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Sound Production on Shabbos – Part II


In this instalment we will focus on other aspects of sound production on Shabbos – or rather, arranging on Friday sounds that will be heard on Shabbos. Can an alarm clock be set to go off on Shabbos? Is there any difference between the sounds it produces? Can a cuckoo clock continue chiming on Shabbos? Can a non-Jew be asked to set an alarm clock because without it one will miss the time for Shema (a biblical mitzva)? What’s the halacha about knocking on doors? Can a doorknocker be used? Can a simple mechanical doorbell be used if there is no other way to open a locked door? Jewish folklore is rampant with stories of the shmash in the shtetl walking around in the pre-dawn hours knocking on the widow shutters to arouse Jews for prayers. Did he use a hammer for it? Can a door be opened if it will cause a bell to ring or windchimes to chime? Of this and more, in the coming article.

Ten Commandments

This week’s parasha contains the Ten Commandments – the Aseres Hadibros, one of which is “Remember the Shabbos and sanctify it.” This week’s article will complete the series on Shabbos sound production. Last week’s article dealt with production of sounds on Shabbos, and this week we will focus on setting sound-producing machines before Shabbos; bells and more.

Noisy Machines

Some halachic authorities maintain that noisy machines must not be set to work on Shabbos. While in the past the example was mill stones that milled flour on Shabbos, today we can refer to setting a washing machine’s timer to begin washing clothes on Shabbos, or leaving a dryer to complete a cycle on Shabbos. Leaving them working or setting a timer so they will work on Shabbos is a disgrace to Shabbos and goes against the sanctified sprit of the day. (Cleaning robots programmed to clean during the night remain a question which should be presented to a rabbi.) Therefore, a dishwasher should not be left on a timer to wash the dishes from the Friday night meal (even where there is no desecration of Shabbos involved in filling it). It goes without saying that TV sets or radios should not be left on, even on timers.

Practically, some permit leaving on noisy machines, and others don’t. Mainstream halacha forbids it, but where there is significant loss involved one can rely upon the more lenient opinions (Rama OC 252:5).

Cuckoo Clock

Setting a cuckoo clock to chime at the hour is permitted, even if it requires occasional rewinding or setting. Although setting a watch is forbidden on Shabbos, leaving it on for Shabbos is permitted and there is no concern people may think it was wound up on Shabbos because everyone knows a watch can be rewound ahead of time (Shulchan Aruch OC 338:3; Rama 352:5).

Alarm Clock

In light of the above ruling we can now investigate the modern alarm clock: can it be set to ring on Shabbos despite producing a pleasant sound (such as the songs cell-phone alarm clock apps play) because everyone knows that’s how it’s done, or should it be forbidden as a disgrace to Shabbos, and due to the concern one may lose himself to the music and come to fix it if it breaks?

The Igros Moshe writes (OC IV 70:6) that setting a watch to ring an unpleasant alarm that will be heard only in one room is permitted. However, if the noise is heard throughout the entire house it shouldn’t be used because someone might think the alarm clock was set on Shabbos. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Shmiras Shabbos Kehilchaso III 28:65) permits using it because everyone knows clocks are set before Shabbos. Since today it is accepted to leave a cellphone’s alarm to go off on Shabbos, setting it before Shabbos is permitted.

Reminder: last week we discussed the decree forbidding playing music which was issued out of concern people may come to fix a broken musical instrument. Does this decree also have to be considered in determining an alarm clock’s status, if it produces a pleasant sound? The Minchas Shlomo answers (volume I, chapter 9) that Chazal never forbade producing pleasant sounds that don’t involve direct action. Nowadays, since we have no halachic power to issue new decrees, only sounds that appear as if they were produced on Shabbos are forbidden as a disgrace to Shabbos. The decree is not applicable for sounds that everyone knows were set before Shabbos.

Setting an Alarm Clock

The Mishna Brura discussees (252:50) what can be done upon discovering one has forgotten to wind up his alarm clock and is afraid he may not awake in time for davening, or even miss the time for prayer and Shema. Since he maintains that winding up a clock involves a Torah prohibition, the Mishna Brura rules that a non-Jew cannot be told to set the clock, even though it is for a mitzva.

Knocking on a Door

Knocking on a door, whether with a fist or doorknocker is permitted, provided the sound produced is not a pleasant one. While the Gra forbids knocking on Shabbos, mainstream halacha permits it. The Mishna Brura adds that knocking with a shinuy (differently than during the week) is certainly permitted, even according to the Gra.

Doorbells and Doorknockers

Knocking with a fist in a specific rhythm is forbidden (Shulchan Aruch 338:1; Mishna Brura 2). Obviously, knocking with a doorbell or doorknocker in a series of rhythmic sounds is forbidden on Shabbos, even only to announce arrival and not for musical effect. Some forbid using anything attached to the door for knocking even if the sound does not produce a rhythmic sequence. This is due to concern it could break and the user might fix it (Rama according to the Levush, 338:1). Some forbid using it under the prohibition of u’vdin d’chol – weekday activities, which are forbidden since they go against the spirit of the day, regardless of the affect (Rama according to the Biur Halacha 338:1).

What happens if you went out on Friday night to a shalom zachor and return to find yourself locked out, in the cold, and the only way to get in is by ringing the doorbell? If people have no way of hearing knocking without the bell can a non-electric bell be used? The Mishna Brura (338:1) prefaces his ruling here with instructions to try very hard not to reach this situation. If it does happen, using a non-electric bell with a shinuy is permitted, despite the pleasant sound it produces. If the bell is electronic, however, there is really no other option, and one would have to find himself somewhere else to sleep for the night.

As for moving a bell in order to preserve it, the Mishna Brura is unsure if it is muktza or not. However, if the space the bell takes up is needed or in order to use the bell in a permitted way, moving it is certainly permitted.

The Vekker

Pictures of Jewish life in the shtetel always include the vekker – the man whose job was to walk around Jewish homes and wake their sleeping occupants to pray. Is using a special hammer permitted on Shabbos? The Rama opines (OC 338:1) it shouldn’t be used, but the Mishna Brura (footnote 7) notes that some communities have a special Shabbos hammer.

In some large shuls the gabbai uses an object to bang on the table to remind people of changes in prayer. Of these, the Mishna Brura writes (note 7), that since they aren’t used exclusively for producing noise, using it on Shabbos is permitted. Interestingly, in the great Belzer Beis Midrash, the gabbai has a special hammer and pad on which he bangs when silence is required. In this case, having a special hammer for Shabbos is preferable (as I’ve heard there is in Belz). Even those who don’t should not be criticized because the hammer, in this case, is used for a mitzva.

Bells on a Torah Crown

How can a Torah scroll on which little bells are affixed be carried around on Shabbos? The Mishna Brura writes (338:6) that the poskim are divided. According to the Taz having them on the Torah on Shabbos is forbidden and they should be removed before Shabbos or otherwise disabled. However, according to the Shach moving the Torah it is permitted because nobody moves a Torah in order to produce sound. As the bells are only in place to allow people to honor the Torah, since it is for a mitzva AND unintentional, it is permitted.

The Mishna Brura’s ruling follows the Taz’s opinion that the crown or bell-studded mantel should not be used on Shabbos, but only lechat’chila. He cites the Magen Avrohom that criticism should not be pronounced where the bells are left on for Shabbos since the carriers have whom to rely upon. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Shmiras Shabbos Kehilchaso 28:94) writes that nowadays, whereas bells are only a decoration, perhaps it would be forbidden, but the Shevet Halevi (volume I, chapter 61:4) writes that only large bells are those debated here and the small ones we see in shul today usually go unheard in a crowd, and no extra stringency is necessary.

If the bell’s regular tinkle goes usually unheard, but a strong shaking produces an audible one, the crown or mantel can still be used because the noise is unintentional.


Some people like to hang windchimes on top of an entranceway so they chime every time the door opens. Can this door be used on Shabbos?

The answer is divided into two – before Shabbos, and on Shabbos: Can the door be left as it is for Shabbos? And, if not — what should be done if the chimes were left hanging by mistake?

The answer is closely related to the previous topic of discussion – the bells on the Torah. The Mishna Brura (338:6) follows the Magen Avraham allowing to move the Torah, because ringing the bells is unintentional. However, according to the Taz, Gra, and Elya Raba, if when they were first affixed they were intended  to ring when the sefer was moved, moving it involves an intentional action of ringing bells, albeit unconscious, and forbidden. The only reason the Magen Avraham permits using the bell-studded crown or mantel, explains the Eliya Raba, is because the Torah is being transported for a mitzva. Since no mitzva is involved in opening a regular door, ringing attached bells or windchimes is forbidden. Therefore, before Shabbos one should fill the bell with cotton or remove the chimes from the door. If, on Shabbos, one finds himself standing before a door with chimes attached, one need not be stringent and remain outside. He can rely upon the lenient opinions and use the door.


Producing sound through a tool where it is meant to accompany singing is forbidden. If an instrument produces an unpleasant sound there are authorities that forbid using it out of concern one may fix it, or because it displays lack of honor to Shabbos. Where extremely necessary, perhaps one can be lenient.

The poskim disagree regarding an instrument that produces a pleasant sound but is used for another purpose. Le’chatchila one should refrain from using it, but when it is for a mitzva such as for reading the Torah, while preferably the bells should be disabled or removed before Shabbos, if they weren’t criticism is not necessary.



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