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Shabbat Parashat Chaye Sara| 5766

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Question: Can one use a door-knocker, not an electric or musical door bell, on Shabbat? If it is forbidden, what is the nature of the prohibition?
Answer: The issue is rabbinic, and is related to the fear that one may come to fix a musical instrument, which would be a violation of makeh b’patish. The source for the general issue is the mishna and gemara in Beitza 36b about not dancing or clapping for fear he might fix an instrument. Let’s see how this relates to your question about a non-musical instrument.
 The gemara at the end of Eruvin (104a) tells that Ulla scolded one whom he heard knocking on a door on Shabbat. Rava justified the knocker, saying that the problem is only if one made a “sound of song.” The extent of what is considered song becomes a little clearer as the gemara proceeds. The gemara asks on Rava from a baraita that allows one to set up an apparatus that drips water to make a sound only for the needs of the sick. The gemara assumes at first that the sound was noise to wake someone up, which we see is normally forbidden. It deflects the proof, saying that the dripping water created a calming sound that puts people to sleep. We see from the deflection of the proof that “the song” doesn’t need to be a real song but includes any sound made for its pleasantness (see Rashi, ad loc.). In summary, it seems then that according to Ulla, knocking on a door in any form that he intends to make a noise is forbidden, whereas according to Rava, it is permitted unless the noise is at least marginally musical. Like whom do we pasken?
 Although the Yerushalmi seems to concur with Ulla’s approach, the Rif (Eruvin, ibid.) and the Rambam (as the Beit Yosef, OC 338 infers from a few sources) accept the lenient opinion of Rava. The Beit Yosef introduces the Agur’s compromise opinion that it is forbidden to make sounds only with an instrument that is made for the purpose of making any sort of sound even if it is not musical. The Beit Yosef is puzzled by this opinion, as it appears too lenient for Ulla and too strigent for Rava. He suggests that it is within the camp of those who accept Rava, but that if it is a noise-making instrument, we need to be concerned that he will use it for music. Music apparently includes keeping a beat, as we find in the original example of clapping (Beitza 36; see Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 28:35).
 Although the Shulchan Aruch does not bring the Agur’s compromise as halacha (338:1), the Rama (ad loc.) does. Thus, according to the Rama, although one may bang with his fist on a door with the intention to make noise (as long as it is not to a beat), he may not do so with a door-knocker, which is made for that purpose. Thus, it is permitted for Sephardim to use a door-knocker (see Yalkut Yosef, ad loc.:12) and forbidden for Ashkenazim (Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata, ibid.).
Certainly, the situation is even more problematic if there is some sort of more musical bell, even if it is not electrically activated, which is forbidden even for Sephardim. However, there is room for leniency in the following case. If one has bells that chime whenever one opens a door and neglected to remove them before Shabbat, then the custom is to allow one to enter the house despite the knowledge that he will thereby produce the problematic sound. This is based on the Magen Avraham (338:1 and 301:35) who says that one can move curtains or clothes with little bells attached to them if he does not have intention to make the noise. The Mishna Berura 338:6 (see also Biur Halacha ad loc.) explains this opinion and allows following it in a case of need, for example, if it is the only way into his house. In the case of bells on the adornment of a sefer Torah, there are authorities who are lenient because of the mitzva involved (see Mishna Berura, ibid.), and each shul shouldfollow its minhag and the ruling of its rabbi.
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