Selected Halachos relating to Parshas Shelach
By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt
The following is a discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week.
For final rulings, consult your Rav.
They found a man gathering wood on the Shabbos day (15:32)
TREES, PLANTS AND FLOWERS ON SHABBOS
The are various opinions in the Talmud (1) regarding the nature
of the offense committed by the man described in the verse cited
above. Which of the thirty-nine forbidden Shabbos labors did he
perform? Some say that he gathered sticks which were spread out
on the ground ("gathering"), others hold he that he carried
sticks in a public domain ("carrying"), while others hold that
he tore twigs from trees ("reaping"). There are many laws that
govern handling and touching trees and plants on Shabbos, and
this week's Torah reading is an opportune time to review them.
Since it is Biblically prohibited to tear a branch or a leaf
from a tree on Shabbos, the Rabbis erected numerous 'fences'
[precautionary measures] in order to prevent this transgression.
It is rabbinically prohibited, therefore, to:
All trees--whether fruit bearing or barren, living or
dead--are included in these rabbinical decrees (13). But the
restrictions apply only to the part of the tree which is higher
than ten inches from the ground (14). Trees and bushes which do
not grow to a height of ten inches are not restricted in any
- shake a tree on Shabbos (2). One may touch a tree if it will
not shake (3).
- climb, sit, or lean heavily [e.g., to tie one's shoes] on a
tree on Shabbos (4). One may sit on a dead tree stump (5).
- swing from a branch or from an object directly connected to a
tree. Thus a swing or a hammock which is connected to a tree may
not be used on Shabbos (6). Even a swing which is connected to a
chain, where the chain in turn is connected to a ring which is
attached to the tree, is forbidden to be used (7). If,
however, poles are connected to two trees and a swing or hammock
is attached to the poles, they may be used, provided that the
trees are sturdy and will not move or bend.
- place or hang an object [e.g., a jacket, a sefer] on a
tree on Shabbos.
- remove an object from a tree on Shabbos. Even before
Shabbos, it is prohibited to place [or leave] items on a tree
that are usually used on Shabbos, since one could easily forget
and remove them from the tree on Shabbos (8).
- smell a growing, edible fruit while it is growing on a
tree, since it could easily lead to picking the fruit from the
tree in order to eat it (9). It is even forbidden to eat--on
Shabbos--a fruit that has fallen off the tree on Shabbos. It
is permitted, however, to eat it immediately after Shabbos (10).
- ride an animal on Shabbos, since it is easy to forget and
pull a branch off a tree while riding an animal (11). As an
extension of this edict, the Rabbis declared all animals to be
PLANTS AND FLOWERPOTS
In halachic terms, all potted plants are considered to be
"nourishing from the ground" (16) and consequently "connected" to
the ground and forbidden to be moved or lifted on Shabbos.
Regardless of whether the pot has a hole in its base, is
indoors (17) or outdoors--it is classified as severe muktzeh and
may not be moved for any purpose on Shabbos (18). It is
permissible, however, to smell, touch and even bend the stem or
the leaves, provided that they are soft and flexible and would
not break upon contact (19).
It is strictly forbidden to move a plant or a flowerpot from a
shady area to a sunny area so that exposure to the sun's rays
will aid its growth. It is also prohibited to open a window or
to pull up a shade with the specific intention of allowing the
sun or air to aid a plant's growth. Conversely, if sun light or
fresh air is detrimental to a plant, it would be prohibited to
shut them out, since shutting them out promotes the plant's
Flowers, while still connected to the ground, may be smelled
and touched provided that their stem is soft and does not
normally become brittle (21).
Flowers in a vase may be moved on Shabbos (22). They may not,
however, be moved from a shady area to a sunny area to promote
blossoming. If the buds have not fully bloomed, the vase may be
moved only very slightly, since the movement of the water
hastens the opening of the buds (23).
One may remove flowers from a vase full of water, as long as
they have not sprouted roots in the water (24). Once removed,
they may not be put back in the water if that will cause further
Water may not be added to a flower vase on Shabbos (25). On Yom
Tov, however, water may be added but not changed (26).
Flowers should be placed in water before Shabbos. In case they
were not, they may not be placed in water on Shabbos if the buds
have not blossomed fully. If the buds are completely opened,
however, some poskim permit placing them in water on
One may not gather flowers, create an arrangement and place it
in a vase on Shabbos, even if the vase contains no water (28).
Touching, moving, walking, running or lying on grass is
permissible (29). Some poskim (30) prohibit running in high grass
if it would definitely result in some grass being uprooted,
while other poskim are not concerned with this possibility (31).
Grass which was uprooted on Shabbos and gets stuck on one's
shoes is considered muktzeh, since it was attached to the earth
when Shabbos began. One may remove it only in an indirect
1 Shabbos 96b.
2 Unless mentioned otherwise, Yom Tov has the same halachos.
3 Rama OC 336:13.
4 OC 336:1;336:13 and Biur Halachah.
5 Aruch Hashulchan 336:18
6 OC 336:13.
7 Harav M. Feinstein (oral ruling quoted in Sefer Hilchos
Shabbos vol. 1. pg. 62)
8 OC 279:4 and 514:6 according to the explanation of Harav S.Z.
Auerbach (quoted in Shmiras Shabbos K'hilchasah pg. 330). There
are other, more lenient, opinions, see Tehilah L'Dovid 279:7.
9 OC 336:10.
10 OC 322:3.
11 OC 305:18.
12 OC 308:39.
13 Mishnah Berurah 336:1. There are some poskim who are lenient
in the case of a tree which has completely dried out, see
Mishnah Berurah ibid. and Aruch Hashulchan 13.
14 Mishnah Berurah 336:21.
15 OC 336:2. However, if the tree or bush are fruit-bearing,
some poskim prohibit those as well--Mishnah Berurah 336:19.
16 OC 336:8. Even a non-perforated pot nourishes a "bit" from
the ground--Mishnah Berurah 336:43. Possibly, this is only so
with wood or ceramic pots; metal or glass non-perforated pots do
not allow for nourishment from the ground--Bris Olam pg. 31. It
remains questionable if plastic is like wood or like glass (see
Piskei Teshuvos pg. 223).
17 View of Chazon Ish, Harav S.Y. Elyashiv and Harav S. Wosner
(quoted in Shalmei Yehudah pg. 73). There is a minority opinion
that non-perforated pots do not "nourish" through solid (wooden
or ceramic) floors--Bris Olam pg. 31.
18 Shaar Hatzion 336:38 quotes the Pri Megadim as debating
whether a plant can be moved [when no question of reaping is
involved]. While some poskim (Tehilah L'Dovid 336:6; Bris Olam
pg. 32) are lenient and allow moving a flower pot when there is
no question of reaping, many other poskim (Kalkeles Shabbos--
Zoreah; Minchas Shabbos 80:194) are stringent. It is proper to
be stringent on this issue (Harav S.Z. Auerbach and Harav S.Y.
Elyashiv (quoted in Shalmei Yehudah pg. 73) and Harav M.
Feinstein (quoted in Sefer Hilchos Shabbos pg. 64).
19 Mishnah Berurah 336:48.
20 Entire paragraph is based on the rulings of the Chazon Ish
Shviis 22:1; Shvisas Hashabbos--Zoreah 10; Har Tzvi OC 211;
Yesodei Yeshurun pg. 25; Shevet Halevi 4:36.
21 Mishnah Berurah 336:48.
22 Harav M. Feinstein (quoted in Sefer Hilchos Shabbos pg. 64).
23 Harav S.Y. Elyashiv (quoted in Shalmei Yehudah pg. 73); Bris
Olam pg. 32.
24 Harav S.Z. Auerbach (quoted in Shmiras Shabbos K'hilchasah
25 Mishnah Berurah 36:54.
26 OC 654:1; Shmiras Shabbos K'hilchasa pg. 333.
27 See Shaar Hatzion 336:48; Yechave Daas 2:53. Harav S.Z.
Auerbach is quoted (Nishmas Avrohom OC 336) as being stringent
28 Igros Moshe OC 4:73.
29 OC 336:3; 312:6.
30 Mishnah Berurah 336:25 and Biur Halachah.
31 Aruch Hashulchan 336:21. See also Shmiras Shabbos K'hilchasah
32 Mishnah Berurah 336:24.
Weekly-Halacha, Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and
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