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Muktza – Part III


Raw Material

What is considered raw material? Can children play ball outside on Shabbos? Why are ballgames different from other games? Can a new unused toy be considered muktza under this title? Chess is a game enjoyed by both young and old. Is chess playing a proper way to spend the holy day of Shabbos? Can stones, sticks, and other natural materials be designated for use on Shabbos? When is a thought enough to make stones not-muktza, and when is action required as well? Of this and more in the coming article.

Muktza in the Mishkan

This week’s parasha describes the creative actions Beni Yisroel engaged in when building the Mishkan and creating the priestly garments. The actions they engaged in in the process became the source for the halachos of Shabbos. This week’s article is the third installment on the laws of muktza. Muktza, as previously explained, is a mechanism designed to disengage us from anything non-Shabbos related, ensuring that we don’t interact with objects in the same manner as we do during the week.

The two basic categories of muktza were defined in the past two articles: raw material and tools. While in the past, raw materials were just that – useless unfinished products or materials, our current lifestyle requires a redefining of this category of muktza. In this week’s article we will define what is considered raw materials which we must disengage from.

While past practices had people going out to nature to find their tools, utilizing G-d’s world for human needs, today we don’t quite function that way. Whereas, historically, pots were made of clay or stone which could be found outdoors, today most people buy their cooking pots in a store. The same goes for pens which used to be made of bird feathers but today are produced in factories. While we might, rarely, make use of natural materials, modern society in general resorts to purchasing objects in a store. In light of contemporary consumer practices we must clarify: is every factory product a tool, ready for use — or can there be some restrictions on Shabbos use?


By clarifying the status of toys we can reach a clear definition of all factory produced items.

The Shulchan Aruch (308:45) prohibits playing ball on Shabbos. The Mishna Brura explains (footnote 157) that designating a ball for play before Shabbos is insufficient because playing is not a significant use. Therefore, balls cannot be used on Shabbos and are muktza just like any raw material.

The Rama, however (308:45), maintains that a ball can be moved on Shabbos because designating it as a plaything is sufficient to permit moving it on Shabbos.

In light of this difference in ruling seen here, there appears to be a difference between Ashkenazim and Sfaradim concerning play materials.

Contemporary Poskim

Despite the apparent prohibition according to the Shulchan Aruch, most contemporary poskim permit playing ball on Shabbos (Rav Eliyashiv, Shvut Yitzchok 5:2; Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Shmiras Shabbos Kehilchaso 16:6; Rav Wosner, Shevet Halevi volume IX chapter 78).

The above authorities understand that the ball in question was nothing like a modern ball. Rather, it was more of a rounded piece of wood, sanded down slightly to assume a rounded form, or a clump of wet papers glued together. Since this was hastily crafted toy and not a real object, people didn’t value it. Today, whereas balls are carefully created in factories, and even when crafted manually are made with care and intention, they are now considered a proper plaything which can no longer be defined as raw material.

Rabbi Ben Tzion Aba Shaul (Or LeZion II, chapter 26), however, follows another halachic route. He writes: “A ball must not be moved on Shabbos, and it is good to be careful not to move any toy on Shabbos. Only a boy younger than thirteen can be allowed a leniency to play with all sorts of toys, even those that produce sounds, but not with those that produces sparks of fire.” In the footnotes he explains:

“When prohibiting Shabbos ballgames, the Beis Yosef follows the Shibolei Haleket against the Tosefos. This, is because a ball is used to play outdoors and always dirty, therefore worthless for (another, permitted use, such as) covering a bowl of food.”

According to this opinion, making something into a toy is not enough of a reason to categorize an object as non muktza. Only if it can be used for another permitted purpose can it be considered non-muktza.

Today, most toys are actually quite clean and can be used for purposes other than playing. Therefore, today, toys are no longer considered muktza.

[While in the past the most common use for any random item was to cover a receptacle because containers didn’t come with tops, my rebbe, Rabbi Luxemburg shlita told me that using an object, even for a small use such as holding down papers, is already considered ‘used for another purpose’ and no longer muktza.]

Rabbi Aba Shaul explains why here the Shulchan Aruch deviated from his normal ruling pattern (following the Shibbolei Haleket instead of the Tosefos). The Yerushalmi attributes Tur Shimon’s (a town’s) destruction to playing ballgames on Shabbos. Apparently, the Shulchan Aruch’s prohibition is directed specifically to balls, not to other toys, because playing ball on Shabbos displays a lack of respect for the day.


Ashkenazi poskim also mention refraining from using certain playthings in respect for the day’s holiness. The Mishna Brura (338:211) notes a dispute on this point: one opinion cites a custom to have two sets of chess, with the Shabbos set made of silver, and weekday — of bone, while the other prohibits playing chess on Shabbos altogether. Chess is, according to the second opinion, a useless pastime which should not be played on Shabbos. (While chess certainly develops strategic thinking skills, Gemara does it better.)

Toys on Shabbos: Summary

Most poskim agree that any factory product or handmade craft, even if produced for a small one-time use (like dollar store party favors), is considered a tool for which the prohibition of muktza as a raw material does not apply.

However, according to Rabbi Ben Tzion Aba Shaul and some other Sfaradi poskim toys should not be moved  on Shabbos when they meet one of the two following criteria: 1) The toy is useless for any other purpose besides playing, just like a ball which is always full of mud and dirt, and can be used for nothing else but playing ball. 2) A disgrace to Shabbos — playing ball displays lack of respect for Shabbos, and could cause people to stop learning Torah. Additionally, homemade toys or kindergarten crafts would be muktza for adults.

This halachic debate also carries an important lesson: while playing is important for energizing and refreshing both body and spirit, recreational activities must remain on the sidelines, not take the center stage. Playing, as we see here, is not important enough to categorize an object as non-muktza.

Fish Tanks

One of the examples mentioned last week for raw material muktza was animals. If animals are kept only as playthings, shouldn’t they be considered toys which can be used on Shabbos, according to most poskim?

The Maharach Or Zarua (chapter 81) asked the Rosh this exact question concerning songbirds people kept to amuse themselves. The Rosh answered that moving the birds on Shabbos is forbidden. The reason is twofold: the birds serve no purpose; and – Chazal’s prohibition on moving animals is a blanket prohibition which does not differentiate between the different purposes the animals serve.

The Shmiras Shabbos Kehilchaso (chapter 27:101) however, rules that one can be lenient with a fish tank as long as it doesn’t have a designated spot and it isn’t moved there to preserve it. The Shmiras Shabbos equates a fish tank to a flower vase, not an animal.

Trees and Stones

After outlining which functions define an object as a tool we must point out a prohibition which was common in the past and quite uncommon today – the prohibition of moving non-tool items on Shabbos.

Different items require different actions to make them serviceable on Shabbos. Some require action, while for others – just thinking about it is sufficient.


A natural product that people use for both permitted and prohibited purposes only requires a thought to become non-muktza. The classic example is date palm fronds. The cut fronds can be used as a bench (when piled together), as a broom for sweeping, or as firewood. As a broom or bench, the fronds are a permitted tool, while as kindling they are certainly not.

The Shulchan Aruch here rules (OC 308:20) that thinking to use them as a bench, tying them together as a bundle – even without deciding what to do with them, and actually sitting on them before Shabbos make the fronds no longer muktza. The Mishna Brura, though, requires an actual decision to use them for a permitted purpose, not just tying them together without thought.

Today, whereas branches are not usually used for seating, additional action is necessary.

Stones are a separate category and may require additional action to enable use on Shabbos. Therefore, a stone normally used to hold a door open can be moved on Shabbos and is not muktza at all, while one only used for this Shabbos remains muktza (which only can be moved, when necessary, with one’s foot or via another object).

Where a specific stone is regularly used to crack nuts or hold a door open, the Shulchan Aruch rules that thinking about using it, even just for one Shabbos, is sufficient to categorize it as non-muktza. However, the Rama rules that a stone needs to be used regularly for this purpose. The Mishna Brura (OC 308:97) permits one to be lenient when necessary.

Designating Action

Every change or work done on a natural item is considered a preparatory action which makes it non-muktza. A random branch, for example, cannot be lifted on Shabbos to be used as a walking stick, but if it was lifted and designated for it before Shabbos, any small action done to make it serve its purpose is sufficient to consider it enough of a preparatory action to make is usable on Shabbos.


Every store-bought item can be considered a tool.

Today, whereas nature is not our go-to supermarket, special designatory action is required before a natural item can be used on Shabbos – either designating it for a regular use, or a preparatory action, slight as it may be.

Animals, inedible refuse (for both humans and beasts), as well as uncooked foods which cannot be consumed without cooking remain in this category of muktza as raw material.

Next week will be, with G-d’s help, the final installment in this series, in which we will explain the different tools – which are muktza, and which are not.


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