Latest update: May 27th, 2013
Children And Corpses
‘A Body Lying In The Sun…’
As a general rule, functionless items (i.e., non-utensils which are not designated for any use), such as stones and broken utensils, are muktzah on Shabbos and may not be moved. These types of items belong to a category of muktzah called “muktzah machmas gufo” – inherently muktzah. A human corpse is included in this category and may not be moved on Shabbos except under certain conditions.
A Loaf Of Bread And Kavod Ha’mes
The Gemara on our daf states that if a dead person is lying in the sun on Shabbos and in danger of decaying, it is permissible to move him or her via means of a loaf of bread or a child. That is, one should place either the loaf of bread or child on top of the corpse. Doing so permits one to carry the corpse (since there is a non-muktzah item on top of it). Our sages permitted this action only because they were concerned for kavod ha’mes, the dignity of the deceased.
A Moment’s Interruption
The source for this leniency is, as the Gemara explains (supra 30b), the story of David Hamelech’s death. David knew he would die on a Shabbos and therefore engaged in Torah study ceaselessly every Shabbos in order to keep the Angel of Death at bay. However, one Shabbos, as he was sitting in his garden studying, the Angel of Death caused the trees to stir, whereupon David ascended a ladder to investigate the source of the noise. As he was ascending, the ladder broke causing him to fall to his death. Shlomo Hamelech, seeing his father lying out in the sun and worried his corpse would begin to decay, sent for the Sages, asking them what to do. They replied that he may move the corpse, albeit only after placing either a loaf of bread or child upon it.
The Ran (novella, ad loc.) explains that the Sages did not mean that only a loaf of bread or child may be utilized in a case like this. Rather, any non-muktzah object is acceptable.
What About The Bed?
Rabbi Akiva Eiger (novella, ad loc.) reasons that if all non-muktzah objects are acceptable, the bed of the deceased should suffice. Why, then, does the Gemara state that a child or loaf of bread is necessary? The Rashash answers that a corpse’s bed is not sufficient because it is considered tafel – a subordinate object to the deceased.
Interestingly, the Mordechai (siman 312 and cited by the Mechaber, Orach Chayim 311:4) opines that in the event that the corpse is clothed, there is no need for any other non-muktzah object since the clothing serves the same purpose that a child or loaf of bread would.
The Beis Yosef (to the Tur, O.C. 311), however, argues that a corpse’s clothing is subordinate to the deceased and can never be considered a substitute for a child or loaf of bread.
The She’lah (cited by Ba’er Heitev, Orach Chayim 311, sk11) adduces proof for the Beis Yosef’s position from the incident concerning David Hamelech’s death (as cited above). The Gemara relates that he collapsed on Shabbos when he momentarily interrupted his Torah study. Clearly he was dressed at the time. Nevertheless, Shlomo was instructed to place either a loaf of bread oa child on his father’s body before moving it out of the sun. According to the Mordechai, placing a child or loaf of bread should not have been required since David was clothed at that moment.
Rules For Royalty
In defense of the Mordechai, the Magen Avraham (Orach Chayim 311, sk16) argues that David Ha’Melech’s situation was different in light of the Gemara in Sanhedrin 52b which states that a king’s clothing and personal effects are burned after his death (because it would be considered disrespectful to the king if they were subsequently used by ordinary people). Since the king’s clothing was prohibited for use by others, they were muktzah. Therefore, the fact that David was clothed was not sufficient, and it was necessary to place a loaf of bread or child on him.
About the Author: RABBI YAAKOV KLASS, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at email@example.com. RABBI GERSHON TANNENBAUM, rav of Congregation Bnai Israel of Linden Heights, Boro Park, Brooklyn, is the Director of Igud HaRabbanim – The Rabbinical Alliance of America.
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