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I was recently taught the concept of a shinui to be "something done in a way that is unusual compared to the norm in one's area of residence", with respect to the permissibility of actions done on Shabbat and Yom Tov.

My question is "what constitutes the norm"? What if 51% of people do something one way and 49% of people do it another way? Furthermore, what constitutes one's "area of residence" in this matter? Is one's "area of residence" confined to one's home, neighborhood, city, country, state, continent, planet?

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    Halacha defines shinui ,klachar yad
    – sam
    Commented May 30, 2013 at 0:59
  • Is the question phrased clearly enough? It hasn't seen much action and, if it needs improvement, I'm happy to provide it.
    – Lee
    Commented Jun 14, 2013 at 19:55
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    [continued] shinui, which you would be asur rabbinically, is if lets say you write with your feet. Now, the paper on pen is actually done in a weird way. That is, the ACTION is being done in a weird way, as opposed to standing on your head where the action is still being done properly. So, a better way to define shinui is "the actuall action is done in an unusual way."
    – user2995
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 17:45
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    T0 clarify, Shinui's definition isn't exactly as the way it was defined for you. For example, when dealing with melacha on Shabbos, if someone decides to write on Shabbos by using a shinui, lets say he writes while standing on his head, your definition would constitute him doing a melacha with a shinui. However, this isn't true. His paper on pen isn't construed at all, it's the same result! and he would therefore be chayiv medoraisah, as opposed to a rabbinical issur which you would receive if you actually did the melacha with a shinui. Using the case of writing, a proper case of [continued]
    – user2995
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 17:45

2 Answers 2

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( Bold part of answer is the real answer; the rest is just background )


Rabbi Ribiat writes in The 39 Melochos (in the corrected edition, Misrad Hasefer 2004) [Section 2, Chapter II, section G; page 214]:

If a Melocho is performed in what is Halachically recognized as an irregular mode, it may be considered a "Shinui" (שינוי). ....a Melocho performed in an awkward or backhanded manner does not conform with the character of the Melochos in the Mishkan.

In the footnote there (number 146), he writes that

כל שאין דרך לעשותן הכי או שקשה לו לאמן ידו לעשות המלאכה נכונה הוי שינוי

Anything that is not usually done in this fashion, or if it is difficult to train one's hand to do it properly, that is a שינוי

In that footnote, he cites the Chiddushei HaRan to Shabbos 103a (sv אמר אביי, at the end)1, as proof to this idea. When someone writes on Shabbos, he is only liable on a Biblical level when he writes with whichever hand he usually writes with; but someone who carries from one domain to another is liable whether he used his right hand or his left -- it's normal to carry with either hand, and doesn't take much training or getting used to in order to do it in an efficient manner. Writing, on the other hand, is unusual to find righties writing with their left hands, and it's pretty difficult to teach yourself how to be ambidextrous (believe me, I've tried ;).


1 Note: You won't find this in the regular blue, Mossad Harav Kook Ran on Shabbos. Many thanks to Fred for providing the link in comments. :)

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  • IINM, you're looking for a different "חידושי הר"ן" - the one thought to be written by תלמידי הרמב"ן. The quote (cited here, here, and here): ואיכא למידק דהכא פטרי' במי שאינו שולט בשתי ידיו אם כתב בשמאל ואילו המוציא בין בימינו בין בשמאלו חייב וי"ל דהוצאה מלתא שכיחא היא לשמאל כמו לימין אבל כתיבה שהיא מלאכה דקה לאו אורח ארעא למיכתב בשמאל.
    – Fred
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 8:49
  • @Fred I'd have to check, but I'm pretty sure that that's the exact quote that Rabbi Ribiat brought. Thanks for clearing my confusion :) ....do you know where I could find a copy, so I could see the original, "inside"?
    – MTL
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 18:04
  • Here you go.
    – Fred
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 22:13
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The place of one's residence is irrelevant in at least one example brought in Shabbos 92a-b:

אָמַר רַב מִשּׁוּם רַבִּי חִיָּיא: הַמּוֹצִיא מַשּׂאוֹי בְּשַׁבָּת עַל רֹאשׁוֹ — חַיָּיב חַטָּאת, שֶׁכֵּן אַנְשֵׁי הוּצָל עוֹשִׂין כֵּן. וְאַנְשֵׁי הוּצָל רוּבָּא דְעָלְמָא?! אֶלָּא, אִי אִיתְּמַר הָכִי אִיתְּמַר: אָמַר רַב מִשּׁוּם רַבִּי חִיָּיא: אֶחָד מִבְּנֵי הוּצָל שֶׁהוֹצִיא מַשּׂוֹי עַל רֹאשׁוֹ בְּשַׁבָּת — חַיָּיב, שֶׁכֵּן בְּנֵי עִירוֹ עוֹשִׂין כֵּן. וְתִיבְטַל דַּעְתּוֹ אֵצֶל כׇּל אָדָם! אֶלָּא, אִי אִיתְּמַר הָכִי אִיתְּמַר: הַמּוֹצִיא מַשּׂוֹי עַל רֹאשׁוֹ — פָּטוּר, וְאִם תִּמְצָא לוֹמַר אַנְשֵׁי הוּצָל עוֹשִׂין כֵּן — בָּטְלָה דַּעְתָּן אֵצֶל כׇּל אָדָם.

Rav said in the name of Rabbi Ḥiyya: One who carries out a burden on his head on Shabbat is liable to bring a sin-offering, as the people of Hotzal do so. They would typically carry burdens on their heads. The Gemara asks: And do the people of Hotzal constitute the majority of the world? Even if in one place it is a typical method of carrying a burden, it remains an atypical method of carrying in the rest of the world. Rather, if this ruling was stated, it was stated as follows. Rav said in the name of Rabbi Ḥiyya: If a resident of Hotzal carried out a burden on his head on Shabbat he is liable, as the people of his city do so. The Gemara asks again: Even if the inhabitants of his city do this, let his intention be rendered irrelevant by the opinions of all other people. If an individual or small group of people conduct themselves in an atypical manner, their conduct is not rendered typical. Typical conduct is determined by the majority of people. Rather, if this was stated, it was stated as follows. One who carries out a burden on his head is exempt. And if you say that the people of Hotzal do so and therefore they should be liable, their intention is rendered irrelevant by the opinions of all other people.

In answer to the main question, "What constitutes a shinui?," the Mishnah there says

הַמּוֹצִיא, בֵּין בִּימִינוֹ בֵּין בִּשְׂמֹאלוֹ, בְּתוֹךְ חֵיקוֹ אוֹ עַל כְּתֵיפָיו — חַיָּיב, שֶׁכֵּן מַשָּׂא בְּנֵי קְהָת. כִּלְאַחַר יָדוֹ, בְּרַגְלוֹ, בְּפִיו וּבְמַרְפְּקוֹ, בְּאׇזְנוֹ וּבִשְׂעָרוֹ, וּבְפוּנְדָּתוֹ וּפִיהָ לְמַטָּה, בֵּין פּוּנְדָּתוֹ לַחֲלוּקוֹ, וּבִשְׂפַת חֲלוּקוֹ, בְּמִנְעָלוֹ, בְּסַנְדָּלוֹ — פָּטוּר, שֶׁלֹּא הוֹצִיא כְּדֶרֶךְ הַמּוֹצִיאִין.

One who carries out an object into the public domain on Shabbat, whether he carried it out in his right hand or in his left hand, whether he carried it in his lap or on his shoulders, he is liable. All of these are typical methods of carrying out an object, as this was the method of carrying the sacred vessels of the Tabernacle employed by the sons of Kehat in the desert. All labors prohibited on Shabbat are derived from the Tabernacle, including the prohibited labor of carrying out from domain to domain. But one who carries an object out in an unusual, backhanded manner, or with his foot, or with his mouth, or with his elbow, with his ear, or with his hair, or with his belt [punda] whose opening faced downward, or between his belt and his cloak, or with the hem of his cloak, or with his shoe, or with his sandal, he is exempt because he did not carry it out in a manner typical of those who carry.

To focus on the last sentence, whether a shinui is present depends on whether the manner of the action is typical or not, for those performing a melacha.

Some caveats:

Tosfos there points to Kerisos 13b where Rabbi Meir says one is liable for carrying food in his mouth. Tosfos distinguishes this from carrying other items in the mouth as in the Mishna in Shabbos, since walking while eating is a normal way to carry food. I have likewise been taught not to exit the eruv while eating.

Also, although for carrying there is no distinction between the right and the left, for other melachos this is not always the case. In the melachah of writing there clearly is a distinction; carrying is normal in either hand, but writing is not. A lefty is not halachically in the minority in this regard either, or else he would have an automatic shinui. In fact, in Shabbos 103a, it says regarding a lefty writing:

וְתֶהֱוֵי שְׂמֹאל דִּידֵיהּ כְּיָמִין דְּכוּלֵּי עָלְמָא

Let his left have the status of the whole world's right!

This statement, as it applies to lefties, is accepted as a valid point and is never rebutted. The discussion clarifies that a person could be liable for writing with either hand [only] if he is ambidextrous. Since a lefty's left has the status of the whole world's right, he is part of the majority who write with their dominant hand (whichever that is), and so writing with his left does not constitute a shinui for him.

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