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Home » Shabbos

Shabbos: Thirty-Nine Catagories

Submitted by on November 4, 2005 – 1:43 amNo Comment | 2,803 views

Shabbos Prohibitions

It would be far beyond the scope of this essay to do justice to the intricate details of the Shabbos prohibitions. However, we will attempt provide a general overview of the categories of Melacha (work) that is prohibited on Shabbos.
 
The written Torah does not clearly delineate the individual types of work that are forbidden on Shabbos. The Torah simply admonishes us not to work on this day and commands us to sanctify and remember this day.
 
However, in the oral Torah G-d clearly defined the nature of the thirty-nine Melachos (catagories of work) that are forbidden on Shabbos. These Melachos are clearly delineated in the Mishna (the first authoritative and authentic documentary of the Oral Torah).
 
The following is a listing of the Thirty nine categories of Melachos (types of work) that are biblically prohibited on Shabbos:
 

  1. Plowing
  2. Sowing
  3. Reaping
  4. Sheaf-making
  5. Threshing
  6. Winnowing
  7. Selecting
  8. Sifting
  9. Grinding
  10. Kneading
  11. Baking
  12. Sheep-shearing
  13. Bleaching
  14. Combing raw materials
  15. Dyeing
  16. Spinning
  17. Weaving operations #1
  18. Weaving operations #2
  19. Weaving operations #3
  20. Separating into threads
  21. Tying a knot
  22. Untying a knot
  23. Sewing
  24. Tearing
  25. Trapping or Hunting
  26. Slaughtering
  27. Skinning
  28. Tanning
  29. Scraping pelts
  30. Marking out
  31. Cutting to shape
  32. Writing
  33. Erasing
  34. Building
  35. Demolishing
  36. Kindling a fire
  37. Extinguishing
  38. The final hammer blow (Putting the Finishing touch to a newly manufactured article
  39. Carrying from the private to the public domain (and vice versa)
These thirty-nine Melachos are not limited to the actual description of the Melacha itself. They are meant to be used as examples that include all types of Melachos that are similar to them. The Talmud calls the primary thirty-nine Melachos, Avos  (Parent) and the sub-Melachos, Tuldos (offspring) of the original thirty-nine.
 
For example, the Melacha of grinding includes slicing vegetables into very thin slices. The Melacha of plowing includes activities such as digging, fertilizing the soil, etc.

Modern Day Applications

One of the only Melachos that is clearly specified in the written Torah is the Melacha of building a fire. Although we no longer build fires in the regular routine of our lives we do, however, use automobiles and electricity on a regular and daily basis. These are prohibited on Shabbos as well.
 
In his book “To Be A Jew”, Rabbi Hayim Dunin makes the following remarks:
 
The mere development of modern technology with its new instruments, machines and methods, which were unknown when the Torah was given or when the Sages lived, does not automatically make the Shabbos laws obsolete.
 
On the contrary, a law that is alive, and Jewish law has always been and continues to be “a living law”, has within itself the built-in power and creativity that enables the “judges of the law” to continually keep applying the law to new conditions. New conditions and circumstances are continually being judged on the basis of the legal principles and concepts upon which the law rests.
 
New developments are thus continually brought into the framework of the Torah’s commandments. If that had not been the case, Judaism would have perished long ago. The theoretical concepts and points of law that enables a rabbi to render judgment as to whether some new development is permitted or forbidden according to the Torah – be it questions pertaining to Shabbos or any other area – obviously require great study. Suffice it to say that their authority in such matters is based on the passage in Deut. 19; 9-11 “And you shall do according…to the judge that shall be in those days… And you shall do according to the tenor of the sentence…You shall observe to do according to all that they shall teach you…”
 
It is important to note that the prohibition against lighting a fire (or in our case the electric light) does not mean that we must sit in the dark, or cold, throughout Shabbos. It is permissible to set a timer that would activate your light or heating appliance at a time of your choosing. The timer must, however, be set the timer before the onset of Shabbos.
 
Likewise, the prohibition against cooking does not mean that we are permitted to eat only cold foods on Shabbos. It is permissable to eat warm foods on Shabbos in the following manner:
 
Cook the food before Shabbos and make sure that it is at least three-quarters cooked before the onset of Shabbos. Now cover your stove with a sheet of tin or aluminum and put your pot over the tin on a reduced flame. Your food will remain warm and ready to eat.