Shabbos 121 מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא ,dangers to safety, and the foolish Chasid

One of the most far-reaching disputes amongst the Tannaim (sages of the Mishnaic period) regarding the laws of Shabbos is regarding מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא ,literally a melacha done for a purpose other than the improvement of the object of the melacha, but usually understood by extension to refer to melacha done for a purpose other than the purpose it was done for in the work of the mishkan.
Unlike דבר שאין מתכוין, where there is no intention to perform the forbidden act at all, here the action is performed completely intentionally, but for a different purpose.
A classic example is where someone takes a dead body out of one’s domain on shabbos (Shabbos 93a)
This constitutes the forbidden melacha of הוצאה (“carrying” or transferring an item from one domain to another.)
However, in this case, the corpse in not removed because one wants it to be somewhere else, it is removed because one does NOT want it to be where it currently is.
In such a case, Rabbi Yehuda holds that he is biblically liable still, but Rabbi Shimon holds that one is exempt on a biblical level and has only transgressed a rabbinical prohibition.
Another classic example is someone who digs a hole in the ground (Shabbos 73b). This constitutes the melacha of חופר (ploughing), which is usually defined as making the ground more suitable for planting.
What happens, however, if a person digs a hole, not because he wants the resulting hole, but because he wants to make use of the dust or sand which he digs up?
According to Rabbi Yehuda, the purpose of the melacha makes no difference, so long as it is constructive, whereas according to Rabbi Shimon, although such an action is rabbinically forbidden, there is no biblical prohibition and one is thus exempt from the harsh biblical punishment associated with it. (note that when the hold is made inside one’s home, the Gemara opines that even Rabbi Yehuda exempts the person seeing as it is מקלקל. This seems to imply that if an action itself is destructive, even if it has a constructive purpose, one is still biblically exempt, which is rather problematic in light of the fact that some מלאכות such as making a wound, knocking down a building, or tearing are by definition destructive, but still biblically forbidden seeing as there main purpose is constructive. But this is for a different discussion (see Shabbos 31b regarding סותר על מנת לבנות במקום אחר for a possible approach)
It is generally understood (see Chagiga 10b where this is explicit) that this is another example of the exemption of מלאכת מחשבת, significant and calculated work – in this case the different purpose of the action reduces the significance or importance of the action , seeing as had it been done in the mishkan for such a purpose, it would not have been a significant part of the work performed there.

Another classic example of מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא is most cases of extinguishing a flame or a fire.
We should all be familiar with the famous Mishna said every shabbos evening )Shabbos 29b,) which records the view of Rabbi Yossi that one is only liable for extinguishing a flame if he does it for the wick itself, in order to make it easier to burn .
In contrast, extinguishing a fire simply because one wants it to be dark, or because one does not want to waste the oil or blacken the lamp, is only a rabbinical prohibition.
It is important to note that the תנא קמא (first opinion) in the same Mishna holds that one is biblically liable for such an action and is only exempt if it was done to prevent actual danger.
This aligns the view of the Tana Kama with that of Rabbi Yehuda, and Rabbi Yossi with Rabbi Shimon.
As it is a well known rule of psak, stated by the authoritative Amora Rabbi Yochanan, that the Halacha usually follows a סתם משנה (anonymous Mishna where no dissenting opinion is recorded,) finding such a Mishna which takes a stand on this subject could be a major factor in how we rule.
On this daf, we have at least 3 different examples of what appears to be מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא.
In the first Mishna on the daf, which is indeed a סתם משנה , we are told that it is forbidden to actively ask a non-Jew to extinguish a fire, but one does not have to stop him from doing so.
As the reason for the extinguishing the fire is clearly to save one’s property, and not for the wick, this seems to be a clear case of מלאכה שאינה צריכא לגופא.
If the author of our Mishna held that מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא is only a rabbinical prohibition, it seems rather harsh that he would forbidden asking a non- Jew to do this, giving the principle of שבות דשבות that we have discussed many times, which allows one to ask a non-Jew to perform a rabbinically forbidden melacha for the sake of a mitzva, great need, or distress.
There are very few greater needs than preventing one’s house from burning down chalila, and it would certainly be a severe form of distress if it did so.
One is forced to conclude that either the author of this Mishna holds that מלאכה שאינה צריכא לגופא is a biblical prohibition, or that he rejects the entire principle of שבות דשבות as stated.
Indeed, the Rambam, (Shabbos 1/7) rules like Rabbi Yehuda that מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא is a biblical transgression, and this Mishna might be one of his main sources for this.
In contrast, Rabbeinu Chananel, Raavad, Tosfos and many other authorities hold that מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא is only a rabbinical prohibition.
Accordingly, Tosfos on our daf states clearly that there is indeed no blanket permission for a שבות דשבות even for the sake of a mitzva or great need,(presumably he holds that the example we learn this leniency from in the gemara, namely bris milah, is an exception due to the fundamental uniqueness of this mitzva.)
Yet it is the view of many other authorities, as well as that of the Shulchan Aruch and Rema, that מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא is indeed only rabbinical, and that the leniency of שבות דשבות applies across the board, at least when the rabbinical action is performed by a non-Jew.
As such, in order to explain this Mishna, we would need to either

  1. find another equally authoritative Mishna that holds that מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא is only rabbinical
  2. Conclude that even according to Rabbi Shimon who holds that מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא is only rabbinical, it is more severe than most rabbinical prohibitions and the leniency of שבות דשבות does not apply to it.
  3. Conclude that the author of our Mishna does not consider extinguishing a fire to save property to be מלאכה שאינה צריכא לגופא, in contrast to the explicit view of Rabbi Yossi who does.
  4. Explain why Chazal where particularly strict in the case of our Mishna

In the next Mishna on the daf, we are told among other things that it is permitted to trap a scorpion on shabbos to prevent it from biting by covering it with a vessel.
However, the Mishna then states that such a case was brought in front of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai and he expressed his concern that shabbos might have been desecrated unknowingly.
As it is obvious that if this was a poisonous scorpion that was likely to bite him, no one would argue that covering it was forbidden, it seems clear that we are talking about a non-toxic scorpion, and the basis of the Tana Kama’s leniency is that one does not want the scorpion, but merely to prevent it from damaging.
This makes it מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא, and given that it is only rabbinically prohibited in the first place, the Tana Kama permits it in order to prevent the pain inflict by a bite.
If this analysis is correct, we could be faced with another two Tannaim debating the status of מלאכה שאינה צריכא לגופא.

On the second side of the daf, the Amora (sage of the Talmudic period,) Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi rules that any creature that causes damage may be killed on shabbos. Rav Yosef quotes a Beraisa that mentions 5 specifically dangerous creatures (one of them being the snake of Eretz Yisroel- probably the venomous Palestinian viper that is ironically a protected species despite the danger it poises to residents.)
He derives from this that other creatures that cause damage but are not life-threatening may not be killed on shabbos, which serves to disprove the lenient ruling of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi.
Rav Yosef reconciles these two statements by saying that everyone agrees that if a life-threatening creature is running towards him, poising an immediate danger, one may kill it.
In such a case, even Rabbi Yehuda agrees that it is permitted to kill them due to concerns for pikuach nefesh.
When it comes to other non-life-threatening creatures that nevertheless cause damage (such as biting,) Rabbi Yehuda would forbid it but Rabbi Shimon would permit it, seeing as it is מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא , which according to him is only rabbinically forbidden, and thus permitted to prevent damage. (see Rashi and Tosfos though for 2 different ways of understanding the Gemara’s answer.)
We have shown how 3 different cases on our daf form essential primary material in the analysis of the law regarding מלאכה שאינה צריכא לגופא, and its scope- the actual halacha is beyond the scope of this post, but familiar to any serious student of hilchos Shabbos.
In addition to its ramifications for this principle, this sugya seems to imply that although the golden rule with matters of pikuach nefesh is that ספק נפשות להקיל, in case of doubt, one always errs on the side of caution, this rule does have certain limits and the perceived danger to life does have to be more than just the realm of the paranoid.
This is further illustrated in the continuation of the sugya.
The Gemara tells how a Tana(in this context, reader of Beraitot, not someone from the tannaic period) taught a Beraita in front of Rabbah bar Rav Huna:
“One who kills snakes and scorpions on shabbos, the spirit of the Chasidim (pious ones) is not at peace with (does not approve.)”
Rabbah bar Rav Huna retorted that if this is the case, the spirit of the sages is not at peace with those Chasidim! (seeing as they were being stringent in the laws of shabbos at the expense of concern for safety!)
This reminds of the case of the חסיד שוטה, the foolish pious person, who sees a woman drowning and refuses to save her because it is not modest to look at her (Sotah 21b.)
Yet, for an entirely different reason, Rav Huna disagrees in this case.
The Gemara accounts how he once saw someone killing a wasp on shabbos, presumably for the above reason, and rebuked him, saying “Have you finished killing them all?”
Rav Huna seems to be of the view that given that there is no end to how many insects one can spend one’s shabbos killing, and the efficacy of each act in itself is doubtful, this is outside the normal concern of pikuach nefesh and in the realm of paranoia.
Once again, it is not our mandate here to come to halachik conclusions, but the basic messages of this incident need to be internalized – On the one hand, being concerned about other prohibitions at the expense of danger to life is considered “foolish piety” and not to be tolerated. On the other hand, we need to be able to distinguish between real, albeit small, concerns for life and actions with a reasonable chance of mitigating that risk, and obsessive paranoia with little efficacy.

Shabbos 113 Tying knots on Shabbos and דבר שאין מתקים.


On our Daf, we are told the generally accepted rule of Rabbi Yehuda that tying any knot which is not permanent is not a biblical transgression on shabbos.
We have seen this idea recently when the Mishna (Shabbos 111b) taught us that one is only liable for tying the type of knot tied by camel-drivers and sailors.
Rashi over there explained that this means that the knot has to last forever (presumably in the absence of human intervention), likes the knots tied to join the broken threads in the curtains of the mishkan.
The Gemara indeed verifies that this refers to the knot which ties a camel’s nose-ring in place permanently, so that the rope that it is driven with can be tied to the ring and untied as needed, as well as the knot tied with a rope to a ship through which ropes can be tied in to order to anchor it.
In contrast, the knots made to tie the anchor-ropes to the knot-rope or the rope to the camel’s nose-ring are not regarded as permanent knots. These are rabbinically forbidden, for reasons given later in the sugya.
On this basis, the Gemara allows tying shoelaces on shabbos under certain circumstances, and forbids them under others, and this sugya needs to be well understood before coming to any conclusions regarding doing this in practice.
Similarly, regarding the melacha of כותב (writing), the Mishna (Shabbos 104b) tells us that one is not liable if one writes with something such a fruit juice or dust that does not last.
Several questions with far-reaching ramifications needs to be addressed, among them:

  • What is the reason for this requirement?
  • Is this requirement for the effects of a melacha to be permanent, or at least long-lasting, limited to the מלאכות where it is mentioned explicitly by Chazal, like writing and tying knots, or is a general rule for all melachot of Shabbos.
  • How long does the effect of the action have to last in order for it to be considered permanent?
    One might argue that having a permanent affect is part of the general rule that an action has to be מלאכת מחשבת, significant and calculated work, and something whose affect is merely temporary is not significant enough to fall into that category.
    On the other hand, one might argue that the way these particular מלאכות were performed in the mishkan were in ways that were permanent, and we derive this rule directly from that, not from the general rule of מלאכת מחשבת. This seems to be the approach that Rashi has taken here regarding regarding tying nots.
    This approach seems logical, given that there are many מלאכות, such as plowing a furrow or baking bread, whose affects are clearly not permanent- for example a furrow is filled in by blowing dust or destroyed by rain or people who walk over it, and a loaf of bread goes rotten and inedible on its own after a few days.
    However, the Magid Mishna (Shabbos 11\15) says explicitly that this is a general rule that applies to ALL מלאכות.
    According to this, one would perhaps need to accept this as a general rule but admit that when a melacha was specifically done in the Mishkan without permanent affects , like in the above two examples, there would be an exception to this rule.
    Alternatively, one would need to limit the definition of “permanent” to the time that these two examples and other like them generally last for- perhaps a week or so (is the lechem hapanim perhaps a precedent for this?)
    In truth, even Rashi who has no need to limit the definition of permanent and clearly has not done so on the Mishna, does seem to understand that the reason why there is still a rabbinical prohibition on tying the rope to the boat or the camel’s ring is because one might leave it there “a week or two.”
    There, Rashi too seems to imply that leaving it there a week or two would be a biblical transgression, and Chazal thus forbade tying it even for a short time in case one comes to do so.
    This apparent contradiction in Rashi requires its own analysis, but we unfortunately do not have time for that now.
    The key to the question of whether the requirement for permanence, whatever it means, applies to all מלאכות, probably lies in an earlier Mishna.
    The Mishna (Shabbos 102) tells us that in order to be liable for a melacha on Shabbos, it has to be דבר המתקים, something that lasts.
    In the somewhat cryptic words words of the Mishna זה הכלל כל העושה מלאכה ומלאכתו מתקיימת בשבת חייב- This is the rule, anyone who does a melacha and his melacha endures on Shabbos, is liable.
    This is the simple meaning of the Mishna, and the way the above-cited Magid Mishna, and possibly the Rambam himself, as we shall discuss later, interprets it.
    In fact, the Yerushalmi, as quoted by the Rashba and the Ritva, also seems to have learnt it that way, as it explains that the construction of the mishkan was considered permanent seeing as it stayed in one place until the divine command to move was given, or that building for a certain period (בנין לשעה) is also considered building.
    However, the wording of the Mishna implies that if the results of the melacha last all of that shabbos, it is considered מלאכת מחשבת, and if they do not, it is not, serving both as the basis for the general exemption of a melacha whose effect is not permanent, and a broad definition of permanent to something that lasts the whole shabbos.
    This means in effect that there is no actual fixed length of time that defines permanent, as it clearly depends when on Shabbos this action is performed- it could be as long as almost 24 hours and as little as less than a minute, an unusual form of measurement to say the least.
    How does this fit in with what we learnt regarding tying knots (and probably also writing) where the examples given were actions that are truly permanent?
    One possibility is that those two melachot are exceptions, due to the specific ways they were performed in the mishkan, but the general rule is far more limited.
    This would also answer the difficulties we raised based on baking, ploughing, and the like, whose affects are not permanent in the classic sense of the world, but certainly last till at least the end of shabbos.
    It would not, however, answer how the Yerushalmi derives this from the building of the Mishkan, which certainly lasted longer than one shabbos, and was not built on shabbos at all!
    Another possibility is that there is indeed no general rule at all, and that this cryptic Mishna has a totally different meaning to what its arguably most simple reading is (certainly the way I first read it.)
    A look at Rashi, shows that he has what’s seems like a rather creative interpretation of both דבר המתקיים and בשבת an approach that is shared by a surprisingly number of other Rishonim with various variations (see for example, Ran , Bertenura on the Mishna, and even the Meiri!)
    He understands מתקיים not to refer to the time that the effect of the melacha lasts, but to the utility of the action- an action that is sometimes good enough to be left as is, and requires nothing to be added, is considered מתקיים.
    He also interprets בשבת not to refer to how long the results of the action need to endure, but rather the day that the action is done.
    This interpretation seems not only creative, but rather problematic. Firstly, the Mishna does not say the words that Rashi uses שכיוצא בו מתקים [בלא הוספה] – (note the brackets indicating a possibly questionable version of his words). Secondly, the word בשבת appears redundant, given that all the melachot we are talking about are referring to things done on shabbos!
    Furthermore, just like the מלאכות of writing and tying were only done in the Mishkan in ways that were long-lasting, it is clear that at least most were done in a way that lasts longer than 24 hours or even a week, so just like the length of the effect of the above melachot needs to be similar to that of the Mishkan, surely all actions need to as well, even if complete permanence of effect is not needed?
    Most of all though, the implication that a melacha needs to produce something which could sometimes be left as is, is rather problematic- since when where the ground herbs in the mishkan left as is? They were used for cooking the dyes. Since when does one leave threshed produce as is without further purifying it or a kneaded loaf unbaked?
    Other Rishonim, take a similar approach to the Mishna, but interpret מתקיים as something which does not need to be undone.
    According to these Rishonim, we are left without an explicit source for a general rule that a melacha which lacks a lasting effect is not biblically prohibited, and it is possible, though not definite, that this leniency is limited to the melachot it has explicitly been applied too.
    I had the gut feeling that the Rambam would learn the Mishna כפשוטו- He does not seem to comment in his פרוש המשניות , or regarding a general rule, but in my online search, I came across the דף על דף anthology who quoted the Minchas Yitchak who claims that the Rambam does precisely this.
    He points to the Rambam )Shabbos 9/13) regarding צובע, where he says that it has to be done with materials that last, but brings the wording of our Mishna in perek 7 with its general rule דבר המתקיים בשבת!
    Why the Rambam chooses to display his interpretation of the Mishna specifically there and not as a general rule, is a question in its own right- however it seems pretty clear that this is how he understands the Mishna, unless he is simply borrowing its wording and applying it to a completely different principle, which while not impossible for the Rambam, would not be our first choice.
    Now that we have seen that the Rambam and some other Rishonim do indeed learn that our Mishna is teaching us a general exemption for a melacha that lacks a lasting effect, and limited the definition of temporary to that shabbos, we need to explain why we treat the melachos of writing and tying a knot differently and require those to have a really permanent effect.
    We also need to reassess whether Rashi and those who interpret the Mishna like him agree with this principle, but simply don’t believe that it is sourced in our Mishna, whether they reject it out of hand, or whether they have a longer view of permanence required for all melachot, similar to what we see by writing and tying a knot, and therefore interpret this Mishna as referring to something completely different.
    The results of the further research required to have massive ramifications for the scope and applicability of this commonly assumed but perhaps narrower than assumed leniency!