Using/Moving Prohibited Tools on the Sabbath


Rabbi Daniel Myers



Q. Shmuel Myers: Regarding the permission to move an item whose function is prohibited, but one “needs the location it occupies”, what is the definition of “need” for that location? For example, if the children decide to sleep in the guest room on Friday night and there is a pen (prohibited object) on the bed, can it be moved: they do not ‘need’ the location, they would simply ‘like’ it!


A. Excellent question! The Shulchan Aruch (308:3) writes that one can move a utensil, which is primarily used for prohibited Sabbath labor, such as a hammer or a pen, for a permitted use of that object, or for its location. Therefore, one could move a hammer if he needs it to crack open a coconut, or if he needs to use the chair upon which the hammer is placed. The Mishna Berura (308:12) writes that one should use the hammer only if he does not have a permitted tool, like nutcracker. Therefore, one should not use a hammer to crack open nuts if he already has a nutcracker.


It is interesting to note that the M"B does not write a similar comment regarding one’s need for the location; i.e. he does not write that one could move hammer for its location, only if there is no other place available for use. Does this omission imply that one can choose to sit wherever he wants, although there are other chairs available, even if he needs to move the Mukza (hammer) from the chair that he chooses to sit on?


Rav Binyamin Zilber (Az Nidbaru 8:64) deals with this discrepancy in the Mishna Berura. He writes that the Mishna Berura maintains that once a person desires (Yaish Lo K'paida Laishaiv Davka B'safsal Zu) to use a specific space, then, that space is defined as “need”, L'zorech Mikomo, regardless of the availability of other seats. If he has no desire to sit in a specific seat, then that is not defined as L'zorech Mikomo, and he does not have permission to move the Mukza hammer off of the chair. This Halacha is in contrast to the permission of L'zorech Gufo (need of the object, not its place); in the latter case, the permission only exists if he does not have a permitted item to use. If he does have such an item (like a nutcracker) then he should not use the hammer, since his desire is simply to accomplish a specific, permissible goal, which could be achieved without the hammer.


In conclusion, once there is a desire to use a specific place, even if there is no need for that place, one has a right to move the Mukza, the hammer in our case. Therefore, in our case, one can move the pen or hammer off the bed even if he could sleep elsewhere.




Q. According to the Mishna Berura (308:12) one should use a hammer only if he does not have a nutcracker. How far must one go before he uses the normally prohibited hammer? For example, must he borrow a nutcracker from his neighbors before he uses a hammer to crack open the nuts?


A. Rav Moshe (Saifer Tiltulai Shabbat Kuntus Hatshuvot number 5) maintains that one could use the hammer without having to first go to the neighbors to borrow the nutcracker. He extrapolates this from the Mishna Berura (ibid.), who writes that one could use a Mukza hammer if he does not have (Sheain Lo) a nutcracker; the Mishna Berura does not write that he can not attain (Sheain Yachol L'hasig) a nutcracker. This implies that he does not have to bother himself that much to find a nutcrackerr; rather, if he does not already have a nutcracker, he can use a hammer L'zorech Gufo.