Guarding Shabbat is a Biblical commandment that requires a fair bit of knowledge to perform correctly. The act of guarding Shabbat requires that a person refrain from all creative works (known as melachot) throughout the day of rest. To make it easier for Jews to preserve the sanctity of Shabbat, the rabbis enacted numerous laws, creating protective fences to prevent one from breaking a Torah law. The best known of these “fences” is muktzeh, the Talmudic term for an item that serves no purpose on Shabbat, and thus many not be used or moved on Shabbat.

One might assume that it is simple to determine which items in one’s household are muktzeh, but the details of this rabbinic law are actually quite complex (for more specific information, Jewish Treats recommends consulting your rabbi). For instance, a hammer seems like an obvious candidate for muktzeh, after all what can one do with it but melacha? Imagine, however, if a person wishes to eat a nut but does not have a nutcracker. The hammer now has an acceptable Shabbat use and is (temporarily) not muktzeh. Of course, some muktzeh items are quite obvious: Since turning electricity on and off during Shabbat is not permitted, it easily follows that one’s phone or computer serves no purpose and is deemed muktzeh.

Rabbinic laws such as muktzeh serve a very real purpose. If, while talking to a friend on Shabbat, one casually picks up a pen and starts to play with it in one’s hand, it is possible that one might absentmindedly write or doodle, a perfectly normal act. Writing, however, is one of the 39 melachot. Prohibiting the very picking up of the pen thus is an act that serves to guard Jews from disturbing the sanctity of Shabbat.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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