Wearing a Watch on Shabbos

 Courtesy of Ohr Olam Mishnah Berurah

Question: May one wear a self-winding or a smart watch on Shabbos?

Discussion: As mentioned in the previous discussion, the consensus of the poskim is that it is forbidden to wind up a stopped mechanical watch on Shabbos. It is, therefore, forbidden to pick up a stopped self-winding watch and wear it, since moving and wearing it is winding it.133 But it is permitted, according to most poskim, to wear a running self-winding watch, even though the constant hand movement continues to wind the watch and allows it to run for a longer time-period.134 Some poskim are more stringent and permit wearing a self-winding watch only if the watch was fully wound before Shabbos and would have been able to run the entire Shabbos even without being moved on Shabbos.135

The above principle applies to other types of watches available today as well, such as an eco-drive watch which harnesses the power of light – from any natural or artificial light source – and converts it into energy, which is stored in a permanently rechargeable solar cell. If the watch is stopped, it is forbidden to move it or wear it, since doing so will power up the watch. But if the watch is energized and running on erev Shabbos, it is permitted to continue to wear it on Shabbos, even though the constant exposure to light will continue to energize the watch on Shabbos.

Some smart watches on the market today are designed to monitor and measure various body functions, such as one’s blood pressure or heartbeat rate, etc. while others are designed to monitor and measure weather information, etc. The results are then digitally displayed on the watch’s screen. Unless it is a medical necessity, such a watch should not be worn on Shabbos, since the digital display is constantly being updated based on the wearer’s hand movements. If, mistakenly, one finds himself wearing such a watch while in the street, he does not have to remove it immediately, but he may go home and remove it at that time.136

Many watches feature a light which is turned on by the press of a button. If the time cannot be seen unless the light is turned on, the watch may not be worn or moved at all. If, however, the watch can be used without the light as well, it is not expressly forbidden to wear such a watch. Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon every G-d-fearing Jew, who during the week routinely presses the light button, to protect himself from unintentionally desecrating the Shabbos.137 A clever way to circumvent the weekday routine is to wear the watch on Shabbos on the opposite hand from the one that is normally used during the week138.

May a wrist watch be worn outside in an area without an eiruv? Some poskim maintain that a watch which is worn directly on the wrist is considered like a garment and it is permitted to be worn like any other article of clothing (malbush).139 Other poskim allow only a gold140 watch to be worn outside since they consider it as a beautiful accessory (tachshit) which is permitted like any other jewelry. 141 Still, the majority of poskim reject these arguments and forbid wearing all wrist watches outside.142 While the general custom follows the more stringent opinion,143 if mistakenly, one forgot to remove his wrist watch before leaving his home he may continue walking until he reaches his home or another safe place, and only then remove the watch from his hand.

Most poskim hold that a watch that stopped running is considered muktzeh and may no longer be worn or moved for any reason.144 [If the watch also serves as a jewelry piece, then it is not considered muktzeh.] Still, if the watch stopped operating while walking in the street, one does not need to remove it until he reaches a safe place.145

133. Indeed, this watch is now muktzeh.

134. Chelkas Yaakov 1:75; Rav S.Z. Auerbach, quoted in Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 28, note 57; Shulchan Shelomo 308:47-2; Tzitz Eliezer 9:20; Shalmei Yehudah 2, note 24, quoting Rav Y.S. Elyashiv. See also Chut Shani 37:4.

135. See Shevet ha-Levi 3:97 and Orchos Shabbos 26, note 69. This may be more of an issue when Shabbos and Yom Tov come together.

136. Rav Y.S. Elyashiv, quoted in Me’or ha-Shabbos, vol. 4, pg. 337.

137. Ruling by R.Z. Auerbach, quoted in Me’or ha-Shabbos, vol. 4, pg. 340. See also Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 28, note 53. See also Ashrei ha-Ish, vol. 2, pg. 241.

138. Me’or ha-Shabbos, vol. 4, pg. 340, quoting Rav Y.Y. Fischer.

139. Igros Moshe O.C. 1:111; 5:24; Rav S.Z. Auerbach, quoted in Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 18, note 113.

140. Some require that both the watch and band be made of gold while others permit it if either one of them is gold.

141. Chelkas Yaakov O.C. 1:89; Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 18:27; Yechaveh Da’as 3:23.

142. Ketzos ha-Shulchan 115, note 28; Minchas Yitzchok 1:67; Tzitz Eliezer 11:28; Chut Shani 88:2. This seems to be the opinion of the Mishnah Berurah and Aruch ha-Shulchan and Chazon Ish as well.

143. This is true for most men. Women, in general, consider most watches as jewelry and customarily wear them outside of the eiruv.

144. Minchas Shabbos 80:242; 88:23; Rav Y.S. Elyashiv See Tzitz Eliezer 9:20 who questions this ruling.

145. Based on Mishnah Berurah 266:35.