I was reading about sabbath observances in modern practice and I found a lot of caution and effort is expended to not work: like, even switching on the lights or lifting things could be considered as work and hence prohibited. What is considered work on the sabbath?

Please provide verses from Torah which motivates such an observance.

  • 1
    Do we have to address your insistence on "tanachical evidence" again?
    – Seth J
    May 12, 2013 at 1:27
  • 3
    Are you asking what is considered work, or are you asking how we got the definition we have?
    – Seth J
    May 12, 2013 at 1:28
  • 1
    The question does not seem to match the title. Which are you asking?
    – Daniel
    May 12, 2013 at 3:12
  • 3
    Also, as we have mentioned in your questions before, while the things that are considered work are indeed derived from the Tanakh (the things required to build the Tabernacle), the proofs that many modern things fall into those categories (such as electricity, which humans had not controlled at the time of the Torah) comes in literature that is published later
    – Daniel
    May 12, 2013 at 3:15
  • 2
    Exodus 20:7-10
    – Double AA
    May 12, 2013 at 6:18

3 Answers 3


The short answer is that, due to the juxtaposition of the command to build the Mishkan (tabernacle) to the prohibition of violating the Sabbath, we derive that any activity associated with creating the Mishkan is prohibited on the Sabbath.

Here is a short summary.


When I teach the 39 Melochos to teenagers I give the following introduction. The definition of what is allowed or not allowed to do on Shabbos is not defined by what we call work. For example, if your mother asks you to wash the dishes would you consider that 'work'? (I typically get a loud 'yes'); Yet it is permissie to wash dishes on Shabbos! Now, if I put a piece of paper in my pocket and walk out to the street would you call that 'work'? (again a loud 'no'); Yet that is forbidden on Shabbos!

So you see -I continue- that the definition of 'work' that is prohibited on Shabbos is not what we call 'work', rather it is what the Torah defines as forbidden types of actions we mustn't do onShabbos. Now, that is defined by any integral action needed for the construction of the Mishkan (tabernacle).

I give a similar introduction when teaching about the four domains, private and public domains for Shabbos has nothing to do with ownership. A public building (like a Shul) is a private domain, and an open plaza belonging to a private individual could be either a public domain or a Karmilis...

Here are the verses from Torah which motivates such an observance: Shmos 20:10 and 31:15 and 34:21 and 35:3. Bamidbar 15:32. Yermiyahu 17:21&22&24&27. Nechemya 10:32 and 13:15&16&19.

  • is helping others, people who may need your help, say an emergency, is that prohibted?
    – Charlie
    May 12, 2013 at 16:44
  • It depends on what type of action and what type of emergency. May 12, 2013 at 16:48

The English word "work" is a poor translation -- what is forbidden is a category of behavior which is called, in Hebrew, melacha. There are many attempts to translate it directly, beyond "work" including "creative actions" but none gets to the heart of the concept. There are particular categories and sub categories which define what the specific behaviors are, and why each is included. For more details about what is forbidden, you can check here .

Electricity and other modern conveniences are often prohibited even though they don't require the kind of "effort" we associate with "work."

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