Thursday, September 18, 2008

Guns on Shabbos

Muktzah is often considered an extremely difficult halakhic concept to master but I've never understood why. It isn't that hard to get a good grasp of the basics.

I. Muktzah

Muktzah refers to the rabbinic prohibition to carry certain items on Shabbos under certain conditions. One of the categories of muktzah is k'li she-melakhto le-issur, an item that is used for a prohibited purpose. You are only allowed to carry it for two reasons -- to use it (for a permitted purpose) or to use the place on which it is resting. For example, a pencil is used for writing which is forbidden. Therefore, you may not pick up a pencil to show it to someone. However, you are allowed to pick it up if you want to put something else down in the place where it is currently resting or you want to use it to nudge a hot mug.

The question has arisen, particularly in Israel, what the status is of guns on Shabbos. Presumably a gun should be a k'li she-melakhto le-issur like a pencil because a gun is used to fire a bullet, which is prohibited on Shabbos. However, this case is not that simple.

Click here to read moreII. Item Used For Both Prohibited And Permitted Purposes

There is a middle category of a utensil that is used for both permitted and prohibited activities. For example, a casserole dish can be used for cooking (prohibited) and serving (permitted). Are you allowed to randomly pick up an empty casserole dish on Shabbos? It is a k'li she-melakhto le-issur u-le-heter, an item used for both prohibited and permitted purposes.

The Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav (308:2) writes that a k'li she-melakhto le-issur is something that is designated for prohibited purposes. Based on this definition, R. Chaim Na'eh (Ketzos Ha-Shulchan, Badei Ha-Shulchan 108:12) deduces that it all depends on what the item is designated for, regardless of how often it is used for permitted versus prohibited purposes. However, the general practice seems to be that the frequency of use is also taken into account. R. Yisroel Bodner writes in his The Halachos of Muktza (p. 44): "The halacha of the utensil is determined by examining its primary function and the majority of its usage, if it is for permitted or prohibited uses." The Mishnah Berurah (Bi'ur Halakhah 308 sv. kardom) requires both: its primary function must be prohibited and the majority of its usage must be for prohibited purposes.

This would put a gun in a questionable category. Its primary function is firing a bullet, which is forbidden but the majority of its function is for scaring people away (i.e. as a deterrent, carrying it on guard duty or similar), which is permitted. It would seem that according to the Mishnah Berurah the gun would not be muktzah. According to R. Na'eh, a gun can be (and probably is) designated primarily for carrying and scaring rather than shooting, so it should not be muktzah.

R. Zekhariah Ben Shlomo, in his Hilkhos Tzava (p. 304 n. 1), disagrees with both of these approaches and says that an item's status is determined by what it is made for. A gun is made to be shot, which is forbidden on Shabbos, so it is muktzah. Similarly, R. Shlomo Min Hahar (Dinei tzava U-Milchamah, par. 220) implicitly rejects all of the above arguments and rules that a gun is considered a k'li she-melakhto le-issur.

R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos Ke-Hilkhasah, ch. 20 n. 28) is quoted as saying something puzzling. He says that you may carry a gun in order to scare people, because that is considered carrying it to use it for a permitted purpose, one of the two reasons (listed above) that you many carry a k'li she-melakhto le-issur. But then in parentheses he is quoted as saying that, except during wartime, the majority of a gun's use is for scaring people. But why is that necessary? Even if the majority of a gun's use is for a prohibited purpose, you should still be able to carry it to scare people. Perhaps that parenthetic remark was meant to say that, outside of wartime, a gun is not muktzah.

II. Item Used For A Permitted Purpose

R. Shlomo Goren (Meshiv Milchamah vol. 2 pp. 53-54) has a unique approach to this. He points out that the vast majority of times that you shoot a gun it is in some direct or indirect way to at least potentially save a life. Doing that overrides Shabbos. Since almost anytime you shoot a gun you are allowed to do it on Shabbos -- even though it is technically forbidden, the technical law is overriden -- the usage of a gun is considered permitted and not prohibited. Therefore, a gun is not muktzah.

This is a fascinating approach that I am still trying to digest. It is so creative that I think it requires further analysis and approval by other authorities.

Based on the ruling by R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach above, it seems that there is not much difference between the varying approaches because a gun may be carried for protection and guard duty. And it probably isn't advisable to pick up guns for other purposes anyway.

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