With Tzad, we begin another category of melachot.

We've already completed the melachot associated with baking bread and those involved in making fabric. The next group of labor categories deals with processing animal hides in order to make leather goods or similar items. And, as usual, we begin at the beginning – in this case, capturing the animal.

You might expect this to be a short lesson, since most of us don't have opportunities to capture animals too often. But, as we'll see, the application of this melacha extends beyond the immediately obvious.

What is "Trapping"?

As we've mentioned a number of times, each melacha is derived from an activity done in the Mishkan. Animal hides were needed to make decorative coverings for the Mishkan building, as we learn: "You shall make a cover for the tent, of rams' skins dyed red, and a cover of tachash1 skins above" (Exodus 26:14).

Getting hold of a large animal like a ram would involve a trap of some sort. From this original case, the labor category of Tzad (which means, 'hunting' or 'trapping') came to include any actions that confine a living creature.2

Trapping is prohibited when:

  1. Prior to trapping, the animal had freedom of movement, and
  2. Your action will cause the animal to be more easily caught.

It is prohibited to trap an animal whether you intend to use the animal itself, or because it is a nuisance.3

On the other hand, trapping is permitted when:

  1. The animal's movement is already very restricted, or
  2. It can easily be caught with one lunge.4

Let's examine these points in greater detail.

Does Tzad Apply to All Animals?

Wild animals -Tzad generally applies only to wild creatures such as deer, birds and fish, as well as to hard-to-catch things like insects.5 These creatures are naturally in a free state, able to move about and instinctively afraid of being caught.

But there are some creatures who don't fit this model. These fall into two categories:

Very s-l-o-w creatures – Think of the proverbial tortoise, or a snail, caterpillar, ant or earthworm. They move so slowly that the halacha views them as being 'inherently confined'.6 Therefore, Tzad does not apply to them, and it is permitted to further restrict their movement on Shabbat.7

Domesticated animals – This group both includes animals that are used to being owned by people (like a house pet) and those that are by nature passive (for example, cows).8

In halacha, an animal is considered "domesticated" if it immediately submits to someone trying to hold onto it. When I grab the collar of my pet dog Hav-hav,9 she reacts by relaxing and following my commands. Since she will come when called, and won't run away when approached, she lacks complete freedom of movement. I am therefore permitted to restrict Hav-hav further by locking her into an enclosed area or attaching her to a leash on Shabbat.10

Now, applying this rule depends on context. You may have a dog who is usually compliant, but on one particular day, he is bad-tempered and disobedient. In this case, he does not fit the criterion of "domesticated." And if he tries to run away on Shabbat, you would not be able to capture him.11

There is also a middle category of animal which we could call "partially-domesticated." In halacha, this means that they will return home at night even if they had been somewhere else during the day.12 You may restrict the movement of such an animal only if it might hurt itself or be dangerous to others.

One other point: There are various things that aren't supposed to be moved on Shabbat, because their use is (generally) not Shabbat-related. These items are known as muktzeh13 (which means reserved or set apart). We will get to a full exploration of this issue in a subsequent lesson, G-d willing. In the meantime, it's important to understand that animals are considered muktzeh. Under normal conditions, we aren't supposed to move them on Shabbat.

Degrees of Tzad

What do we mean when we speak of "confining" an animal? How confined does it have to be?

For these purposes, we'll refer to three levels of confinement:14

  • Level-1 – Not Confined – the animal has the natural freedom of movement to which it is accustomed.
  • Level-2 – Loose Confinement – the animal's movement has been restricted, but it cannot be grabbed without being chased and outmaneuvered.
  • Level-3 – Narrow Confinement – the animal is in a place where you could actually take hold of it with 'one lunge'.

On Shabbat, it is prohibited to restrict an animal's movement from one degree to the next. In other words, you could not take an animal that is totally unconfined (i.e., at level-1) and restrict its movement to loose confinement (level-2). Nor could you then further restrict that animal (or any other animal) from loose confinement (level-2) to narrow confinement (level-3).

We'll get to some concrete examples in a minute. But first a few more principles:

What constitutes 'confinement' depends on the size and speed of the animal. For example, it is permitted to further restrict a large, wild animal that is already confined to a small room. But if that same animal is in a large room, it is prohibited to further restrict it.15

Additionally, the issue is based on how the animal would react in full consciousness. For example, it is rabbinically prohibited to restrict a wild animal that is lame, but it is prohibited on the Torah level to restrict a wild animal that is sleeping.16

Practical Applications

  • If a bird flies into your house, you cannot close the window, since that will somewhat restrict its movement. With the window open, the bird can fly anywhere; with the window closed it is "loosely confined" to your house.

  • If a deer walks into your living room, you could not close the door, as this effectively restricts the deer's movement. And it would not help you to leave the window open, since the deer is unlikely to leave the house through the window.17

  • During the warm months, a bee, fly or other insect will often get into the house. Capturing the bee in a cup, for example, would be an act of Tzad. However, you can close the bee up in one large room of the house and then shut the door. Even though the bee has less room to buzz around, it is too small to be considered 'confined' in so large an area. You could not, however, shoo the bee into a closet and then shut the closet door, as this reaches the level of 'loose confinement.'

  • If there are flies in a garbage can, you could not close the lid, as this would constitute 'trapping.' In order to avoid this, you must leave the lid slightly open, or make an effort to wave away the flies before closing the lid (though you need not be certain that they have all left).

  • If a grasshopper jumps onto your Shabbat table, you could not place a bowl over it. You could, however, bang on the table to scare it away.

  • If a caterpillar is crawling across your Shabbat table, you could place a bowl over it. Because the caterpillar is so slow-moving, it is already considered 'trapped.' (You could not touch the caterpillar directly, due to Muktzeh.)

  • It is prohibited to close a cage that houses an animal. Since the animal could have easily escaped from the cage if left unattended, closing the cage is an act of trapping, even though the animal made no attempt to leave. For example, if you want to open a bird cage on Shabbat (e.g. at time of feeding), need to do it in a way that prevents the bird from fleeing even during the time the cage door is open. (For example, you can hold your hand in front of the cage's opening).

  • You come home from shul on Shabbat morning, and as you enter your house, a bird flies in behind you. You don't notice the bird, however, until after you've closed the door.18 So the bird is now in your living room. Could you close the bedroom doors, thus narrowing the available space for the bird to fly around in? The answer is 'yes,' because the bird was previously at 'level 2' ('Loose Confinement', and if you close the bedroom doors, it will still be at 'level 2'. The prohibition on Shabbat is to change the animal's halachic degree of confinement, and here the degree has remained the same.19

Trapping Dangerous Creatures

When faced with a creature that could be dangerous to you or someone else, you are allowed to trap it.20 We will discuss these laws in detail in the next lesson, on Shochait.

Setting an Animal Free

The reverse of Tzad – freeing a trapped animal – is completely permitted. In fact, it is a mitzvah to alleviate the discomfort of any living thing. (However, since animals are Muktzeh, this should not be done by directly moving the animal with your hands.)21

Setting a Trap

It is permitted to set a trap before Shabbat, for example to put up fly paper, because you are taking no action on Shabbat itself.

It is forbidden, however, to erect a trap on Shabbat, because your Shabbat action will be the indirect cause of a trapping that may subsequently occur on Shabbat.22


  1. The tachash was a species of animal, now extinct, that had exceptionally beautiful fur. Talmud – Shabbat 28b; 39 Melochos, p. 851. For a lengthy description of opinions, see The Living Torah by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (Exodus 25:5).
  2. Talmud – Shabbat 107a and 43a; Rema – Orach Chaim 316:3; Shemirat Shabbat K’Hilchato 27:31; 39 Melochos, p. 852.
  3. The first is a Torah-level prohibition; the second is rabbinic. Principles of Hilchos Shabbos, ‘Tzeida’. (This is the noun form of the word, whereas ‘Tzad’ is the verb form.)
  4. Principles of Hilchos Shabbos, ‘Tzeida’.
  5. According to Torah law, Tzod applies only to creatures that are normally trapped or hunted. The Sages extended the prohibition. Orach Chaim 316:3; 39 Melochos, p. 871 and 885.
  6. Orach Chaim 316:2; Shemirat Shabbat K’Hilchato 27 (145); 39 Melochos, p. 863.
  7. Although it is not clear why someone might need to catch one of these creatures on Shabbat. In general, a person should not do something on Shabbat that isn’t needed for that day. So, if you are doing a science experiment during the upcoming week that involves snails, you can’t catch a snail on Shabbat because doing so isn’t needed for Shabbat itself. Furthermore, animals are in the category of Muktzeh, items that may not be handled on Shabbat.
  8. Mishnah Berurah 316:59; 39 Melochos, p. 864.
  9. So named after the Hebrew version of a dog’s barking sound.
  10. Mishnah Berurah 316:59; Shemirat Shabbat K’Hilchato 27:34. This may seem like a contradiction: why would I need to capture the animal if it is submissive? Say that the dog went up the street further than I’d like. I can go and block her way so that she’s forced to turn back and come home.
  11. Orach Chaim 316:12; Principles of Hilchos Shabbos, ‘Tzeidah’.
  12. Mishnah Berurah 316:57; Shemirat Shabbat K’Hilchato 27:35; 39 Melochos, p. 865.
  13. Generally pronounced MOOK-tseh. (‘Mook’ rhymes with ‘brook’).
  14. Rambam (Shabbat 10:18); All terms are from Rabbi Ribiat - 39 Melochos, p. 855.
  15. Rambam Shabbat 10:19; Principles of Hilchos Shabbos, ‘Tzeidah’.
  16. Orach Chaim 316:2, with Mishnah Berurah 7, 9.
  17. In fact, you might want to keep the door open, so the deer can find a way to leave.
  18. As we said, you could not intentionally close the door, as that is now restricting the bird to ‘loose confinement’. (Mishnah Berurah 316:1)
  19. Shemirat Shabbat K’Hilchato 27 (115).
  20. Rambam (Shabbat 10:25).
  21. Mishnah Berurah 316:25; Shemirat Shabbat K’Hilchato 27:45.
  22. Mishnah Berurah 316:18.