Activities prohibited on Shabbat

Activities prohibited on Shabbat

The commandment to keep Shabbat as a day of rest is repeated many times in the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible. (See for example Exodus 31:12-17 quoted below.) The commandment is usually expressed in English in terms of refraining from the doing of work on Shabbat, but the Hebrew term used in the Bible is melakha (מְלָאכָה—plural melakhot), which has a slightly different connotation.

Jewish law (halakha), especially the Talmud Tractate Shabbat (Ch7, Mishna 2), identifies thirty-nine categories of activity prohibited on Shabbat (or thirty-nine melakhot; Hebrew: ל״ט אבות מלאכות, lamed tet avot melakhot‎), and clarifies many questions surrounding the application of the biblical prohibitions. Many rabbinical scholars have pointed out that these regulations of labor have something in common—they prohibit any activity that is creative, or that exercises control or dominion over one's environment.

Many of these activities are also prohibited on the Jewish holidays listed in the Torah, although there are significant exceptions permitting carrying and preparing food under specific circumstances.

Many Jews disagree about how to interpret these categories. There are often strong disagreements between Orthodox Jews and Conservative Jews or other non-Orthodox Jews.


The Commandment

The commandment to keep Shabbat as a day of rest is repeated many times in the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible. Its importance is also stressed in Exodus 31:12-17:

And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: 'Verily ye shall keep My sabbaths, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that ye may know that I am the LORD who sanctify you. Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore, for it is holy unto you; every one that profaneth it shall surely be put to death; for whosoever doeth any work (melakha—מְלָאכָה) therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done; but on the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD; whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel for ever; for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and rested.'

Meaning of "work"

Though melakha is usually translated as "work" in English, the term does not correspond to the English definition of the term, as explained below.

The Rabbis in ancient times had to explain exactly what the term meant, and what activity was prohibited to be done on the Sabbath. The Rabbis noted Genesis 2:1-3:

Heaven and earth, and all their components, were completed. With the seventh day, God finished all the work (melakha) that He had done. He ceased on the seventh day from all the work (melakha) that he had been doing. God blessed the seventh day, and he declared it to be holy, for it was on this day that God ceased from all the work (melakha) that he had been creating to function.

Specifically, the Rabbis noted the symmetry between Genesis 2:1–3 and Exodus 31:1–11—the same term melakha ("work") is used in both places, and that in Genesis 2:1–3 what God was "ceasing from" was "creation" or "creating".

The Rabbis noted further that the first part of Exodus 31:1-11 provides detailed instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle, and that it is immediately followed a reminder to Moses about the importance of the Jewish Sabbath, quoted above. The Rabbis note that in the provisions relating to the Tabernacle the word melakha is also used. The word is usually translated as "workmanship", which has a strong element of "creation" or "creativity".

From these common words (in the Hebrew original) and the juxtaposition of subject matter the rabbis of the Mishna derive a meaning as to which activities are prohibited to be done on the Sabbath day.

Genesis 2 is not pushed aside by the commandments to construct the Tabernacle. The classical rabbinical definition of what constitutes "work" or "activity" that must not be done, on pain of death (when there was a Sanhedrin), is depicted by the thirty-nine categories of activity needed for the construction and use of the Tabernacle.

What are they?

The thirty-nine melakhot are not so much activities as categories of activity. For example, while "winnowing" usually refers exclusively to the separation of chaff from grain, it refers in the Talmudic sense to any separation of intermixed materials which renders edible that which was inedible. Thus, filtering undrinkable water to make it drinkable falls under this category, as does picking small bones from fish. (Gefilte fish is a traditional Ashkenazi solution to this problem.)

Many rabbinical scholars have pointed out that these regulations of labor have something in common—they prohibit any activity that is creative, or that exercises control or dominion over one's environment.

The definitions presented in this article are only 'headings' for in-depth topics and without study of the relevant laws it would be very difficult, perhaps impossible, to properly keep the Sabbath according to Halacha/Jewish Law. However, keeping the definition clearly in mind will for sure aid one in the application of its principles.


There are two main ways to divide the activities into groups, one is according to the work needed to make the Tabernacle, the other according to the work needed for the man himself.

  • For the Tabernacle:
    • Making the paint for the fabric coverings and curtains.
    • Making the coverings.
    • Making coverings from skin.
    • Making the Tabernacle itself.
  • For the man:
    • Baking bread.
    • Making clothes.
    • Writing.
    • Building a house.

The thirty-nine creative activities

The thirty-nine creative activities are based on the Mishna Shabbat 7:2.


Hebrew: זורע

Definition: Promotion of plant growth.

Not only planting is included in this category; other activities that promote plant growth are also prohibited. This includes watering, fertilizing, planting seeds, or planting grown plants.

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 8:2, 21:5; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 336; Chayei Adam Shabbos 11


Hebrew: חורש

Definition: Promotion of substrate in readiness for plant growth, be it soil, water for hydroponics, etc.

Included in this prohibition is any preparation or improvement of land for agricultural use. This includes dragging chair legs in soft soil thereby unintentionally making furrows. Pouring water on arable land that is not saturated. Making a hole in the soil would provide protection for a seed placed there from rain and runoff; even if no seed is ever placed there, the soil is now enhanced for the process of planting.

The Mishna (Shabbat 7:2) lists plowing after planting, although one must plow a field before planting. The Gemara asks why this order occurs and answers that the author of this Mishna was a Tanna living in Israel, where the ground is hard. Since the ground is so hard in Israel, it needed to be plowed both before planting and after planting. The Mishna lists plowing second, teaching that the second plowing (after planting) is [also] prohibited. (The plowing before the planting is also prohibited, if not by the Torah, certainly Rabbinically). The Rambam lists plowing first, and planting second.

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 7:3, 8:1, 21:2–4; Chayei Adam Shabbos 10


Hebrew: קוצר

Definition: Severing a plant from its source of growth.

Removing all or part of a plant from its source of growth is reaping.

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 8:3–5, 21:6–10;Chayei Adam Shabbos 12


Hebrew: מעמר

Definition: Initial gathering of earth-borne material in its original place.

E.g. After picking strawberries, forming a pile or collecting them into one's pockets, or a basket. Collecting rock salt or any mineral (from a mine or from the Earth) and making a pile of the produce. This can only occur in the place where the gathering should take place. So, a bowl of apples that falls in a house can be gathered as 1) they do not grow in that environment and 2) they have already undergone their initial gathering at the orchard.

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 8:5, 21:11; Chayei Adam Shabbos 13


Hebrew: דש

Definition: Removal of an undesirable outer from a desirable inner.

This is a large topic of study. It refers to any productive extraction and includes juicing of fruits and vegetables and wringing (desirable fluids) out of cloths, as the juice or water inside the fruit is considered 'desirable' for these purposes, while the pulp of the fruit would be the 'undesirable.' As such, squeezing (S'chita) is forbidden unless certain rules are applied. The wringing of undesirable water out of cloths may come under the law of Melabain (Scouring/Laundering)

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 8:7–10, 21:12–16;Shulkhan Arukh Orach Chayim 319–321; Chayei Adam Shabbos 14


Hebrew: זורה

Definition according to the Babylonian Talmud: Sorting undesirable from desirable via the force of air. According to the Jerualem Talmud: dispersal via the force of air. It should be noted that Rabbi Moshe Isserles (the Rema) holds that the definition according to the Jerusalem Talmud should be used. This is more inclusive and general than the Babylonian Talmud's definition and therefore more things fall under this category.

In the Talmudic sense usually refers exclusively to the separation of chaff from grain—i.e. to any separation of intermixed materials which renders edible that which was inedible.

It also refers to separating things that are desirable from indesirable ones. Example: If one has a handful of peanuts, in their paper-thin brown skins, and one blows on the mixture of peanuts and skins dispersing the unwanted skins from the peanuts, this would be an act of 'winnowing' according to both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud.

According to the Jerusalem Talmud's definition, the use of the Venturi tube spray system and spray painting would come under this prohibition, while butane or propane propelled sprays, which are common in deodorants and air fresheners, etc. are permissible to operate as the dispersal force generated isn't from air, rather from the propellent within the can. According to the Babylonian Talmud's definition neither of the above spraying methods are involved in sorting undesirable from desirable and therefore not part of this heading. However, as mentioned the Rema rules that, unusually, we are to accept the Jerusalem Talmud's definition in this case.

See further: Shulkhan Arukh Orach Chayim 219:7; Chayei Adam Shabbos 15.


Hebrew: בורר

Definition: Removal of undesirable from desirable from a mixture of types.

In the Talmudic sense usually refers exclusively to the separation of debris from grain—i.e. to any separation of intermixed materials which renders edible that which was inedible. Thus, filtering undrinkable water to make it drinkable falls under this category, as does picking small bones from fish. (Gefilte fish is one solution to this problem.)

Dosh & Borer contrasted. This activity differs from Dosh (Threshing/Extraction) as here there is a mixture of types. Sorting a mixture via the removal of undesirable elements leaving a purified, refined component is the key process of Borer.

Dosh is the extraction of one desirable thing from within another which is not desired. "Dosh" does not entail sorting or purification, just extraction of the inner from the unwanted housing or outer component, such as squeezing a grape for its juice. The juice and the pulp have not undergone sorting, the juice has been extracted from the pulp.

For example, if there is a bowl of mixed peanuts & raisins and one desires the raisins and dislikes the peanuts: Removing (effectively sorting) the peanuts from the bowl, leaving a 'purified' pile of raisins free from unwanted peanuts, would be acts of Borer as the peanuts are removed. However, removing the desirable raisins from the peanuts does not purify the mixture, as one's left with undesirable peanuts (hence unrefined) not a refined component as before, and is thus permissible. Note that in this case there has not been any extraction of material from either the peanuts or raisins (Dosh), just the sorting of undesirable from desirable (Borer).

General Introduction:

After threshing, a mixed collection of waste matter remained on the threshing floor together with the grain kernels. Included in this combination would be small pebbles and similar debris.
These pebbles could not be separated by winnowing because they were too heavy to be carried by the wind. The pebbles and debris were therefore sorted and removed by hand. This process is the Melacha of Borer.
Any form of selecting from (or sorting of) an assorted mixture or combination can be borer. This includes removing undesired objects, or matter from a mixture or combination.

Borer with Mixed Foods:

Even though the classic form of borer as performed in the Mishkan involved the removal of pebbles and similar waste matter from the grain produce, Borer is by no means limited to the removal of “useless” matter from food. In fact, any selective removal from a mixture can, indeed, be Borer, even if the mixture contains an assortment of foods. The criteria are types and desire, not intrinsic value. Therefore, removing any food or item from a mix of different types of foods simply because he does not desire the item at that time is considered Borer.

The Three Conditions of Borer:

Sorting or selecting is permitted when three conditions are fulfilled simultaneously. It is absolutely imperative that all three conditions be present at the time of the Borer.
  1. B’yad (By hand): The selection must be done by hand and not a utensil that aids in the selection.
  2. Ochel Mitoch Psolet (Good from the bad): The desired objects must be selected from the undesired, and not the reverse.
  3. Miyad (Immediate use): The selection must be done immediately before the time of use and not for later use. There is no precise amount of time indicated by the concept of "immediate use" ("miyad"). The criteria used to define "immediate use" relate to the circumstances. For instance if a particular individual prepares food for a meal rather slowly, that individual may allow a more liberal amount of time in which to do so without having transgressed "borer."

Examples of Permissible and Prohibited Types of Borer:

  1. Peeling fruits: Peeling fruits is permissible with the understanding that the fruit will be eaten right away.
  2. Sorting silverware: Sorting silverware is permitted when the sorter intends to eat the Shabbat meal immediately. Alternatively, if the sorter intends to set up the meal for a later point, it is prohibited.
  3. Removing items from a mixture: If the desired item is being removed from the mix then this is permissible. If the non-desired item is being removed, the person removing is committing a serious transgression according to the laws of Shabbat.

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 8:11–13, 21:17; Shulkhan Arukh Orach Chayim 319; Chayei Adam Shabbos 16

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5]


Hebrew: טוחן

Definition: Reducing an earth-borne thing's size for a productive purpose.

"Tochain" (grinding) can arise in simply cutting into pieces fruits or vegetables for a salad. Very small pieces would involve "tochain," therefore cutting into slightly larger than usual pieces would be in order, thus avoiding cutting the pieces into their final, most usable, state.

All laws relating to the use of medicine on the shabbath are a Toldah, or sub-category, of this order, as most medicines require pulverization at some point and thus undergo tochain. The laws of medicine use on the sabbath are complex; they are based around the kind of illness the patient is suffering from and the type of medication or procedure that is required. Generally, the more severe the illness (from a halachic perspective) the further into the list the patient's situation is classed. As a patient is classed as more ill there are fewer restrictions and greater leniencies available for treating the illness on the Sabbath. The list of definitions, from least to most severe, is as follows: -

  1. מיחוש בעלמא / Maychush b'Alma / Minor Indisposition
  2. מקצת חולי / Miktzat Choli / Semi-illiness
  3. צער גדול / Tza'ar Godol / Severe Pain (Can in some cases be practically regarded as level 4)
  4. חולה כל גופו / Choleh Kol Gufo / Debilitating Illness
  5. סכנת אבר / Sakanat Aiver / Threat to a Limb or Organ (Can in some cases be practically regarded as level 6)
  6. ספק פיקוח נפש / Sofek Pikuach Nefesh / Possibly Life-Threatening (Practically treated as level 7)
  7. פיקוח נפש / Pikuach Nefesh / Certainly Life-Threatening

For most practical applications the use of medicines on the Sabbath, there are primarily two categories of non-life threatening (Pikuach Nefesh) illnesses & maladies. They are either Maychush b'Alma or Choleh Kol Gufo. In many or most practical applications for non-trained personnel, there are practically only three category levels (1, 4, & 7) as the line of distinction between them can often be difficult to ascertain for the untrained and it may prove dangerous to underestimate the condition.

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 8:15, 21:18–31; Shulkhan Arukh Orach Chayim 321; Chayei Adam Shabbos 17


Hebrew: מרקד

Definition: Sorting desirable from undesirable via a straining utensil.

This is essentially the same as the melochah of Borer, but performed with a utensil specifically designed for the purpose of sorting, such as a sieve, strainer, or the like. As such, Borer acts done with such a device, such as the netting of a tea bag, would be classed as an act of Merakaid (Sieving/Straining).

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 8:14, 21:32; Shulkhan Arukh Orach Chayim 321, 324; Chayei Adam Shabbos 18


Hebrew: לש

Definition: Combining particles into a semi-solid/solid mass via liquid.

Kneading is not a very accurate translation of this activity. It may better be translated as 'amalgamation' or the like. The key principle of this creative activity is the combining of solid and liquid together to make a paste or dough-like substance.

There are four categories of substances produced: -

  1. Blilah Aveh (a thick, dense mixture)
  2. Blilah Racha (a thinner, pourable mixture)
  3. Davar Nozel (a pourable liquid with a similar viscosity to water)
  4. Chatichot Gedolot (large pieces mixed with a liquid)

Only a Blilah Aveh is biblically forbidded to make on the Sabbath while Blilah Racha mixtures are rabbinically forbidden to make without the use of a "shinui", such as the reversing the adding of the ingredients or mixing in criss-cross motions to differentiate the task, in which case they are permitted. As davar nozel & Chatichot Gedolot are not really mixtures, even after adding the liquid to the solid, they are permitted to make on the sabbath without any shinui (unusual mode) of production.

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 8:16, 21:33–36; Shulkhan Arukh Orach Chayim 321,324; Chayei Adam Shabbos 19


Hebrew: אופה

Definition for solids: Changing the properties of something via heat. Liquids: Bringing a liquid's temperature to the heat threshold. 'Heat' for these purposes is at the threshold known as "Yad Soledet" (lit. Hand [by reflex] draws back [due to such heat]) which according to the Igrot Moshe (Rabbi Moshe Finestein) is = 43.3°C / 110°F.

Baking, cooking, frying, or any method of applying heat to food to prepare for eating is included in this prohibition. This is different from "preparing". For example, one can make a salad because the form of the vegetables doesn't change, only the size. However one cannot cook the vegetables to soften them for eating.

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 22:1–10; Shulkhan Arukh Orach Chayim 318; Chayei Adam Shabbos 22


Hebrew: גוזז צמר

Definition: Severing/uprooting any body-part of a creature.

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 9:179, 22:13–14; Chayei Adam Shabbos 21


Hebrew: מלבנו

Definition: Cleansing absorbent materials of absorbed/ingrained impurities.

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 0:10–11 22:15–20; Shulkhan Arukh Orach Chayim 301–302; Chayei Adam Shabbos 22

Beating/Combing wool

Hebrew: מנפצו

Definition: Separating/disentangling fibres.

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 9:12; Chayei Adam Shabbos 23


Hebrew: צובע

Definition: Coloring/enriching the color of any material or substance.

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 9:13–14, 22:23; Shulkhan Arukh Orach Chayim 320; Chayei Adam Shabbos 24


Hebrew: טווה

Definition: Twisting fibres into a thread or twining strands into a yarn.

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 15; Chayei Adam Shabbos 25


Hebrew: מיסך

Definition: Creating the first form for the purpose of weaving.

See further: Chayei Adam Shabbos 25

Making two loops

Hebrew: עושה שתי בתי נירין

Definition: Forming loops for the purpose of weaving or the making of net like materials.

See further: Chayei Adam Shabbos 25


Hebrew: אורג שני חוטין

Definition: Passing any weft through warp for the purpose of weaving.

See further: Chayei Adam Shabbos 25

Separating two threads

Hebrew: פוצע שני חוטין

Definition: Removing/cutting fibres from their frame, loom or place.

See further: Chayei Adam Shabbos 25


Hebrew: קושר

Definition: Binding two pliant objects in a skilled or permanent manner via twisting.

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 10:1–6; Chayei Adam Shabbos 26


Hebrew: מתיר

Definition: The undoing of any Koshair or Toveh (see above) binding.

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 10:1–6; Chayei Adam Shabbos 27


Hebrew: תופר

Definition: Combining separate objects into a single entity.

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 10:9, 11; Shulkhan Arukh Orach Chayim 340; Chayei Adam Shabbos 28


Hebrew: קורע

Definition: Tearing an object in two or undoing any Tofair (see above) connection.

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 10:10; Shulkhan Arukh Orach Chayim 340; Chayei Adam Shabbos 29


Hebrew: צד

Definition: Forcible confinement of any living creature.

The Mishna does not just write "trapping"; rather, the Mishna says "trapping deer". According to at least one interpretation,[citation needed] this teaches that to violate the Torah's prohibition of Trapping, two conditions must be met.

  1. The animal being trapped must be a wild animal. This means that one may put a pet in a cage.
  2. The "trapping" action must seriously confine the animal. For example, closing the gate to a large yard on Shabbat cannot be trapping, even if there is a wild animal in the yard.

This creates questions in practical Halakha such as: "May one trap a fly under a cup on Shabbat?" The Meno Netziv says that an animal that is not normally trapped (e.g. a fly, a bee, or a lizard) is not covered under the Torah prohibition of trapping. It is however, a Rabbinic prohibition, so one is not allowed to trap the animal. However, if one is afraid of the animal, one may trap it.

Animals which are considered too slow moving to be 'free' are not under this category, as trapping them doesn't change their status. As such, one is allowed to confine a snail or tortoise.

Laying traps violates a Rabbinic prohibition regardless of what the catch is.

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 10:15; Shulkhan Arukh Orach Chayim 317; Chayei Adam Shabbos 30


Hebrew: שוחט

Definition: Ending the life of a creature.

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 11:1–4; Shulkhan Arukh Orach Chayim 316; Chayei Adam Shabbos 31


Hebrew: מפשט

Definition: Removing the hide from the body of an animal.

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 11:5–6, 22:1–10; Shulkhan Arukh Orach Chayim 321, 327; Chayei Adam Shabbos 32


Hebrew: מעבד [Sometimes referred to as "Salting" מולח]

Definition: Preserving any item to prevent spoiling.

The list of activities in the Mishna includes salting hides and curing as separate categories of activity; the Gemara (Tractate Shabbat 75b) amends this to consider them the same activity and to include "tracing lines", also involved in the production of leather, as the thirty-ninth category of activity. [1]

This activity extends rabbinically to the creative act of salting/pickling of foods for non-immediate use on the Sabbath.

See further: Chayei Adam Shabbos 32–33, Shulkhan Arukh Orach Chayim 321, 327; Chayei Adam Shabbos 33


Hebrew: ממחק

Definition: Scraping/sanding a surface to achieve smoothness.

See further: Chayei Adam Shabbos 34–35


Hebrew: משרטט

Definition: Scoring/drawing a cutting guideline.

See further: Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Shabbat, Chapter "Klall Gadol", p. 52.

Measured Cutting

Hebrew: מחתך

Definition: Cutting any object to a specific size.

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 11:7; Chayei Adam Shabbos 36


Hebrew: כותב

Definition: Writing/forming a meaningful character or design.

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 11:9–17, 23:12–19; Shulkhan Arukh Orach Chayim 340; Chayei Adam Shabbos 36


Hebrew: מוחק על מנת לכתוב שתי אותיות

Definition: Cleaning/preparing a surface to render it suitable for writing.

Erasing in order to write two or more letters is an example of erasing.

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 11:17; Chayei Adam Shabbos 38


Hebrew: בונה

Definition: Contributing to the forming of any permanent structure.

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 10:12–14 22:25–33; Chayei Adam Shabbos 39–44

Building was the action of actually joining the different pieces together to make the mishcan. Inserting the handle of an axe into the socket is a derived form of this melakha. It is held by some that the act of Halakhic "building" is not actually performed (and therefore, the prohibition not violated) if the construction is not completed. From this, some authorities derive that it is prohibited to use electricity because, by turning on a switch, a circuit is completed and thus "built." (See "igniting a fire" below.)


Hebrew: סותר

Definition: Demolishing for any constructive purpose. This includes bowling, as the pins are knocked down, hopefully, during play. However, even if only gutterballs are thrown, the mere intention of knocking down pins is a violation of the prohibition against demolition. It is a matter of rabbinic debate as to whether intentionally throwing gutterballs during Shobbos is subject to the prohibition, as no demolition occurs. Commentary tends towards making this a violation as well, since the very act of bowling involves causing a machine to reconstruct the pin matrix upon each round, which action is initiated by the participating player.

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 10:15; Chayei Adam Shabbos 39, 43

Extinguishing a fire

Hebrew: מכבה

Definition: Extinguishing/diminishing the intensity of a fire/flame.

While extinguishing a fire is forbidden even when great property damage will result, in the event of any life-threatening fire one is required to extinguish the flames.[6]

See further: Shulkhan Arukh Orach Chayim 334; Chayei Adam Shabbos 45

Igniting a fire

Hebrew: מבעיר

Definition: Igniting, fueling or spreading a fire/flame.

This includes making, transferring or adding fuel to a fire. (Note, however, that transferring fire is permitted on Jewish holidays. It is one of the exceptions to the rule that activities prohibited on Shabbat are likewise prohibited on Yom Tov.) This is one of the few Shabbat prohibitions mentioned explicitly in the Torah Exodus 35:3. Many poskim ground their prohibition of operating electrical appliances in this melakha.

Note that Judaism requires that at least one light (ordinarily candle or oil) be lit in honor of Shabbat immediately before its start.

This prohibition also was (and in many circles, still is) commonly understood to disallow operating electrical switches. One reason is that, when actuating electromechanical switches that carry a live current, there is always the possibility that a small electric spark will be generated. This spark may be thought of as a kind of fire, although since it is incidental and one does not benefit from it, it may not be a Sabbath violation at all. In any case, as science became more advanced, and the properties of fire and electricity became better understood, the former reasoning broke down: fire is a chemical reaction involving the release of energy; the flow of an electric current is a physical reaction. Therefore, some hold that the proper reason it is forbidden to complete electric circuits is because it involves construction or building (i.e., the building and completion of an electric circuit—see above). Some Conservative authorities, on the other hand, reject these arguments and permit the use of electricity.[7][8][9]

For Shabbat Observant Jews who want to turn a light on and off on the sabbath the Shabbat lamp was invented. This circumvents this melocha, as the light is never turned on & off, only obscured and revealed via the design of the lamp housing.

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 12:1; Chayei Adam Shabbos 46

Applying the finishing touch

Hebrew: מכה בפטיש (literally, striking with a hammer).

Definition: Any initial act of completion.

This melakha refers to an act of completing an object and bringing it into its final useful form. For example, if the pages of a newspaper were poorly separated, slicing them open would constitute "applying the finishing touch". Ribiat, infra. Using a stapler involves transgressing "applying the finishing touch" in regard to the staple, which is brought into its final useful form by the act. Ribiat, infra.

See further: Mishneh Torah Shabbos 10:16–18, 23:4–9; Chayei Adam Shabbos 44

Transferring between domains

Hebrew: מוציא מרשות לרשות / הוצאה

Definition: Transferring something from one domain type to another domain type.

Chapters 1 and 11 of Talmud tractate Shabbat deals with the melakha of transferring from one domain to another, commonly called "carrying". The tractate distinguishes four domains: private, public, semi-public and an exempt area. It holds that the transfer of an article from a private to a public domain is Biblically forbidden; transferring an article between a semi-public to a private or public domain is Rabbinically prohibited; transferring of an article between an exempt area and any other domain is permissible; carrying an article four amos (about 1.7 m) may be forbidden in a public or semi-public domain and permitted in a private domain or exempt area; and carrying inside a private domain or between private domains may be permissible (see Eruv). For these purposes "transferring" means "removing and depositing", so that carrying an article out of a domain and returning to the same domain with it does not constitute transferring. This may fall into the category of "wearing".

The definition of public and private domain is related to its relative amount of enclosures, not on strict ownership.

According to traditional Jewish commentators,[10] this category of melakha (work) is mentioned in Exodus 16:29:

"Let no man leave (go out) his place on the seventh day"

Likewise according to the Talmud,[11] the account of the man who was executed for getting wood in Numbers 15:32 was because he violated this prohibition.

Also, Jeremiah explicitly mentions this prohibition.Jeremiah 17:21-22

See further: Chayei Adam Shabbos 47–56.

Saving of human life

In the event that a human life is in danger, a Jew is not only allowed, but required,[12][13] to violate any Shabbat law that stands in the way of saving that person. The concept of life being in danger is interpreted broadly: for example, it is mandated that one violate Shabbat to take a woman in active labor to a hospital.


The Shabbat rules have been criticized because they have sometimes been interpreted to mean that Jews should not violate the Sabbath in order to save non-Jews that are dying.[14] Some critics point to the fact that the Talmud includes the maxim "[non-Jews] are neither to be lifted out of a well nor hauled down into it."[15] Critics also cite the writings of Maimonides (1137–1204), an important Rabbinical commentator, who wrote "as for gentiles [non-Jews], the basic Talmudic principle is that their lives must not be saved, although it is also forbidden to murder them outright."[16]

One widely debated[14] verse from the Talmud reads "If any man saves alive a single soul in Israel, Scripture imputes it to him as though he had saved a whole world"[17] (emphasis added). Many authorities interpret the words "in Israel" as limiting the verse to saving only Jews.[14] The words "in Israel" appear in most versions of the Talmud, but not in others.[14] A widely published[14] commentary on this verse, by Rabbi Samuel Eliezer Eidels (1555–1631), reads: "This [verse] is intended to teach you that any man who saves one soul in Israel, and it is intentionally specified 'one soul in Israel', in the singular form, as this is the image of God, the Singular one of the world, and Jacob's [Israel's] form is His likeness ... but Kuttim [non-Jews] do not have the form of man, only the form of other creatures, and whoever brings about the loss of a soul among them does not lose the world, and whoever saves a soul among them neither adds nor diminishes anything in this world."[18] Critics claim Eidels' commentary is significant because it is included in most published editions of the Talmud.[14]

The topic continues to be debated in modern times, and the issue was brought before Israel's Chief Rabbi Untermann for judgment in 1966.[19]

Although all Rabbinical authorities agree that it is acceptable to violate the Sabbath to save the life of a non-Jew,[20] some critics maintain that the reasons given by orthodox religious authorities to justify life-saving of non-Jews were not based on democratic ideals, but instead were to protect the Jewish religion (and the life-saver) from possible retaliation.[14]

See also

  • Muktzah
  • Shabbos goy
  • Driving during Shabbat


  1. ^ "Does Borer apply to the sorting of food items as well or only to separating between waste and food?", Weekly Hilchos Shabbos Series.
  2. ^ Some Laws Regarding Borer On Shabbat and Yom Tov, Rabbi Eli Mansour,
  3. ^ borer.pdf, Rabbi Sedley
  4. ^ 7 - Borer - Sorting (selecting, separating), THE 39 MELACHOT Lamed-Tet Melachot, Torah Tots, Inc.
  5. ^ Chapter 80:15 Some Activities Forbidden on Shabbos, Halacha-Yomi, Rabbi Ari Lobel and Project Genesis.
  6. ^ Shulkhan Arukh Orach Chayim 334.
  7. ^ Neulander, Arthur. "The Use of Electricity on the Sabbath." Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly 14 (1950) 165–171.
  8. ^ Adler, Morris; Agus, Jacob; and Friedman, Theodore. "Responsum on the Sabbath." Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly 14 (1950), 112–137.
  9. ^ Klein, Isaac. A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice. The Jewish Theological Seminary of America: New York, 1979.
  10. ^ See Rashi and Ibn Ezra on the Torah. Talmud Eruvin 17b
  11. ^ Talmud Shabbos 96b
  12. ^ 8 saved during "Shabbat from hell" (January 17, 2010) in Israel 21c Innovation News Service Retrieved 2010–01–18
  13. ^ ZAKA rescuemission to Haiti 'proudly desecrating Shabbat' Religious rescue team holds Shabbat prayer with members of international missions in Port au-Prince. Retrieved 2010–01–22
  14. ^ a b c d e f g Efraim Shmueli, "Seven Jewish Cultures". Cambridge University Press, 1980. p. 123, 261
  15. ^ Babylonian Talmud, in Tractate Avodah Zarah 26b, as quoted by Arthur Segal, in "A Spiritual and Ethical Compendium to the Torah and Talmud", 2009, p. 228. See also Avodah Zarah 26a.
  16. ^ Maimonides, in his "Mishneh Torah", as quoted by Arthur Segal, in "A Spiritual and Ethical Compendium to the Torah and Talmud", 2009, p. 228
  17. ^ Mishnah Sanhedrin 4.5, Hanoch Albeck edition, as quoted by Efraim Shmueli in "Seven Jewish Cultures", p. 123
  18. ^ From Rabbi Edels', in "Hidushei (or Chiddushei) halachot" (commentary on San. 37a), as quoted by Efraim Shmueli in "Seven Jewish Cultures", p. 261
  19. ^
    • Efraim Shmueli, "Seven Jewish Cultures". Cambridge University Press. 1980. p. 261.
    • Shmueli also cites a collection of writings on this topic in "Responsa tzitz Eliezer", by Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg. Jerusalem, part 8, ch 6.
    • A Modern Blood Libel--L'Affaire Shahak, Tradition, Volume 8, Number 2, Summer 1966, p. 59.
  20. ^ Schwartz, Richard H. (2002). Judaism and Global Survival. Lantern Books. pp. 18–20. ; citing responsa in "Tradition" vol 8, #2, Summer 1966.


  • Ribiat, Rabbi Dovid (1999). ספר ל״ט מלאכות The 39 Melochos. Jerusalem: Feldheim Publishers. ISBN 1-58330-368-5. 

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