Rabbinically prohibited activities of Shabbat
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During Shabbat, the Oral Torah directly prohibits thirty-nine activities. Some additional activities, such as driving, are disallowed because they involve violating one or more of these restrictions. But rabbinical authorities, especially those recorded in the Talmud, have gone beyond these thirty-nine activities and decreed additional prohibitions because they either are not in the spirit of Shabbat, closely resemble a restricted activity, or else are at a very high risk of causing one to violate the Shabbat. In some cases, the activity is banned because it is likely to be breaking Shabbat, but authorities are uncertain. Like most areas of Halacha, Orthodox Jews tend to observe these prohibitions more stringently than other groups.
Certain items may not be touched, moved or eaten on Shabbat because they are classified as muktzeh (off-limits). Reasons for items being considered muktzeh include their main use being a violation of Shabbat, the act of moving them risking a Shabbat violation, or if they were produced during Shabbat in violation of Shabbat.
Although the use of money on Shabbat is not directly forbidden in the Torah, its use has long been condemned by the sages. Money is the very matter of business, and conducting or even discussing business on Shabbat is a rabbinically prohibited act. Additionally, many business transactions are customarily recorded on paper, and writing is one of the thirty-nine prohibited activities on Shabbat.
It is rabbinically forbidden for a Jew to tell a non-Jew to do an activity forbidden on the Sabbath, regardless of whether the instruction was given on the Sabbath or beforehand. The reason is that otherwise, the sanctity of the Sabbath would be diminished, as any activity desired could be performed via proxy. It is also forbidden to benefit on Sabbath from such an activity, regardless of whether the non-Jew was instructed to do so or not. However, if the non-Jew does an activity for himself, a Jew may benefit from it.
Both "instruct" and "benefit" are defined here strictly. This gives rise to the following leniency: One may hint a non-Jew to turn off a light interfering with one's sleep, since eliminating a nuisance (the light) is not considered a benefit. Hinting may be done, for example, by saying: "The light is on, and I am forbidden to turn it off." Another example of a non-benefit is turning on a light if there already is a minimal amount of light present. This is because an increased ease of function is not considered a benefit.
When the activity desired is itself only rabbinically prohibited, it may be permitted to tell a non-Jew to perform the activity for important reasons, such as a communal benefit (such as a power outage in the synagogue) or a mitzvah (such as circumcision). There are also leniencies in the event of a sick person, including even minor discomfort among very young children.
Strict observation of Shabbat by Orthodox Jews excludes at least direct action to use electricity. Religious directives about specifics of use and benefit are diverse even within the Orthodox communities. Other branches of Judaism offer even more diversity of judgment with many contradictions between authorities.