Are Pets Muktzeh?
It is often said that pets may not be moved on Shabbat. But is this true?
Recently I came across a sefer that was entirely dedicated to the halachos of keeping pets. Like all such single-topic works, it purported to provide a careful summary of a broad view of halachic positions. But with regard to the question of whether pets are muktzeh on Shabbos, it presented the answer as being unequivocally that they are indeed muktzeh. This, however, is very far from the truth.
Shabbos is sanctified as a day to be devoted to spiritual pursuits. Anything that is only usable for weekday activities is muktzeh, which means that it is prohibited to move it (though not to touch it). For example, sticks and stones are muktzeh on Shabbos, since there is, generally speaking, no use for them that is permissible on Shabbos. By the same token, there is a general rule that animals are muktzeh on Shabbos, due to their not having any value that is appropriate for Shabbos.
Among the Rishonim, we find a view that the entertainment benefit of an animal is itself considered a legitimate utilitarian value, and thus a child is allowed to play with a chick on Shabbos. Still, most disagree with this, and regard animals as being muktzeh without exception. (See the various sources in my book Man & Beast, alas long out of print and in need of an update.)
However, others point out an important distinction. The dispute among the Rishonim is regarding an animal that was pressed into use on Shabbos for entertainment, such as a chick (which is being raised for food). In such cases, there is a view that the entertainment benefit is not significant enough to change the muktzeh status of the animal, just as a rock is muktzeh on Shabbos even if one suddenly wants to play with it. But an animal that is entirely designated for such a purpose from before Shabbos would be permissible to move on Shabbos, just as it is permissible to move rocks on Shabbos when they are designated from before Shabbos for being moved (such as an ornamental rock that one shows around).
Rav Moshe Feinstein, although originally adhering to the conventional view that all animals are muktzeh, subsequently changed his mind and became of the firm view that while stray animals are muktzeh, animals designated as pets are not muktzeh. (While there has been much confusion about Rav Moshe’s opinion, a detailed letter from Rav Shabsai Rapaport to R. Zvi Ryzman regarding numerous conversations that he had with Rav Moshe about this leave the matter beyond doubt.)
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach likewise distinguishes between chicks that a child wishes to press into use as a pet, which remain muktzeh, and animals that are designated for a permitted use, which are not (Shulchan Shlomo, Shabbos II, 308:74). He gives the example of a service dog and birds that are kept for their beauty. While he does not specifically discuss pet dogs and suchlike (which were unheard of in his neighborhood), his ruling would clearly equally apply to those.
Rav Eliezer Melamed also rules that animals which are pets are not muktzeh, since they are designated for a use that is permissible. He further states that while there is a dispute in this matter, one may be lenient, since it is a dispute regarding a rabbinic rather than a Scriptural prohibition.
Now, Rav Moshe Feinstein was one of the premiere poskim in the United States; Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was one of the premiere poskim for the charedi community in Israel; Rav Melamed is one of the most influential halachic authorities for the dati-leumi world. That alone gives their positions considerable authority (and makes it strange that they are not more widely known). But I would also like to explain a further reason why their position is by far the most reasonable.
Halacha is a system that is heavily based upon tradition. Inherently connected with this is inertia. Coupled with this is that in reaction to modernity, which caused many Jews to completely abandon tradition, halacha reacted by becoming even more wary of change. Halacha is therefore conservative by nature and is slow to recognize new realities and respond to them.
Historically, there was simply no such thing as pets. People only owned animals for them to work or to raise them as food. Dogs were bred for specific work purposes - dachshunds to hunt badgers, poodles to retrieve ducks. Cats were kept to catch rats and thereby protect grain supplies. Domestic hamsters didn’t even exist. The only keeping of animals for non-work purposes was with kings and suchlike, who had unusual and beautiful animals to decorate their palaces, but they were still not held for interaction with humans. And so people who claim that Rav Moshe’s heter is problematic because Chazal and the Rishonim didn’t draw a distinction for pets are making a mistake; the reason why Chazal and the Rishonim didn’t draw a distinction is that there was no such thing as pets back then.
The entire concept of a “pet” only came into existence relatively recently. Once society was sufficiently wealthy to allow for feeding extra mouths, and people had time in the day for companions, pets were invented. The animals that we buy as pets have been specifically selectively bred for the purposes of leisure and companionship, with traits to match. They were created for it. There is no greater standard of “designation” for a permitted use on Shabbos than this!
Accordingly, the position of Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rav Eliezer Melamed does not only innately carry great weight but is also the position that makes sense of the changes in history. Those who rule that pets are muktzeh are simply not taking into account the change in metziyus.
It is thus perfectly legitimate to pet your pets on Shabbos. (Capturing escaped exotic animals in your home, on the other hand, is a different matter, potentially involving the melacha of tzeida, trapping. Resolving that question may also include considering factors such as shalom bayis. I’d better stop now because it is bringing up some awkward memories involving a bat and a bathroom.)
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"But an animal that is entirely designated for such a purpose from before Shabbos would be permissible to move on Shabbos, just as it is permissible to move rocks on Shabbos when they are designated from before Shabbos for being moved (such as an ornamental rock that one shows around)...
Historically, there was simply no such thing as pets. People only owned animals for them to work or to raise them as food. Dogs were bred for specific work purposes - dachshunds to hunt badgers, poodles to retrieve ducks. Cats were kept to catch rats and thereby protect grain supplies. Domestic hamsters didn’t even exist. The only keeping of animals for non-work purposes was with kings and suchlike, who had unusual and beautiful animals to decorate their palaces, but they were still not held for interaction with humans."
Wow! Feels like the Tashbetz fight all over again! The above quote is simply not true. The Rosh (quoted in the Maharach Or Zrua, 81- 82) discusses a scenario of raising pet birds, and at the end of s. 82 rules that they are Muktze because of lo plug. R' Shlomo Zalman in Shmiras Shabbos C'hilchasa (chapter 27 footnote 101), quotes some authorities that prohibit handling pets based on the earlier authorities that prohibit a child to play with a bird, and specifically makes the distinction you are suggesting and disputes this proof, as the instance of a child playing with the bird was not talking about a bird that was a specifically a pet. HOWEVER, he then goes on to disagree with their entire line of reasoning based on the Rosh above, as the Rosh clearly says it's a lo plug and would prohibit playing with pets as well. And in chapter 18 footnote 62, RSHZA specifically says that this lo plug of the Rosh about pets would probably not apply for SEEING EYE DOGS. Not for all other pets, as he is specifically coming to differentiate from!!!
As far as R' Moshe, he is on record in his sefer saying that pets are muktze, and his position amongst his talmidim is far from clear on the matter. Some of his closest talmidim vehemently hold that R' Moshe never permitted pets to be handled on Shabbos. So the matter is far from being 'beyond doubt'.
I am not sure I understand the practical difference between judging an animal muktzeh on shabbat. Since muktzeh does not prohibit touching - only moving, why wouldn't the concept of chai hotzi et atzmoh apply. By that I mean, if I walk my dog on shabbat, I am not carrying the dog, rather the dog is walking with me.
I recall that Shmirat Shabbat KeHilchata (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shemirat_Shabbat_Kehilchatah) permitted walking a pet on a leash on shabbat even in an area without an eruv. I do not seem to have a copy of Shmirat Shabbat KeHilchata but this response from Aish.com is exactly what I recall from the book (https://aish.com/walking-a-dog-on-shabbat/).
So If I can both "touch" the animal and walk the animal on a leash - what would be prohibited if it was muktzeh?