Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Shmuli Fogel was walking home with his family Shabbos morning after davening when it started to pour. As they passed the house of their neighbor, who was away for Shabbos, Shmuli spotted a plastic chair with a saw on it.

“I’ll move it onto their porch so that it won’t rust,” Shumuli said. “It’s good that we have an eruv.”

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“How can you move, it, though?” asked Mrs. Fogel. “A saw is muktzah.”

“It’s going to get ruined,” said Shmuli. “I learned that protecting a neighbor’s property from loss constitutes hashavas aveidah!”

“I’m not sure whether hashavas aveidah allows you to move muktzah, though,” said Mr. Fogel.

Luckily, Rabbi Dayan was staying at a house nearby, so the family decided to pay him a visit.

“A neighbor left a saw out in the rain,” said Shmuli. “Can I move it inside even though it’s muktzah?”

“The Gemara [Bava Metzia 30a, 32a) states that a person may not violate a prohibition to fulfill hashavas aveidah,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “For example, a kohen may not enter a cemetery to retrieve a lost item” [Choshen Mishpat 272:2].

“Even if the prohibition is only rabbinic, such as muktzah,” continued Rabbi Dayan, “one may not violate it to fulfill hashavas aveidah since a person may not violate a prohibition for monetary purposes” [Shulchan Aruch Harav, Aveidah #40].

“Is a saw really muktzah?” asked Mr. Fogel.

“A saw belongs to a category of muktzah called kli shem’lachto l’issur, a utensil whose primary purpose is prohibited,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Such an item can be moved if needed for a permitted purpose (tzoreh gufo) or for its place (tzorech mekomo), but not to protect it from the elements or other loss (meichama l’tzeil). Thus, a person may not move a saw out of the rain” [Orach Chayim 308:3].

“Couldn’t we consider this tzorech gufo, though?” asked Shmuli. “I want to move it for a permitted purpose – to fulfill hashavas aveidah!”

“Indeed, the Gra [Orach Chayim 586:22] cites a dispute over whether a person can use a muktzah shofar or lulav for a mitzvah,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Moreover, R’ Akiva Eiger [Orach Chayim 306] allows sending a keli shem’lachto l’issur as a gift to a chassan on Shabbos since the mitzvah of rejoicing with a chassan is considered a permitted purpose.”

“Nonetheless, the Chassam Sofer [Orach Chayim #82] rules that one may not move a keli shem’lachto l’issur on Shabbos for hashavas aveidah,” continued Rabbi Dayan. “A person is obligated to fulfill hashavas aveidah only when he would tend to his own; if the owner cannot move it, there is no mitzvah on others” [Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasa 20; Pischei Choshen, Aveidah 1:8].

“Thus, you may not pick up the saw to protect it,” concluded Rabbi Dayan, “but you should cover it with plastic or move it with your foot or elbows” [Mishnah Berurah 311:30].

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Rabbi Meir Orlian is a faculty member of the Business Halacha Institute, headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, a noted dayan. To receive BHI’s free newsletter, Business Weekly, send an e-mail to subscribe@businesshalacha.com. For questions regarding business halacha issues, or to bring a BHI lecturer to your business or shul, call the confidential hotline at 877-845-8455 or e-mail ask@businesshalacha.com.