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Weekly Halacha

Parshas Shemos

By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt

A discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.



Muktzeh means "set apart". Generally speaking, items which are prepared or designated for use on Shabbos are not muktzeh. Items which - for any of several reasons - are not ready or designated to be used on Shabbos, are muktzeh.

Although there are many criteria for determining whether or not an item is muktzeh, for the sake of our discussion we will group all muktzeh items into two basic types: a) severe (chamur) muktzeh - items which are "set apart" before Shabbos because they will definitely not be used on Shabbos. [This includes items which are classified as "non-utensils", such as a rock, as well as items which are classified as "delicate" or "precision" utensils, such as a ritual slaughterer's knife, which will not be used for any permitted Shabbos activity because it is so easily damaged], and b) light (kal) muktzeh - items which are set apart because they are normally used for activities which are prohibited on Shabbos, but may, on occasion, be used for a permitted Shabbos activity, e.g., scissors.


Severe muktzeh may never(1) be moved in a normal, straightforward manner(2), while light muktzeh may be moved in either of the following cases: a) if the muktzeh item is needed in order to perform a permissible activity, or b) if the place which the muktzeh item occupies is needed in order to perform a permissible activity. Let us explain:

*In order to perform a permitted activity:*
A hammer, a typical light muktzeh, may be used in order to crack nuts. A sewing needle, another light muktzeh, may be used to remove a splinter from one's finger. Since nut-cracking and splinter removal are permitted activities, a light muktzeh item may be used. [The poskim(3) note, however, that light muktzeh should only be employed when no other suitable item is readily available. Therefore, if a nutcracker and a hammer are equally accessible, the nutcracker should be used. There is no need, however, to borrow a nutcracker if a hammer is available.]

*If the place which the muktzeh item occupies is needed:*
If a tool was left on a bed and the bed is needed for sleeping, or if scissors were left on a chair and the chair is needed for sitting, the light muktzeh item may be picked up and removed, since the muktzeh article is in the way of a need which is permitted to be met on Shabbos. Also, if the light muktzeh is in the way of a permitted item, e.g., a hammer is on a bookshelf and it is blocking a book, it is permitted to move the hammer in order to reach the book. [It is questionable if one is allowed to move a light muktzeh item which is simply creating a clutter but not actually interfering with a permissible activity, e.g. a hammer left lying on the mantel. Most contemporary poskim maintain that moving the hammer is not permitted in this case(4).]


Animals(5), bars of soap(6), cameras, detergent, eye-shadow, flour, glue, light bulbs, lulav(7), matches(8), mascara, money, nutshells, raw barley, rolls of silver foil or toilet paper(9), sha'atnez garments(10), shofars(11), Vaseline, toothpaste.


Cars(12), car keys(13), combs, crayons, empty wallets, empty kettles, fans(14), flashlights(15), garden hoses, hammers, mops and pails, pens(16), pencil sharpeners, potato peelers, rolling pins, rulers, scales, scissors, screwdrivers, staplers, store catalogs(17), telephone books(18), toasters, whistles.


There are some muktzeh items - an unlit candle, unused candlestick, lipstick, copy paper - whose status is debatable(19). On the one hand, these items are utensils like the light muktzeh items listed above, but unlike those light muktzeh items they do not have a function which is permitted on Shabbos [e.g., there is nothing permissible that can be done with a tube of lipstick on Shabbos]. Because of this, some poskim(20) consider them as severe muktzeh, and forbid moving them even if the place they occupy is needed to perform a permissible activity. Other poskim(21) hold that it is not necessary that they have a function which is permissible on Shabbos and they may be classified as light muktzeh since they are, after all, utensils. Under extenuating circumstances one may be lenient and consider these items as light muktzeh(22).


Pictures or clocks on the wall(23), buttons that fell off a garment(24), fresh snow(25).


1 Severe muktzeh can be "directly" moved in the following cases: 1) when the muktzeh is foul-smelling or disgusting; 2) when the muktzeh presents a hazard; 3) when moving the muktzeh will prevent a loss from fire, looters, etc.; 4) when human dignity is involved. All these exemptions have rules and limitations, and they will be discussed elsewhere.

2 Indirectly, however, even severe muktzeh may be moved. The many details involved will be discussed elsewhere.

3 Mishnah Berurah 308:12, as explained by Igros Moshe O.C. 5:21-12.

4 Igros Moshe O.C. 5:22-31; Harav S. Y. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 11); Az Nidberu 8:30; Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 20:10 [see note 24 quoting Harav S.Z. Auerbach]. See, however, Machazeh Eliyahu 46 who is lenient in this situation.

5 O.C. 308:39.

6 Igros Moshe O.C. 5:22-15; Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Tikunim u'Miluim, pg. 32); Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 158).

7 Mishnah Berurah 308:25 (because it is not a utensil); Aruch ha-Shulchan 308:17 (because it is "delicate").

8 The muktzeh status of matches is questionable. Some (Harav M. Feinstein) consider them severe muktzeh; others (Harav S. Z. Auerbach; Harav B. Silber) rule that they are light muktzeh, while others hold they are questionable muktzeh, similar to those listed below. See Meorei Eish, pg. 37; Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah, pg. 154 and 239; Sefer Tiltulei Shabbos, pg. 82; Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 74 for the various views and reasons.

9 Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 98 and pg. 171.

10 O.C. 308:47.

11 Although Rama 308:4 considers a shofar to be light muktzeh, contemporary poskim (Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 32) and Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah, pg. 361 and in Tikunim u'Miluim, pg. 32) agree that nowadays a shofar is too "delicate" to be used for anything other than blowing which is prohibited on Shabbos.

12 Igros Moshe O.C. 5:21-11; Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 201.

13 Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 202). If the key opens the door, then it is not muktzeh. See Tikunim u'Miluim 20, note 254, where Harav S.Z. Auerbach holds that if a light goes on when the car door opens, then the keys are severe muktzeh.

14 Igros Moshe O.C. 3:49; 5:22-22. Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 51) does not consider a fan muktzeh at all.

15 Zachor v'Shamor 41:4. See Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 55 who quotes Harav Y.S. Elyashiv's opinion that a flashlight is severe muktzeh.

16 Igros Moshe O.C. 5:22-32; Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 197). There are some who hold that pens are included in the questionable category listed below; see Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah, pg. 234.

17 Igros Moshe O.C. 5:22-19.

18 Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah, pg. 239. See also Tikunim u'Miluim).

19 Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 180) includes nails and screws in this category. Zachor v'Shamor 41:9 considers those items to be severe muktzeh.

20 Pri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 308:12); Mishnah Berurah 308:34 quoting the Ya'avetz; Aruch ha-Shulchan 279:1; 308:23; Chazon Ish 44:13.

21 Tosfos Shabbos 308:29; Sha'ar ha-Tziyun 279:4 based on Magen Avraham; Igros Moshe O.C. 5:22-28,32.

22 Harav S.Z. Auerbach and Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 19); Shevet ha-Levi 2:32; Az Nidberu 8:67; Zachor v'Shamor 41:4.

23 Some poskim (Chazon Ish, O.C. 43:17) hold that they are severe muktzeh, while other poksim (Igros Moshe O.C. 5:21-13; 22-12) hold that they are not muktzeh at all. See also Mishnah Berurah 308:8; 308:168, and Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 71.

24 Mishnah Berurah 308:35 seems to hold that a button that is going to be reattached is not muktzeh. Igros Moshe O.C. 5:22-20 disagrees and prohibits all buttons. Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah, pg. 178) and Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 80) hold that according to the basic halachah it is permissible but it is proper to be stringent.

25 Mishnah Berurah 338:30 writes that rain which fell on Shabbos is not muktzeh. Some poskim (Har Tzvi, Soser; Harav Y.S. Elyashiv, Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 203; Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah, pg. 190) hold that snow is similar to rain, while others (Igros Moshe O.C. 5:22-37; Harav S.Z. Auerbach, Sefer Tiltulei Shabbos, pg. 13) maintain that snow may be considered severe muktzeh. See also Mishnah Berurah 310:32, quoting Chayei Adam.

Weekly-Halacha, Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and Project Genesis, Inc.

Rabbi Neustadt is the principal of Yavne Teachers' College in Cleveland, Ohio. He is also the Magid Shiur of a daily Mishna Berurah class at Congregation Shomre Shabbos.

The Weekly-Halacha Series is distributed L'zchus Hayeled Doniel Meir ben Hinda. Weekly sponsorships are available--please send email to the moderator, Dr. Jeffrey Gross

The series is distributed by the Harbotzas Torah Division of Congregation Shomre Shabbos, 1801 South Taylor Road, Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118--HaRav Yisroel Grumer, Marah D'Asra



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