Killing and/or trapping stinging insects such as mosquitoes, bees, wasps, hornets and the like, on Shabbos:

Killing and/or trapping stinging insects such as mosquitoes, bees, wasps, hornets and the like, on Shabbos:

*Skip to B and summary for the quick answer!

A. Background:[1]

Under normal conditions, it is forbidden to kill or trap any living creature on Shabbos.[2] In certain circumstances doing so contains a Biblical prohibition, while in others it contains a merely Rabbinical prohibition.[3] This prohibition applies even to covering a flying insect which can escape as soon as the cover is lifted.[4] However, in cases where the living creature poses a threat to a human, then certain leniencies are given which allow one to trap or even kill the creature. These allowances depend on the level of existing threat posed by the creature, whether one’s desire is to trap it or kill it, and as well on the method in which one desires to perform the trapping or killing. Practically, the general rule is as follows [the practical ruling in regarding flying stinging insects is brought in B]:

The rule for trapping creatures which pose human threat: It is permitted to trap any living creature on Shabbos which poses a threat of bodily injury, such as a snake, scorpion, [wild dog, brown recluse spiders, black widow spiders and the like]. This applies even if their bite is not deadly.[5] One covers them with a vessel or surrounds them [with items that prevents them from escaping] or ties them so they not cause damage.[6] However, a creature which does not pose a threat of bodily injury, is forbidden to be trapped on Shabbos even if its bite or sting causes pain.[7] [Seemingly, the difference between bodily injury and mere pain is that bodily injury causes a painful injury to the body which takes time to recover, while mere pain refers to a temporary and mild pain which goes away on its own after a few days. It, however, is not measured by the amount of pain caused at the time of the sting, and so long as its effects are not long lasting, it is not defined as posing a threat of bodily injury.[8]]

The rule for killing creatures which pose human threat: It is permitted, and at times encouraged, to kill any living creature on Shabbos, which poses threat to human life. This law splits to four cases: Case 1: If the creature is definitely lethally dangerous, [which means that their bite always kills] then one may kill it in any form [in order to neutralize the threat], even if it is not chasing after a person.[9]  Case 2: If the creature is not definitively lethally dangerous but at times it can be lethal and at times not, then it is permitted to kill them if either a) the creature is chasing after oneself, or it is not chasing after oneself but b) one kills it by stepping on it in a way that he makes it appear as if he were in the midst of a casual walk, and it thus appears to the bystander that he did so unintentionally.[10] Case 3: Creatures which never kill but can cause bodily injury [as opposed to just mere pain], then if they are chasing after a person, they may be killed in any way.[11] If they are not chasing after oneself, then one is allowed to kill them through casually walking on them[12], as explained above, although with these creatures, if it is possible to guard oneself from them as well as to warn others, then every meticulous person should refrain from killing them.[13]

The law if the insect is on ones body, or in the midst of a sting: If an insect which contains a painful bite or sting is on one’s inner clothing that touches his skin, or on one’s actual skin [but not yet in the midst of a sting], then if it is difficult to brush the insect away, one may choose to be lenient like those opinions who permit one to pick it up with his fingers and throw it away.[14] If, however, the insect is already in the midst of a sting, then according to all it is permitted to take hold of it while it is stinging and to throw it away.[15] In the above cases, it is only permitted to grab the insect and throw it away, however to kill it, or even injure it, is forbidden according to all.[16]

 

B. The practical ruling by flying insects which sting:[17]

Under normal circumstances, it is forbidden to kill, or even trap, stinging flying insects such as mosquitoes, bees, wasps, hornets, yellowjackets, and the like, even if one’s intent of doing so is to prevent a sting. This prohibition applies even to simply covering the insect with a  cup and the like.[18] [However, if one is allergic to the sting, then it may be trapped, and even killed if necessary [see footnote].[19] If one is not aware of an allergy, it may not be trapped or killed, even if he is uncertain as to whether he is allergic due to never having been stung.[20] It may not be trapped or killed even if a baby is in the room, unless one is aware of a specific sensitivity the baby has towards the sting.[21] If the insect is carrying a possibly deadly disease, as has become common for mosquitoes of certain regions, then it may be trapped and even killed.[22] Some Poskim[23] permit trapping the insect even if it causing panic and hysteria in the vicinity, even if its sting does not pose a real danger of injury to anyone present. This especially applies if there is a young child who is in a state of panic due to the insect.[24] Practically, in a real time of need such as the above, seemingly there is room to be lenient to trapping the insect by covering it with a cup and the like and then transferring it outside, letting it free.[25]]

The law if the insect is in the midst of a sting:[26] If a wasp and the like is already in the midst of a sting, one is allowed to take it with his hands and send it away if it is not possible to brush it away, as explained in A.

 

Summary:

It is forbidden to trap or kill mosquitoes, bees, wasps, hornets and the like unless any of the following apply:

1.       One is allergic to the sting, to the point that it will cause him bodily injury, or possible death.

2.       The insect is possibly carrying a potential disease.

3.       Some Poskim permit trapping the insect if it is causing panic and hysteria in the vicinity.   


 

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[1] See Admur 316:1 and 13-22; Piskeiy Teshuvos 316:12

[2] Admur 316:1 regarding trapping, 316:13 regarding killing; Michaber 316:1 regarding trapping, 316:8 regarding killing; Mishneh Shabbos 73a

[3] Trapping: It is only Biblically prohibited to trap a creature on Shabbos if all the following seven conditions are met: 1) The animal was previously not fully trapped and one now fully trapped it in a way that he does not need to further trap it. [Admur 316:1] 2) It is a creature which is commonly trapped [irrelevant to the reason why it is commonly trapped]. [Admur 316:16]  3) The creature was trapped in order to use its body for a certain purpose, such as to eat or for its skin and the like, or if one casually trapped it but it is a type of creature which is generally trapped for the above purpose. [Admur 316:16] 4) The animal was not old, crippled or exhausted to the point that it could not escape. [Admur 316:2] 5) One is trapping it himself and not through a hunting dog, or trap that had already been set up. [Admur 316:6] 6) The animal was trapped by a single person, or by two people in a scenario that it required two people to trap. [Admur 316:7] 7) The animal is not a tamed pet or livestock and the like that has not rebelled. [Admur 316:24-25] 8) One is trapping them in the normal method. [Admur 316:17; M”A 316:12; M”B 316:27]

Killing: It is only Biblically prohibited to kill a creature on Shabbos if the following two conditions are met: 1) The creature was killed or bruised in order to use its body for a certain purpose, such as to eat or for its skin and the like. [or if one casually killed it and it is a type of creature which is generally killed for the above purpose]. 2)              The creature reproduces and is thus not a spontaneous generation, with exception to if it is created from earth in which case it too is included in the Biblical prohibition. 

[4] Admur 316:4 “One must be careful not to close a box or cover a vessel which has flies inside it, being that they are [consequently] trapped through this covering and closing.”; Rama 316:3; Taz 316:4; M”B 316:16

Other Opinions: There are opinions who are lenient [to allow one to completely close the vessel] in a situation that if one were to open the vessel to take [into ones hand] the flies that in there, then they would escape [before him being able to grab them], as in such a case there is no trapping done at all through this covering. [Tur 316, brought in Admur and Poskim ibid]

[5] Admur 316:17“Even initially it is allowed to trap all types of creeping creatures which commonly cause injury, such as snakes and scorpions and the like, even in places where their bite [or sting] is not deadly, and even if they are not currently chasing after him at all , and rather he just suspects that perhaps it may eventually chase after him or after someone else and bite [or sting] him or that perhaps he may not [properly] avoid [stepping on or near] them and they will bite him or perhaps will bite other people which do not know that they have to beware from them.”; Michaber 316:7, 9; Rambam 10:25; Shabbos 107b

The reason:  As since one is only trapping them in order to save himself from injury, this is [considered] an action that is not done for its own self use. Now, although that any [forbidden] action which is not done for self-use despite not being liable on, is Rabbinically forbidden, [nevertheless] here the Sages completely permitted it due to chance that one may receive bodily injury [if he were to not be allowed to trap them]. [Furthermore] even according to the opinions which say that an action done not for its own self use one is [also] liable on and [thus according to them it should be prohibited being that] we do not [allow one to] transgress Shabbos through doing a complete Biblical prohibition [just in order to prevent] bodily damage and rather is only allowed to prevent danger of one’s life, nevertheless here since one is not trapping them in the normal method but rather just deals with them in order so they not be able to injure, [such as he] covers them with a vessel or surrounds them [with items that prevents them from escaping] or ties them so they not cause damage, therefore the [Sages] permitted one to do so even to creeping creatures which are not at all deadly and rather only cause injury. [Admur ibid; M”A 316:12; M”B 316:27 ]

Other opinions: Some Poskim rule that if the creature is not lethal then one may not capture it. [Maggid Mishneh, brought in Machatzis Hashekel; Shaar Hatziyon 316:38]

[6] Admur ibid; M”B 316:27

Other opinions: Some Poskim write it is best not to cover the creature, as doing so is considered the common way of trapping. [Nehar Shalom brought in Shaar Hatziyon 316:39]

[7] Admur 316:18 “[However] all the above is referring to [trapping] creeping creatures which commonly cause injury such as snakes and scorpions, [which may be trapped] even in places that their bite is not deadly being that nevertheless they cause bodily injury with their bite, and the same applies for all creatures of the like. However, anything which does not damage the body but rather just causes it pain alone, such as wasps, and flies, mosquitoes and fleas and the like, then it is forbidden to trap them.”; Michaber 316:9; Rambam 10:24

[8] Implication of Admur ibid

Other Opinions: Some Poskim differentiate between a lot of pain versus mild pain, saying that if a sting can cause a lot of pain then one may trap the creature even if it does not formally leave a long-standing injury. [Mishneh Berura 316:46]

[9] Admur 316:22 “Any wild animal and crawling creature which bites and definitively kills, such as a lethally venomous snakes and a rabid dog and the like of other dangerous creatures which have a definite deadly bite, then it is allowed to kill them on Shabbos even if they are not chasing after one at all [and even if they are running away from him”; Michaber 316:10; Shabbos 121b

The reason: The reason for this is because there is danger of life involved [in refraining from] killing them as they may [come to] kill a Jew, and [the rule is that whenever there is] any possibility [that a] life [will be endangered] then it pushes off Shabbos, [and allows one to do] even a complete Biblically [forbidden] action even according to those opinions which say that even an action which is not done for its own use one is Biblically liable on. [Admur ibid]

[10] Admur ibid Even by those species of animals and crawling creatures which carry a doubt regarding the deadliness of their bite, as at times they can kill and at times they will not kill, one must alter his method of killing them so long as they are not chasing after him.; Implication of Ramban and Rashba; This applies according to both opinions in Admur ibid [brought in next footnotes]

[11] 1st opinion and final ruling in Admur ibid “Other dangerous creatures, even those which definitely do not kill with their bite but rather only damage the body , such as snakes and scorpions in areas that they never kill with their bite [or sting] and rather only damage, and so too any creature of the like, then there are opinions that say that if [these creatures] are running after oneself then it is permitted to kill them according to those who say that any action which done not for its own use is only Rabbinically forbidden….. The main Halachic opinion is like the former opinion”; Michaber 316:10; Shabbos ibid in opinion of Rav Katina, as explained in Tosafus Beratzin

The reason: Their reasoning is because in a situation that involves bodily injury the [Sages] did not decree [against doing a Rabbinically forbidden action, which includes any action that is not done for its own use]. This case is not similar to the [case of the] flea which is in the midst of stinging ones flesh in which case it is forbidden to kill it, [as] the flea does not cause injury to the body but rather pain alone. [Admur ibid; M”B 316:44]

Other opinions in Admur: According to those opinions [Rambam and Rebbe Yehuda] who say that even an action which is not done for its own use one is [Biblically] liable on, it was only permitted to kill creatures which are chasing after oneself and to trample on [creatures] casually when they are not chasing after oneself, by those species of animals and crawling creatures which have the possibility of having a deadly bite. However, a creature which never kills with its bite is forbidden to even [casually] trample on it, and even if it is running after oneself, being that one may not desecrate Shabbos with a complete Biblically [forbidden] action in order [to prevent only] bodily damage. [2nd opinion in Admur ibid; Tosafus Shabbos ibid; Kesef Mishneh; M”A 316:23; M”B 316:44] The main Halachic opinion is like the former opinion. [Admur ibid; See also 334:29; Kuntrus Achron 275:2; M”B 334:85 and 340:1]

[12] 1st and main opinion in Admur ibid “However if [these creatures] are not currently chasing after oneself and it is only that one is worried [that they may do so] in the future, then it is forbidden to kill them in a way that it is blatantly obvious that it was intentionally done. However it is permitted to trample on it while in the midst of casually walking even if he has intention in doing so in order to kill it, as long as he makes it appear as if he is casually walking and does not intend at all to kill it.”; Michaber 316:10; Shabbos ibid in opinion of Rav Katina, as explained in Tosafus Beratzin

The reason: The reason for this is because since an action which is not done for its own use is only Rabbinically forbidden [therefore it is not forbidden in this case as] the [Sages] did not decree at all against [doing an action even when not for its own use] in a case that involves bodily damage even if there is only mere doubt [as to whether bodily damage will occur]. However, in this case [that they are not chasing oneself] one needs to alter his method of killing them as much as it is possible for him change, which means that he is to make himself appear as if he does not intend to kill them. [Admur ibid; M”B 316:48]

Other opinions in Admur: See other opinions in previous footnote

[13] Final ruling in Admur ibid “The main Halachic opinion is like the former opinion, however nevertheless every meticulous person should be strict upon himself, regarding this [possible] Biblical prohibition, in a situation that it is possible [for him to refrain from killing it]. Such as if it is not running after him then he should not trample it if it is possible for him to guard himself from it and to warn others to beware of it.”

[14] Admur ibid “There are opinions who permit to grab the flea even while it is on the inside of his clothes [and not yet on his skin] being that it is able to cause him pain there. [Furthermore] even from his undershirt on the outside it is allowed to grab it since an undershirt is close to the flesh and it is thus possible that the flea will go from there to his flesh and will bite him. However [even according to this opinion] if the flea is on the person in a way that there is no worry that it may bite him, [such as] that it is on his upper clothes on the outside, then it is forbidden to grab it. The final ruling is that if it is possible for him to easily make it fall off of him without [needing to] take it with his hand, then one is to do so even if [the insect] is on the inside of his undershirt. However if one is wearing long boots [which reach to his thighs , or pants] and it is thus difficult  for him to shake it away without first grabbing it with his hand then one who relies on the lenient opinion regarding this Rabbinical prohibition has done no harm.” Taz ibid; implication of M”B 316:35; However see Shaar Hatziyon 316:63 that writes one is initially to be stringent.

Other opinions: Some Poskim rule that it is forbidden to take hold of a flea which is on ones clothes, even if it is inside [ones clothes] close to his skin, and even if it is on his skin and has still not stung him it is forbidden to grab it. [1st and Stam opinion in Admur ibid; Michaber ibid as explained in M”A 316:18 and Taz 316:8; M”B 316:37]

[15] Admur 316:18; Michaber 316:9; Tosafus Shabbos 107b

The reason it does not involve the trapping prohibition is: The reason it does not involve the trapping prohibition is because  when one takes hold of it at the time of the stinging he has no intent to trap it and rather is only involving himself with it in order to stop it from stinging him, and [when there is no intent to trap] the [Sages] did not decree [against trapping] even in a case [that doing so is only to prevent] pain alone  since [these insects] are items which their species are not commonly trapped [and thus even when trapped with intent it is only Rabbinically forbidden]. [Admur ibid]

The reason it does not involve the Muktzah prohibition: The [Sages] did not decree in a scenario [that involves] pain the prohibition in moving the flea due to it being Muktzah. [Admur ibid]

[16] Admur 316:19 “It is only permitted to trap a flea which is in the midst of biting oneself, however to kill it is forbidden according to all opinions even if it’s on one’s flesh and is in the midst of biting him. [Furthermore] even to squeeze it with ones fingers to weaken its strength so that it not return to him is forbidden because of a decree that one may come to kill it. Rather he is to take it in his hand and throw it away.”; Michaber and Rama 316:9; Beis Yosef; M”B 316:44; Biur Halacha 316:9 “Veassur Lehargo”

The reason: As due to mere pain [the Sages] only permitted trapping [it] being that it is not a species which is commonly trapped and thus trapping it is not considered a [Biblically forbidden] action at all, however killing it is a complete [Biblically forbidden] action. [Now although] it is not done for its own use in which case there are opinions which say that one is exempt [from liability] on doing so, nevertheless [even according to them] it is Rabbinically forbidden and was not permitted to be done [in order] to prevent mere pain being that its prohibition is rooted in the Biblical [prohibition], meaning if [this same act] were to be done for its own use [in which case it would be Biblically forbidden]. [Admur ibid]

Other opinions: Some Poskim rule one may squeeze the insect to weaken it. [Elya Raba, brought in Biur Halacha ibid]

[17] Admur 316:18 “However, anything which does not damage the body but rather just causes it pain alone, such as wasps, and flies, mosquitoes and fleas and the like, then it is forbidden to trap them.”; Rambam 10:24; See also Biur Halacha 316:8 “O Stam”; Piskeiy Teshuvos 316:12

Other Opinions: Some Poskim differentiate between a lot of pain versus mild pain, saying that if a sting can cause a lot of pain then one may trap the creature even if it does not formally leave a long-standing injury. [Mishneh Berura 316:46; See Kaf Hachaim 316:78; Ketzos Hashulchan 121 footnote 20] Accordingly, some deduce based on this that there is room to allow trapping a wasp on Shabbos if its sting gives him tremendous pain. [SSH”K 25 footnote 7] However, clearly according to Admur one may not be lenient.

[18] Admur 316:4 “One must be careful not to close a box or cover a vessel which has flies inside it, being that they are [consequently] trapped through this covering and closing.”; Rama 316:3; Taz 316:4; M”B 316:16

Other Opinions: There are opinions who are lenient [to allow one to completely close the vessel] in a situation that if one were to open the vessel to take [into ones hand] the flies that in there, then they would escape [before him being able to grab them], as in such a case there is no trapping done at all through this covering. [Tur 316, brought in Admur and Poskim ibid]

[19] Piskeiy Teshuvos 316:12; If one is deadly allergic, then it may even be killed. [Admur 316:22] If one is not deadly allergic, but is allergic enough for it to cause bodily injury, then it may be trapped [Admur 316:18]. They however may not be killed even in such a case unless they are chasing after oneself. Even if they are not chasing oneself, one may be lenient to step on them casually without notice to others, although some are stringent. [See Admur 316:22]; Piskeiy Teshuvos 316 footnote 107

[20] Seemingly one may not do so as is implied from the ruling regarding spiders in Admur 316:23 that there being a chance that an insect is deadly is not a good enough reason to allow killing it.

[21] Some Poskim rule that bees and the like may even be killed when near an infant, as their sting can be lethal. [SSH”K 25:1] However, seemingly this no longer applies today, and they thus may not be trapped. [See various medical professional websites who state there is no greater inherent danger for a baby to get a sting, versus an adult. They provide general instructions for homecare if a sting occurs and there is no need to visit the emergency room or doctor, unless allergic signs become apparent.]

[22] Pashut based on Admur 316:22; Piskeiy Teshuvos 316:12 footnote 95; SSH”K 25 footnote 3

[23] Piskeiy Teshuvos 316:12 footnote 107 and 115 in name of Rav Elyashiv and Rav Karelitz

[24] See Admur 328:15 regarding a child locked in a room

[25] See Admur 316:4 that there are opinions [Tur 316] who permit one to trap an insect in a situation that if one were to open the vessel the insect would escape, and Admur and the Poskim ibid relay on this opinion to permit a Safek Pesik Reishei. Seemingly the same would apply here in a case of panic or hysteria that one would be allowed to rely on this opinion. Vetzaruch Iyun!

[26] Admur ibid

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