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Issur Melakha and the Shabbat Day of Rest Part 7

  • Rav Doniel Schreiber



By Rav Doniel Schreiber


Shiur No.22:  Issur Melakha and the Shabbat Day of Rest

Part VII



The previous shiur discussed how mitasek does not fulfill the conditions of melekhet machshevet (craftsmanship), and the variety of instances which may be defined as mitasek.  What remains unclear is whether a mitasek act is considered a violation of Shabbat and whether one must take precautions to avoid the occurrence of mitasek.


Must one take preventative measures to avoid the occurrence of mitasek by one's own hand on Shabbat, and must one take action to prevent another Jew from performing a melakha unawares?  For instance, is one obligated to tape up his light switches or warn others that there is a motion detector which will turn on a light, or a video camera, or a tape recorder in the vicinity?  It would seem that this question depends on whether some violation has occurred in performing a prohibited act unawares, i.e. as a mitasek.  While all agree that mitasek exempts one from bringing a korban chatat, poskim dispute as to whether some violation has nonetheless occurred in the performance of a prohibited action in a mitasek manner.


R. Akiva Eiger ("Teshuvot R. Akiva Eiger," 1st ed., no. 8) argues that general mitasek (prohibited acts other than Shabbat, performed unawares) is considered a violation, and merely exempts one from bringing a korban chatat, while melekhet machshevet mitasek of Shabbat involves a rabbinical violation, but not a Torah violation.  He further distinguishes within mitasek cases of Shabbat (based on Tosafot, Shabbat 72b, s.v. Nitkaven) between the performance of an intended action on Shabbat without knowledge of the situation (e.g. intending to cut a detached vegetable and discovering afterwards that it was attached) and failing on Shabbat to perform the intended action (e.g. intending to pick up a detached vegetable, and instead accidentally plucking an attached vegetable).


According to R. Akiva Eiger, the former case fulfills the requirements of melekhet machshevet; yet, although the intended action was realized, the act nonetheless falls into the GENERAL category of mitasek since it was performed unawares.  One is therefore exempt from bringing a korban, but has still committed a Torah violation.  The latter case, in which the intended action was not realized, falls into the narrow category of Shabbat mitasek, which does not reach the level of melekhet machshevet, and thus no Torah violation has occurred, only a rabbinical one.  See also Arukh Ha-shulchan, OC 242:25.


On the other hand, many poskim are of the opinion that generally in cases of mitasek, whether on Shabbat or for other prohibitions, no violation has occurred at all (R. Ya'akov of Lisa, the Netivot, in his "Mekor Chayim," OC 431:1; the Rav zt"l, Rabbi Joseph B. Ha-levi Soloveitchik, in his "Shiurim Le-zekher Abba Mori z"l," Vol. 1, p. 30, n. 58 and "Mesora," Vol. 5, pp. 25-26; R. Yo'el Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe, in his "Divrei Yo'el,"  2:107).  In support of this opinion, see Rambam, Hilkhot Issurei Bi'a 1:12, Ra'avad ibid. and Kesef Mishna ibid., as well as Rashi, Ramban, and Me'iri on Shabbat 72a, and Rashi on Pesachim 33a.  See also R. Chayim Ozer Grodzinski, in his "Achi'ezer," 3:57; Chayei Adam, Shabbat 9:8; Eglei Tal, "Kotzer," 24:14; "Shevitat Shabbat," p. 16.  For further discussion, see "Yalkut Yosef" #4, Shabbat, Vol. 5, p. 223, par. 3 and n. 3.


[It should be noted that when shown the opinion of the Rav zt"l recorded in the "Shiurim Le-zecher Abba Mori z"l," Ha-rav Aharon Lichtenstein remarked that it was odd, inasmuch as he clearly recalled the Rav treating R. Akiva Eiger's opinion as a genuine possibility.  One resolution may be that the Rav in "Shiurim Le-zecher Abba Mori z"l" was working with the opinion of Rambam, whereas R. Akiva Eiger was discussing the opinion of Tosafot.  It is also possible that the Rav would agree that mitasek commits a violation where one is cognizant of what one is doing, but unaware of the current situation, as where one knows that one is carrying but thinks that the eruv is operative when it is not.]


For further research, see Keritot 19a and Pesachim 33a; Rashi ad loc.; Tosafot, Shabbat 72b, s.v. Nitkaven; Rambam, Hilkhot Shegagot 7:11; "Teshuvot R. Akiva Eiger," no. 8; and "Sefer Avi'ezri," Shegagot 7:11.


Accordingly, it would seem that R. Akiva Eiger, who believes some violation has occurred through mitasek, would advocate preventing mitasek, while others, who understand that no violation at all has occurred, would not attempt to prevent its occurrence.  If so, R. Akiva Eiger's view would seem to be the correct approach in light of the following rulings.


Firstly, the mishna on Shabbat 11a rules that it prohibited according to rabbinical law to go out into a public domain ("reshut ha-rabbim") when it is almost Shabbat while carrying an object.  This prohibition is apparently designed to prevent one from carrying unknowingly on Shabbat, i.e. an act of mitasek in the melakha of "hotza'a" (carrying).  Furthermore, continuing in this theme, the gemara (Shabbat 12a) establishes that one is obligated according to rabbinical law to check one's pockets prior to Shabbat.  Again, this is apparently to prevent one from carrying unknowingly on Shabbat.


Secondly, the mishna (Shabbat 11a) further rules that it is prohibited according to rabbinical law to read near an oil lamp, since perhaps one will come to tilt it to improve the illumination, which would be apparently a mitasek act of the melakha of "ha'avara" (creating a fire).


Finally, if the eruv is down, the Mishna Berura (365:40) rules that one must inform others of this fact to prevent them from carrying while unaware that it is down – again an apparent act of mitasek in the context of hotza'a (carrying).


If there is no violation in mitasek, why are we so keen to prevent it? It would seem that R. Akiva Eiger is unassailably the correct one.


            One may counter that these cases cannot serve as proofs to R. Akiva Eiger inasmuch as they intend to prevent a situation of shogeg and not mitasek.  Namely, it could be that one is prohibited from carrying in a public domain immediately prior to Shabbat and that one is required to check one's pockets immediately prior to Shabbat to prevent a shogeg violation; one may forget it is Shabbat, know full well that there is some object in his or her pocket, and walk outside.  Indeed, this is Tosafot's explanation of the mishna (ibid. s.v. Shema), and it is accepted as normative by the Arukh Ha-shulchan (OC 252:17).  See, however, MB 252:52-54.


Similarly, with regard to the prohibition of reading near an oil lamp on Shabbat, it could be argued that the act of tilting an oil lamp while one is engrossed in reading is a case of shogeg; one may forget that it is Shabbat because one is absorbed in a book.  This explanation seems more reasonable, since the act of tilting an oil lamp requires some thought, and thus one is more likely to accomplish it having forgotten that it is Shabbat, rather than as a result of some preoccupation.  Furthermore, since this prohibition is in the same mishnaic context as the prohibition of carrying in a public domain prior to Shabbat, which is a shogeg situation according to Tosafot and Arukh Ha-shulchan, it is reasonable to assume that it too is a case of shogeg, and not mitasek.  Finally, it seems clear from the continuation in the gemara Shabbat 12b that this is a case of shogeg, since the gemara says that one who accidentally tilts the lamp because he was engrossed in his learning will have to bring a korban chatat.  This clearly indicates that it is not a case of mitasek, but rather one of shogeg.


            Finally, it can be argued that one is required to tell others that the eruv is down since carrying while not realizing the eruv is down is a shogeg, inasmuch as one is cognizant of one's actions, i.e. that he or she is carrying an object, while unaware of the situation.  However, one would perhaps not be obligated to prevent someone from performing a melakha as a mitasek.


            Indeed, it is possible to argue that there can be no rabbinical legislation to prevent a mitasek which fails melekhet machshevet, since such a mitasek, even according to R. Akiva Eiger, is only a rabbinical violation, and the rule is "ein gozerin gezeira le-gezeira;" there can be no rabbinical legislation passed upon previously existing rabbinical prohibitions (see Tosafot, Shabbat 11a, s.v. Shema, and Arukh Ha-shulchan, OC 252:17).


            However, Ha-rav Aharon Lichtenstein once suggested that even if the normative ruling was that mitasek committed no violation, against R. Akiva Eiger, it is possible that one should still prevent its occurrence on Shabbat in the context of Torah-proscribed melakhot.  This would be true because actions of melakha, prohibited by their very nature of being melakha, may cause chillul (profanation) of the sanctity of Shabbat even when they do not conform to melekhet machshevet.  See shiur No.1: Introduction.


            Therefore, it would seem that one is not obligated by halakha to take advance precautions such as covering light switches, to prevent mitasek (aside from the precautions cited above), since the cases above seem to be preventing a situation of shogeg, not mitasek.  Furthermore, even were we to interpret that they are precautions against mitasek, we are not empowered to form new gezeirot. (See Responsa Maharam Schick oc no.157).  Nonetheless, it is an excellent idea to cover light switches, since it can prevent possible shogeg or mitasek violations (according to R. Akiva Eiger) or any chillul shabbat.


However, when one can directly prevent a person from performing melakha as a mitasek, such as preventing someone from accidentally leaning against a light switch, one should do so.  This is because many poskim take the position of R. Akiva Eiger that mitasek does commit a violation; furthermore, we should strive to minimize any acts of chillul shabbat.


To take another case, must one warn others not to open a refrigerator whose light has not been disabled?  Similarly, must one warn others that there is a motion detector which will turn on a light, or a video camera which will record their image, or a tape recorder which will record their voice, in the vicinity? Based upon the above, it would seem that one should issue a warning in such circumstances.  Yet there may be room to distinguish, inasmuch as these cases are acts of mitasek performed through a pesik reisha, an act with an inevitable consequence of melakha, rather than a direct melakha.


R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt"l, in his ("Minchat Shlomo" 1, p. 549), asserts that in a case of mitasek performed in the context of pesik reisha de-lo nicha lei, an inevitable but undesired consequence, it is possible that one may allow the mitasek to occur even according to R. Akiva Eiger.  Thus, if one would consider refrigerator lights, motion detectors and recordings of a video camera and tape recorder as pesik reisha de-lo nicha lei, then there may be room to allow the mitasek to occur.  However, R. Auerbach is concerned that perhaps mechanisms designed in this manner are considered direct action, not pesik reisha.


The next shiur will discuss other methods and instances which do not fulfill the conditions of melekhet machshevet, and may therefore be used to engineer leniencies under certain conditions.