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What's the deal with carrying on Shabbat?

by Rabbi Ari Shishler

  

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One word of introduction before we start: Shabbat is a day of “rest”. Not rest as in “weekly-vacation”; rather, Shabbat is a breather from the mundane things in life - to allow us to focus on our spiritual side. Accordingly, the Torah prohibits those activities that are normally associated with the everyday aspects of our lives.

One of the 39 weekday activities (see What are the 39 Melachot?) that the Torah bans on Shabbat is “carrying” or “transfer of objects.” “Carrying” is achieved by lifting an object from one area and placing it down in another or by throwing or dragging an article from one location to another. If you have something in your pocket, you “lift” it as you begin walking and “place it down” the moment you stand still.

This law hinges on four “domains”.1 Once you understand what each of these is, you should find it relatively easy to determine where, what and how you can carry on Shabbat.

1) Reshut HaYachid a.k.a. Private property

Your home, garden, and even your car (while parked on the street) qualify as a “private domain”. The legal definition of such a property requires that it:

  •  Has a single owner,
  • Occupies a minimum area of 4 sq. Tefachim2 (12.6 sq. in. or 32 sq. cm) AND
  • Is fenced in with a 10 Tefachim (31.5 in. or 80 cm) or higher wall.3 OR
  • Stands on a platform with four sides that are 10 Tefachim high.

Shabbat is a breather from the mundane things in life - to allow us to focus on our spiritual side
On Shabbat you’re allowed to carry whatever you’d like (provided it is not Muktzeh [see What is "Muktzeh"?]) - as much as you’d like - in a Reshut Hayachid. For example, you may rearrange all your furniture in your home on Shabbat (though that’s not really in line with true Shabbat spirit).

If you own two adjoining properties, you’re allowed to carry objects from one to the other. On the other hand, if you stay in a hotel (where each guest’s room is their own for the duration of their stay) or an apartment building, you may not carry anything out of your hotel room or apartment.

Tenants or hotel residents can organize an Eruv Chatzerot to allow them to carry in these areas. This procedure comprises taking some food (usually Matzah) from each tenant and storing it in a central location. Alternatively, one representative can purchase a box of matzah on behalf of the other tenants. One representative makes the relevant blessing over the Eruv, followed by a declaration that this Eruv permits all tenants to carry throughout the building on Shabbat. (See What is an Eruv?)

2) Reshut HaRabim a.k.a. The Public domain

Times Square or the Autobahn might qualify for this title. To be considered a real public domain, an area must:

  • Have no roof,
  • Not have walls or partitions on three or more sides,
  • If it is in a city, pass right through the whole city,
  • Have a width of at least 16 Amot4 (25.2 ft. or 7.68m)5

Some authorities say that a Reshut HaRabim needs to handle a daily traffic flow of 600,000 people. (That’s because when the Torah introduced the concept of a Reshut HaRabim, it referred to the Jewish camp in the desert .6 The official census of that group equaled 600,000.)

The Torah stipulates that you may not transfer any object from a Reshut HaYachid to a Reshut HaRabim or vice-versa on Shabbat. You are not even allowed to carry an object for more than four Amot (6.3 ft. or 1.92 m) within a Reshut HaRabim on Shabbat.7

3) Carmelit a.k.a. what average people consider public property

From what you’ve read so far, you’re probably wondering why we may not carry our Talit, purse or baby’s bag to Shul on Shabbat. After all, our suburban streets hardly qualify for Reshut HaRabim status, so the Torah would apparently have no problem with our carrying into or through these areas.

Footnotes

  • 1. As per Talmud Shabbat 6a.
  • 2. A Tefach is a Talmudic measurement based on the width of the average man’s fist. The measurement conversions used in this article conform to the opinion of Rabbi Avraham Chaim Naeh.
  • 3. Naturally, a wall is likely to have a gate or other opening. To qualify as a Reshut HaYachid, there must be more solid wall than openings around the property.
  • 4. These are the famous “cubits” you often read about in the Torah. They are a measurement based on the length of the average man’s forearm.
  • 5. Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim, 345:7.
  • 6. Babylonian Talmud Eruvin 22b.
  • 7. This is not clearly mentioned in the Torah, but is a tradition passed down from Moses (“Halacha LeMoshe MiSinai), alluded to in the verse (Exodus 16:29) “Let every man remain in his place; let no man leave his place on the seventh day”.

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Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Matzah
(pl. Matzot). Unleavened bread which is eaten on Passover, especially at the Passover Seder (feast), commemorating the Matzah which the Jews ate upon leaving Egypt. It consists of only flour and water and resembles a wheat cracker.
Shul
(Yiddish) Synagogue.
Muktzeh
An object which may not be moved on Shabbat or Jewish holidays, usually because it serves no permissible purpose on these days.
Eruv
Eruv has multiple meanings. Most commonly the word is a reference to an enclosure which allows carrying on Shabbat in an area which would otherwise be considered a public domain.