Halacha Date: 6 Kislev 5781 November 22 2020
In the previous Halachot, we have discussed the basic laws of Muktzeh on Shabbat which is that there are certain objects our Sages prohibited moving on Shabbat. Utensils or tools which are used for types of work that are permitted on Shabbat may be moved for any purpose. Thus, one may move forks, knives, a chair, or a table on Shabbat as long as there is some purpose in doing so. Similarly, these objects may be moved “from sun to shade” or from a place where one is worried it may get lost or stolen to a safer place.
Moving a Tool Used for Work Prohibited on Shabbat
Nevertheless, a tool which is used for types of work that are forbidden on Shabbat, such as a rake, shovel, or hammer which are all designated for forbidden kinds of work on Shabbat, may not be moved even if one is worried that it may get lost, stolen, or ruined in its current location. However, as we have explained previously, such items may in fact be moved for their own use or for the use of their place.
“Its own use” means, for instance, one may use a hammer, which is surely a tool used for work forbidden on Shabbat, to crack open a coconut on Shabbat. Similarly, an ax may be moved on Shabbat in order to use it to cut a cake of pressed figs.
“Use of its place” means, for instance, if one would like to sit in the place where a hammer is currently lying, one may indeed move the hammer and sit there.
Moving a Tool Used for Work Prohibited on Shabbat When a Utensil Used for Permissible Work Is Available
There is a dispute among the Poskim if it is permissible to move a tool used for work forbidden on Shabbat for its own use or for the use of its place when another place or utensil is available. We shall now explain:
The Mishnah Berura (Chapter 308, Subsection 12) writes that the ruling that it is permissible to move a tool used for work forbidden on Shabbat for its own use or for the use of its place only applies when one does not have a permissible object on hand, for if one does, it would be prohibited to use the forbidden object.
This means that if one has a nutcracker and, for whatever reason, wishes to use a hammer to crack a walnut, one may not use the hammer, for our Sages only permitted doing so when one has no other utensil available.
Similarly, if one has two chairs in front of him, one empty and one that has a rake lying on it, and one wishes to sit down, one may not remove the rake from the chair it is on, for the Sages only permitted doing so when there is no other seat available. However, if there is another chair to sit on, this will be prohibited. The Kaf Ha’Chaim, Hagaon Harav Shalom Mizrachi zt”l, and others rule likewise.
However, some Acharonim write that the Halacha does not follow this opinion and they write that since the greatest of the earlier authorities do not mention this law of only being able to use a tool used for work forbidden on Shabbat when there is no other permitted object available, this implies that there is no difference between moving an object used for work permitted on Shabbat and moving a tool used for work prohibited on Shabbat for its own use or use of its place and one may move such a forbidden tool (provided one of the aforementioned conditions apply) even if other options are available. This is the ruling of Hagaon Harav Chaim Na’eh and Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l rules this way as well. The Sefer Shemirat Shabbat Ke’Hilchata also rules leniently on this matter. However, he concludes by saying that if there is a permitted object available, it is preferable to use it instead. Nevertheless, the letter of the law dictates that one may be lenient in this matter.
Summary: A tool used for work forbidden on Shabbat may be moved on Shabbat for its own use or use of its place. Thus, one may crack open a walnut on Shabbat using a hammer. This applies even if there is another utensil available which is not used for work forbidden on Shabbat, such as a nutcracker, and even so, one may use the hammer to crack open the walnut.