Winding Toys or Baby Swings on Shabbos

 Courtesy of Ohr Olam Mishnah Berurah

Question: Is it permissible to wind up a mechanical114 baby swing on Shabbos? Is it permitted to allow older children to play with wind-up toys on Shabbos?

Discussion: Winding up a baby swing set or a toy could possibly be a violation of a melachah, either 1) tikun mana, fixing or creating an object, which is a prohibition derived from makkeh b’patish, or 2) boneh, building. Let us explain:

There is a general agreement among the poskim that one is not allowed to wind up a stopped115 watch on Shabbos. Chayei Adam116 rules that winding a stopped watch is Biblically prohibited because of tikun mana. The winding is considered an act of repair, as a clock or a watch are meant to run continuously and are therefore in a “broken” state when they have stopped. Although some poskim117 dispute this ruling,118 the majority of the poskim,119 including the Mishnah Berurah,120 rule stringently and do not permit winding a stopped watch. Such is the prevalent custom and it may not be changed.121

The Chazon Ish,122 too, considers winding a watch a Biblical prohibition. Unlike the Chayei Adam quoted above, though, he prohibits it for a different reason. He maintains that by winding a watch one is “bringing to life” a piece of machinery which has been “dead.” When this is done by tightening parts (as in winding a watch where the loose parts of the spring are tightened up), it is considered boneh, building.123

A practical distinction between these two approaches would be regarding winding up toys. If we were to follow the Chayei Adam’s explanation as to why it is prohibited to wind up watches, then a compelling case could be made to permit winding toys. Rav S. Z. Auerbach124 contends that there are several fundamental differences between the winding of a watch and the winding of a toy. In brief:

  • Winding a watch enables it to operate for a lengthy period of time (thus “transforming” it). A toy, however, “runs” for a few minutes and then stops.
  • Since the purpose of a watch is to show the time always, when it is stopped, it is considered “broken,” and winding it might be considered “fixing” it. A toy is not malfunctioning when it does not run. It is made to run at specific times only. Thus, when it is stopped, it is not considered “broken.” Winding it does not render it “fixed.” In other words, winding does not “fix” it; rather, it makes it usable, which is permitted.

The above arguments, however, hold true only if we were to follow the Chayei Adam’s logic for prohibiting winding watches. Were we to follow the Chazon Ish’s reasoning, however, then there would be no difference between a watch and a toy. In both cases the “dead” item is being “brought to life” through the winding process. There is a strong possibility, therefore, that it would be prohibited to wind up toys or a baby swing, either Biblically or by rabbinic decree.

Question: Practically speaking, may we be lenient and activate a baby swing or a toy on Shabbos? What do contemporary poskim say?

Discussion: Unfortunately, there is little written information on this subject by many of our generation’s poskim. Indeed, there are conflicting reports as to what Rav M. Feinstein’s opinion was on this issue: Some quote him as forbidding winding up toys min ha-Torah,125 some say he forbid them mi-derabanan,126 while others quote him as permitting winding a baby swing on Shabbos.127 Rav S.Z. Auerbach, although he concedes that according to the Chazon Ish it is possible that winding toys is rabbinically forbidden, is quoted as permitting winding a baby swing.128 Rav Y.S. Elyashiv is quoted as prohibiting wind-up toys “just like it is prohibited to wind up a watch.129

As we see, contemporary poskim are divided on this issue. Thus, preferably, one should refrain from winding up a baby swing or permitting his older children130 from winding toys on Shabbos, in deference to the opinion of those who are stringent. But when necessary, such as when a crying baby cannot be quieted unless the swing is activated, it is permitted to do so, preferably with a shinui, in an unusual manner. If possible, a non-Jew131 or a minor132 should be asked to do it.

It goes without saying, that it is forbidden to wind up a swing set that plays music when it is wound.

114. A battery-powered baby swing set is forbidden to be turned-on on Shabbos or Yom Tov.

115. If the watch is still running, many poskim permit to wind it up, but a minority view is stringent even in that case. See Yechaveh Da’as 2:48 for the various views. Mishnah Berurah 338:15 rules leniently but only when necessary, like for an ill person who needs to know the time.

116. 44:19. This also appears to be the opinion of Pri Megadim 308:78.

117. Panim Meiros 2:123; Ya’avetz 1:41; Kesav Sofer O.C. 55; Sho’el u’Meishiv 6:53 and others.

118. In their opinion, a watch is made initially as an object that must be constantly wound. When it is stopped, it is not considered broken, and winding it does not fix it.

119. See Da’as Torah 338:3 and Minchas Shabbos 80:241.

120. 338:15. See also 252:50.

121. Kesav Sofer, O.C. 55; Kaf ha-Chayim 308:279; Minchas Shelomo 1:9; Yechaveh Da’as 2:48.

122. O.C. 50:9.

123. This is similar to the view of the Chazon Ish concerning the usage of electricity on Shabbos.

124. See Minchas Shelomo 1:9 and Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 16, note 43. See also Be’er Moshe 6:32 for a concurring opinion.

125. See Sefer Tiltulei Shabbos, pg. 28, note 36.

126. Heard from Rav A. Felder and published in Rishumei Aharon, O.C. pg. 29.

127. See Hilchos Tipul Yeladim by Rav S. Felder.

128. Binyan Shabbos, Makkeh b’Patish, pg. 173; Shulchan Shelomo 338:4. See also Be’er Moshe 6:32 and Ohr L’tziyon 2:42-3 who are lenient regarding wind-up toys.

129. Shalmei Yehudah 5:12; Orchos Shabbos 8:92. See also Chut Shani, Shabbos, vol. 2, pg. 275, who is stringent.

130. See CHD to Chapter 343 for details about this issue.

131. Since amira l’akum is suspended for a baby or a toddler’s needs; O.C. 276:1; 328:17. See also Sha’ar ha-Tziyun 338:19.

132. Based on Rama, O.C. 259:7; Magen Avraham 269:1; Mishnah Berurah 277:15. See also Rama, O.C. 362:7 and Mishnah Berurah.