Musical Toys on Shabbat

June 10, 2013

3 min read


My two-year-old often gets ahold of his favorite musical toy on Shabbat and starts banging away at the keys. It certainly disturbs the serenity of Shabbat. Am I obligated to take it away from him? Am I even allowed to handle a noise-making toy myself on Shabbat? (If I can’t, it makes it much more difficult to take it away from my son.) What do you recommend?

The Aish Rabbi Replies

There are actually several relevant issues here. But clearly, the ideal choice is to hide away such noisemakers before Shabbat so your child will not find them in the first place. This is what we attempt to do in the Rosenfeld household but often forget in the pre-Shabbat rush.

Now, if the situation does occur, there are a few relevant rules.

The first question is, does one have to stop his child from playing with such a toy? In your situation, the answer is no. Why not? Because of the following distinction. It is generally forbidden to cause another person to sin, even a baby (e.g. by feeding him non-kosher baby food) (Shulchan Aruch 343:1, Mishnah Berurah 4).

Here, however, your son took the toy on his own. Do you have to stop him? It depends on his age. There is an obligation on parents to instruct their children in observing the Torah’s commandments – and to stop them from transgressing a commandment. This obligation is known as chinuch, or “training.” However, it only begins when a child is old enough to appreciate that an act is truly the wrong thing to do, not just that he’ll obey your command not to do it. This is considered to begin at about 4 years of age (Mishnah Berurah 343:3, Children In Halacha, Ch. 1 II:B).

At 2, your son is below this age. It is certainly a nice idea to train him in correct behavior younger, and no doubt it will make your Shabbat more peaceful. Technically, however, you are not obligated to stop him. Thus, if you feel it’s not worth the scene trying to get his favorite toy away from him, you are not obligated.

The second issue you raised is known as muktzah – the restriction not to handle items which are not usable on Shabbat, such as money or a pencil, for fear you’ll unwittingly use them. This law extends to musical instruments as the Sages forbade playing music or using noisemakers on Shabbat (Shulchan Aruch & Rema 338:1).

If so, are you allowed to handle your child’s musical toy to take it away from him?

The answer to this is yes. The reason is because muktzah literally means “set aside” – something which is set aside on the Shabbat, not to be handled. Here, however, since your son is allowed to use his toy, it is not set aside (see Shulchan Aruch 308:52). Thus, you would be able to take it away from your child – or even better, take it away before he gets it.

One final important condition. Some musical toys cannot be lifted without inadvertently making music or noise. Such toys may not be moved on Shabbat since it is forbidden to use noisemakers on Shabbat.

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