferable to giving the appearance of doing business. However, if one’s guests are waiting for the meal, then he should hurry and bring all the food at once, even if it means carrying the food as he would during the week. Additionally, if he is walking in a place where there is no chance that anyone will suspect him of doing business, he may carry the food in the normal way in order to minimize the walking (“yesh omrim” in SA 323:5; MB ad loc. 25; Rema 510:8).

If a store or hotel owner would like to make food available on Shabbat for his customers, before Shabbat he may sell different-colored cards or tickets that entitle their bearers to various items. For example, a yellow card presented to a waiter will entitle a guest to Friday night dinner; a green card to lunch on Shabbat day; a red card to a drink; a blue card to cake, etc. If there are not enough different colors for the different options, the names of the options may be written on the cards. However, the prices may not be written on the cards because this would make the cards the equivalent of monetary contracts, which may not be read on Shabbat (MB 307:50 and 323:20; SSK 29:26).

04. Lending, Borrowing, and Giving Gifts

Just as one may not buy and sell on Shabbat, one may not lend anything or repay a loan. Since these activities often involve writing contracts, there is a concern that engaging in them may lead one to write. Therefore, one who needs to borrow food, clothing, or chairs for Shabbat should formulate his request in a way that makes it clear that he is borrowing the objects as one would borrow from a friend, not as one would borrow money from a bank, as it is unusual keep a written record when borrowing from a friend. Since English does not distinguish between these two types of borrowing (unlike Hebrew, which has “hashala” to refer to borrowing objects and “halva’ah” to refer to monetary lending), one should simply say “Give me” or “Can I have.” If the owner of the item is concerned that the borrower will forget to return it, he may request that the borrower leave something with him, but he should not refer to it as a deposit or collateral, as he would during the week (Shabbat 148a; Rema 307:11). If the borrower mistakenly asked for a loan, the owner may give it to him while clarifying that he may use it temporarily though one may not make a loan on Shabbat (Shulĥan Shlomo 307:15:2).

According to many poskim, one may not give or receive presents on Shabbat because by doing so one transfers ownership of the gift, which resembles commerce (MA 306:15; Birkei Yosef ad loc. 7; MB ad loc. 33). Others maintain that one may give a gift on Shabbat because nobody writes contracts for gifts (Beit Meir based on Rif and Rambam). In practice, we are stringent le-khatĥila and avoid giving gifts on Shabbat, but if it is necessary to fulfill a mitzva, everyone agrees that one may give a gift (SA 658:3-4). Therefore, one may give a gift of utensils or food for a Shabbat meal (MB 306:33). One may also give prizes to children for participating in Torah study, as this is for the sake of a mitzva – to encourage the children to study Torah.

It is proper for one who wants to give a bar mitzva present on Shabbat to perform the act of acquisition (kinyan) before Shabbat. That is, he should request someone else to take the gift, lifting it up (hagbaha) in order to acquire it on behalf of the bar mitzva boy. Thus, the gift is transferred to the boy’s ownership before Shabbat. On Shabbat it may be presented to him, as it already belonged to him prior to Shabbat. If hagbaha was not done, the gift can be left with the boy (who should have in mind not to acquire it) for the duration of Shabbat, and after Shabbat he may officially acquire it (SSK 29:31). Some are lenient and give gifts to a groom on Shabbat, as there is an element of mitzva involved in bringing him happiness (Eliya Rabba; Ĥatam Sofer). In a time of need, one may rely upon them (Seridei Esh 2:26).

One may not use a lottery or other random selection mechanism on Shabbat in order to decide who will receive each portion of food. Since everyone wants the biggest and tastiest portion, there is a concern that people will end up measuring and weighing the portions or speaking about their price. Moreover, it contains an element of gambling. Members of a household may use a lottery, but only as long as the portions are of equal value (Shabbat 148b-149a; SA 322:6; see below 22:8). One may draw lots to determine who will have the privilege of getting an aliya or saying Kaddish, because there is nothing to measure or calculate (MB 322:24).

05. Court Activity, Weddings, Teruma and Ma’aser

The Sages forbade rabbinical courts to sit in judgment or mete out punishment on Shabbat. Similarly, they prohibited betrothals, marriages, divorce, yibum (levirate marriage), or ĥalitza (levirate divorce) out of concern that people would end up writing (Beitza 37a). It is similarly prohibited to redeem a firstborn son on Shabbat, because the redemption (pidyon ha-ben) involves a transfer of money, which resembles commerce. If the 31st day after birth coincides with Shabbat, the redemption is done the following day, Sunday. It is also forbidden to vow, consecrate, or dedicate items or their value to the Temple on Shabbat, as this transfers ownership of the objects to God, as it were, and resembles commerce. However, one may pledge to give charity, because such a commitment involves no act of acquisition. If one did buy, sell, or perform any of these actions on Shabbat, the transaction is effective (m. Beitza 36b; SA 339:4).

Teruma, ma’aser and ĥalla may not be set aside on Shabbat, because setting them aside resembles dedicating them to God. Additionally, it looks like one is fixing or improving the produce (Beitza 36b; MT 23:14). If one made a mistake and unknowingly set them aside, the remaining produce may be eaten on Shabbat. In contrast, if he did this knowingly, although the action is effective and the remaining produce may be eaten, no Jew may eat it until after Shabbat (m. Terumot 2:3; MB 339:25).

One who is concerned that he will not have time to separate teruma and ma’aser before Shabbat may recite the formula for the separation before Shabbat (but without the berakha). By doing so, he has begun the process of separation. Then, after Shabbat begins, he may tithe in the normal fashion and recite the berakha. This procedure may also be followed if one is concerned that he will not have time to set aside ĥalla.

Only the owner of the produce may separate teruma and ma’aser on Shabbat by means of the procedure described in the previous paragraph; it is not effective for anyone else. If a guest is concerned that his host may forget to tithe, he may ask the host before Shabbat to appoint him a shali’aĥ (proxy) to tithe on his behalf. The guest may then recite the formulation before Shabbat and perform the actual tithing on Shabbat (m. Demai 7:1, 5; MT, Laws of Tithes 9:7-9).[1]


[1]. When I wrote above that only the owner of the produce or his shali’aĥ may tithe on Shabbat by means of this procedure, this applies to cases where the produce definitely has not been tithed yet (tevel). However, if it is uncertain whether the produce was tithed (demai), someone else can tithe this way as well (Orĥot Shabbat 22:65-70). The formula recited before Shabbat is the usual one, but all the words should be changed to the future tense, e.g., “What I will tithe” (Ĥazon Ish, Demai, 9:13:15 as quoted in Orĥot Shabbat 22:62 and n. 86). Be-di’avad, if one simply says, “Whatever I separate tomorrow should be considered teruma and ma’aser,” he has fulfilled his obligation, as he has begun the process of separation before Shabbat (see SSK 11:23). After the tithes are actually set aside, he may not move them, as they are muktzeh.

06. Immersing and Measuring on Shabbat

As is well known, a Jew who bought or received an eating utensil or receptacle from a non-Jew may not use it for food until it has been immersed in a mikveh. If one did not immerse it before Shabbat, some maintain that doing so on Shabbat is forbidden because it looks like one is fixing the implement (tikun kli). After all, before its immersion, one may not use it, while afterward, one may (Rosh). Others maintain that if one needs to eat from it, he may immerse it on Shabbat with a berakha. Accordingly, immersion is not considered fixing, because if be-di’avad the kli was used for food without having been immersed, the food retains its kosher status (Rif). If there is a trustworthy non-Jew in the vicinity, it is proper to give the kli to him as a gift, and then request his permission to use it. In this way, a Jew may use the kli for food even though it has not been immersed (SA 323:7). After Shabbat, it is proper to ask the non-Jew to give it back to him as a gift; he should then immerse it with a berakha.[2]

All agree that one may immerse on Shabbat to purify himself from tum’a. Even those who maintain that kelim may not be immersed because it resembles fixing them agree that when it comes to people, since one may bathe, and since the immersion will not necessarily be seen as an act of purification, one may also immerse to purify himself (see above 14:9). In contrast, one converting to Judaism may not immerse on Shabbat as part of the conversion process because his immersion is transformative; he becomes a new person, a process that certainly qualifies as a tikun. Additionally, immersion for conversion requires the presence of a rabbinic court; just as a court does not meet on Shabbat for judgment, it also does not meet to supervise immersion (Yevamot 46b). If a court transgressed and did supervise an immersion on Shabbat, the immersion is valid, and the person is Jewish (SA YD 268:4).

One may not measure anything on Shabbat, because measuring is a weekday activity (SA 306:7; MB ad loc. 34). Therefore, one may not weigh himself or measure his height on Shabbat (SSK 14:42). Similarly, one may not measure the dimensions of furniture or a room.

One may measure and weigh for the sake of a mitzva. Therefore, one may check whether a mikveh has sufficient water (forty se’ah). One may also measure out medicine for sick people and take their temperature (SA 306:7; SSK 40:2). Since a baby has the same halakhic status as a sick person, when necessary one may measure out the amount of food that a baby needs. Similarly, when necessary one may measure if a baby has gained weight after eating (using a non-electric scale; SSK 37:5).


[2]. According to Beit Yosef, in a time of need one may immerse kelim on Shabbat. Rambam too is lenient, following Rif; and SA 323:7 implies this as well. Maharam ibn Ĥabib writes in Responsa Kol Gadol §15 that the immersion should be done with a berakha (Livyat Ĥen §§72, 75). Others (Zivĥei Tzedek, AHS) maintain that we see from SA YD 120:16 that R. Yosef Karo retracted, and the only solution is to have a non-Jew acquire the kli (so that it is not owned by a Jew). Rema in Darkhei Moshe is stringent, as is Sha’agat Aryeh §56. Be-di’avad, if a kli was immersed on Shabbat, it may be used (MA; MB 323:33). BHL has a thorough analysis of this issue. If the kli still belongs to a non-Jew but is in the possession of a Jew, it should be immersed without a berakha. Therefore, it is proper to ask the non-Jew to return the item to him as a gift so he may immerse it with a berakha (Taz; MB 323:35).

07. Walking, Running, and Jumping

The world we live in is full of shortcomings. To perfect it, we rush around all week long, working and exerting ourselves in a variety of ways. However, on Shabbat, which is like the World to Come, we are commanded to cease all work and act as if everything has already been perfected, with no further need to rush around. We are meant simply to delight in the holiness of Shabbat and take a faith-filled look at the perfect inner essence of the world as God created it. There is a mitzva to express this spiritual perspective by walking at a leisurely pace on Shabbat. Thus the Sages expound: “‘Not go in your own way’ – the way you walk on Shabbat should not be like the way you walk on weekdays” (Shabbat 113a).

Therefore, running is prohibited on Shabbat, as is striding. This prohibition applies to one who is going somewhere for his own sake, in which case he should walk at a leisurely pace to honor Shabbat. However, if one is going to attend a Torah class or to pray, it is a mitzva for him to run (Berakhot 6b; SA 301:1), because running for the sake of a mitzva does not detract from the honor due Shabbat. On the contrary, it expresses the spirit of Shabbat, which allows us to rest from the troubles of this world. This peacefulness in turn encourages us to serve God.

One may run and jump if one benefits greatly from it. For example, one may run in order to get out of the rain, and one may jump over a puddle to avoid dirtying his shoes. One may also run in order to watch something enjoyable (Shabbat 113b; SA 301:2-3). Children and teens who enjoy running may participate in games that involve running, since this type of running is pleasurable rather than burdensome (SA 301:2). Also, adults may jump for pleasure as part of playing with small children.

08. Working Out and Riding a Bicycle

One may not run for exercise on Shabbat, because it is burdensome rather than pleasurable. Even though people who work out enjoy it, this enjoyment derives from their awareness that they are taking care of their health and physical fitness, not from the exercise itself. Even one who is very fit, runs every day, and enjoys it may not run on Shabbat, because it is a weekday activity. It will appear to others that he is belittling Shabbat and treating it like a weekday. However, one who enjoys exercise may jump or work out for pleasure inside his home on condition that he does not overexert himself, does not follow a regimen, and does not use special equipment, any of which would be deemed a weekday activity. One may not play ball for the same reason; even children may not play with a ball that adults use for sports, because it is a weekday activity.[3]

One may walk on Shabbat for one’s health, on condition that he walks regularly and not more briskly or more intensively than usual. Although one may not address medical needs on Shabbat, since it is not discernible that his walking has a medical purpose, and many people take walks, he may walk for health and fitness on Shabbat (MB 301:7). One may also do gentle stretches in order to loosen up.

The later poskim agree that one may not ride a bicycle on Shabbat. Some maintain that the reason for this prohibition is a concern that one will travel outside the teĥum, while others say that the concern is that the bicycle will break and he will end up fixing it. In fact, the main reason is that it is a weekday activity, since people ride bicycles primarily to travel to work or to exercise.[4]


[3]. According to Or Le-Tziyon 2:36:12, exercise is forbidden only when undertaken in order to sweat to improve health, but one may run for callisthenic exercise just as youths may run for pleasure (based on Rambam, and as opposed to Rashi; see BHL 328:42). However, in practice, it would seem that exercise is, in some way, a weekday activity, as we can see from t. Shabbat 17:16, which states: “One may not run on Shabbat for exercise; but walking in the usual fashion, even all day long, is no problem.” Even though youths who enjoy running may run, this is because they enjoy the running itself; but when the pleasure is derived from improving one’s health, it is prohibited. This is made explicit in SA 301:1-2; Taz ad loc. 1; AHS ad loc. 44. It is also the position of Tzitz Eliezer 6:4 and SSK 34:22. One who enjoys the exercise itself may exercise (Melamed Le-ho’il, OĤ 53; R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach in SSK ch. 16 n. 106) on condition that he does not do so in an organized and professional way, which would qualify it as a weekday activity. It would also seem that an adult who enjoys running may not run outside, because it seems to belittle Shabbat and is consequently deemed a weekday activity. See Harĥavot.

[4]. However, Ben Ish Ĥai permits riding a bicycle. It explains that we need not be concerned that people will mistakenly conclude that one may ride in vehicles drawn by humans or animals. Furthermore, we do not have the right to enact new decrees (Responsa Rav Pe’alim 1:25). Nevertheless, almost all poskim are stringent, for the reasons mentioned above (Ketzot Ha-shulĥan §110, Badei Ha-shulĥan §16; Yaskil Avdi 3:19; Tzitz Eliezer 7:30; She’elat Yaakov §45; Kaf Ha-ĥayim 404:8; SSK 16:18). Or Le-Tziyon 2:42:1 adds that though it is technically possible to permit, since the widespread practice is to forbid bike riding, it is forbidden.

Those who maintain that riding a bicycle is a weekday activity can find support in Beitza 25b: “The Rabbis taught: The blind do not go out [on Yom Tov] with their canes, nor do we go out with a chair.” Rashi explains that since canes were considered weekday items, going out with them would belittle Yom Tov. He adds that the chair in question is a sedan chair (litter) carried by people. The Gemara specifies that the prohibition on carrying the chair applies when people lift it up on their shoulders (as opposed to holding it lower down). Rashi explains that when a chair is carried on the shoulders it looks like a weekday activity, it is more public, and it indicates that the chair is being carried further.

09. Walking for Non-Shabbat Purposes

Even when one takes a relaxed walk, he may not walk to his fields or factory in order to plan out his workweek. Doing so is included in the category of “your affairs,” which may not be addressed on Shabbat, as it is stated: “if you honor it, and not go in your own way, nor look to your affairs” (Yeshayahu 58:13). However, if it is not obvious that his intention is to plan his work, there is no prohibition. Therefore, one may take a Shabbat walk as long as onlookers cannot tell that he is looking over his fields. It is pious to avoid thinking about business on Shabbat altogether (see SA 306:8).

Similarly, one who is building a house should not check the progress on Shabbat, because it is obvious that he is planning his work, and one who intends to renovate or expand his home may not examine other projects if it is clear that he is planning the renovations. So too, one considering buying an apartment may not check out apartments for sale on Shabbat. In contrast, one considering buying an apartment may walk to a street where new apartments are being built even though his intention is to look them over, as long as it looks like he is just out for a walk and he does not stop and scrutinize them; this way, he does not look like he is planning his purchase. If one is planning to buy an electrical appliance, he may window-shop at appliance stores while walking on the street. However, he should not look at prices (SSK 29:10). In addition, it is pious to avoid thinking about these matters at all on Shabbat.

Toward the end of Shabbat, one may not walk to the edge of the teĥum in order to hire workers as soon after Shabbat as possible. Similarly, one may not go to his field, store, or factory at that time so that he can begin work immediately after Shabbat. Since it is clear that he is going there on Shabbat in order to work afterward, in effect he is dealing with his weekday affairs on Shabbat. However, if it is not clear that this is the reason he is going there, as is the case, for example, if many people take walks there, then he may walk there on Shabbat even if he intends to hire workers or begin his work immediately afterward. This is because the prohibition only applies when it is clear that he is going for a mundane purpose (SA 306:1; MB ad loc. 1; BHL s.v. “she-me’ayen; SA 307:9; MB ad loc. 40).[5]


[5]. The prohibition on walking to the edge of the teĥum on Shabbat applies when going to do something that cannot be done permissibly on Shabbat. However, if his objective is to collect already-picked fruits that are outside the teĥum, or to visit relatives who live outside the teĥum, the walking is permitted, as there is no essential prohibition involved (after all, if there were an eruv, he would be permitted to undertake these activities even on Shabbat). In contrast, one may not walk to the edge of the teĥum on Shabbat with the goal of picking fruits or collecting muktzeh fruits after Shabbat, because the act is fundamentally prohibited (there is no way to undertake these activities permissibly on Shabbat). A similar principle governs the prohibition of speech, as described in the next section. One may speak about an activity if it can be done on Shabbat in a permissible way, such as if there were an eruv. So, one may speak on Shabbat of plans to visit an area the next day in order to collect fruit from there (Shabbat 150b; SA 307:8; MB ad loc. 35. SAH, ad loc. 16 explains the basis of the permission. Orĥot Shabbat ch. 22 n. 7 suggests additional reasons for it).

10. Talking about Work and Business

It is a mitzva to honor Shabbat in the way one speaks, as it is written: “and if you honor it, and not go in your own way, nor look to your affairs, nor speak of them” (Yeshayahu 58:13). The Sages elaborate: “‘Nor speak of them’ – your speech on Shabbat should not be like your speech on weekdays” (Shabbat 113a). This means that one should not speak on Shabbat about things that one may not do on Shabbat. Therefore, one should not say, “Tomorrow I will travel by car,” “I will write a letter,” or “I will buy an item.” Clearly, then, it is also prohibited for one to ask someone else to travel the next day on his behalf, write a letter for him, or buy something for him (SA 307:1). This prohibition applies to things that one intends to do in the future. However, one may speak about what he has already done, as long as he does not intend to provide useful information to the listener on how best to perform the melakha.

The prohibition applies to talking about actions prohibited on Shabbat. In contrast, one may think about them. Thus the Sages expound: “Speaking [about mundane matters] is forbidden, but thinking about them is permitted” (Shabbat 113a). Speech that merely alludes to a melakha is considered “thinking” and is thus permitted. For example, while one may not say, “Tomorrow I will phone so-and-so,” one may say, “Tomorrow I will speak with so-and-so,” even though it is clear that he will do so by phone. Similarly, one may not say, “Tomorrow I will drive to Jerusalem,” since traveling by motor vehicle is prohibited on Shabbat, but one may say, “Tomorrow I will go to Jerusalem,” since one can “go” by walking, and even though Jerusalem is outside the teĥum, theoretically one could build an eruv to Jerusalem and it would be permitted to walk there on Shabbat. Since walking to Jerusalem is not fundamentally prohibited, one may talk about “going” there. Even if the listener realizes that the speaker means that he is planning to travel by car or bus and that the listener may join him if he wishes, the statement is still considered only a hint and is permitted.

Similarly, if one plans to travel by cab after Shabbat, on Shabbat he may ask his friend who is a cabdriver, “Do you think you will be able to come over after Shabbat?” Since he has not asked his friend to come with his cab in order to drive him, then even though his friend understands that this is what is meant, it is not prohibited. However, he may not say to his cabdriver friend, “Come over after Shabbat, please,” because an allusion in the imperative form is prohibited. Following the same principle, one who wishes to hire a worker on Sunday may say to him on Shabbat, “I hope to see you on Sunday,” but he may not say, “Please come on Sunday” (Shabbat 150a; SA 307:7).

One may not speak about monetary transactions that have business implications, while one may talk about them if they have no practical import. Therefore, one may not speak about wages owed to workers, but one may speak about wages already paid. Similarly, one may not tell another how much a house sold for if the listener is interested in buying a similar house, while one may pass on this information to someone who is not interested in buying a home. Likewise, one may report on how much yield a field produced the previous year, what the government’s budget is, and the like. This is because the people involved in these conversations have no plans to act on these discussions during the week (SA 307:6).[6]

It is preferable to minimize trivial conversations on Shabbat. One who enjoys such conversations may engage in them a bit more than usual, as they are part of his physical enjoyment of Shabbat. However, he should not indulge himself excessively, just as he should not eat or sleep excessively, as these indulgences will take away from the time he needs to set aside for Torah study on Shabbat. We have already seen that a minimum of six hours must be dedicated to Torah study on Shabbat (SA and Rema 307:1; MB ad loc. 4; see above 5:1).


[6]. If there is a great need to speak on Shabbat about business matters (for example, if one encounters a person with whom he will not be able to meet on a weekday, and if he does not speak with him he will suffer a great loss), he may talk about business matters as long as he uses a shinui when choosing his words. For example, he should speak of a hundred challahs rather than a hundred dollars (Eshel Avraham [Buczacz] §307). As with any rabbinic prohibition on Shabbat, using a shinui reduces it to a shvut di-shvut, and is permitted in order to prevent a great loss (She’arim Metzuyanim Ba-halakha 90:3 and Kuntres Aĥaron).

11. Walking and Talking for the Sake of a Mitzva

One may speak about activities that are prohibited on Shabbat if it is for the sake of a mitzva. In such a case, one may also examine sites where melakha must be done or make financial calculations for the sake of a mitzva. It is written: “and if you honor it, and not go in your own way, nor look to your affairs, nor speak of them” (Yeshayahu 58:13), and the Sages expound: “‘Nor look to your affairs’ – it is forbidden to look after your own affairs on Shabbat, but one may look after the affairs of heaven (‘ĥeftzei shamayim,’ i.e., religious matters)” (Shabbat 113a). Therefore, if necessary, one may walk to inspect a synagogue construction site. If something is needed for an upcoming wedding or funeral, one may walk to the edge of the teĥum so that one can deal with these matters immediately after Shabbat. Near the end of Shabbat, one may also start walking to a location from which people will be picked up after Shabbat in order to comfort mourners (Shabbat 151a; SA 306:3; SSK 29:13).

Similarly, in cases of necessity, one may speak about mundane matters that relate to mitzva needs. This includes calculating the costs of a wedding meal or a brit mila, as each of these is a se’udat mitzva (a festive meal associated with a mitzva). One may plan the hiring of a band for a wedding or deal with the bride’s dress. However, one may not actually close a deal, because business deals are prohibited even for the sake of a mitzva. It is altogether prohibited to discuss hiring a photographer for a wedding, or the purchase of wedding outfits for family members of the bride and groom, since these do not qualify as mitzva needs.

One may take up a collection in which everybody pledges to give a certain amount of money to charity or to a synagogue. Parents may calculate the sum needed for their children’s education, whether religious, secular, or vocational. Those involved in education may discuss school or class budgets. A principal may offer a job to a teacher and mention a salary figure, though it is forbidden to reach an agreement on wages. One may discuss communal needs such as paving roads or levying taxes, as the needs of the community are deemed mitzva needs (Shabbat 150a; SA 306:6). In all these cases, it is proper to be lenient only when there is a specific need. If the matter will be addressed in any case, it is proper not to speak of mundane matters or walk in order to inspect them, even for the sake of a mitzva (MB 307:1).

If necessary, one may announce that an object has been found on Shabbat, even if the item in question is muktzeh (such as a purse), in order to facilitate the fulfillment (after Shabbat) of the mitzva of returning a lost item (SA 306:12). In an area where it is difficult to locate matza for Pesaĥ or a lulav and etrog for Sukkot, one may announce on Shabbat where they are available for sale (MB 306:55).

12. Permitted and Forbidden Reading Material

One may not read contracts and financial documents on Shabbat, such as loan and purchase contracts, bank statements, phone and electric bills, and prices on flyers or in shop windows. Reading them is considered dealing with mundane affairs (ĥeftzei ĥol), which is forbidden on Shabbat (Rosh). Furthermore, there is a concern that as a result of reading them one will end up writing or erasing (Rambam).

According to Rambam, one may read only sacred words on Shabbat; all other reading material is forbidden, even to study the sciences, so that Shabbat is not treated as a weekday and situations that might lead to writing are avoided. However, in practice, we follow the majority of poskim (Rashi, Ri, Rosh), who limit the prohibition to reading financial and business material. In order to ensure that no one will end up reading these materials, the Sages also prohibited reading secular material that has no value. In contrast, secular material that has value may be read on Shabbat. This includes material on physical fitness, proper nutrition, and ingredient lists on food packaging. One may also study the sciences and other branches of knowledge.

One may not read run-of-the-mill secular material and stories if they have no value. However, one who enjoys reading them may do so occasionally, as the Sages did not forbid reading for pleasure on Shabbat. In contrast, one should not read gripping novels that cause sadness or anxiety on Shabbat (MB 306:38 and 307:3). It would seem that one may read depressing stories from Jewish history and rabbinic biographies, since they are valuable as Torah and are morally edifying. Nevertheless, it is preferable to study pleasant things, which are more appropriate for Shabbat.

In principle, one may read the newspaper for informative content. One who enjoys reading news, stories, and analysis may do so, but one may not read sad and worrying content on Shabbat. One may read general financial articles as long as they do not give practical advice, but one may not read articles that give practical business and investment advice. It is also forbidden to read advertisements for products that one may wish to buy in the future.

Even though technically one may read parts of the newspaper, many maintain that it is proper to avoid reading it on Shabbat because it is full of advertisements and disturbing news, and it is difficult to distinguish between what one may and may not read. Additionally, reading a newspaper negates the main purpose of Shabbat, which is Torah study. Therefore, one may read its informative content and non-disturbing news, but only while in the bathroom.[7]

One may read (and place) ads in leaflets distributed in synagogues, as long as they are advertising products that fulfill mitzva needs, such as Torah books or homes in Israel (to potential customers from abroad). If these products are being sold cheaply and advertising might encourage readers to fulfill the mitzva, one may even publish the price (see MB 306:55, 307:1, and 323:20).

One may not read a guest list or menu of a Shabbat meal as it resembles reading a contract. In addition, there is a concern that the host may wish to correct the list by writing or erasing (Shabbat 149:1; SA 307:12-13). In contrast, for the sake of a mitzva, such as the meal accompanying a brit mila, or in order to avoid greatly insulting someone, a waiter may read the list, as there is no concern that he will change it. However, the host or head waiter may not read the list, because they might end up correcting it (MB 307:47; SHT ad loc. 54).

The gabbai may read the notebook or cards that contain the list of people to be called up to the Torah, since this is for the sake of a mitzva. We are not worried that he will end up writing or erasing, since he is standing in the middle of a group of people. If he forgets and wants to write, others will remind him that it is Shabbat. The gabbai may also call people to the Torah from a list he has been given by a family that is celebrating a special occasion in the synagogue. If they wish to change the list, the gabbai should not review it without at least one other person reviewing it with him who can remind him that it is Shabbat, lest he forget.


[7]. According to Rambam, only Torah material may be read on Shabbat. All other reading materials are forbidden out of concern that people will end up writing. In contrast, Rashi, Ri, Rosh, Ramban, and Rashba maintain that the original prohibition was limited to reading material dealing with business or other things that are forbidden on Shabbat. The Sages extended this prohibition to include stories or material with no value, to make it less likely that people will read the previously prohibited material. The majority of poskim follow this lenient approach (Baĥ 307:5; SAH 307:21-22; MB 307:52; SSK 29:48-49). The Gemara forbids reading captions under pictures, and this includes mundane stories as well (Shabbat 149a; SA 307:15). According to Ma’amar Mordechai and SAH, even one who enjoys them may not read them, but according to MA 301:4, Birkei Yosef, Pri Megadim, and Maharsham, he may read occasionally. Disturbing material, no matter how gripping, should not be read (see MB 307:3).She’elat Ya’avetz 1:162 states that while technically one may read newspapers, in practice it is proper to forbid it lest people end up reading prohibited material. MB 307:63 states similarly, while Shvut Yaakov 3:13 is permissive. See SSK 29:48 and Harĥavot.

13. Games on Shabbat

Poskim disagree whether one may play games on Shabbat. Some say that since Shabbat is meant for Torah study, one may not play games, as that would be wasting time that could be used to study Torah. Accordingly, one may not play checkers, chess, backgammon, billiards, or any ball game, whether the games are played inside on the floor or outside on a paved area. And since one may not play these games, they are considered muktzeh as well (R. Aharon Sasson, cited in Birkei Yosef 338:1; Petaĥ Ha-devir ad loc. 4).

Others maintain that there is no prohibition on playing games on Shabbat, as long as nobody is playing for money (Rema 338:5; Ma’amar Mordechai). Indeed, some rabbis would play chess on Shabbat, as it is a game that requires thought and sharpens the mind (Shiltei Giborim).[8]

In practice, it is appropriate for adults to be stringent and not play ball games, chess, and the like, both because it is prohibited according to some poskim and because one should not to get used to neglecting Torah study on Shabbat. Those who wish to be lenient have an opinion on which to rely (see SA 308:45; MA 338:5; MB ad loc. 21; Kaf Ha-ĥayim ad loc. 39). Children should also be trained to study Torah on Shabbat, but almost all poskim agree that one should not prevent them from playing games on Shabbat (as explained below in 24:7).

In contrast, sports that are a big deal, like soccer, basketball, baseball, and football, may not be played on Shabbat, because of the prohibition on weekday activities. It goes without saying that one may not play them on the court or field designated for them. Children may not play these sports either, because it is a weekday activity (below 24:9).


[8]. Ĥida is inclined to forbid playing chess (Birkei Yosef 338:1). He suggests that the rabbis who played chess on Shabbat were suffering from depression. In order to take their minds off their worries, they played chess, after which they were able to return to their Torah study. However, barring this situation, one should not play on Shabbat. The Sages tell us that there was a place named Tur Shimon that was destroyed even though the people there respected Shabbat. Some say the reason was that they played ball there on Shabbat (y. Ta’anit 4:5). R. Elazar of Worms explains that by playing games they were wasting time during which they would have been learning Torah (Roke’aĥ §55). Based on this, some conclude that one may not play ball on Shabbat, and that therefore balls are muktzeh (Shibolei Ha-leket, Beit Yosef, and SA 308:45). Others are permissive and maintain that one may play ball in a paved yard (Tosafot, Rema). Nevertheless, one may not play on an unpaved surface, out of concern that people will end up leveling the ground (above 15:2). As for the punishment of Tur Shimon, that was because they were playing ball in the public domain (Vilna Gaon), or because they were taking away too much time from their Torah study.

14. Payment for Work Done on Shabbat (Sekhar Shabbat)

The Sages prohibited accepting payment for work done on Shabbat, because this is included in the prohibition on commerce. Even if the “work” is intrinsically permissible on Shabbat (such as guard duty or waiting tables), one may not accept payment for it on Shabbat (BM 58a; SA 306:4). It is also forbidden to accept rent money for anything, whether real estate or objects, that had been rented out on Shabbat (MB 246:3). Even be-di’avad, one may not benefit from money paid for any service rendered on Shabbat (SA 245:6; MB 243:16).

In contrast, payment for work done on Shabbat may be subsumed within weekday payment. For example, an agreement may stipulate that a worker will do guard duty or wait tables for a few hours after Shabbat as well as on Shabbat itself. Even though, in reality, most of the hours were on Shabbat and the payment is primarily for those hours, as long as an agreement was reached before the work started that the employee would also work on Saturday night, the compensation covers the hours worked during the week as well as those on Shabbat. Thus, the Shabbat payment is subsumed within the weekday payment. However, if an agreement was not reached before the work started, then even if the employee did work after Shabbat as well, each workday stands on its own, the payment for Shabbat work cannot be subsumed within the payment for weekday work, and the worker thus may not accept the payment (Ĥayei Adam 60:8; MB 306:21; SSK 28:64-68).

Along the same lines, one may rent out a room for Shabbat, as long as the rental period includes time either on Friday before Shabbat begins or on Saturday night after Shabbat ends. A cab driver can rent out his cab to a non-Jew for Shabbat, as long as the rental period either begins before Shabbat or extends after Shabbat, so that the Shabbat payment can be subsumed within the weekday payment. One may also collect interest on one’s bank account, since the calculations are based on the calendar day and not the times that Shabbat starts and ends. Accordingly, whatever is earned over Shabbat can be seen as subsumed within the weekday earnings of Friday morning and afternoon and Saturday night.

One who immerses in a mikveh on Shabbat may pay the mikveh fee after Shabbat. There are two reasons for this. First, it is for the sake of a mitzva, and second, the payment is not for the immersion itself, but for the cleaning and heating of the mikveh, which started before Shabbat.[9]

One may give a gift on Saturday night to someone who worked voluntarily over Shabbat. Examples include one who set up the synagogue and one who served as a waiter at a Shabbat meal. Since there is no obligation to compensate him at all, whatever is given is not considered payment (Pri Megadim; MB 306:15).

The poskim disagree about whether one may accept payment for serving as a ĥazan or for other mitzva-related jobs undertaken on Shabbat. Some say that even when a job involves a mitzva, one may not accept payment for it. If this is correct, a ĥazan may not be paid for leading the services on Shabbat. Others maintain that one may be paid for a mitzva-related job on Shabbat, but that nothing good will come of this income. In practice, it is proper to stipulate that any payment will also include work performed during the week. For example, a ĥazan will be paid for practicing before he leads the Shabbat services, or for an additional prayer service that he will lead during the week. This way the Shabbat payment can be subsumed within the weekday payment (SA and Rema 306:5).

A doctor who is on call to provide medical care during Shabbat is entitled to demand payment after Shabbat. The reason is that if he cannot assume that he will be paid, he might refuse to provide care in the future (MB 306:24; Minĥat Shabbat 90:19; SSK 28:75).


[9]. If Shabbat is followed by Yom Tov or vice versa, there is an entire calendar day that is sanctified, and yet one is receiving interest then. At first glance this would seem to be forbidden (Minĥat Yitzĥak 9:59; Be-tzel Ha-ĥokhma 3:38). Nevertheless, this too is permissible because interest is not actually paid daily, but rather all the days are calculated together. Accordingly, the interest in this case can be subsumed within the times before and after the holy days (see Menuĥat Ahava 1:10:30 with n. 69, and Yalkut Yosef vol. 2, p. 133). Similarly, MB 306:20 cites an opinion that payment for Shabbat work is subsumed within payment for weekday work even if an agreement was not reached before the work started if it is likely that the work under the agreement will continue during the week.A waiter may not work on Shabbat with the understanding that his employer will in turn work for him in a different capacity, because working for someone is considered payment. However, one may do guard duty on Shabbat for a friend and arrange for this friend to cover his assigned guard duty elsewhere, because guard duty that prevents loss is not considered payment (SA 307:10). Similarly, one may babysit a family on Shabbat with the understanding that the second person will babysit for the first person’s family at some point in the future (SSK 28:59). If it is one’s turn to set up the dining hall and serve the food on Shabbat, he may switch his Shabbat slot for a different slot. Since there is no monetary compensation involved, swapping is not considered payment (SSK 28:61).

As written above, one who immerses in a mikveh on Shabbat may pay after Shabbat because the payment is for the cleaning and heating done before Shabbat begins (Noda Bi-Yehuda, Mahadura Tinyana, OĤ 26; SSK 28:72). One can also be lenient and rent an apartment for Shabbat only, since it can be argued that the rent also covers the cleaning that takes place before Shabbat (SSK 28:70). It is important to know that in a time of need, when a large loss is at stake, one may accept payment for work done on Shabbat (Rema 244:6; BHL s.v. “de-bimkom”).

15. Preparing on Shabbat for Weekdays, and Cleaning Up the House and Table

Shabbat is meant to bring holiness and rest into our lives. Making efforts on Shabbat to prepare for the week belittles its honor, and therefore the Sages forbade doing so.

Thus, one may not make the beds on Shabbat in preparation for going to sleep on Saturday night. However, one may make the beds on Shabbat so that the bedroom will look nice on Shabbat. Similarly, one may clear off a table so that one’s home will look nice on Shabbat. For the same reason, if se’uda shlishit is finished well before the end of Shabbat, one may clear the table and put the dishes in the sink. However, if se’uda shlishit finishes only a few minutes before the end of Shabbat, or if people are not planning to remain in the room where it was served, so that clearing off the table is not for Shabbat’s sake but for the week’s sake, one may not clear off the table. One who does so is expending effort on Shabbat to prepare for afterward (m. Shabbat 113a; MB 302:19).

One may wash dishes if they will be used again at some point on Shabbat. If many dishes were used, and only one cup is needed for later Shabbat use but there are no more clean cups, one may wash all the cups, since he could use any of them. Similarly, if he needs one plate but none are clean, he may wash all the plates and use one of them. However, if he does not intend to use any of them during Shabbat, he may not wash any of them (Shabbat 118a; SA 323:6; MB 323:26).

One who never leaves dirty dishes in the sink even during the week, and who feels that a pile of dirty dishes left in the sink for hours belittles the honor of Shabbat, may wash the dishes even if they will not be used again during Shabbat, so that his home will be clean in honor of Shabbat. However, even in this case, he may not wash the pots, since they are muktzeh and require burdensome work (Responsa Maharshag, OĤ 1:61; Tzitz Eliezer 14:37). (We have already seen in 13:4-5 how to clean off a table that water or juice spilled on, and in 15:9 how to clean the floor.)

One may not fold a talit so that it will be unwrinkled for next Shabbat. However, one may fold it so that it will not be left out on Shabbat in a disrespectful way (see above 13:9).

One may not prepare on Shabbat for weekdays even when a mitzva is involved. For example, one may not roll a Torah scroll to the passage that will be read during the upcoming week or the next Shabbat (MB 667:5). If necessary, one may roll the Torah scroll to the next reading and then study a few verses from it, so that the rolling will serve a purpose on Shabbat as well (AHS 667:2). One may bring a book to the synagogue if it is needed after Shabbat, as long as one studies a bit from it on Shabbat as well.

On Shabbat one may study for a test in a Torah subject that is scheduled for the upcoming week, since studying these topics is itself a mitzva. However, it is proper not to study on Shabbat for tests in secular subjects. First, Shabbat must be dedicated to Torah study. Second, the student’s primary goal in studying is to succeed on his test, not to become more knowledgeable. In a time of need one may be lenient, since there is intrinsic value to secular studies. In contrast, one may not study a foreign language on Shabbat, because such study has no intrinsic value. It is also prohibited to study for a test in a subject that normally involves writing exercises, because (as we saw) one may read on Shabbat only when there is no concern that one might end up writing or erasing.

One should not say on Shabbat, “I will go to sleep now, so that I will have energy after Shabbat.” This belittles Shabbat, since he is using it to prepare for weekdays. However, if he does not verbalize this but only thinks it, it is not forbidden, since sleeping on Shabbat is a pleasure (Sefer Ĥasidim; MB 290:4; see above 5:3).

When Yom Tov follows Shabbat, one may not prepare on Shabbat for Yom Tov. Be-di’avad, if one prepared something on Shabbat for afterward, he may benefit from his actions.

16. When Preparation on Shabbat for the Weekday Is Permitted

The prohibition of preparing on Shabbat for the weekday is limited to activities that require effort. However, easy, effortless activities that people routinely undertake are permitted. This is true even if the activities are useful for the weekday, as doing them does not belittle Shabbat. For example, after shaking the lulav on the first day of Sukkot, one may put it back in water, even though this is done to keep it fresh for the next day (Sukka 42a; SA 654:1). One who is studying Torah may insert a bookmark, even though this will not be helpful until he continues his studies during the week. One who took a siddur to the synagogue may bring it home (where there is an eruv), even if he will not be using it again on that Shabbat.

Similarly, one may put leftover food in the refrigerator as usual. Dishes may be left soaking in water as usual to prevent food remnants getting stuck to them. One leaving the house on Shabbat afternoon may take a key and sweater with him for use after Shabbat, though he should not state explicitly that he is doing so for after Shabbat (see SA 416:2; SSK 28:89).

In a time of need, in order to avoid serious inconvenience, one may do simple things on Shabbat in preparation for the weekday even if they are not part of the normal routine, but only on condition that it is not obvious that he is doing them for the weekday, so as not to belittle Shabbat. For example, if one is going to a place where it is difficult to find wine for havdala, he may bring wine with him on Shabbat, on condition that he brings it while there is still plenty of daylight left, so that it will not be obvious that he is bringing the wine for after Shabbat. If he drinks some of the wine at se’uda shlishit, he may even bring wine le-khatĥila (see Ĥayei Adam 153:6; MB 667:5).

In a time of need, in order to prevent a loss, the Sages permitted doing things on Shabbat even when it is obvious that they are for the weekday. Examples include bringing in items from outside and that would likely be damaged by rain, and putting food into the freezer if it would likely spoil if left out (SA 308:4; MB 321:21).[10]


[10]. If slaughtered meat is left unsalted for three days, it can no longer be rendered kosher through salting. However, if the meat is soaked in water before the three days end, the window for salting is extended. According to MA 321:7, one may not soak unsalted meat whose time is running out and soak it on Shabbat to make sure that it will be permissible to cook after Shabbat, because it is forbidden to deal with something on Shabbat in order to prevent loss after Shabbat. However, MB 321:21 adds that under pressing circumstances, one may rely on Eliya Rabba and Noda Bi-Yehuda, which permit it. This is also the opinion of SSK 28:91 and Yalkut Yosef vol. 2, p. 218.

17. Playing Musical Instruments and Producing Sound

The Sages prohibited playing instruments on Shabbat and Yom Tov, lest the instrument break and the player fix it, thus violating Torah law (MT 23:4). In contrast, in the Temple, rabbinic Shabbat prohibitions (shvut) did not apply; therefore, even on Shabbat and holidays, the Levites would accompany offerings with flutes, harps, lyres, trumpets, and cymbals (Beitza 11b).

Included in the prohibition of playing musical instruments is the prohibition of blowing a shofar. Even on Rosh Ha-shana, once the mitzva of shofar has been fulfilled in the optimal and most beautiful fashion, we do not blow further. Children under the age of bar mitzva may blow the shofar all day on Rosh Ha-shana so that they can learn how to do it (Rema 596:1; MB 3-5).

One may produce sound that is not musical in nature. Thus, one may clap his hands to wake someone up, knock on a door with his hands or an instrument so that the people inside will hear and open up, or tap a glass or bottle with a spoon to quiet a crowd. One may also snap in order to wake someone up or to make a baby laugh (SA 338:1).

The poskim disagree whether one may use a door knocker or mechanical bell. Some forbid it on the grounds that it resembles a musical instrument too closely (Rema). Others permit it since one is not trying to make music (SA 338:1). If during the week an electric doorbell is used, then on Shabbat a mechanical doorbell or knocker may be used (MB 338:7).[11]

One may place a decorative crown with bells on a Torah scroll even though the bells produce sound. Since they are decorative and honor the Torah, it is for the sake of a mitzva, and since the person carrying the Torah does not intend to make noise, it is not forbidden (Shakh and MA, as opposed to Taz).

Some forbid opening a door that has bells or chimes attached to it, since they are considered musical instruments (Taz and Eliya Rabba). Others permit it, because those entering do not intend to make noise, they just want to open the door (MA). Le-khatĥila, it is proper for homeowners to remove bells from the door before Shabbat; if they did not do so, the door may still be used (see MB 338:6).

One may whistle on Shabbat because it is considered a type of music made with the mouth, not with an instrument. Some even permit using one’s fingers to improve the whistle (AHS 338:7; see below in 24:7 about toys that make noise).


[11]. Eruvin 104a records a disagreement about this issue. According to Ula, one may not produce sound on Shabbat even without intent to make music. Therefore, one may not knock on the door so that the people inside will hear him. Rava maintains that only producing sound with the goal of creating music is prohibited. The Yerushalmi tells the story of R. Ila’i, who returned home on Friday night and called out to the members of his household to let him in. They did not hear him. Since he was personally stringent not to knock, he slept outside (y. Beitza 5:2). Indeed, Rabbeinu Ĥananel and the Vilna Gaon rule in accordance with Ula’s strict approach. In any case, even according to them, knocking with a shinui is permitted (BHL 338:1 s.v. “aval”). However, based on the subsequent discussion in the Gemara, Rif and Rambam (MT 23:4) conclude that the law is in accordance with the lenient approach of Rava. Rosh is inclined to follow this as well. Almost all the poskim follow the lenient approach, including SA 338:1, MB ad loc. 2-3, and SSK 28:41. However, regarding a door knocker, an instrument designed to produce sound, Maharil is stringent. Beit Yosef suggests that Maharil’s stringency is due to the concern that the person knocking may in fact intend to produce music. Rema 338:1 is stringent, following Maharil. According to BHL 338:1 s.v. “ho’il,” this is the position of SA as well. However, Livyat Ĥen §110 and Or Le-Tziyon 2:39:1 argue that according to SA, one may use a door knocker. If the knocker is meant to be used only on Shabbat, then Rema permits it as well (MB 338:7; Shevet Ha-Levi 9:76). Therefore, one may use a mechanical doorbell on Shabbat if an electric one is used during the week (SSK 23:55 with n. 159).A ĥazan may not use a tuning fork to help him determine the pitch for his singing, because it is included in the prohibition on musical instruments (MB 338:4). While some are permissive, since a tuning fork produces a sound that is uniform and relatively quiet, and it is being used for the sake of a mitzva, it is proper to be stringent, because that is the opinion of almost all the poskim. If one wishes to rely on those who are lenient, it is not necessary to object (AHS 338:8; see Yabi’a Omer 3:22).

18. Clapping and Dancing

The Sages’ prohibition of playing instruments includes dancing, clapping, and slapping one’s thigh with one’s hands to accompany singing out of concern lest one play an instrument and fix it (Beitza 36b). However, one may clap with a shinui, such as using the back of one’s hand; by using a shinui, he is reminded that it is Shabbat and will not end up fixing an instrument (y. Beitza 5:2). It would seem that very muted dancing, in which one’s feet never leave the ground at the same time, is not included in the prohibited dancing (ibid.).

The prohibition applies specifically while singing, because there is a concern then that it will lead to playing instruments. In contrast, if there is no singing, one may jump a bit for his enjoyment. Similarly, one may clap or to bang on a table in order to wake someone up.

In practice, many observant Jews dance, clap, and bang on a table when they sing on Shabbat. The poskim disagree about the legitimacy of this practice, as follows.

One approach, that of many poskim, is that this practice is mistaken. The only reason that the Sages did not object is that the prohibition is not stated explicitly in the Torah, so it is better that people transgress unknowingly rather than knowingly (Beitza 30a). However, if there is any possibility that people can be convinced to accept the proper halakha, we must teach them not to clap or dance on Shabbat, in accordance with the rabbinic enactment (Rif; Rambam; Rema 339:3). Nevertheless, on Simĥat Torah, when there is a special mitzva to rejoice and honor the Torah, even those who are normally stringent dance and clap (Maharik in the name of R. Hai Gaon). However, for other celebrations with a mitzva component, such as weddings, they are not lenient (MB 339:8).

A second approach defends the leniency. After all, the reason behind the prohibition is a concern that people will end up fixing a musical instrument. Nowadays, when those who play an instrument do not know how to fix it, the enactment no longer applies, and one may dance and clap on Shabbat (Tosafot, Beitza 30a, s.v. “tenan”). Some do not accept this, maintaining that all the players know how to tune their instrument (tightening guitar strings, harp strings, or the top of a drum), which is considered fixing an instrument. However, there is a different reason to be lenient. Some maintain that the rabbinic enactment was specifically relevant to the times of the Sages, when people would take out instruments whenever there was dancing and clapping. Nowadays, when many people sing, dance, and clap without instruments, the enactment no longer applies (AHS 339:9).

A third approach notes that the great Ĥasidic masters of recent centuries focused on the value of music and dance to awaken people’s hearts to cling to God joyfully. Such dancing and clapping are considered true mitzva needs. Accordingly, just as there is a leniency for Simĥat Torah, there should be a leniency for every Shabbat (Devar Yehoshua 2:42:4).

It would seem that even those who are lenient should not drum on the table on Shabbat. Such drumming is very similar to that of an actual drum, which all agree is forbidden, even for the sake of a mitzva. Furthermore, the concern that people will take out a drum is a serious one today, when many are used to bringing drums, darbukas, and the like when they sing. In contrast, when people are singing during prayer, a leader may drum with his hand on the bima. One leading the songs at the Shabbat table may also be lenient.[12]


[12]. As we said above, on Simĥat Torah all customarily clap and dance based on the opinion of R. Hai Gaon as cited by Maharik and Beit Yosef 339:3. However, the poskim do not apply this leniency to other mitzva situations (SA 339:3). Rema is inclined to follow this as well, commenting that the reason we do not object to those who clap and dance on Shabbat is that it is better that people transgress unknowingly rather than knowingly. However, Rema cites as an alternative the lenient approach of Tosafot, namely, that nowadays there is no reason to be concerned that people will end up fixing a musical instrument. Yam Shel Shlomo (Beitza 5:6) seems to state that technically one may rely on Tosafot when it is in the service of a mitzva. This opinion is quoted in Eliya Rabba 339:1 and MB ad loc. 10. (See SHT 339:6-7.) Based on the logic of this approach, Ĥasidim are customarily lenient (Devar Yehoshua 2:42:4; Minĥat Elazar 1:29). Sephardim may rely on this reasoning as well for the sake of a mitzva (see Or Le-Tziyon 2:43:9 and Harĥavot.) However, the leniency pertains to dancing and clapping – both of which are done with the body – and not to drumming on something else (Eliya Rabba 339:1; MB ad loc. 10; Avnei Yashfe 2:35:1). The reasoning is straightforward. Drumming on a table is similar to playing a drum, which is a musical instrument. Nevertheless, when it comes to a gabbai leading the congregation in song, there are two reasons to be lenient and allow him to drum with his hand on the bima. First, this is more clearly for the sake of a mitzva, and we already saw that R. Hai Gaon and Maharik are lenient for the sake of Simĥat Torah (see SHT 339:7). Second, since the gabbai is in the middle of the congregation, we are not worried that he might bring instruments that will need to be fixed. Perhaps this is also one of the reasons for the leniency on Simĥat Torah. The logic is similar to that of the permission for two people to read by candlelight (Shabbat 12b), or for even one person to read by candlelight as long as his friend is there to make sure he will not unknowingly do anything that would affect the flame (SA 275:3). This also explains why Sha’arei De’a (YD 282) allows putting a crown with bells on a Torah scroll (as opposed to Taz; see Yabi’a Omer 3:22). Perhaps we can extend the leniency to leading the singing at the Shabbat table, and allow one to drum with his hand on the table. Nevertheless, it is not proper for the rest of the participants to drum. Besides, their drumming is not always for the sake of the mitzva, as often these additional drummers actually make it harder to sing because they are out of sync with the song.

19. Music and Films on Electronic Devices

There is a clear consensus among poskim that one may not listen to the radio or watch television on Shabbat. Even if the radio or television is turned on before Shabbat so that no melakha is performed on Shabbat, it is forbidden, and for several reasons. First, if there are Jews who work at the station, one may not derive enjoyment from Shabbat desecration.

Second, even if all the station’s workers are non-Jewish, one may not listen to or watch broadcasts because it belittles and detracts from the honor of Shabbat. We already saw (2:9) that some maintain that one may not leave a flour mill running before Shabbat if it will continue to run on Shabbat, because the noise of the grinding detracts from the honor of Shabbat. Listening to the radio and watching television are much more serious. While the mill makes noise that no one wants to hear, one who turns on the radio or television before Shabbat indeed wishes to listen or watch on the holy Shabbat. All would agree that this infringes upon Shabbat’s honor.

Third, it is a weekday activity. Just as the prophets and Sages forbade many things that are reminiscent of weekdays, so that our behavior on Shabbat would be different from that of the workweek, so too we should prohibit listening to the radio and watching television on Shabbat.

Fourth, there is a concern that the radio or television might malfunction, and the listeners or viewers might try to fix it on Shabbat. One might want to raise or lower the volume or adjust the device in some other way (see above 17:2). A similar concern led to the ban on using musical instruments, and the same ban should apply.

For all these reasons, one may not listen to radio or watch television on Shabbat, even when they are turned on before Shabbat. For the same reasons, it is also forbidden to set a timer to turn on a recording device or video or audio player (see Yesodei Yeshurun vol. 3, pp. 50-55; Tzitz Eliezer 3:16; SSK 42:43; Yabi’a Omer 1:20; Yalkut Yosef 318:34-38).