Issur Melakha and the Shabbat Day of Rest Part 6

  • Rav Doniel Schreiber


By Rav Doniel Schreiber





by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik






Shiur #21: Issur Melakha and the Shabbat Day of Rest

Part VI



We have discussed until now two of the eight possible ways to fail meeting the conditions of melekhet machshevet: melakha she-eina tzerikha le-gufa and davar she-eino mitkaven.  Let us now turn to a third situation that does not fulfill the standards of craftsmanship: mitasek, inadvertently performing a melakha.


Mitasek is a case in which one unknowingly and unintentionally performs a melakha because one is preoccupied (mitasek) with some other activity (Rashi, Shabbat 72b, s.v. Ve-chatakh).  Although a mitasek, as opposed to a shogeg, may be aware that the given day is Shabbat and that melakha is forbidden, he or she is exempt from punishment and from bringing a korban because the prohibited act was performed unawares.  (Poskim agree, however, if the action has the status of a shabbat violation; see next shiur.)  Essentially, a mitasek fails to meet the criterion of melekhet machshevet since that classification is reserved for a case in which a craftsman performs work in accordance with the directions provided by his or her mind.  A mitasek, on the other hand, refers to a situation where the mind and the action are uncoordinated.  See Shabbat 72b and 97b; Rashi and Tosafot, Shabbat 72b, s.v. Nitkaven; and Rambam, Shabbat 1:8 and 13:21.


What is the nature of this lack of coordination between mind and action? Generally, violation of melakha includes consciousness and intent to act upon a given object (1. "guf"), to achieve a given act (2. "ma'aseh"), in a certain way (3. "ofen"), while aware of the physical circumstances (4. "matzav") of the act which characterize the act as forbidden.  Where any one of these elements is absent, as we will describe below, the act is defined as mitasek by different poskim.


            Examples of mitasek include:




a) A sleeping person, while rolling over, turns on the lights (missing 1-4).

b) A person walks into a room and with an unconscious knee-jerk reflex turns on the light (missing 1-3).  This case requires some discussion.   Poskim dispute whether this case is an instance of mitasek.   Some believe that it is really a shogeg, and that the action of turning on the light came about because one momentarily forgot it was Shabbat (Ha-rav Ovadya Yosef in "Yalkut Yosef" #4, Shabbat, Vol. 3, 318:23 and n. 3; and R. Herschel Schachter, from a conversation with him, Jan. 5, 2000).  Others are of the opinion that this is a case of mitasek, (Ha-rav Aharon Lichtenstein, R. Ezra Bick, R. Daniel Wolf, and R. Mordechai Willig, from conversations in January 2000).


A possible proof for the opinion that this case is shogeg can be found in the gemara on Shabbat 12b.  The gemara there states that one who accidentally tilts an oil lamp on Shabbat, while engrossed in learning, in order to improve the illumination is obligated to bring a korban chatat, which indicates that it is a case of shogeg.  Is not our case analogous to the gemara's?  Yet, one may counter that tilting an oil lamp involves some thought, and thus it could only be accomplished by one who momentarily forgot it was Shabbat, and not through a knee-jerk response.  Our case, though, deals with one who through a conditioned response performed the simple action of turning on the light switch.  This, one may argue, is not shogeg, but mitasek.


An important implication to this debate is whether one may benefit from the illumination of the light.  If the act is considered a shogeg, then we are generally stringent with regard to benefiting from melakha forbidden by Torah law (such as turning on an incandescent light) even if it is performed by a shogeg, unless there is a genuine need, in which case we are lenient (OC 318:1, and MB 318:7).


However, if the act is considered a mitasek, then it depends on whether a mitasek commits some violation, despite the exemption from a korban chatat, or none at all (see next shiur).  If it involves a violation, then one is forbidden from benefiting, as above; if, on the other hand, it incurs no violation, then benefiting from it is clearly permitted.  It would appear that if the act is considered a mitasek, the halakha is that one may be lenient and benefit from it.  See "Yalkut Yosef" #4, Shabbat, Vol. 3, no. 318, n. 30, and Vol. 5, p. 223, par. 3 and n. 3.




a) A person who reaches for an object on the grass, and inadvertently pulls up grass instead (normally a violation of "kotzer," reaping; missing 1-3).

b) A person who intends to kick or throw an object only a short distance in a public domain, and unintentionally kicks or throws it 4 "amot," i.e. about eight feet, (normally a violation of "hotza'a," carrying; missing 2 and 3).

c) A person who intends to pluck an apple and accidentally plucks a nearby pear instead (Keritot 19b-20a; Rashi ibid.; Rambam, Shabbat 1:8,9; missing 1).  However, Rishonim dispute whether the situation where a person who intends to pluck apple "A" and accidentally plucks apple "B" is considered mitasek (Rashi, Keritot 19b, s.v. Afilu; Pesachim 33a s.v. She'im; Ra'avad, Shabbat 1:10) or is not, making one liable (Rambam, Shabbat 1:10; Tosafot, Keritot 19b, s.v. Lashon).  The disagreement hinges on whether one considers acting upon a different but identical object (guf) a failure in craftsmanship.  The normative ruling appears to be that this case is mitasek (Chayei Adam 9:8).  For further research see Lechem Mishna, Shabbat 1:10.

d) A person intends to pluck a fig and then a grape, but accidentally plucks a grape and then a fig (Rambam, Shabbat 1:9; missing 3). 




a) A person who leans against a wall to rest and unintentionally turns on the light switch.  (missing 1-4).




a) A person thinks that he or she is picking up a detached vegetable when in fact the vegetable is still attached to the ground (missing 2-4).

b) A person thinks that he or she is cutting a detached vegetable when in fact the vegetable is growing from the ground (missing 4).  Rishonim dispute whether this last category is mitasek (Tosafot, Shabbat 72b, s.v. Mitkaven; Pesachim 33b s.v. Nitkaven; Sanhedrin 62b, s.v. L'hagbiah; Magid Mishna, Shabbat 1:8, Ramban cited ibid.) or shogeg (Rashi, Keritot 19b, s.v mitasek, and Rambam, Shabbat 1:8).  The normative ruling appears to be that this category is mitasek (SSK, Vol. 3, in the section "Mevo Le-hilkhot Shabbat", p.21, no. 29).


The next shiur will discuss whether or not mitasek incurs some violation, and whether or not one must prevent mitasek on Shabbat by, for example, taping up one's light switches.