In our last lesson we learned that an un-trapped animal on Yom Tov is muktzah because since a person is not permitted to trap it, it is “not prepared” for Yom Tov use. Therefore, even if the animal would present itself to the person on Yom Tov without his having to personally trap it, it would still be off-limits on account of its muktzah status, since that access was not in the person’s control. A great illustration of this concept is given in the current halacha: Suppose a person set a manual trap before Yom Tov to catch animals (Ed. the type of trap that does not render the animal a treifah/non-kosher.) Although there is nothing prohibited per se with setting a trap before Yom Tov and allowing the animal to be trapped, since whether or not the animal actually falls into the trap is beyond the control of the person, the animal is muktzah nonetheless and may not be eaten that day!
Question: What if the animal got trapped before Yom Tov started, is it still muktzah if the person did not see it in there with his own eyes?
Answer: Now that’s a different story! If he can determine that the animal got trapped before Yom Tov, it would be considered “prepared” (Heb. ‘muchan’, i.e. non-muktzah), regardless of whether or not he knew about it before Yom Tov started. People who know about how traps work can sometimes judge by tell-tale signs when the animal got trapped, and this may be used to declare it as ‘muchan’.
Question: What if the person is not sure when it got trapped – before Yom Tov or on Yom Tov – does he have to be strict and assume it to be muktzah, or can he be lenient, being that muktzah is generally a Rabbinic prohibition?
Answer: Great question! This kind of case is called ‘s’feik muktzah’ (lit. “uncertain muktzah”), and he is obligated to be strict. The reason is that the halacha is not saying that the animal may never be eaten. It may be eaten the following night – whether it is Chol Hamoed or Motzei Yom Tov (-- but not on the second day of the Shalosh Regalim - Three Festivals - in the Diaspora, unless the need is great.) Since it may be eaten later in a permissible manner, we may not be lenient to permit a ‘safek’ (doubt). (Note: This principle is called ‘davar she’yesh lo matirin’ – something which will eventually be permissible.)