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, 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.
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 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, 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 case ].
Question: What are some common examples of severe and light muktzeh?
Discussion: What follows is a list of some common, everyday items and their muktzeh classification:
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 at all
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 this case.
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 Shabbos.
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 dn[email protected]