In the Mishnah Torah -- Sabbath 11:14 it states:

A person who writes with his left hand, with the back of one's hand, with his feet, his >mouth, or with his elbow, is not liable. A left-handed person who writes with his right hand - which for him is equivalent to other >people's left hand - is not liable. If he writes with his left hand, he is liable. A >person who is ambidextrous is liable regardless of whether he writes with his right or >left hand. When a child holds the pen and an adult holds his hand and moves it, causing him to write, >the adult is liable. When an adult holds a pen and a child holds his hand and moves it, >causing him to write, the adult is exempt.

I want to know if I find a way to write with my elbow or just start writing with my left hand if I am right handed does this mean I can write like on a normal day? In other words can I write a cheque with my left hand on Shabbos?

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  • @rosends Okay, I am black and slow so IDK what to think when I read these links you sent me. I can barely understand the Rambam's Mishnah Torah though it seems like if I use my left hand but I AM RIGHT HANDED then I can write and henceforth work. I guess this is a loophole so as to address things of necessity? In any case if the writing results in breaking the other actions that could make one liable then the said person would have broken his sabbath.
    – naarter
    Aug 8, 2023 at 17:47
  • The Rambam is discussing liability. One is not liable for the full punishment unless one does X. Less than X is forbidden but does not incur the full punishment. One can use variant ways in exigent circumstances but the Rambam is talking about establishing a certain level of accountability. The action is exempt from the full punishment but still forbidden.
    – rosends
    Aug 8, 2023 at 18:09

1 Answer 1


The Torah prohibited labor done in a normal way. Violating that, someone would have to bring a sacrifice. (Thus, "liable.") If someone did it in an abnormal way, they are thus "exempt" from the sacrifice.

The Rabbis (about 2200 years ago, very loosely) realized that if people thought hooray, I'll spend all of Sabbath with loopholes, doing all sorts of labor in abnormal fashions!, then the spirit of the day would be lost, and what's more, people would eventually do labor the normal way too. Therefore they prohibited labor in an abnormal fashion.

If you spend some more time with Maimonides' code, you'll see there are actually three levels:

  • "Liable." - Prohibited by the Torah.
  • "Exempt." - Not prohibited by the Torah, so no sacrifice is incurred for violation, but the Rabbis prohibited it.
  • "Permitted" - Actually allowed.

(If you hop over to his laws on divorce, he uses a similar shorthand. The divorce ritual could be void, meaning it doesn't even meet the Torah's definition of a proper divorce; or merely flawed, that it didn't meet the higher standard imposed by the Rabbis.)

So no, don't go about writing checks with your non-dominant hand.

Where it does come up is a situation where someone has to write because of a matter of life and death -- say you show up at the emergency room, and they demand you sign some paperwork. (They don't care how sloppily you sign.) Then signing with your non-dominant hand would be vastly preferable to doing so with your dominant hand, as the prohibition is a lesser one.

A famous rabbi's son was preparing to be drafted into Czarist Russia's army. His father had him study Maimonides' Code, precisely because it helps delineate between the minor and major violations. There was no way the fellow would be able to keep "normal civilian Sabbath" in the army, but this way he'd be able to keep his violations to the minimum.

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