Issur Melakha and the Shabbat Day of Rest Part 2

  • Rav Doniel Schreiber



By Rav Doniel Schreiber



Shiur #17: Issur Melakha and the Shabbat Day of Rest

Part II



In the previous shiur it was mentioned that one does not violate a melakha min ha-Torah unless the eight conditions of melekhet machshevet (craftsmanship) are simultaneously satisfied.  If any one of these eight conditions is not fulfilled, then no Torah violation has occurred.  In many instances, though, one's actions may be sufficient to violate rabbinic law even in the absence of these conditions.  The following is a discussion of instances in which one has failed to meet the requirements of melekhet macheshevet.


1.    Melakha she'eina tzerikha le-gufa


Typically, according to halakha, one is forbidden to perform any prohibited act, regardless of one's motivation for accomplishing the act.  For instance, the Torah prohibits eating non-kosher food even if one were to eat the food in order to hide it from someone.  But what is the rule on Shabbat, where there is a requirement for "craftsmanship?" Is there a Torah violation if a person performs one of the 39 melakhot on Shabbat for a purpose other than the goals of that act in the building of the mishkan? Can a melakha, that occurs as a byproduct of trying to accomplish that which is not a melakha be defined as melekhet machshevet?


Tannaim (Shabbat 93b) are divided in this case.  R. Shimon rules that there is only a rabbinic violation, while R. Yehuda considers it to be a Torah violation.  The vast majority of poskim accept the lenient view of R. Shimon, and thus the halakha is that such an act is considered a rabbinic prohibition (Tur OC 278, 316, 334, OC 316:8, and MB 316:34 and MB 278:3).  However, Rambam Shabbat 1:7 and Yeraim no. 274, among others, rule stringently in accordance with R. Yehuda.  Rishonim equivocate as to what is the ruling of the Rif (see Ramban and Rashba on Shabbat 93b).


For further analysis: The Vilna Gaon (OC 340:1) feels that Shulchan Arukh rules stringently like R. Yehuda, since Shulchan Arukh (OC 340:1) asserts that it is a Torah prohibition to cut one's fingernails on Shabbat, and Tosefot understands this case as eina tzerikha le-gufa.  But many rishonim understand that cutting one's nails is tzerikha le-gufa, and thus one cannot bring a proof from Shulchan Arukh's ruling.  Furthermore, elsewhere (OC 316:8), the Vilna Gaon understood that Shulchan Arukh rules leniently like R. Shimon, since Shulchan Arukh asserts that trapping for no purpose is a rabbinic prohibition.  The Biur Halakha (340:1 s.v. ve-chayev) points out this apparent contradiction within the Vilna Gaon, and explains that the Vilna Gaon was actually of the opinion that it is difficult to tell what Shulchan Arukh rules, and was merely highlighting the differing emphases in Shulchan Arukh.  This seems to be also the approach of Eliyahu Rabba (OC 301:29) and Arukh ha-Shulchan (OC 316:19, OC 334:2,3,4, OC 340:6).  Yet, Magen Avraham (OC 316: 17, and 340:1) and Mishna Berura (MB 316:34, MB 334:84,85, and Biur Halakha 316:8 s.v.  ve-ha-chovel) seem to take for granted that melakha sheina tzerikha le-gufa is merely a rabbinic prohibition.


For further research: See gemara Chagiga 10b and Rashi, Shabbat 93b s.v. ve-R' Shimon.


Although a melakha she'eina tzerikha le-gufa is considered merely a rabbinic prohibition, it is the most stringent rabbinic prohibition of Shabbat.  For example, although certain rabbinic prohibitions may be performed during bein ha-shmashot for the needs of Shabbat (OC 342), a melakha sheina tzerikha le-gufa is prohibited (MB 342:1).  See also MB 278:3 with regard to extinguishing fire for one who is sick with a non-life threatening illness. 


What is an example of a melakha she'eina tzerikha le-gufa?  There are many opinions in Rishonim as to the definition of this concept and the cases included therein.  Three basic positions are:


1.    Subjective - It is when one is not entirely happy, satisfied, or reconciled with the outcome, e.g. taking a dead body out of the house which involves the melakha of carrying (hotzaa); you do not want it in the house, but you do not want it outside either - Rashi (Shabbat 93b, s.v.  ve-rav shimon poter).

2.    Objective - It is when the purpose of the act is not the same as the purpose in the mishkan.  Thus, Tosefot rule that cutting nails and hair is a melakha she'eina tzerikha le-gufa, since the in the mishkan the wool was cut in order to be used, not to be discarded (Shabbat 94a, s.v. rabi shimon poter).  (Rivash thinks that cutting nails and hair is asur min ha-Torah because in the mishkan there was also a value in merely shearing the wool, inasmuch as this assisted in the use of the skins of the sheep.

3.    Subjective/Objective - It is when the act has a purpose in the positive sense, as opposed to an act which merely removes or prevents damage - Ramban and Chachmei Sefard, ibid. Some Geonim rule that removing a dead body which has created a foul odor in the house is a melakha she'tzerikha le-gufa.  Perhaps they understand that preventing damage is eina tzerikha le-gufa, whereas removing present damage is tzerikha le-gufa.

            Poskim appear to differ on how to rule.  The Taz (OC 278) cites Rashi's explanation, whereas Magen Avraham (ibid.) cites that of Tosefot.  Nonetheless, all poskim agree that digging an unwanted hole in the ground in order to have a mound of dirt is a melakha she'eina tzerikha le-gufa, as this satisfies all definitions.  The same can be true of extinguishing a fire, capturing a dangerous animal, or carrying an unwanted item from a private domain to a public one.


An example of a practical implication of this law, that a melakha she'eina tzerikha le-gufa is prohibited merely midrabanan, is asking a non-Jew to turn off the lights in your bedroom so that you may go to sleep.  The law is that shvut de-shvut be-makom mitzva (a rabbinic violation within a rabbinic violation for the sake of a mitzva) within certain parameters is permitted, and this is such a case.  Inasmuch as turning off lights constitutes a melakha she'eina tzerikha le-gufa and is thus forbidden rabbinically, and furthermore, asking a non-Jew to perform melakha is a rabbinic violation (the laws of which will be dealt with in a later shiur), and finally, going to sleep on Shabbat is a mitzva of oneg Shabbat (enjoying Shabbat), there exists here a shvut de-shvut be-makom mitzva.


2.  Davar She-eino Mitkaven


Tannaim differ in a case where one violates a melakha on Shabbat without the intention of doing that melakha, e.g.  one drags a bench upon the ground in a situation where this might or might not create a furrow.  (Digging a furrow is a Torah violation of the av melakha of plowing.) Conceptually, this is a case of performing permitted action "A" which in fact results in forbidden action "B", although it was unclear that action "B" would be the necessary outcome.  According to R. Yehuda, a violation has occurred in such a case, (see below), while R. Shimon rules that no violation has occurred at all.  Amoraim, also debate this issue, with Rav accepting the opinion of R. Yehuda and Shmuel subscribing to the opinion of R. Shimon.  The gemara rules leniently in accordance with R. Shimon, and this is indeed the halakha.  See Beitza 23b, Shabbat 41a-42a, 46b and 95a, Rambam, Shabbat 1:5,6, and OC 337:1.


For further research:


A.   Scope of leniency

1.    See Levush (337:1), who understands that R. Shimon in fact only allows davar she-eino mitkaven with regard to rabbinically proscribed actions, but forbids it with regard to Torah proscribed actions.  See Mishna Brura 337:1 that this position has been rejected by the poskim, and R. Shimon's leniency applies to Torah proscriptions as well.

2.    Rishonim differ as to whether davar she-eino mitkaven is permitted only for Shabbat prohibitions (Sheiltot cited in Tosafot Shabbat 110b s.v. talmud, and Shita Yeshana in Shita Mekubetzet Ketubot 5b, p. 28; see also MB 320:53, Kritot 19b, and Torah Temima, Shemot 35:33) or even for general prohibitions (Ri cited in Tosafot Shabbat 110b s.v. talmud, Rosh Shabbat 14:9 and Rambam, Kilayim 10:16, Nezirut 5:14; see Shabbat 81b and Bekhorot 34a).  See also Chiddushei Ha-Grach al Ha-Rambam Shabbat 1:10.


B.   Opinion of R. Yehuda

While Rishonim appear to agree that according to R.  Yehuda one violates Torah law in cases of davar she-eino mitkaven with regard to general prohibitions, they differ as to whether R. Yehuda understands that a Torah violation also occurs on Shabbat in a case of davar she-eino mitkaven, or merely a rabbinic one. 

Those who understand that according to R. Yehuda there is a Torah violation for Shabbat as well are: Ramban, end of Milchamot Hashem, Shabbat 124b, Rashba, Shabbat 133a, and in Shita Mekubetzet Ketubot 6a, Ritva Yoma 34b, Rosh Shabbat 12:1, Meiri Shabbat 95a, and Maggid Mishna Shabbat 1:7 and 12:2.  Those who understand that according to R. Yehuda there is merely a rabbinic violation on Shabbat in this case are: Tosefot Shabbat 41b s.v. meicham, Tosefot Yoma 34b, and Rabbeinu Avraham ben Ha-Rambam, Birchat Avraham no. 19, p. 33.  A difficult opinion to establish is that of Rashi who seems to contradict himself – see Shabbat 121b and Yoma 34b.


While some Rishonim, such as the Sefer Yereim (siman 274), limit R. Shimon's lenient ruling to situations where there was only one way of performing action "A", most authorities rule that we are lenient even when an alternative manner of action "A", one which would certainly not lead to forbidden action "B", exists.  Accordingly, even if one deliberately chooses a manner of performing action "A" which might lead to forbidden action "B", and forbidden action "B" indeed occurred, one is completely exempt.  See Beit Yosef, OC 337, and Shulchan Arukh 337:1.  However, where one intends at the outset to benefit from the possible occurrence of forbidden action "B", rishonim agree that R. Shimon would rule stringently, inasmuch as action "B" is no longer unintentional.  See Rambam, Ma'akhalot Assurot 14:12 and rishonim on Pesachim 26a.


Some practical implications of this law, that davar she-eino mitkaven is mutar, are:


1.    Unintentionally backing into a light switch – This case, according to the Kaf Ha-chaim (OC 277:4), is precisely one of davar she-eino mitkaven, and no violation has occurred since the permitted act "A" of backing into a light switch might or might not cause prohibited act "B", i.e. turning on/off the light.  This is of course forbidden to do with the intent to turn on/off the light, as noted above.

2.    Opening refrigerator doors – Even where one opened a refrigerator door and caused the motor to immediately turn on, no violation has occurred since the motor of a refrigerator does not always start immediately upon opening the door, and it is not one's intention to turn on the motor when opening the door.


The next shiur will discuss the laws of davar she-eino mitkaven pesik reisha, i.e. unintended forbidden act "B" which will definitely result from permitted act "A."