The rabbis established thirty-nine categories of forbidden acts, which they set forth in the Talmud-Mishnah (the code of Jewish law). Some of these funny Shabbat restrictions include:
- Open an umbrella
- Tear toilet paper in rest room
- Chop nails
- Blowing air in the ball or balloon
- Squeeze orange juice
- Taking an object from the private domain into the public
- Brush your teeth (Ashkenazi tradition)
- To braid
- Apply body lotion
As with all Jewish law, there are both prohibitions and affirmative obligations associated with Shabbat, the day of rest. The prohibitions are called the melachah, loosely translated to mean “work.” A more precise definition would be work that is creative or that exercises dominion over the environment.
Energy expenditure or physical labor is not necessarily the only criteria for melachah. For example, flipping a light switch does not require much energy or effort, but because it is a creative act it is prohibited during Shabbat.
There are two underlying explanations regarding the prohibition of turning on a light. The first reason has to do with the interdiction against cooking, which involves heating metal. Second, people are forbidden to build on Shabbat and turning on a light switch completes (or builds) a circuit.
On the other hand, walking up a flight of stairs is permitted. Although it does require an expenditure of energy, it is not a creative act and does not exercise control over the environment.
In addition to these enjoined activities, Jews observing Shabbat cannot come into contact with any instrument that could be employed for a prohibited purpose, so, for instance, holding an unlit match that could be used to kindle a fire or picking up a pen that could be used to write would be prohibited.
On Shabbat, observant Jews can’t turn on a television set (although turning it on before Shabbat and leaving it on would be fine). There’s also no hopping into the car to go out for dinner or to see a movie. Since the automobile operates by means of an internal-combustion engine necessitating the burning of gasoline, driving would violate the interdiction against kindling a fire. Also, given the distances normally traveled by car, the prohibition of transporting an object in the public domain would likely be violated as well.
Sabbath restrictions are not meant to punish. Rather, they are intended to remove human beings from the mundane activity of daily life, so they can instead engage in activities that will fill the time in an exceptional way.