There are three different categories of toys that make noise. The first category is toys that are made specifically for making musical sounds. This includes a toy drum, guitar, tambourine and the like. Since making noise with a musical instrument is explicitly prohibited by Chazal (lest it break and you absentmindedly fix it on Shabbos), such toys would have the status of Kli She’milachto L’Issur (a type of Muktzeh, see below for explanation of different types of Muktzeh) and would only be able to be moved to use them or the space they are occupying.
What about toys whose main purpose is to make noise but not necessarily musical noise, like a rattle or a squeeze toy?
One is not allowed to make noise with something that is made specifically to make noise, like a rattle. So the first thing to assess is whether or not you could move this object without it making noise. If you cannot and the noise is inevitable, then the object is forbidden to be moved whether or not it has the status of Muktzeh.
Ok, I have something that is specifically for making noise, can I move it if it won’t make noise?
Yes. Besides for the heter that little kids could play with it rendering it “usable on Shabbos” that we brought from R’ Moshe Feinstein in the last issue, there are other reasons to be lenient here. Therefore you can treat these things as a Kli She’milachto L’Heter.
What is the third category that you mentioned earlier?
That is for toys that have a noise-making function but it is not the main usage of the toy. These kinds of toys are Kli She’milachto L’Heter and can be moved even for their own sake.
What about electronic toys, or toys that make noise by pressing a button or turning something on? Surely those are Kli She’milachto L’Issur, right?!
Again, you must always assess what is the main function of this toy. If the main function is the electronic part or the noise making part, then it is a Kli She’milachto L’Issur. If it has other functions that are deemed equal or more significant to the noise making or electronic function, then it is a Kli She’milachto L’Heter. And again, even if a toy is electronic and that is its main usage, it is still just a Kli She’milachto L’Issur and can still be moved if you need to use it for something that is allowed on Shabbos or you can move it if you need the space it is in.
The Halachos of Muktzeh
Muktzeh is an aspect of Shabbos that affects every person every Shabbos and needs to be understood properly. Any object that cannot be carried is called Muktzeh. Many times people don’t move or touch something they think is Muktzeh even though it is allowed and conversely many people touch or move things that they shouldn’t because of Muktzeh. The laws of Muktzeh are entirely Rabbinic and most Rishonim agree that it is a safeguard against breaking a Biblical Melacha of Shabbos.
There is a popular misconception that there are simply two categories of objects, those that are Muktzeh and those that aren’t. Also there is the mistaken notion that if something is Muktzeh you cannot carry or use it at all. The truth is, like with many other aspects in Judaism, it is a bit more complicated than that. The laws of Muktzeh group different objects into many different categories and these categories have distinct rules as to when you are prohibited to carry or use them. Just because something is Muktzeh does not automatically mean that you cannot carry or use it in all circumstances as we will see shortly. For the sake of simplicity, we will speak only about the categories most relevant to the topic of children’s toys and games.
The first category is objects whose PRIMARY usage is something that is prohibited on Shabbos. This category is called Kli She’milachto L’Issur. An example of this would be a hammer whose primary usage is for building which is not allowed on Shabbos.
The second category is objects whose primary usage is allowed on Shabbos. This category is called Kli She’milachto L’Heter. Examples of this are a pillow, a chair, a ball, or clothing. Again, the emphasis is what the primary usage is, so even if an object might be used in a prohibited way from time to time, all that matters is the primary usage when we categorize the object. For example, a digital watch would fall under this category even though there are times that one would press the buttons on a watch for the different functions it provides. However, its PRIMARY function is to simply be looked at to tell the time which is allowed on Shabbos.
Determining the correct category is the first and most important thing to do when assessing the Muktzeh status of an object, especially when assessing different children’s toys. The reason for this is that many times toys may have more than one function so one must always ask themselves what the PRIMARY function of this toy is.
Although anything that has the status of Kli She’milachto L’Issur might be called Muktzeh, these objects are not always forbidden to be carried in every circumstance. The rule is that a Kli She’milachto L’Issur may be carried if you need the area that the object is occupying or you need to use the object for a permitted purpose. For example, if you have a hammer that was left on the table when Shabbos came in, you may move the hammer out of the way if you want to now set the table. Or if you want to use the hammer to crack open some nuts that you have, which is a permitted usage, you are allowed to on Shabbos.