QUESTION: What can be done if a telephone or a camera is mistakenly
on a bed or chair before Shabbos, and one needs the bed or chair on
DISCUSSION: To answer this question, we must break it down into its
1) What type of muktzeh are such objects? 2) Are they the
that can be moved under certain circumstances? 3) If they are the type
that cannot be moved, is there any other way to deal with them? 4)
the issue of basis apply here?
TYPES OF MUKTZEH
There are basically two kinds of muktzeh. We will classify them as
severe muktzeh (chamur) and light muktzeh (kal):
1. Severe muktzeh - includes items which are "set apart" before
because they will definitely not be used on Shabbos. Severe muktzeh
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, of course, be used
for slaughtering on Shabbos - nor will it be used for any permitted
activity because it is so easily damaged.
2. Light muktzeh - includes items which are set apart because they are
normally used for activities that are prohibited on Shabbos, but may, on
occasion, be used for a permitted Shabbos activity, e.g., using scissors
to cut food.
WHAT PRACTICAL DIFFERENCE IS THERE BETWEEM THE TWO TYPES?
The main difference between the two types of muktzeh is that light
muktzeh can be moved [in a normal manner] under certain circumstances
while severe muktzeh cannot. The circumstances under which light muktzeh
can be moved are 1) if the muktzeh item is needed in order to perform a
permissible activity, or 2) 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(1)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 highly 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 a mantel. Most contemporary poskim do not allow moving a muktzeh item
for this reason.(2)]
SMALL APPLIANCES: WHAT TYPE OF MUKTZEH ARE THEY?
There are two reasons as to why a telephone or a camera may be
classified as severe muktzeh:
1. Delicate or fragile items - While these small appliances are not
delicate as a slaughterer's knife, they are still fragile electronic
devices which are handled carefully and not used for any purpose other
than the one for which they are manufactured. Possibly, they can be
classified as muktzeh me-chamas chesron kis(,3) which is severe muktzeh.
2. No permissible use on Shabbos - Some poskim maintain that in
a utensil to retain its status of light muktzeh, it must have some
possible permissible use on Shabbos, as do a hammer, a comb or a phone
book, for example. These items are light muktzeh because they have various
uses, some permitted on Shabbos and some not. But an object such as a
candlestick, which can be used only for a forbidden activity, can no
longer be considered light muktzeh. Small appliances such as a camera or a
telephone also have no permitted use on Shabbos. There is nothing that can
be done with a telephone except to make calls, and there is nothing that
can be done with a camera except to take pictures, activities which are
prohibited on Shabbos.
Not all poskim, however, agree that a light muktzeh object
must have a possible use on Shabbos.(4)Mishnah Berurah does not give a
clear-cut ruling on this issue.(5)Several contemporary poskim(6)rule that
under extenuating circumstance one may be lenient and consider these items
as light muktzeh.
Concerning our case, therefore, we have established two points: 1)
The small appliances in question may be considered severe muktzeh, and 2)
severe muktzeh may not be moved, even if the place which it occupies is
needed for a permitted activity. It follows, therefore, that a telephone,
etc., cannot just be picked up and removed from the bed or chair.
MOVING VIA "BODY": IS IT AN OPTION?
In the opinion of the majority of the poskim,(7 )even severe muktzeh
may be moved via one's body, which means moving the object by employing
any part of the body except for the hand. When necessary,(8 )one can move
all types of muktzeh using the foot, head, mouth,(9 )teeth, elbow,(10 )or
any other part of the body.(11)
Although this option can be exercised, it has limited practical
application. It is difficult to kick or shove a telephone without taking
the receiver off the hook, which may be in violation of a prohibition.
While this particular violation does not apply to a camera, it is still
not always practical to shove or kick a camera from the bed to the floor,
since doing so would likely damage the camera.
Is "indirect movement" an option?
Indirect movement means using a non-muktzeh item to move a muktzeh
item. In our case, it would mean pulling at the blanket, which would
automatically - but "indirectly" - move the telephone. In the opinion of
the Mishnah Berurah(12 )and most poskim, indirect movement is permitted
when it is being done for a permissible purpose but not when it is done
for the sake of the muktzeh item. For instance, indirectly moving a camera
off the bed or chair in order to protect it, i.e., for the sake of the
camera, is prohibited. If, as in our case, the camera is moved [via the
blanket] so that the bed or chair can be used, it is permitted.
It is possible that this leniency is not agreed upon by all poskim,
however. Chazon Ish(13)rules that indirect movement is prohibited in this
case. In his opinion, indirect movement is permitted only when the
permitted item is being moved for its own sake, and the muktzeh is
inadvertently being carried along with it. But if the purpose is to move
the muktzeh, even if ultimately one will use the bed on Shabbos, a
permitted activity, it is prohibited to move the muktzeh.
It seems, though, that even the Chazon Ish would agree that the
following case is permitted: If there is a bedspread on the bed which
needs to be removed before one can sleep in the bed, then the camera is
being indirectly moved in a permitted manner. Even when there is no
bedspread, but the blanket is folded down [as is normally done] to get the
bed ready for sleeping, and the camera is indirectly moved as the blanket
is folded down, it may be permitted according to all views.
IS THE BOSIS ISSUE A PROBLEM?
Bosis, literally a base, is any object on which severe muktzeh was
placed before Shabbos. While the laws of bosis are complicated, the basic
rule is that the bosis cannot be moved even if somehow the muktzeh item is
no longer on it. Were a blanket or a bed a bosis, then even if somehow the
telephone or camera were removed from the bed [either by body movement or
indirect movement, or by a non-Jew or a baby(14)], it would still be
prohibited to use the bed, since it had served as a base for the muktzeh,
which in turn, made the base itself muktzeh.
The blanket and bed in our case, however, do not become a bosis. A
base can only be a bosis if the muktzeh was purposely placed on it before
Shabbos, with the intention of leaving it there for Shabbos.(15 )In our
case, however, the telephone, etc., was left there by mistake, so the
chair or bed does not become a bosis. If we can figure out a way to remove
the muktzeh, the blankets and bed themselves will be permitted to be used.
WHAT TO DO?
In conclusion, there is no one solution for all cases.
Sometimes "body movement" or "indirect movement" will solve the problem,
but not always.
In a situation when no other bed is available or accessible, there
is some room for leniency. An argument can be made that a telephone, etc.,
is not severe muktzeh at all, which will allow one to move it when the
place it occupies is needed. We have previously stated that, under
extenuating circumstances, contemporary poskim rely on the lenient view
concerning items that have no permissible use. Having no other bed to
sleep on is definitely an extenuating circumstance.
Concerning the halachic definition of a telephone, etc., as a
delicate and fragile object, this definition is subject to the quick-
changing pace of modern technology which can reformulate once delicate and
fragile appliances into durable, unbreakable ones. Thus it is difficult to
determine what is at the moment muktzeh me-chamas chesron kis (severe
muktzeh) and what is not.
1 Mishnah Berurah 308:12, as explained by Igros Moshe O.C. 5:21-12.
2 Igros Moshe O.C. 5:22-31, Harav Y. S. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah,
and Az Nidberu 8:30 are stringent on this issue. See, however, Machazeh
Eliyahu 46, who rules leniently.
3 Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 41).
4 See Pri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 308:12), Aruch ha-Shulchan 279:1,
and Chazon Ish 44:13, who rule stringently, while Tosafos Shabbos 308:29
and Igros Moshe O.C. 5:22-28, 32 do not.
5 See 308:34 quoting Mor u'Ketziah and Sha'ar ha-Tziyun 279:4 based
8 Igros Moshe O.C. 5:22-6. Note that Chazon Ish O.C. 47:13 does not
with this leniency; in his opinion there is no difference between moving
muktzeh with the hand or any other part of the body.
9 Includes blowing; Rama O.C. 308:3.
10 Or back of the hand; Mishnah Berurah 276:31.
11 Note that the leniency of using the body applies only to objects
are normally moved by hand. If this object is normally moved by the body,
the leniency does not apply; see Mishnah Berurah 308:62.
12 O.C. 311:8.
13 O.C. 47:14; see Minchas Shelomo 1:14-2. [This may be the view of
Shulchan Aruch Harav 308:60 as well.]
14 Although a non-Jew or baby cannot be instructed to remove the
they might do so on their own.