Household Muktzeh Objects

 Courtesy of Ohr Olam Mishnah Berurah

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 this 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,159 severe muktzeh may not be moved in a normal, straightforward manner.160 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 available161.]

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.162]

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:

  • animals—severe muktzeh163
  • barley (raw)—severe muktzeh
  • bars of soap—severe muktzeh 164
  • buttons (detached from garment)—questionable severe muktzeh or not muktzeh at all165
  • cameras—severe muktzeh
  • candles or candlesticks (unlit or unused on Friday night)—questionable severe166 or light muktzeh167
  • cars,168 car keys169—light muktzeh
  • clocks (alarm)—questionable light muktzeh170 or not muktzeh at all171
  • clocks (wall)—questionable severe muktzeh or not muktzeh at all172
  • combs—light muktzeh
  • crayons—light muktzeh
  • credit cards (ATM cards)—severe muktzeh173
  • detergents— severe muktzeh
  • fans—light muktzeh 174
  • lit flashlights—severe muktzeh 175
  • flour—severe muktzeh
  • garden hoses—light muktzeh
  • glue—severe muktzeh
  • hammers, screwdrivers—light muktzeh
  • kettles (empty)—light muktzeh
  • light bulbs—severe muktzeh
  • lulav—severe muktzeh 176
  • makeup (eye-shadow, lipstick, mascara)—severe muktzeh
  • matches—questionable severe or light muktzeh177
  • money—severe muktzeh
  • mops and pails—light muktzeh
  • pens—light muktzeh178
  • pencil sharpeners— questionable severe muktzeh or light muktzeh
  • pictures (hanging on the wall)—questionable severe muktzeh or not muktzeh at all179
  • potato peelers—light muktzeh
  • rolling pins—light muktzeh
  • rulers—light muktzeh
  • scales—light muktzeh180
  • scissors—light muktzeh
  • sha’atnez garments—severe muktzeh181
  • shofars—severe muktzeh182
  • silver foil or toilet paper (uncut rolls)—severe muktzeh183
  • snow—questionable severe muktzeh or not muktzeh at all184
  • staplers—light muktzeh
  • store catalogs—light muktzeh 185
  • telephone books—light muktzeh186
  • toasters—severe muktzeh
  • Vaseline, toothpaste—severe muktzeh
  • wallets (empty)—light muktzeh
  • whistles—light muktzeh

159. 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.

160. Indirectly, however, even severe muktzeh may be moved; See O.C. 311:8 for the many details involved.

161. Mishnah Berurah 308:12, as explained by Igros Moshe, O.C. 5:21-12.

162. Igros Moshe, O.C. 5:22-31; Rav Y.S. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 11); Az Nidberu 8:30; Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 20:10 and note 24. See, however, Machazeh Eliyahu 46 who rules leniently in this case.

163. O.C. 308:39. Concerning pets, see CHD Chapter 305.

164. Igros Moshe, O.C. 5:22-15; Shulchan Shlomo 308:31-3; Rav Y.S. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 158).

165. 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. Whenever possible, it is appropriate to be stringent and treat buttons as severe muktzeh; see Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 15:72 and Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 80.

166. Pri 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.

167. Tosafos Shabbos 308:29; Sha’ar ha-Tziyun 279:4 based on Magen Avraham; Igros Moshe, O.C. 5:22-28, 32. See Shulchan Shlomo 308:9-2 and 308:31-2.

168. Igros Moshe, O.C. 5:21-11; Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 201.

169. Shulchan Shlomo 308:25; Rav Y.S. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 202).

170. Igros Moshe, O.C. 3:49; Rav Y.S. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah 2, note 2).

171. Rav S.Z. Auerbach (Shalmei Yehudah 2, note 3). See also Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 28, notes 54-55.

172. 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.

173. Chut Shani, Shabbos, vol. 3, pg. 111.

174. 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.

175. Ashrei ha-Ish, Shabbos, vol. 2, 17:73-74. See CHD to Chapter 279.

176. Mishnah Berurah 308:25 (because it is not a utensil); Aruch ha-Shulchan 308:17 (because it is “delicate”).

177. See Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 14:39; 20:16, Sefer Tiltulei Shabbos, pg. 82, and Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 74 for the various views and reasons.

178. Igros Moshe, O.C. 5:22-32; Rav Y.S. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 197). Some poskim are more stringent concerning pens; see Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 20, note 16.

179. 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.

180. Minchas Shabbos 88:25. See, however Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 14, note 112, quoting Rav S.Z. Auerbach.

181. O.C. 308:47.

182. 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 Shlomo 308:23) agree that nowadays a shofar is too “delicate” to be used for anything other than blowing which is prohibited on Shabbos.

183. Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 98 and pg. 171.

184. Mishnah Berurah 338:30 rules 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 Kehilchasah 16:45) hold that snow is similar to rain, while others (Igros Moshe, O.C. 5:22-37; Shulchan Shlomo 310:26-2) suggest that snow may be considered severe muktzeh. See also Mishnah Berurah 310:32, quoting Chayei Adam.

185. Igros Moshe, O.C. 5:22-19; Shulchan Shlomo 308:9-3.

186. Shulchan Shlomo 308:52.