Shabbat Parashat Shemot| 5765
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Question: May I give my baby a rattle to play with on Shabbat?
Answer: We will start with an assumption that it is forbidden for an adult to use an instrument such as a rattle that is used to make noise and then see what the halacha is in regard to a baby. Before we proceed we also need to determine the nature of the prohibition for adults, as this may affect the answer to your question.
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 338:1) forbids use of musical instruments on Shabbat. The Rama (ad loc.) claims that this prohibition applies to all instruments that are intended for making noise, not necessarily music. The Biur Halacha (ad loc.) accepts this more stringent opinion and brings those who explain that this type of noise making is prohibited because it is a weekday-like activity. Clearly, according to all opinions, any prohibition in this matter is at most rabbinic.
Is it permitted to let babies perform rabbinic prohibitions? Certainly, it is permitted to allow a baby, who is too young to understand the significance of his actions, to violate Shabbat or other prohibitions. (Regarding older children, see Orach Chayim 343). However, it is forbidden to “feed” prohibited things to children of any age (Yevamot 114a), and this is likely forbidden even from the Torah (see Beit Yosef, Orach Chayim 343). This applies to all types of Torah prohibitions, whether or not related to food, and it is forbidden even to tell children to perform prohibitions, even without actually feeding (Mishna Berura 343: 1,5). However, the Ran (on the Rif, Yoma 1a) says that it is permitted to give children things which are prohibited only rabbinically when it is done for the welfare of the child. For that reason, he explains, the gemara (Yoma 78b) permits washing a child on Yom Kippur. Thus, as many babies enjoy and, thus, benefit from a rattle, the Ran would permit giving it to them on Shabbat. However, it is not altogether clear to what extent we accept the opinion of the Ran, as the Shulchan Aruch appears not to, and the matter may depend on how acute or mitzva-related the need is (see Biur Halacha, 343:1). Usually, rattles are not needed so acutely by babies, except those who are significantly calmed by them.
However, if we put the two issues that we have discussed together, it is logical to be lenient. After all, we saw that a rattle used to make noise, not music, is permitted even for adults according to the Shulchan Aruch. Even if it is forbidden, it is likely only because it is a mundane activity, a category of prohibition which likely does not apply to the activities of an infant. For this reason, the Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata (16:3) permits giving a rattle to a baby (see also Shema Beni, siman 34). On the other hand, he does not allow the adult to shake the rattle for the infant unless the baby is very upset and the rattle calms him, in which case he permits shaking in an unusual manner (ibid. and footnote 11). The adult should hand it to the baby gently without shaking it (faint scratching sounds inside the rattle are not considered noise making).
We should note that some do prohibit giving a rattle to a baby on Shabbat (see Tiltulei Shabbat, pg. 26, who forbids and implies in footnote 29 that Rav Moshe Feinstein was of that opinion). Even if one is to be strict on the matter, the rattle is not muktzeh, as it serves the baby, who certainly may independently use the rattle (ibid., footnote 28 in the name of Rav Feinstein). All should also agree that it is permitted to put the rattle in a place where he expects the child to find and use it (based on the story of R. Pedat, Yevamot 114a).
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