Shiur #15: The Prohibition of Hotza'a on Shabbat

  • Rav Moshe Taragin
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Talmudic Methodology
Yeshivat Har Etzion


Dedicated in honor of Rabbi Ronnie and Yael Ziegler by Michael Merdinger and Eliana Megerman


Shiur #15: The Prohibition of Hotza'a on Shabbat

by Rav Moshe Taragin

The first mishna of Masekhet Shabbat describes the melakha of hotza'a - relocating items on Shabbat from a private domain to a public one. The mishna lists various scenarios of a homeowner depositing tzedaka money into the outstretched hand of a poor person standing outside his door. As the latter is ostensibly situated in a public area while the former stands in a private realm, hotza'a – at some level – is effected.

The gemara (49b) asserts that hotza'a was performed as part of the mishkan activities. As the beams were transferred from the wagons which carried them to the area where the mishkan would be erected, hotza'a was executed. The wagons were high enough and wide enough to constitute a reshut ha-yachid, and the transfer of beams from this area to a reshut ha-rabim entailed hotza'a. Typically, important activities performed as part of the mishkan routine are considered 'melakhot' which are forbidden on Shabbat; Aapparently, hotza'a conforms to this mold.

The gemara in Eiruvin, however, may provide an alternate source for the melakha of hotza'a. In Parashat Beshalach (Shemot 16:29), God informs the nation that an extra portion of manna would descend on Friday, and, according to one view in the gemara, in this verse Benei Yisrael are warned not to remove it from their property on Shabbat. Presumably, this registers a warning against the melakha of hotza'a. (The second view in the gemara suggests a different rendition of the pasuk, whereby it warns against 'leaving their vicinities on Shabbat,' which would then serve as a source for the prohibition of techumin [traveling beyond a 2000-cubit radius around one's city]). Why should hotza'a, of all melakhot, require a specific pasuk as its source? Shouldn't it follow the normal pattern of being prohibited simply because it occurred in the mishkan?

Another gemara in Shabbat (96b) provides yet an additional source for the melakha of hotza'a. In Parashat Vayakhel (Shemot 36:6), Moshe informs the nation that sufficient materials for the mishkan had already been collected, and in response to this announcement, the people 'cease from delivering further material' (Va-yikalei ha-am mei-havi). The gemara proves that these instructions were issued on Shabbat and stemmed from Shabbat-related concerns, as well. Moshe typically stood in the region of the Levi'im (which constituted a reshut ha-rabim) and received delivery from Jews who may have been standing in a reshut ha-yachid. As this system entailed hotza'a, Moshe ordered that it should not continue on Shabbat. Astonishingly enough, hotza'a has TWO pesukim as its Biblical source, whereas most melakhot do not stem from any pasuk at all, and are prohibited merely because they were performed in the mishkan. To what may we attribute this unique quality of hotza'a?

Tosafot, towards the beginning of Shabbat, address this issue and claim that one might have viewed hotza'a as an inferior or substandard activity, which is not forbidden on Shabbat. Without a specific pasuk, or perhaps even without two pesukim (each detailing different forms of hotza'a), we may not necessarily have outlawed this activity. To preclude such a conclusion, and to unquestionably establish the prohibition of hotza'a, the Torah introduces this halakha through two pesukim (whereas normally none are needed at all), Similarly, to highlight the violation of hotza'a the first mishna iterates all the various manifestations of this melakha.

Tosafot attribute the inferiority of hotza'a to its similarity to other forms of permissible transport. If items are relocated within a private area or transferred from one private domain to its neighboring area, no melakha has been violated. However, if the boundary between a reshut ha-yachid and reshut ha-rabim has been crossed, the issur has been performed. Indistinguishable from permissible activities, hotza'a is not considered a classic melakha.

Another unique property of hotza'a (which may account for its inferiority) is mentioned by the Or Zarua, in the name of the Rabbenu Tam. Generally, only creative melakhot are Biblically forbidden on Shabbat; activities under the category of mekalkel, which involve destruction, rather than creative action, by and large do not earn the status of melakha for purposes of Shabbat prohibition. Shabbat imposes a lockdown upon the creative process of human industry. Even though we are allowed (and even encouraged) to advance and develop our world during the week, Shabbat demands a cessation. Accordingly, all melakhot yield some important and constructive change. Hotza'a, however, is unique in that the item upon which the melakha is performed undergoes no physical or chemical change. No advance is discernable as a result of the hotza'a process, which merely relocates the given item. As no palpable change has occurred, it is deemed an inferior melakha and would not have been forbidden, were it not for the pesukim which explicitly establish this prohibition. Similarly, we would otherwise not have inferred one variety of hotza'a from the basic form. That a homeowner (to choose the scenario of the mishna) may not stand in a reshut ha-yachid and manually deposit goods in a reshut ha-rabim, does not necessarily imply that a beggar standing in a reshut ha-rabim may not thrust his hand into a reshut ha-yachid, lift an item and redeposit it in the area where he stands. The various forms of hotza'a thus require specific Biblical sources.

Viewing hotza'a in this light - as unique because it does not introduce tangible change – may help explain several interesting positions among the Rishonim which cast hotza'a as exceptional. For example, the Ritva in Eiruvin (78) cites the view of his Rebbi - Rabbenu Yona – permitting one to instruct a non-Jew to perform hotza'a. In general, of course, Halakha forbids amira le-akum (instructing a gentile toward melakha). Yet, regarding hotza'a, this rule may not apply, and we might indeed permit asking a gentile to carry an item. (It should be noted that halakhically, we do not follow this position). Perhaps this view can be grasped in light of Rabbenu Tam's designation of hotza'a as inferior because it yields no substantive effect on the item. Instructing a gentile toward melakha is forbidden because a Jew will ultimately benefit from a Shabbat violation. But if the act has no impact and no benefit accrues, one may, indeed, ask a non-Jew to perform the act on his behalf.

Likewise, the Chayei Adam (9:11) claims that the principle of ma'aseh Shabbat – which forbids deriving benefit from Shabbat violations even after Shabbat - would not apply to hotza'a. For example, Halakha generally forbids eating food which was unlawfully prepared during Shabbat, either for a limited timeframe or forever, depending on the particular circumstance. According to the Chayei Adam, this provision does not apply to hotza'a. Since this melakha effects no palpable change, one may derive 'benefit' from its performance. Thus, for example, if an item designated for long-distance transfer was removed to a reshut ha-rabim on Shabbat, it may be further transported after Shabbat without returning it to its original location and 'starting anew.'

A third manifestation of this 'inferiority complex' may arise from an interesting mishna which details the mechanics of hotza'a. The mishna (92a) forbids removing items while carrying in either hand, in a pocket, or on shoulders, while it permits (on the level of Torah law) carrying on the back of a hand, on a foot, in a mouth, on an elbow, or in some other atypical fashion. The mishna demands that the item be carried ke-derekh ha'in – in the manner by which most people carry items – in order for hotza'a to occur. The gemara is quite specific in this regard, allowing carrying on one's head if most people do not carry in that fashion. In general, halakha is not that pedantic about the exact method of a melakha's performance; so long as the result of that melakha is achieved, it is forbidden. Yet, regarding hotza'a, halakha only forbids very particular and conventional activities. This phenomenon may be explained in light of Rabbenu Tam's theory. Most melakhot impact the item and produce a tangible effect. As such, they exhibit greater flexibility: as long as that effect has been produced by "more or less" the same activity, it is forbidden. By contrast, hotza'a features a prohibition upon an act itself, even though it yields no tangible effect. Therefore, only if that act is strictly adhered to, has hotza'a been committed. In the absence of the precise action, no 'common impact' has been achieved, and the activity cannot be prohibited.