Ball And Bat Substitutes ‘Cut Palm Branches’ (Shabbos 50a)
Children find amusement in simple, valueless objects such, as cardboard boxes, popsicle sticks, and colored pebbles – articles that have no value to an adult. Are these muktzah on Shabbos? Valueless objects are usually muktzah since they are not designated (muchan) for a Shabbos use. Our sugya states, however, that an adult may prepare them for Shabbos use and thus render them non-muktzah. For example, palm branches are muktzah. Yet, Rabban Shimon b. Gamliel in our Gemara states that if a person appropriates them for a use that is permitted on Shabbos, such as sitting upon them, the prohibition of muktzah falls aside. The halacha follows Rabban Shimon b. Gamliel.
The Rishonim note that the Gemara elsewhere (Shabbos 142b) states that a rock is muktzah even if it is used to cover a barrel. Indeed, the barrel too becomes muktzah since it serves as a base for the rock. That Gemara seems to contradict our own. If a person designates a rock as a barrel cover, the rock should cease being muktzah. Why does it retain its muktzah status?
The Rishonim offer two answers. The Rashba (Teshuvos 5:225) explains that preparing muktzah objects for a specific use before Shabbos is only effective if one intends to permanently use them for that purpose. Rabban Shimon b, Gamliel, for instance, designated the palm branches for continuous use. The Gemara regarding the rock, on the other hand, concerns a rock that someone intended to use as a barrel cover for just one Shabbos. That’s why it remains muktzah.
The Ran (23) writes that designating an object for a function for just one Shabbos is enough to render it non-muktzah so long as that function is commonly performed with that object. In the time of the Gemara, for example, it was common to use palm branches as seats, which is why Rabban Shimon b. Gamliel’s was allowed to designate them as such, but it was uncommon to use a rock for a barrel cover, which is why, in the Ran’s opinion, doing so did not change the rock’s muktzah status.
The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 308:22) cites the opinion of both the Rashba and the Ran, and the Mishnah Berurah (s.k. 97) rules that one may rely on the Ran if necessary. Note that everyone would agree that if one designates a rock as a permanent toy, the rock ceases to be muktzah.
The Intent of a Child
What about a child? Is his intention to use an item as a toy sufficient to make that item non-muktzah? Or must an adult designate the item as a toy on his behalf? Tosfos Shabbos (end of introduction to 308) rules that although a child’s deeds are effective, his thoughts are halachically insignificant (see Pri Megadim, general introduction to Hilchos Yom Tov 2:1:6). Thus, the child must perform a physical act to an item – such as coloring it – to render it non-muktzah. Some suggest that even the act of gathering items together is sufficient to designate them as toys (see Halachah Aruchah p. 118).
The Mechaber’s Opinion
The Mechaber (O.C. ibid, 308:45) rules that a muktzah object designated for play remains muktzah. “It is forbidden to play with a ball on Shabbos and Yom Tov,” he writes. The Rema, on the other hand, rules that we may follow those who are lenient in this matter. The Mishnah Berurah (s.k. 157) explains that the Mechaber maintains that an item’s muktzah status is only lifted if one intends to use it for a significant function; intending to play with it is insufficient. Sephardim follow this opinion and generally instruct their children not to play with muktzah objects even if they had been designated as toys before Shabbos. Ashkenazim, who follow the rulings of the Rema, allow children to play with muktzah objects designated as toys as long as the children performed a specific act to prepare the object for play or an adult so designated it (Halacha Arucha, ibid 114).
It is important to note that when the Mechaber rules that balls are muktzah, he refers only to muktzah objects that were designated to be used as balls before Shabbos. Balls that were originally manufactured, and sold as, toys are not muktzah, even according to the Mechaber.