כ״ו בשבט ה׳תשע״ג (February 6, 2013)

Shabbat 126a-b: Rabbinic Decrees (Shevut) on Shabbat

The eighth perek of Massekhet Shabbat addresses three different halakhot that are only slightly related to one another. One topic continues the discussion of some of the laws of items that have been set aside from Shabbat use, a continuation of the discussion in the last perek. The second topic addresses caring for and handling animals on Shabbat. The third topic examines the situation of a woman who has given birth on Shabbat, and caring for her in ways that could constitute prohibited labors. These halakhot do not seem to be related, but they are all included in the category of shevut, prohibitions that are not from the Torah like the categories of prohibited labor, but which were instituted by on Shabbat and the Festivals in order to prevent the violation of Torah prohibitions or to enhance the sanctity of the day.

There are shevut decrees that apply to many different areas, and this chapter addresses only some of them. However, we can derive from these examples the scope of shevut restrictions in many areas, remembering that each one is based upon rabbinic decree.

The halakhot discussed in this chapter are further related. Since the Sages themselves instituted these prohibitions as protective measures to prevent violation of Torah law, they could also be lenient in certain cases. This is possible only with regard to rabbinic decrees, but not with regard to prohibitions that stem from Torah law; as the Sages expressed it: They said [it is prohibited] and they said [it is permitted in particular circumstances]. For example, in cases of significant need, such as for the honor of guests or to facilitate Torah study, the Sages permitted several actions that would otherwise have been prohibited due to muktze. Such leniencies also exist with regard to other shevut restrictions, such as caring for animals on Shabbat. Although there are restrictions due to several relevant rabbinic decrees and concerns, since these are not Torah prohibitions, the Sages were lenient when necessary in order to prevent significant monetary loss or to prevent animals from experiencing pain.

After addressing the permitted methods of caring for birthing animals on Shabbat, the chapter discusses how to care for a woman who gives birth on Shabbat. Here the Gemara even addresses activities that are prohibited by Torah law as well as those prohibited by rabbinic decree, as both are permitted in order to save a life. The halakha is very lenient in such cases, to the point that it is permissible to perform any prohibited labor in the event of even a small concern for danger to human life.

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