How Does an Item Becomes Muktzeh?
Question: What does muktzeh mean?
Discussion: 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,
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.
Question: What difference is there between the two types of muktzeh?
Discussion: Except for some unique exceptions detailed in the footnote
below, severe muktzeh may not be moved in a normal, straightforward
manner. Light muktzeh, however, 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 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
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, however, 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
Question: What are some common examples of severe and light muktzeh?
Discussion: What follows is a list of some common, everyday items and their
ATM card, credit card—severe muktzeh
barley (raw)—severe muktzeh
bars of soap—severe muktzeh 
buttons (detached from garment)—questionable severe muktzeh or not muktzeh
candles or candlesticks (unlit or unused on Friday night)—questionable
severe or light muktzeh
cars, car keys —light muktzeh
clocks (wall)—questionable severe muktzeh or not muktzeh at all
detergent— severe muktzeh
flashlights—light muktzeh 
garden hoses—light muktzeh
hammers, screwdrivers—light muktzeh
kettles (empty)—light muktzeh
light bulbs—severe muktzeh
makeup (eye-shadow, lipstick, mascara)—severe muktzeh
matches—questionable severe or light muktzeh
mops and pails—light muktzeh
pens—light muktzeh 
pencil sharpeners—light muktzeh
pictures (hanging on the wall)—questionable
potato peelers—light muktzeh
rolling pins—light muktzeh
sha’atnez garments—severe muktzeh
silver foil or toilet paper (uncut rolls)—severe muktzeh
store catalogs—light muktzeh 
telephone books—light muktzeh 
Vaseline, toothpaste—severe muktzeh
wallets (empty)—light muktzeh
1. See Hebrew Notes, pg. 549, for the various views concerning moving
electrical lamps on Shabbos.
2. The exemptions include 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.
3. Indirectly, however, even severe muktzeh may be moved. The many details
involved are discussed in The Monthly Halachah Discussion, pgs. 108-114.
4. Mishnah Berurah 308:12, as explained by Igros Moshe, O.C. 5:21-12.
5. Igros Moshe, O.C. 5:22-31; Rav Y.S. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 11);
Az Nidberu 8:30; Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 20:10 [see note 24 quoting Rav
S.Z. Auerbach]. See, however, Machazeh Eliyahu 46 who rules leniently in
6. Chut Shani, Shabbos, vol. 3, pg. 111.
7. O.C. 308:39. Concerning pets, see The Daily Halachah Discussion, pg. 115.
8. Igros Moshe, O.C. 5:22-15; Shulchan Shelomo 308:31-3; Rav Y.S. Elyashiv
(Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 158).
9. Some poskim consider a detached button as severe muktzeh (see Igros
Moshe, O.C. 5:22-20 and Kol ha-Torah, vol. 54, pg. 18) while others are more
lenient. If possible, it is appropriate to be stringent; see Shemiras
Shabbos K'hilchasah 15:68 and Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 80.
10. Peri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 308:12); Mishnah Berurah 308:34 quoting
Ya'avetz; Aruch ha-Shulchan 279:1; 308:23; Chazon Ish, O.C. 44:13.
11. Tosafos Shabbos 308:29; Sha’ar ha-Tziyun 279:4 based on Magen Avraham;
Igros Moshe, O.C. 5:22-28, 32. See Shulchan Shelomo 308:9-2 and 308:31-2.
12. Igros Moshe, O.C. 5:21-11; Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 201.
13. Shulchan Shelomo 308:25; Rav Y.S. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 202).
14. Chazon Ish, O.C. 43:17 holds that they are severe muktzeh, while Igros
Moshe, O.C. 5:21-13; 22-12 rules that they are not muktzeh at all. See also
Mishnah Berurah 308:8; 308:168, and Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 71.
15. Igros Moshe, O.C. 3:49; 5:22-22. Rav S.Z. Auerbach (Shalmei Yehudah,
pg. 51) does not consider a working fan muktzeh at all.
16. Zachor v'Shamor 41:4. See Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 55 who quotes Rav Y.S.
Elyashiv’s opinion that a flashlight is severe muktzeh.
17. Mishnah Berurah 308:25 (because it is not a utensil); Aruch
ha-Shulchan 308:17 (because it is “delicate”).
18. See Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 14:34; 20:16, Sefer Tiltulei Shabbos,
pg. 82, and Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 74 for the various views and reasons.
19. Igros Moshe, O.C. 5:22-32; Rav 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.
20. Some poskim (Chazon Ish, O.C. 43:17, Chut Shani 3:42-1) hold that they
are severe muktzeh, while other poskim (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.
21. Rav S.Z. Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 14, note 104.
22. O.C. 308:47.
23. Although Rama 308:4 considers a shofar to be light muktzeh,
contemporary poskim (Rav Y.S. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 32) and Rav
S.Z. Auerbach (Shulchan Shelomo 308:23) agree that nowadays a shofar is too
“delicate” to be used for anything other than blowing which is prohibited on
24. Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 98 and pg. 171.
25. Mishnah Berurah 338:30 writes that rain which fell on Shabbos is not
muktzeh. Some poskim (Har Tzvi, Soser; Sefer Hilchos Shabbos, Dosh, pg. 120,
quoting Rav M. Feinstein; Rav Y.S. Elyashiv, Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 203;
Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 16:44) hold that snow is similar to rain, while
others (Igros Moshe, O.C. 5:22-37; Shulchan Shelomo 310:26-2) suggest that
snow may be considered severe muktzeh. See also Mishnah Berurah 310:32,
quoting Chayei Adam.
26. Igros Moshe, O.C. 5:22-19; Shulchan Shelomo 308:9-3.
27. Shulchan Shelomo 308:52.
Weekly-Halacha, Text Copyright © 2011 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and Torah.org.
Rabbi Neustadt is the Yoshev Rosh of the Vaad Harabbonim of Detroit and the Av Beis Din of the Beis Din Tzedek of Detroit. He could be reached at email@example.com