Jaywalking through the Talmud (Daf Yomi Shabbos 124)

It is inappropriate to permit one to perform an action that he considers prohibited.”

If we thought we were home free yesterday when we were told that utensils can be moved on Shabbat, as in all matters Talmud, there are nuances and stipulations and contrary points of view that are discussed by the Rabbis today. Despite the fact that the Talmud tells us over and over again that “it is not difficult,” in fact, it is. We are told today that a vessel can only be moved on Shabbat for purposes of its specific use, which complicates what we learned in yesterday’s reading that said objects can be used only for atypical purposes, while all objects can be moved. Among all the back and forth in today’s reading, we finally come to an important concept: “it is inappropriate to permit one to perform an action that he considers prohibited.”

The text opens with the matter of whether a door lock with a thick security bolt can be moved on Shabbat. I am not sure why one would attempt to dislodge such a lock on Shabbat considering how complicated it can be and I doubt they needed a special code back then to do so. But if one is truly inclined to carry out this task, he can drag it from his doorway and hang it on another’s on Shabbat. What he cannot do is move it with his hands, because then it would be considered set-aside. I am left with a vision of someone’s dead-bolt lock hanging precariously on a neighbor’s doorway and the conversation that might ensue.

The text is as puzzled as I am as to why it is permitted to remove a dead-bolt lock on Shabbat if it is dragged rather than carried by hand (how does that work?) and asks the question directly. Rabbi Yanai attempts to elucidate the mystery when he says that the prohibition is specific to the matter of courtyards. Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Tarfon disagree on whether the lock can be moved from a house to a courtyard, but no one has explained why the lock is hanging on a neighbor’s doorway where it does not belong.

We are told that an object can be moved “for a specific purpose”, which is for utilizing the object itself. If it is moved “not for a specific purpose” it is for the purpose of utilizing its space (such as clearing away clutter from a place where one might sit.) So, returning to the wonderful goldsmith hammer that was discussed in yesterday’s reading, the hammer can be used for an atypical purpose such as cracking a walnut, and it can be moved to a table to carry out this purpose. But it cannot be moved from the table once it is placed there in order to make room to set up one’s laptop in order to check email. But why split walnut shells over this one? It is probably less complicated to eat nuts that are already shelled and to leave the hammer where it is until the end of Shabbat (which you may not want to ruin with those rough walnut shells anyway.)

Among all this craziness, is the tale of Rav Mari who had a knack for home decorating. He had expressed concern about the state of his pillows which were very dear to him and baking under the hot sun on his patio. He asked Rava if it was allowed to bring the pillows inside in order to better preserve them. He asked the learned sage “what is the ruling with regard to carrying them?”  Rava replied that it is permitted to move the pillows out of the sun.

Rav Mari, perhaps bewildered by the liberal response because he was told something very different from a more conservative Rabbi, explained further that he has other cushions put aside and does not need the ones that are baking in the sun. Rava replied that the pillows that Rav was trying to protect were suitable for guests and could be carried inside. Rav, still not satisfied with Rava’s answer and becoming a bit annoying, further clarified that the pillows he set aside are also suitable for guests. Rava, who suspects that Rav is influenced by another Rabbi, says, “for everyone else, it is permitted to move the cushions in this situation; however, for you, it is prohibited, as it is inappropriate to permit one to perform an action that he considers prohibited.”

Despite Rava’s aggravation with the admittedly irritating Rav Mari, he shows respect for his perspective through this simple statement: “It is inappropriate to permit one to perform an action that he considers prohibited.”  Many of us do small things at times that is against our better instinct. Perhaps this can result from an unanalyzed urge within us to perform an act that we know we should not do (how many times do we say to ourselves “why did I do that?”) Or perhaps it results from listening to the whisper of a dark angel who sits upon our shoulder.

I am the type of person who has broken very few rules during my lifetime, and I have never received a traffic ticket (but of course, I have not driven a car in 30 years). But I jaywalk and race across New York City streets before the light has turned green. There is an urge deep within me to dash across the street and get to wherever I am going just one minute sooner. I know I should wait for the light to turn but time is getting ahead of me and I have my life to live. So, I look both ways and run across the street and hope for the best.

About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at
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