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Mukse- Handling a Corpse on Shabbat

The Halacha deals with the proper handling of a corpse on Shabbat. Clearly, it is prohibited to perform burial on Shabbat, even via a non-Jew. This raises the issue of how to preserve the corpse, which is Mukse Machmat Gufo, the strictest form of Mukse. Maran (311:6) permits rubbing the corpse with oil or water to preserve the body, since that only entails touching the Mukse, not moving it. However, care must be taken not to move any limbs. For example, it is prohibited to close the eyes of the body. However, the Mishna Berura (Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan of Radin, 1839-1933) cites a leniency based on the Zohar HaKadosh, which says that it is dangerous to leave the eyes open. Nevertheless, The Chida (Rav Haim Yosef David Azulai, 1724-1806) and Hacham Ovadia conclude that one can and should wait until Mosa’eh Shabbat to close the eyes.

The Shulhan Aruch allows moving the corpse out of harm’s way by placing a non-Mukse item, such as a loaf of bread or baby, on the body. That way, the corpse is being moved indirectly, as a base for the permitted item. For example, cases where the corpse was in danger of decomposing in the sun or was in danger of being consumed by a fire. The question is why does the Halacha require a loaf of bread or baby? Why aren’t the clothes on the corpse sufficient to warrant moving it? This is in fact the position of Maran in 311:4. He rules that if the corpse is wearing clothes, no additional items are needed. Hacham Ovadia concurs with this ruling.

The Poskim discuss whether this technique of “the bread or baby” can be applied to other forms of Mukse, as well. For example, in Siman 308, the Shulhan Aruch establishes that a “Keli She’melachto L’isur”-a utensil designated for prohibited functions, may not be moved for its own protection. If a hammer was left outside, it may not be moved indoors to protect it from rain. Nevertheless, Maran allows putting a permitted item, such as bread or a baby, on top of the hammer and moving them together.

There is a disagreement between the later Poskim whether this ruling is accepted. Hacham Bension holds that it may only be relied upon in the event of financial loss, whereas Hacham Ovadia accepts the ruling of Maran, based on the Rosh, as it is. This leniency is restricted to “Keli She’melachto L’isur,” which is already permitted to be handled in certain conditions. However, all agree that this leniency does not apply to more severe forms of Mukse, such as “Machmat Gufo” or “Hesron Kis,” except for a corpse, out of respect for the dead.

It is prohibited to close the eyes of a corpse on Shabbat.
It is permitted to lubricate the corpse with water or oil, as long as no limbs are moved.
A corpse may be moved out of harm’s way if it is dressed, or if a non-Mukse item is placed on the body. This technique would also apply to moving a Keli She’melachto L’isur, such as hammer, to protect it from the elements.


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