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Shabbat Parashat Ki Tetzei 5778

Ask the Rabbi: Giving an Envelope on Shabbat to Use for Donations

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: It is the practice in some shuls to give a self-addressed envelope to one who gets an aliya to mail his pledge after Shabbat. Is the envelope muktzeh?


Answer
:  [We dealt with this question long ago (Vayeitzei 5773). We reasoned that the envelope is a kli shemelachto l'issur (the main purpose is for a forbidden-on-Shabbat use) and that it is also hachana (preparation for after Shabbat), as this is done to facilitate mailing or presenting a check. We suggested solving both problems by putting a d’var Torah in the envelope, thus having it serve for a permitted use. We invited our readership to provide grounds for leniency without the system we proposed, promising to update our readers if this occurs. We now pay our debt, after one reader, who wants anonymity, made a good point.]

The Biur Halacha (to 279:6) cites an Eliya Rabba (279:13) who claims that an apparent kli shemelachto l’isur does not become muktzeh until it has been used. This is based on the rule of hazmana lav milta (merely preparing something for a certain halachically significant purpose does not yet invest the object with its planned status). Tosafot (Shabbat 44b) and the Pri Megadim (Eshel Avraham 279:14) apply this leniency only when there are permitted uses for which it may be used. However, if from the outset it will clearly be used for primarily (perhaps, exclusively) forbidden activities, it is muktzeh.

The exact formulation of the above may be critical for our case. Once the envelope has the shul's address printed on it, it is identified as being intended to mail (presumably, checks) in it. According to several contemporary poskim (see Shemirat Shabbat K'hilchata 20:13, Orchot Shabbat 19:30; Tiltulei Shabbat (Bodner) p. 43), it is forbidden even if there are also permitted uses if it is clear that this is not the main intention. Each of them gives a hammer as an example of being muktzeh even before usage, despite the famous halacha about using a hammer to open nuts. According to the simple reading of Tosafot (and perhaps the Eliya Rabba), only items that have practically no permitted purposes are forbidden before use. One could argue whether our envelope is like a hammer or is more likely to be used for permitted uses. One can argue that since from the shul’s perspective, a major function of the envelope is to hint/remind the aliya recipient that he “owes the shul,” it would be permitted before its first forbidden use. Certainly, we see a more valid halachic claim for leniency in regard to muktzeh than we did five years ago.

What about the problem of hachana? First, the practical parameters of hachana are among the most complicated matters to set. To re-analyze this specific case, we will divide the question into two: Is it hachana for the shul to give the envelope? Is it hachana for the recipient to take it (home)?

There is a long-standing albeit controversial practice to sell aliyot on Shabbat, and we will assume that it is permitted (see Mishna Berura 323:20). As part of the process, it is permitted to create “pledge cards” (without writing) (ibid.). Although these notations will be used only to “enforce” payment of the pledge after Shabbat, it is permitted to not lose the opportunity for this mitzva. Giving out the envelope, as a hint and reminder to donate, is ostensibly not worse than marking those pledge cards.

There is a different reason to allow the recipient to take them. For one, it is not clear if he will use the envelope for donating, as he might not donate or might donate without using the envelope; so, he might use the envelope for something else, perhaps even on Shabbat. Actually, the main reason many take the envelope is to not turn down the shul’s suggestion that he take it, to not insult the shul or look cheap. That has immediate value and thus taking the envelope is not hachana for him either.

In summary, while we still think it is a good and nice idea to put something Shabbat-appropriate in the return envelope given to people after their aliyot, we can justify the practice of giving the envelopes as is.

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