Melechet Tzad – Capturing an Animal

Shabbat (13:5) | Asher Shafrir | 17 years ago

The Mishnah in the thirteenth perek talks about the prohibition of capturing an animal - tzad. This melacha was mentioned in the Mishnah in the seventh perek where all the melachot were listed. We are used to the idea that in order to be liable for performing a melacha on Shabbat it must be a melechet machshevet – a creative and constructive action. An example is melacha of cooking. One has taken an object that was raw and turned it to an edible food. This concept is repeated many times throughout Masechet Shabbat. Having said that, we should try to understand what makes capturing an animal an action that is prohibited on Shabbat. Ostensibly, it seems that there is no actual change in the object that has been captured therefore no constructive action has been performed and one should not be liable.

We can think of two ways of understanding this melacha:

  1. This melacha is written with all the melachot that deal with

    preparing a meal. It was forbidden to do any of the actions that a person does in order to prepare his meal. Since in order to prepare a meal containing meat an animal must be caught, hunting is forbidden. In other words, there is no need for the standard of melechet machshevet that we find throughout hilchot Shabbat since this is part of preparing the meal.

  2. Capturing an animal can be seen as an action with clear outcomes.

    There is a significant difference between an animal that is out in the wild and an animal that is now in one’s house. In our language this difference could be seen through the change in the naming of the animal. It is no longer a wild animal but rather a pet. Obviously not all animals will be called pets once they have been captured but this difference can tell us a bit about the nature of this melacha and its significance.

Is this question reflected in the discussions of the Gemara, Rishonim or Achronim? The Tur (O”Ch 316) cites the opinion of the Sefer HaTrumah that discusses a special fly trap. They had a contraption that once the fly would enter, the person would place something in the entrance of the trap preventing the fly from leaving. The Sefer HaTrumah understood that putting something that will seal the entrance of the trap, thus not letting the fly out of the trap epitomises the issur of melechet tzad. This appears to be an obvious psak since this seems like the regular case of capturing an animal.

The Tur himself however, after citing the Trumah, disagrees. The Tur explains that if a person would want to literally grab the fly he would have to open the trap resulting in the fly escaping without him being able to capture it. The Tur argues that the melacha of capturing is only when the animal is in the trapper’s hands enabling him to do with it whatever he likes. The Trumah will argue that by limiting the animal from going wherever it wants you are doing an action of capturing. The Tur will say that the melacha of capturing is only when a person captured the animal in a way that he captures any animal that he would want to shecht and eat - meaning in his hands.

It is possible to understand the argument of the Tur and Sefer HaTrumah in a way that will go back to what we mentioned in the beginning. The Tur understands that melechet tzad is part of the list of melachot that have to do with preparing a meal. It is for that reason that he will forbid capturing an animal only in a case where it will be obvious that this is the first step of preparing a meal. On the other hand Sefer HaTrumah understands that taking an animal and removing its liberty is an action that has a big enough effect that can define the melacha as constructive. The Halacha accords with the Tur implying that the issur of tzad is part of the list of the melachot that are intended for preparing a meal.

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