Halakha (Jewish law), especially the Talmud tractate Shabbat, identifies thirty-nine categories of activity prohibited on Shabbat (Hebrew: ? , lamed tet avot melakhot), and clarifies many questions surrounding the application of the biblical prohibitions. Many of these activities are also prohibited on the Jewish holidays listed in the Torah, although there are significant exceptions permitting carrying and preparing food under specific circumstances.
There are often disagreements between Orthodox Jews and Conservative Jews or other non-Orthodox Jews as to the practical observance of Shabbat. It is of note that the (strict) observance of Shabbat is often seen as a benchmark for orthodoxy and indeed has legal bearing on the way a Jew is seen by an orthodox religious court regarding their affiliation to Judaism.
And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: 'Verily ye shall keep My sabbaths, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that ye may know that I am the LORD who sanctify you. Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore, for it is holy unto you; every one that profaneth it shall surely be put to death; for whosoever doeth any work [melakha - ] therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done; but on the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD; whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel for ever; for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and rested.'
Though melakha is usually translated as "work" in English, the term does not correspond to the English definition of the term, as explained below.
The rabbis in ancient times had to explain exactly what the term meant, and what activity was prohibited to be done on the Sabbath. The rabbis noted Genesis 2:1-3:
Specifically, the rabbis noted the symmetry between Genesis 2:1-3 and Exodus 31:1-11 - the same term melakha ["work"] is used in both places, and that in Genesis 2:1-3 what God was "ceasing from" was "creation" or "creating".
The rabbis noted further that the first part of Exodus 31:1-11 provides detailed instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle, and that it is immediately followed by a reminder to Moses about the importance of the Shabbat, quoted above. The rabbis note that in the provisions relating to the Tabernacle the word melakha is also used. The word is usually translated as "workmanship", which has a strong element of "creation" or "creativity".
From these common words (in the Hebrew original) and the juxtaposition of subject matter the rabbis of the Mishnah derive a meaning as to which activities are prohibited to be done on the Sabbath day.
Genesis 2 is not pushed aside by the commandments to construct the Tabernacle. The classical rabbinical definition of what constitutes "work" or "activity" that must not be done, on pain of death (when there was a Sanhedrin), is depicted by the thirty-nine categories of activity needed for the construction and use of the Tabernacle.
The thirty-nine melakhot are not so much activities as categories of activity. For example, while "winnowing" usually refers exclusively to the separation of chaff from grain, it refers in the Talmudic sense to any separation of intermixed materials which renders edible that which was inedible. Thus, filtering undrinkable water to make it drinkable falls under this category, as does picking small bones from fish. (Gefilte fish is a traditional Ashkenazi solution to this problem.)
Many rabbinical scholars have pointed out that these regulations of labor have something in common - they prohibit any activity that is creative, or that exercises control or dominion over one's environment.
The definitions presented in this article are only 'headings' for in-depth topics and without study of the relevant laws it would be very difficult, perhaps impossible, to properly keep the Sabbath according to Halacha/Jewish Law.
There are two main ways to divide the activities into groups, one is according to the work needed to make the Tabernacle, the other according to the work needed for the man himself.
Note: Transferring Between Domains (see below) and preparing food are permitted on Jewish holidays. These are the only exceptions to the rule that activities prohibited on the Sabbath are likewise prohibited on holidays.
Note: The thirty-nine prohibited activities are bolded.
Definition: Promotion of plant growth.
Not only planting is included in this category; other activities that promote plant growth are also prohibited. This includes watering, fertilizing, planting seeds, or planting grown plants.
Hebrew: ? (?oresh)
Definition: Promotion of substrate in readiness for plant growth, be it soil, water for hydroponics, etc.
Included in this prohibition is any preparation or improvement of land for agricultural use. This includes dragging chair legs in soft soil thereby unintentionally making furrows, or pouring water on arable land that is not saturated. Making a hole in the soil would also provide protection for a seed placed there from rain and runoff; even if no seed is ever placed there, the soil is now enhanced for the process of planting.
The Mishna (Shabbat 7:2) lists plowing after planting, although one must plow a field before planting. The Gemara asks why this order occurs and answers that the author of this Mishna was a Tanna living in the Land of Israel, where the ground is hard. Since the ground is so hard in Israel, it needed to be plowed both before planting and after planting. The Mishna lists plowing second, teaching that the second plowing (after planting) is [also] prohibited. (The plowing before the planting is also prohibited, if not biblically, certainly rabbinically). The Rambam lists plowing first, and planting second.
Hebrew: ? (Ko?er)
Definition: Severing a plant from its source of growth.
Removing all or part of a plant from its source of growth is reaping. Climbing a tree is rabbinically forbidden, for fear this may lead to one tearing off a branch. Riding an animal is also rabbinically forbidden, as one may unthinkingly detach a stick with which to hit the animal.
Hebrew: ? (Me'amer)
Definition: Initial gathering of earth-borne material in its original place.
E.g. After picking strawberries, forming a pile or collecting them into one's pockets, or a basket. Collecting rock salt or any mineral (from a mine or from the Earth) and making a pile of the produce. This can only occur in the place where the gathering should take place. So, a bowl of apples that falls in a house can be gathered as 1) they do not grow in that environment and 2) they were already initially gathered in the orchard.
Definition: Removal of an undesirable outer from a desirable inner.
This is a large topic of study. It refers to any productive Extraction and includes juicing fruits and vegetables and wringing (desirable fluids) out of cloths, as the juice or water inside the fruit is considered 'desirable' for these purposes, while the pulp of the fruit would be the 'undesirable.' As such, squeezing (S'?ita) is forbidden unless certain rules are applied. The wringing of undesirable water out of cloths may come under Scouring/Laundering. This activity could be viewed as extraction, while Sorting (see below) is more akin to purification.
Hebrew: ? (Zoreh)
Definition: Sorting undesirable from desirable via the force of air (Babylonian Talmud), or dispersal via the force of dominic (Jerusalem Talmud).
Rabbi Moshe Isserles (the Rema) holds that the definition according to the Jerusalem Talmud should be used, which includes within its precept the definition of the Babylonian Talmud. This is more inclusive and general than the Babylonian Talmud's definition and therefore more things fall under this category.
It also refers to separating things that are desirable from undesirable ones. Example: If one has a handful of peanuts, in their paper-thin brown skins, and one blows on the mixture of peanuts and skins, dispersing the unwanted skins from the peanuts, this would be an act of Winnowing according to both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud.
According to the Jerusalem Talmud's definition, the use of the Venturi tube spray system and spray painting would come under this prohibition, while butane or propane propelled sprays, which are common in deodorants and air fresheners, etc. are permissible to operate as the dispersal force generated isn't from air, rather from the propellant within the can. According to the Babylonian Talmud's definition, neither of the above spraying methods is involved in sorting undesirable from desirable and therefore not part of this heading. However, as mentioned, the Rema rules that, unusually, the Jerusalem Talmud's definition is the applicable one.
Hebrew: ? (Borer)
Definition: Removal of undesirable from desirable from a mixture of types.
In the Talmudic sense usually refers exclusively to the separation of debris from grain - i.e. to any separation of intermixed materials which renders edible that which was inedible. Thus, filtering undrinkable water to make it drinkable falls under this category, as does picking small bones from fish. (Gefilte fish is one solution to this problem.)
Sorting/Purification differs from Threshing/Extraction as here there is a mixture of types, and sorting a mixture via the removal of undesirable elements leaves a purified, refined component. In contrast, Threshing/Extraction does not entail sorting or purification, just extraction of the inner from the unwanted housing or outer component, such as squeezing a grape for its juice. The juice and the pulp have not undergone sorting, the juice has been extracted from the pulp.
For example, if there is a bowl of mixed peanuts and raisins, and one desires the raisins and dislikes the peanuts: Removing (effectively sorting) the peanuts from the bowl, leaving a 'purified' pile of raisins free from unwanted peanuts, would be Sorting/Purification as the peanuts are removed. However, removing the desirable raisins from the peanuts does not purify the mixture, as one is left with undesirable peanuts (hence unrefined) not a refined component as before, and is thus permissible. Note that in this case there has not been any extraction of material from either the peanuts or raisins (Threshing/Extraction), just the sorting of undesirable from desirable (Sorting/Purification).
Borer with Mixed Foods:
The Three Conditions of Sorting/Purification:
Examples of Permissible and Prohibited Types of Sorting/Purification:
Hebrew: ? (To?en)
Definition: Reducing an earth-borne thing's size for a productive purpose.
Dissection can arise in simply cutting into pieces fruits or vegetables for a salad. Very small pieces would involve Dissection, therefore cutting into slightly larger than usual pieces would be permitted, thus avoiding cutting the pieces into their final, most usable, state.
All laws relating to the use of medicine on the Sabbath are a toldah, or sub-category, of this order, as most medicines require pulverization at some point and thus are Dissected. The laws of medicine use on the Sabbath are complex; they are based around the kind of illness the patient is suffering from and the type of medication or procedure that is required. Generally, the more severe the illness (from a hala?ic perspective) the further into the list the patient's situation is classed. As a patient is classed as more ill there are fewer restrictions and greater leniencies available for treating the illness on the Sabbath. The list of definitions, from least to most severe, is as follows: -
For most practical applications the use of medicines on the Sabbath, there are primarily two categories of non-life-threatening (Pikua? Nefesh) illnesses and maladies. They are either May?ush b'Alma or ?oleh Kol Gufo. In many or most practical applications for non-trained personnel, there are practically only three category levels (1, 4, & 7) as the line of distinction between them can often be difficult to ascertain for the untrained and it may prove dangerous to underestimate the condition.
Hebrew: ? (Meraked)
Definition: Sorting desirable from undesirable by means of a utensil (designed for sifting or sorting).
This is essentially the same as Sorting/Purification (see above), but performed with a utensil specifically designed for the purpose of sorting, such as a sieve, strainer, or the like. As such, Sorting/Purifying with such a device, such as the netting of a tea bag, would be classed as an act of sifting.
Definition: Combining particles into a semi-solid or solid mass via liquid.
The accepted description of this category, translating to "Kneading", is inaccurate. More precisely, this prohibited activity is Amalgamation or combining solid and liquid together to form a paste or dough-like substance.
There are four categories of produced substances:
Only producing a Blilah Avah is biblically forbidden. A Blilah Ra?a mixture is rabbinically forbidden, but may be produced by using a shinui (unusual mode), such as the reversing the adding of the ingredients, or mixing in crisscross rather than circular motions. As Davar Nozel and ?ati?ot Gedolot are not really mixtures, even after adding the liquid to the solid, making them is permitted even without a shinui.
Hebrew: ?/ (Bishul/Ofeh)
Definition for solids: Changing the properties of something via heat.
Definition for liquids: Bringing a liquid's temperature to the heat threshold. This threshold is known as yad soledet (lit. "A hand reflexively recoils [due to such heat]"). According to Igrot Moshe (Rabbi Moshe Feinstein) this temperature is 43 °C (110 °F).
(Note, however, that Cooking/Baking is permitted on Jewish holidays. It is an exception to the rule that activities prohibited on the Sabbath are likewise prohibited on holidays.)
Any method of heating food to prepare for eating is included in this prohibition. This is different from "preparing". For example, a salad can be made because the form of the vegetables doesn't change, only the size. However, the vegetables may not be Cooked to soften them for eating. Baking itself was not performed in the Mishkan as bread was not required for the structure.
Hebrew: ? (Gozez)
Definition: Severing/uprooting any body-part of a creature.
Definition: Cleansing absorbent materials of absorbed/ingrained impurities.
Hebrew: ? (Menafe?)
Definition: Separating/disentangling fibers.
Hebrew: ? (?ovea)
Definition: Coloring/enriching the color of any material or substance. However, foods and beverages may be dyed.
Hebrew: ? (Toveh)
Definition: Twisting fibers into a thread or twining strands into a yarn.
Hebrew: ? (Mese?)
Definition: Creating the first form for the purpose of weaving.
See further: Chayei Adam Shabbos 25
Hebrew: ? (Oseh Sh'tei Batei Nirin)
Definition: Forming loops for the purpose of weaving or the making of net like materials. This is also the threading of two heddles on a loom to allow a shed for the shuttle to pass through. According to the Rambam it is the making of net-like materials.
See further: Chayei Adam Shabbos 25
Hebrew: ? (Oreg)
Definition: Forming fabric (or a fabric item) by interlacing long threads passing in one direction with others at a right angle to them.
See further: Chayei Adam Shabbos 25
Definition: Removing/cutting fibers from their frame, loom or place.
See further: Chayei Adam Shabbos 25
Hebrew: ? (Kosher)
Definition: Binding two pliant objects skillfully or permanently via twisting.
Hebrew: ? (Matir)
Definition: The undoing of any tied (see Tying) or spun (see Spinning) binding.
Hebrew: ? (Tofer)
Definition: Combining separate objects into a single entity, whether through sewing, gluing, stapling, welding, dry mounting, etc.
Hebrew: ? (Kore'a)
Definition: Ripping an object in two or undoing any sewn (see Sewing) connection.
Definition: Forcible confinement of a living creature.
The Mishna does not just write "trapping"; rather, the Mishna says "trapping deer". According to at least one interpretation, this teaches that to violate the Torah's prohibition of Trapping, two conditions must be met.
This creates practical questions such as: "May a fly be trapped under a cup on the Sabbath?" The Meno Netziv says that an animal that is not normally trapped (e.g. a fly, or a lizard) is not covered under the Torah prohibition of trapping. It is however, a rabbinic prohibition to do so, therefore one is not allowed to trap the animal. However, if one is afraid of the animal because of its venomous nature or that it might have rabies, one may trap it. If life or limb is threatened, it may be trapped and even killed if absolutely necessary.
Animals which are considered too slow-moving to be 'free' are not included in this category, as trapping them does not change their legal status of being able to grab them in 'one hand swoop' (a term used by the Rambam to define this law). A snail, tortoise, etc. may therefore be confined as they can be grabbed just as easily whether they are in an enclosure or unhindered in the wild. For these purposes trapping them serves no change to their legal status regarding their 'ease of capture,' and they are termed legally pre-trapped due to their nature. Trapping is therefore seen not as a 'removal of liberty,' which caging even such a slow moving creature would be, but rather the confining of a creature to make it easier to capture in one's hand.
Laying traps violates a rabbinic prohibition regardless of what the trap is, as this is a normal method of trapping a creature.
Hebrew: ? (Sho?et)
Definition: Ending a creature's life, whether through slaughter or any other method.
Definition: Removing the hide from the body of a dead animal.
(Removing skin from a live creature would fall under Shearing.)
Hebrew: ? (Me'aved); sometimes referred to as "Salting" ? (Mole'a?)
Definition: Preserving any item to prevent spoiling for a long period of time.
The list of activities in the Mishna includes salting hides and curing as separate categories of activity; the Gemara (Tractate Shabbat 75b) amends this to consider them the same activity and to include "tracing lines", also involved in the production of leather, as the thirty-ninth category of activity.
This activity extends rabbinically to salting/pickling foods for non-immediate use on the Sabbath.
Hebrew: ? (Mema?ek)
Definition: Scraping/sanding a surface to achieve smoothness.
See further: Chayei Adam Shabbos 34-35
Definition: Scoring/drawing a cutting guideline.
See further: Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Shabbat, Chapter "Klall Gadol", p. 52. tirone
Hebrew: ? (Me?ate?)
Definition: Cutting any object to a specific size.
Hebrew: ? (Kotev)
Definition: Writing/forming a meaningful character or design.
Rabbinically, even writing with one's weaker hand is forbidden. The rabbis also forbade any commercial activities, which often lead to writing.
Hebrew: ? (Mo?ek [al menat lichtov shtei otiyot])
Definition: Cleaning/preparing a surface to render it suitable for writing.
Erasing in order to write two or more letters is an example of erasing.
Hebrew: ? (Boneh)
Definition: Contributing to the forming of any permanent structure.
Construction can take two forms. First, there was the action of actually joining the different pieces together to make the Mishkan. Inserting the handle of an ax into the socket is a derived form of this activity. It is held by some that the act of hala?ic "Construction" is not actually performed (and therefore, the prohibition not violated) if the construction is not completed. From this, some authorities derive that it is prohibited to use electricity because, by turning on a switch, a circuit is completed and thus "built." (See Ignition.)
Also, making a protective covering (or a "tent") is forbidden. Therefore, umbrellas may not be opened (or closed), and a board may not be placed on crates to form a bench.
Either of these forms is only forbidden if done permanently, though not necessarily with permanent intent. For example, closing and locking a door is permitted, regardless of how long one intends to keep the door closed. Making a pop-up tent is considered permanent (since it can stay up for a long time), even if one intends to take it down soon afterwards.
Hebrew: ? (Soter)
Definition: Demolishing for any constructive purpose.
For example, knocking down a wall in order to extend or repair the wall would be demolition for a constructive purpose. Combing a wig to set it correctly and pulling out hairs during the procedure with a metal toothed brush or comb would be constructive 'demolition', as each hair that is removed in the process of the wig (a utensil) is progressing its state towards a desired completion. Each hair's removal partially Demolishes the wig (for these legal purposes) and is considered constructive when viewed in context of the desired goal.
Hebrew: ? (Me?aveh)
Definition: Extinguishing a fire/flame, or diminishing its intensity.
Definition: Igniting, fueling or spreading a fire/flame.
This includes making, transferring or adding fuel to a fire. (Note, however, that transferring fire is permitted on Jewish holidays. It is an exception to the rule that activities prohibited on the Sabbath are likewise prohibited on holidays.) This is one of the few Sabbath prohibitions mentioned explicitly in the Torah (Exodus 35:3.
Judaism requires Sabbath candles to be lit before the Sabbath; it is forbidden to light them on the Sabbath. They are intended to take the place of candles which cannot be lit on the Sabbath.
Ignition is one law that has been cited to prohibit electricity on Shabbat.
Hebrew: (Makeh Bapetish), literally, striking with a hammer.
Definition: Any initial act of completion.
This activity refers to completing an object and bringing it into its final useful form. For example, if the pages of a newspaper were poorly separated, slicing them open would constitute Fine-tuning. Using a stapler involves transgressing Fine-tuning in regard to the staple (in addition to Sewing), which is brought into its final useful form by the act. Adding hot water to a pre-made 'noodle-soup-pot' type cup (a dehydrated mixture of freeze-dried seasoning and noodles) would be the final act of completion for such a food as the manufacturer desired to make the product incomplete awaiting the consumer to finish the cooking process at their convenience. This particular example would also violate Cooking as well if hot water from a kettle/urn was directly applied.
Definition: Transferring something from one domain type to another domain type, or transferring within a public thoroughfare.
(Note, however, that Transferring Between Domains is permitted on Jewish holidays. It is an exception to the rule that activities prohibited on the Sabbath are likewise prohibited on holidays.)
All areas are divided into four categories: a private domain, a public thoroughfare, an open area (carmelit) and an exempt area. Transferring an object from a private domain to a public thoroughfare, or the reverse, is Biblically forbidden. Transferring an object between an open area to a private domain or public thoroughfare is rabbinically prohibited. Transferring an object between an exempt area and any other domain is permissible. In addition, transferring an object for a distance of four cubits (or more) in a public thoroughfare or open area is forbidden.
For these purposes "transferring" means "removing and depositing". So carrying an article out of one domain type and returning to the same domain type, without setting it down in the interim in a different domain type, does not violate this activity. However, it is rabbinically prohibited.
The definition of an area as public thoroughfare or private domain is related to its degree of enclosure, not solely based on ownership.
This law is often referred to as carrying. This is a misnomer: carrying within a private domain is permitted; and carrying within an open area is Biblically permitted (though rabbinically forbidden).
See further: Chayei Adam Shabbos 47-56.
When human life is endangered, a Jew is not only allowed, but required, to violate any Sabbath law that stands in the way of saving that person. The concept of life being in danger is interpreted broadly; for example, it is mandated that one violate the Sabbath to take a woman in active labor to a hospital.