Carrying Keys on Shabbat
I’d like to know if there is any way I can carry my house key to the synagogue and back on Shabbat. The typical trick of hiding it under the mat just doesn’t feel so secure to me (we actually don’t have a mat anyway!). Is there any way to carry such a small item?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
I assume first of all that your neighborhood does not have an eruv – a form of surrounding structure (usually composed of vertical posts and a surrounding wire) which permits carrying within it. Many Jewish communities worldwide have them.
It is forbidden to carry an item as small as a key on Shabbat. However, there is an old trick for doing so: making the key a part of your clothes.
The idea behind this is as follows. Although it is forbidden to carry in public on Shabbat, a person is obviously allowed to wear his clothes out of doors. Walking about wearing clothes is not “carrying” since the clothes are considered a part of the person. This extends to items which are clearly subordinate to one’s clothes – such as a belt, suspenders, safety pin, shoelaces. Even though you are not exactly “wearing” such things, they are helping your clothes stay on properly and so are considered a part of them (Rambam Hil’ Shabbat 18:17, Shulchan Aruch OC 301:39).
This would extend to a key as well if you “wear” it. How does one wear a key? There are two common methods. One is to fashion a tie clip out of a key, in which the top part of the clip is actually a key. Note that this would only work if your tie would be loose otherwise. If you are wearing a sweater or vest which holds down your tie, the clip would be serving no purpose and could not be considered a part of your clothes (The Shabbos Home, p. 130).
The second common method is to use your key as a belt buckle. This would involve removing the tongue of your belt and attaching your key in its place. Other similar methods might be replacing the buckle with a key, attaching a string to the other side, and threading the string through the hole at the top of the key to fasten your belt. As you can see, such methods require some ingenuity.
Note that such contraptions will typically have to be fashioned before Shabbat, since creating them may involve other forms of Shabbat labor – such as gluing or tying.
Note also that these methods will generally only work for a single key. I have seen people carry a ring with several keys attached to it in which one of the keys was holding their tie down. This is not correct. The entire addition to your clothes must be functioning as a part of them.
Make sure you are already “wearing” your key before leaving your house, and while entering it. This is because it is forbidden to carry from a private to public area.
There is an additional concern with locking and unlocking your door – one which may apply even if you hide your key under the mat. The keyhole within your door is considered within your house and so is a private domain. It is therefore forbidden to take the key off of your tie and stick it in the keyhole, since that would be carrying from a public to private area. (If you have a private, fenced-in front yard before your door, this would not be an issue. A simple porch is probably not sufficient.) The solution suggested by contemporary rabbis is to unlock your door using when the key is still attached to your clothes. (You can unfasten your “key-belt” first, but you must still be wearing it.) (See Mishnah Berurah 466:28, Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchatah 18:49).