The Squirrel in the Shul

By BJLIfe/Rabbi Yair Hoffman

Posted on 01/24/18

It was a bizarre appearance.  In front of the Aron Kodesh in the local Kollel, there was a silvery brown mink-like fur piece protruding upward from the bottom of the Paroches.  Some thought it was a new decoration.  But then the silvery brown fur piece moved.  It turned out to be a squirrel.

Someone suggested to create a channel that would lead the squirrel directly to the outside.  The Shul tables were then flipped over to create the channel.  The first attempt did not work.  The squirrel hurled itself above the flipped-over table and jumped on another table then onto a bookcase shelf.  Eventually the channel idea worked – when the table height was doubled by placing two tables on top of each other.  The squirrel made its way outside of the Kollel.

The question is, was it permitted to use the shul tables in such a fashion?


If we examine Shulchan Aruch (OC 154) we find that there are three different levels of sanctity regarding various items.  There is also a fourth category that the Mishna Brurah introduced.

The first type is an item infused with kedusha itself, such as a Sefer Torah, Tefillin and Mezuzos.  The very creation of these items involve kavana – intent – to infuse them with Kedusha.  These objects can never be made temporary or conditional.  Even preparing it for such use will make it retain its Kedusha (OC 42:3).

The second type is called Tashmishei Kedushah – which means items that serve an object of Kedusha.  Thus a Sefer Torah mantle would be considered Tashmishei Kedushah.   Tashmishei kedusha can be made conditionally or temporarily (See Ramah OC 42:3).  If Tashmishei kedusha are sold in a permissible manner they still retain their Kedushah (MB 153:37).

The third type is called Tashmishei Mitzvah.  This would include a Sukkah, a lulav, a shofar, and even a shul itself (See MB 153:37 and 48).  The parts of a shul would also be considered Tashmishei Mitzvah.  Like Tashmishei Kedusha, the third type can also be made conditionally or temporarily.  Tashmishei Mitzvah may be mevatel as long as it is not a bizayon for the Tashmishei Mitzvah.

There is a fascinating story regarding the Chasam Sopher where two bochurim came to be tested to enter the Yeshiva.  One of the students stepped on the Schach on his way out.  The Chasam Sopher did not accept that student because he did not show the yiras shamayim of not using Tashmishei Mitzvah.

The fourth type, which is introduced by the Mishna Brurah is called, “tashmish detashmish.”  This is an item which serves a Tashmish Kedushah.  The Mishna Brurah rules that this has no kedusha (42:9).  The Mishna Brurah (154:6) rules that it can be used for mundane purposes at any time.

These tables may even be more serious since they are used to hold and learn on Seforim, it may be considered like a book case shelf – (Mishna Brurah 154:34) which is under category two.  If hats are placed on the table then it may be considered Tashmishei Mitzvah and then it could be used.  Also, if the Chevrei HaKollel drink coffee on these tables, then it would also be permitted.

However, it is very likely that when the tables were placed in the shul that they were done so conditionally.  These tables are used by the Kollel to create a Mechitzah between the men and the women for Simchas Torah.  There is another factor too.  On at least one occasion some of the tables were also used to serve food upon when there was a celebration.

Some may argue that this may not necessarily be considered a use, since it just prevented the squirrel from going elsewhere.  There is a fascinating ruling of Rav Elyashiv zt”l in regard to Muktzah that proves that this is, in fact, a use.

There is a halacha in the laws of Muktzah called Basees ledavar haAssur.  When a person purposefully places an otherwise Muktzah item on top of another item as a platform – the platform becomes Muktzah as well.  For example, if someone placed a camera on the bed in the guestroom, the bed becomes Muktzah as well.  Platform based Muktzah is only forbidden when the platform was there during twilight on Friday evening.  It must be there the entire period of twilight in order for it to be forbidden. 

If someone placed the Shabbos candles on top of a table, the table becomes Muktzah – even far after the candles went out.  If, however, an item that was more important was placed upon the table – then the table is not considered Muktzah.  For example, if a siddur or sefer were placed on the table by the owner – then the table does not incur the status of Muktzah.

Rav Elyashiv, however, ruled that the Sefer cannot be placed there on purpose.  This would be an incorrect use of a Kedusha matter.  We see from this ruling that even indirect usage would be halachic problem.  The same would also apply in our case.

Of course the safer alternative would be to call an exterminator who could trap it in an easier fashion.  A squirrel that has such chutzpah that it had actually entered a shul might also have a much higher probability of being rabid too.  There is also the issue of middle-aged out-of-shape mispallelim falling down and hurting themselves while trying to get the squirrel out.  All of these factors should be takeninto consideration.

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com