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Carrying in the Public Domain – Part III


This week’s article will end our series on carrying in the public domain on Shabbos. This week, we will clarify and bring examples for the various halachos. Can weapons be carried? Does the halacha depend on the purpose for carrying the weapon? Can a full army uniform be worn at home, and can it be worn where there is no eiruv? Can a security guard walk out with his gun, and is the gun muktze? The handicapped also have their own halachos – can mobility devices or prosthetics be used in the public domain on Shabbos? Can a wheelchair be used, and how? Is a prisoner on furlough affixed with an electronic cuff allowed to walk with it in the public domain? Of this, and more in the coming article.

Defining Jewelry

The past two articles defined various clothing articles and objects – which are considered clothing articles and which — articles of burden. The definition does not always match our perception of clothing or decoration, and only objects people transport in order to use in another place are considered items of burden. An example for this appeared in last week’s article – the watch, particularly one made of gold, which can serve both as an item of beauty and a functional timepiece.


A similar example is handcuffs. While a handcuffed prisoner certainly does not see his handcuffs as an ornament and longs to be freed of them, handcuffs are considered part of a prisoner’s uniform and an insignificant addition (batel) to his body. The reason is because prisoners do not carry them for any kind of use, neither in their current location nor in their destination.

The Shulchan Aruch rules (OC 340:19) that a prisoner is permitted to walk in the public domain with handcuffs. While obviously true when he is forced to do so against his will, even if granted freedom to go wherever he wants with cuffs he is permitted to take advantage of the opportunity and walk about handcuffed in the public domain on Shabbos.

This halacha is especially relevant to prisoners today who are often granted prison furlough only if they are monitored by means of an electronic cuff. Whether a prisoner can walk outside an eiruv, depends on this issue.

The Mishna Brura (Sha’ar Hatziyun footnote 75) cites as the source for this halacha a story in the Gemara: there was a family in Yerushalayim whose womenfolk would take extremely large steps –causing themselves physical damage. To protect themselves, the ladies would chain their feet together. The Mishna permitted them to walk in the public domain with this chain. Based on this Gemara, the Rishonim permit prisoners to venture into the public domain with handcuffs.

The Mishna Brura, though, questions this analogy: how can a chain, used of a woman’s own volition for self-protection be compared to handcuffs which prisoners hope and dream of removing?

In light of this halacha, the Mishna Brura redefined the term jewelry in relation to carrying in the public domain on Shabbos: Jewelry is any article of dress or ornament one is used to wearing outside which is an insignificant addition (batel) to his body and seen as part of it. His willingness to carry it is of no relevance.

This presents an interesting paradox: while according to some opinions a gold or Rolex watch are not considered an item of dress because they are used mainly as a timepiece and not as an eyepopper, handcuffs or electronic cuffs are considered an item of decoration despite being forced to wear them. However, the rationale is that since that is the way a prisoner can walk outside, it is secondary to his body just as a piece of jewelry is secondary to its wearer.

Medical Apparatus

In light of the above Mishna Brura, Rav Nissim Karelitz rules (Chut Shani Shabbos IV, 88:12) that a patient with an open IV port can venture out into the public domain with it on Shabbos, so long as it is in use. However, Shevet Halevi (XI, 67) forbids it.


Another item in this discussion are weapons – are they considered jewelry which is permitted to be carried, or are they considered a burden and forbidden?

It is important to note whenever rabbonim permit carrying weapons for self-defense, carrying them is obligatory even in a public domain. This discussion only pertains to times when no such ruling was issued.

This discussion can be divided into two: some see weapons as a decoration which would be carried even if no longer functioning. Others view weapons as a useful object or in order to give the bearer a sense of security.

The Mishna (Shabbos 63b) notes a dispute whether weapons are considered a decoration or not. According to Rabbi Eliezer weapons are decoration, as it is written in Tehilim (45:4) “Gird a sword on your thigh, O mighty one, your majesty and your glory” – the sword is its carrier’s glory and beauty. On the other hand, Chachamim opine that weapons are degrading to their carriers, since in the prophecy of the final days we read (Yeshayahu 2:4): “…And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” From this pasuk, it seems, weapons are an odious item to be abhorred when the world will reach its final rectification.

Contemporary Weapon Use

The Shulchan Aruch (OC 301:7) forbids carrying weapons of any kind into the public domain on Shabbos. He does, however, differentiate between those carried by hand and those strapped on the bearer. Carried weapons would be a bow, sword, or truncheon, which even if strapped onto the body do not cover either the front or the back and are not intended to protect the bearer from outdoor elements. Carrying this type of weapon in the public domain on Shabbos constitutes a Torah prohibition. Today, a gun stored in its holster which hangs by the belt, or a rifle hanging by a shoulder strap must not be carried out to the public domain.

Battle Gear

Certain parts of army uniforms can also constitute a prohibition, despite being articles of dress. These include items such as a helmet, protective vest, and metal boots. The Shulchan Aruch writes (OC 301:7) that while wearing them in the public domain is not a Torah prohibition, it is rabbinically prohibited. The Mishna Brura explains (301:25) that this is because onlookers might think he is going to war. This explanation gives rise to another interesting halacha – since these items are forbidden to wear outside due to the concern of maris ha’ayin (appearance), wearing them is even forbidden in one’s house.

Additionally, according to Rav Eliyashiv, even the arms of an infantryman in the Queen’s Guard which are certainly a decoration are included in the prohibition instituted by chazal not to walk outside in battle regalia because he appears to be going out to war.

Rav Eliyashiv adds that an object that serves both as jewellery and for functional use (like the signet ring – please refer to last week’s article for added details): wearing for use is a Torah prohibition, while wearing for decoration — a rabbinic one. The Shulchan Aruch (301:11) rules accordingly — items that can be used for both decoration and function should not be worn on Shabbos because onlookers might think it is being worn for use even if the wearer intends it for decoration. Therefore, a security guard who carries his gun both for use when necessary and for added feeling of security and deterrence, even if it is his normal mode of dress, is forbidden to carry it with him in the public domain on Shabbos when it is not necessary.


Another issue involved in carrying weapons is the prohibition of muktze – objects classified as muktze cannot be moved even in the private domain. Rav Eliyashiv (Kovetz Teshuvos III chapter 51) classifies weapons as kli shemelachto le’isur – a utensil whose main use is for prohibited activity. This type of muktze can be moved when needed. Therefore, when weapons are carried as a deterrent or to give its carrier added security, moving them is permitted (inside an eiruv).

The muktze status of a rifle also depends on other parameters. If one would lay his rifle on a pile of paper to hold them down or use the handle to break open a nut it remains only a kli shemelachto le’isur. However, one who is careful to only use his weapon for its intended purpose and nothing else changes the status of his gun to muktze machmas chesron kis – a delicate object which one is careful in handling. This type of muktze cannot be moved even when one wishes to use it or needs its place.

Mobility Devices

Many discussions revolve around the halachic status of various mobility devices vs. carrying on Shabbos – are they seen as part of one’s clothing or an additional item? Considering the above-mentioned rules, we can examine each item.


Using a cane in the public domain for a person who cannot walk without it is permitted despite being carried by hand (Shulchan Aruch OC 340:17). If the person can walk without the cane is possible, and thus he doesn’t use it at home, the cane is no longer seen as regular garb, and walking with it in the public domain is forbidden on Shabbos. Doing so incurs a Torah prohibition.

This halacha refers to any person at any stage in life who requires a cane, even if only temporarily. Rav Nissim Karlitz adds an important comment (Chut Shani, Shabbos IV, 88:9): the cane for a person who needs it only for stairs is not considered regular garb and must not be used in the public domain. However, one who does not use the cane at home only because he leans on walls or furniture is permitted to use his cane in the public domain because he always needs a cane — at home his cane is the walls or furniture, and outside – the cane.

At times, adds Rav Nissim (ibid), one walks outside in the public domain with his cane, but prefers to lean on a walking partner instead of using his cane. In this case, carrying it with him when he is leaning on his companion for when he’ll have no accompaniment is forbidden since the cane is not essential like a shoe at that time. One who needs to use a cane this way must find another solution. Obviously, one who needs both cane and companion or is walking without a companion is permitted to walk with a cane.


Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe OC IV 90) and Rabbi Nissim Karelitz (Chut Shani IV 88:9) permit the wheelchair-bound to wheel himself in a wheelchair in the public domain, since the wheelchair is seen like his cane or shoe. Halacha, however, does not permit for others to wheel him, because it is considered carrying both the handicapped and his chair. The Igros Moshe writes that assisting a wheelchair bound person up or down the curb is permitted because it is carrying a smaller distance than 4 amos (4 cubits – approximately 2 meters). However, helping a wheelchair-bound person into a shul or other private domain is forbidden. Doing so by two non-Jews, where each does only half an action, is permitted. The reason is that in this manner the action is only a rabbinic prohibition which we are permitted to ask of a non-Jew if very important.

Helping a wheelchair-bound individual who wheels himself but needs help in turning around or slowing down is permitted.


The Shulchan Aruch rules that using a prosthetic in the public domain on Shabbos is forbidden (OC 301:15) since it did nothing to assist in functioning and was easily removed. The Mishna Brura explains (footnote 55) that it was due to concern the prosthetic might fall and need to be carried. However today, whereas prosthetics are attached well and are part of everyday dress, one can be lenient and walk in the public domain with his prosthetic even if its only purpose is to enhance his appearance.


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