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The Melacha of Trapping on Shabbat

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Jul 3, 2008

The Melacha of Trapping on Shabbat

One of the thirty-nine prohibited melachot on Shabbat is the melacha of tzad (trapping). Being that all of the melachot are derived from the mishkan (tabernacle), Rashi, Shabbat 73a, s.v. HaTzad, explains that the function of tzad in the mishkan was to trap animals in order to use their skins. In this week's issue we will discuss some of the parameters of the melacha and provide some practical applications to this melacha.

The Unique Feature of this Melacha

R. Avraham Borenstein, Avnei Nezer, Orach Chaim no. 189, notes that the melacha of tzad is unique in that no change occurs to the object involved in the melacha. In all other melachot, an item undergoes some change through the performance of the melacha. Even the melacha of hotza'ah (transferring an item from one domain to another) involves a change to the item in that through the melacha the item is now located in a different domain. Regarding tzad, the animal that is trapped does not undergo any inherent change through the trapping process.

Based on this idea, R. Borenstein explains an otherwise puzzling feature of the melacha of tzad. The Gemara, Shabbat 106b, cites a Beraita that according to Chachamim, one who traps a being that is not normally trapped does not violate the melacha of tzad. Trapping such a being would only constitute a rabbinic violation. The opinion of Chachamim is codified by Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 316:3. R. Borenstein asks: why should the melacha depend on what type of animal is trapped? He explains that because melacha of tzad does not affect any change in the animal, one must define the product of the melacha by people's perception. Animals are normally trapped because something useful can be done with them. Those that have no use when they are trapped are not normally trapped. Therefore, when someone traps an animal that is normally trapped, people consider it as something productive because the trapper now has something of value in his possession. However, when one traps an animal that is not normally trapped, people do not consider it productive because the trapper has nothing of value in his possession.

R. Tzvi P. Frank, Har Tzvi, Tal Harim, Tzad no. 3, applies R. Borenstein's idea to the concept of ma'aseh Shabbat (the prohibition against benefiting from melacha that was performed in a prohibited manner on Shabbat). Rashba, Shabbat 130b, s.v. D'Tania, cites Rabbeinu Yonah that the concept of ma'aseh Shabbat does not apply when there was no inherent change to the item. [R. Avraham Danzig, Chayei Adam, Hilchot Shabbat 9:11, rules that one may rely on this opinion if the melacha was performed unintentionally. His comments are cited in Biur Halacha 318:1, s.v. Achat.] R. Frank notes that according to Rashba, anything trapped on Shabbat would not be subject to the concept of ma'aseh Shabbat.

Is it Prohibited to "Trap" Humans?

One can question whether it is permissible on Shabbat to place another human in an enclosed area from which he cannot escape. This question can be applied to placing a child in a locked room or to placing an adult in a prison. Tosafot, Menachot 64a, s.v. L'Ha'aloto, imply that rescuing a child from drowning in a river would constitute tzad and is only permissible because it is for the purpose of saving a life. This implies that in general, the melacha of tzad applies to humans.

R. Borenstein, op. cit., notes that one cannot derive any generalities from the comment of Tosafot because the case of saving a child from the river is unique. As mentioned earlier, R. Borenstein explains that the melacha of tzad only applies when the trapping produces something of value. When someone rescues a child from the river, the "trapping" of the child has value and would therefore constitute a melacha which is only permissible because it is for a life saving purpose. However, ordinarily, when a human is placed in an enclosed area, nothing of value is produced and therefore, there is no violation of the melacha of tzad.

R. Shlomo Z. Auerbach (cited in Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchata ch. 27 note 112) provides a different reason why tzad doesn't generally apply to humans. He suggests that in order for one human to "trap" another human, the situation would have to be such that the one who is trapped is trying to escape any association with humans. Even someone who is sentenced to death doesn't generally want to disassociate himself with other humans. He only wants to escape from the prison. Therefore, it is permissible to lock his prison cell on Shabbat. However, if there is an individual who is a known hermit living in the wilderness and tries to escape from any interaction with humans, it may be prohibited to incarcerate him on Shabbat. [R. Auerbach does not address the comment of Tosafot.]

Closing the Door with an Animal Inside

The Mishna, Shabbat 106b, states that if a deer enters a house and someone closes the door, it is a violation of the melacha of tzad. The Talmud Yerushalmi, Shabbat 13:6, discusses a case of a deer that enters a house and the owner would like to close the door for the purpose of securing his home. According to Rashba, Shabbat 107a, s.v. Tosefta, it is permissible to close the door if one's primary intention is to close the door for security purposes. Ran, Shabbat 38a, s.v. Matnitan, disagrees. According to Ran, the conclusion of the Talmud Yerushalmi is that if one closes the door of his home and finds a deer inside, he is not required to open the door and let the deer out. Ran is particularly troubled by Rashba's opinion based on the principle of pesik reishei which states that an unintended but unavoidable result is prohibited (see "Davar She'aino Mitkavein"). Isn't closing the door on the animal a classic case of pesik reishei? Why then does Rashba permit closing the door?

In a previous issue, we presented R. Borenstein's justification of Rashba's opinion. R. Borenstein, Avnei Nezer, Orach Chaim no. 194, notes that according to Rabbeinu Asher, Baba Kama 8:3, if Reuven is sitting in a room and Shimon comes and locks Reuven in the room, Shimon is not required to pay for Reuven's lost wages. If Shimon actively places Reuven in the room and locks the door, he must pay for the lost wages. The distinction is that when Shimon is already in the room, locking the door is considered gerama (indirect action). R. Borenstein claims that the same should apply to closing the door of a room where an animal is situated. Why then is closing the door and trapping the deer (when one's intention is to trap the deer) considered a full-fledged melacha?

R. Borenstein answers that regarding the melachot of Shabbat, the operating principle is m'lechet machshevet (pre-designed action). A key determinant in whether an action is considered a full-fledged melacha is whether the intentions of the person performing the melacha were fulfilled through the result. Therefore, when one specifically closes the door in order to trap an animal, his intention is fulfilled and it is considered a violation of the melacha of tzad even though such an action would be considered gerama in other areas of Halacha.  Nevertheless, the principle of m'lechet machshevet only applies if one's primary intention is to trap the animal in this manner.  If it is a secondary result, one cannot apply the stringency of m'lechet machshevet. Therefore, even though Rashba's leniency seems to be based on a leniency regarding pesik reishei, in reality, it is a leniency specific to the melacha of tzad which requires intent to close the door on the animal in order to be considered a full-fledged melacha.

Although Rashba's leniency is not the normative opinion, R. Zalman N. Goldberg (in the journal Ateret Shlomo, Vol. VI) uses it as a mitigating factor in allowing one to walk in front of a surveillance camera.  He claims that being photographed is similar to tzad in that it is not considered a direct action unless one specifically intends to be photographed.  If one merely walks in front of the camera, the m'lechet machshevet is lacking and it is not considered a direct action.


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