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Thought for the Day: Carrying vs Wearing Outside on Shabbos

Contrary to popular belief, there is no mitzvah, not d'oraisa nor even d'rabanan, that forbids doing work on Shabbos.  What is forbidden d'oraisa is the same categories of activities that were used in the construction (some say the running) of the mishkan.  Chazal learn this form the juxtaposition of two verses first commanding us to build the mishkan, then exhorting us to keep the Shabbos.  Chazal have added safeguards around those specific issurim both to protect us from transgressing the Torah and also to encourage us to use the day as it was intended.  Namely, a time to pull back from the our mundane everyday activities and focus on the ultimate reality of our existence in our permanent home of Olam HaBah.

How many categories are there?  There are 39, as explained in masechta Shabbos ... but not till daf 73A, almost half way through the tractate.  What is going on before that?  Lots!  One major concern, and the one with which the tractate opens is moving an object from a private domain to a public domain, and then the whole topic of transporting an object more that four amos (about six feet, give or take) in a public domain.

Some say the masechta begins with carrying because it just doesn't seem like a malacha, darn it.  What's the big deal with putting a key in my pocket and walking outside?  But carrying something significant (such as a key), no matter how small, from a private to public domain is an issur d'oraisa.  Since it is a violation of Shabbos, it is the same level of issur as, say, murder; ie, it is a capital crime.  It (carrying on Shabbos, that is) is also an area where the safeguards can get awfully thin.

What can and can't you carry?  That is the topic addressed in Sh A. O.Ch. 301:7.  The Biur Halacha there gives a succinct and comprehensive summary.  The rule is that anything that is neither a garment nor jewelry is considered a burden; it is forbidden m'd'oraisa to be transported in the usual manner in/into a public domain.  Chazal added a few additional restrictions:
  • Carrying in an unusual manner (k'lacher yad)
  • Jewelry you might take off to show to your girlfriends.
  • Clothing that easily falls off (flat slipper, for example).
  • Things that could evoke derisive/embarrassing comments (like wearing only one shoe).
  • An item worn to protect other items (not the wearer) from getting dirty.
  • Items that look you you are up to no good (like wearing a ceremonial sword).
A detail on that last one: a real garment that also protects your clothes, such as a rain coat, is perfectly permissible.  So... where do hat covers go?  Now that we're asking questions on details, is a watch jewelry or a tool?

Great questions!  We should talk about that sometime.


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