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Shabbos Picnics [Part I]


The activities employed for building the Mishkan in the desert became the basis for the 39 work categories prohibited on Shabbos. This week’s article will focus on the halachos of Shabbos, and particularly, the second of the 39 work categories: ploughing.

Since most of us don’t live in an agricultural community, the major practical application of this prohibition is watering the ground, specifically while eating or spending time outdoors. The coming spring will bring many opportunities for outdoor activities, and many will be tempted to have their Shabbos kiddush in a lawn or yard. Is eating or drinking outside permitted? Can one take a drink from a water fountain in a park? Does it make a difference if the fountain is on tiled ground or in the middle of the grass? Can one wash his hands for a meal over grass? Can one take a drink from a bottle in a garden? Is there any difference to whom the garden belongs? And what if the garden is part of a public park? At times, the earth may be waterlogged, and at others – parched. Is there a halachic difference in watering the different kinds of earth?

Hilchos Shabbos

After reading the instructions for building the Mishkan in the previous parshiyos, we read in this week’s parasha how the Mishkan was actually built. Preceding construction, though, the Torah repeats the warning: “Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, a day of complete rest to the Lord; whoever performs work on this day shall be put to death” (Shemos 35:2). Building the Mishkan must not take place on Shabbos. Furthermore, the activities that were necessary for building became the categories of work that are forbidden on Shabbos.

A Shabbos picnic gives rise to several issues. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 336:3) mentions one of them which we will focus on this week: watering the ground. Next week’s article will cover the other aspects of a Shabbos picnic.

Watering the Garden

The Shulchan Aruch (OC 336:3) writes that when eating outdoors, one must be careful not to wash his hands over plants because he will be watering them. The Rama adds that since it is difficult to ensure that no plants will be unintentionally watered when eating outdoors, it is best to refrain from eating outside on Shabbos. In this article we will examine the relevant halachos.

Unintentional Action vs. Resulting Action

To clarify these halachos we must first lay down the rules, which although known, always benefit from review.

Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Shimon disagree whether one may do a permitted act which might cause a prohibited side effect. For example: washing hands, is a permitted action — but the water poured on the ground will water plants on Shabbos — a forbidden action. Or, pushing a baby carriage on loose soil where the wheels dig a rut in the ground. This loosening of soil effectively prepares it for sowing — an action forbidden under the prohibition of ploughing. Rabbi Yehuda forbids this sort of action, despite the lack of intention. Rabbi Shimon, however, permits it, on the grounds that only intentional action is forbidden on Shabbos. Rabbi Shimon’s opinion is the accepted halacha.

Nevertheless, even Rabbi Shimon forbids an action if it will surely result in a prohibition. The title for this halacha is psik reisha – cutting off the head. This concept, mentioned in the Gemara, originates in a children’s game. Children, in the Gemara times, played with cockroaches. If a child cut off the roach’s head as part of a game it will certainly die, despite his desire for it to live for future playing. This scenario lays down the rule for a category of prohibited activity — one which will certainly result in forbidden side effects.

In light of this distinction, we can re-examine the above-mentioned examples: pushing a baby-carriage or heavy table across a field. Since this action may or may not result in notching up the field or making ploughing easier, if the person pushing the carriage has no intention to do so, it is permitted. However, if the earth is soft and the weight of the carriage or table will certainly cut into the ground, it is forbidden. The same is true if the earth is already ploughed and seeded, and dragging items across the earth will allow air and minerals into the seeds, enhancing the future plants. Here, even without intention, the action is a Torah prohibition because it is an obvious, expected, natural result. Just as the child’s roach will die if it is beheaded regardless of his intention, so too, a Torah prohibition will result from the action, regardless of the intention. This kind of unintended natural-result-action is halachically termed psik reisha.

Washing one’s hands on a tiled patio  or into a pail without intention to water plants is permitted because it is uncertain that nearby plants will be splattered with water. But washing directly over plants is forbidden even without intention of watering them under the prohibition of psik reisha.

Undesirable Side Effect

For an action to be forbidden from the Torah as a psik reisha the result must also be desirable. If, post facto, one is glad the action was done, even if he wouldn’t have done it that way, it is categorized as psik reisha denecho lei and is a Torah prohibition. If the results are undesirable – the field is not his own, he will never plant the field it is called psik reisha delo necho lei –and the Rishonim are split regarding the status of the action. See Shulchan Aruch (OC 320:18) that one should be stringent.

Watering Seeds

Washing in one’s own or friend’s garden, where he takes pleasure in the healthy plants and lush grass, is forbidden under the prohibition of psik reisha denecho lei.

The Mishna Brura (336:27) writes that some permit washing where he is indifferent to the plants. L’chatchila, however, since one should not so something which is classified a psik reisha delo necho lei, washing is forbidden even in such a place.

Some permit washing over an overgrown, unwanted, weed-filled garden. Halacha, though, maintains that one should refrain from washing here too.

Oz Nidberu (volume VI 37:3) mentions that a public park can also be considered one’s own, because people enjoy well-tended public gardens or parks. Therefore, watering the plants or grass in a public park is forbidden as a psik reisha denecho lei.

However, one who happens to be in a park which he will not visit again in the near future, although it makes him happy that the park is well tended and green, it is not considered his own personal pleasure and would only be a psik reisha delo necho lei.

Waterlogged Soil

The Yereim (274) writes that this halacha is only relevant in the summer, when plants benefit from water. During the winter, when the earth is already waterlogged and seeds do not benefit from added watering, when one does not intend to benefit the plants or soil, pouring water on them is permitted. Providing a seasonal blanket rule is a bit problematic, but the Kaf Hachaim (OC 336:29) writes that after the soil is waterlogged, additional water only ruins the earth and pouring is permitted. Rabbi Nissim Karelitz (Chut Shani, volume I, chapter 10:4) rules that if water is clearly detrimental to the soil, one need not take steps to ensure it doesn’t get wet.

Therefore, where there is a gardener who takes care of watering a garden, or in the winter, when it is raining and additional water will just harm the plants, there is no need to be concerned about additional watering. Public fountains in the middle of the grass will often be surrounded by muddy soil without grass, since the abundance of water kills the grass. Therefore, one need not be concerned of drops of water falling in that area.

Har Tzvi adds, (OC 135, mentioned in Shmiras Shabbos Kehilchaso 26:21) that it is permitted to wash one’s hands over a field that is already fully watered, even if the additional water will benefit the field after Shabbos. Therefore, where there is a puddle near a water fountain in the park, one who washes his hands there does not have to be concerned that the additional water will benefit nearby plants later on, when the previous water dries up. Since watering, in this case, will only take place after Shabbos, it is permitted.

Where wild, tall grass or weeds grow near a water fountain the halacha depends upon the above-mentioned opinions. According to those who maintain that unwanted plants may be unintentionally watered – it is permitted to wash and drink in that part. However, according to those who maintain that even unwanted plants should not be watered, one should refrain from pouring water in this spot.

Drinking From a Water Fountain

One of the most practical questions is drinking from a public fountain where the excess water runs off into the bushes. Is drinking from the fountain considered watering plants on Shabbos?

Har Tzvi (OC I, 207) and Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Shmiras Shabbos Kehilchaso 12:19) permit it when the water does not spill directly onto the plants, because it is categorized as grama (something that was indirectly caused by something else, but which outcome is not guaranteed). Similarly, if the water does not flow directly to a public throughfare, there is no prohibition of moving something from the private domain to the public domain (see Shulchan Aruch 357:1 and Mishna Brura footnote 8).

Additional Prohibitions

Spilling off water on unpaved soil may result in a Torah prohibition even if there are no plants in the vicinity. The Mishna Brura writes (336 footnote 18) that pouring water on soil softens it for ploughing, which is prohibited. Therefore, one my not pour water where the plants have been uprooted but the earth will be reploughed.

The Chasam Sofer (glosses on the Shulchan Aruch OC 336, Magen Avraham footnote 7) writes that if the soil will dry up before it has a chance to be planted, the water serves no purpose, and soil is not considered prepared for ploughing. Accordingly, Rabbi Nissim Karelitz rules (Chut Hashani, Shabbos part I 10:1) that washing one’s hands over soil that will not be seeded, without intention to soften it for ploughing or planting, is permitted.

Creating mud is another issue that requires clarification. Creating mud on Shabbos is prohibited under the prohibition of lash – kneading. The Mishna Brura writes (321:57) that this is the reason urinating on soft soil is forbidden: although one has no intention to create mud, it is a psik reisha – a certain result. However, the Mishna Brura adds, that where necessary, one may urinate on soil when he has no desire for the resulting mud. For further details, see Shmiras Shabbos Kehilchaso (23:20).


The prohibition of spilling liquids on soil on Shabbos depends also upon the type of liquid. The Mishna Brura writes that slightly fermented honey-water, beer, or drinks that contain water are beneficial to plants and must not be poured on plants on Shabbos. Soft drinks also fall into this category, unless specifically known to be harmful to plants. Wine and other alcoholic beverages burn plants, so pouring them on plants on Shabbos is permitted.

Other liquids – oil, vinegar, fruit juice: the Mishna Brura (336:29) cites the Magen Avraham as ruling they must be suspected as aiding plants, and pouring them on plants is prohibited. He adds (Sha’ar Hatziyun footnote 25) that, nevertheless, it is permitted to pour these liquids if the garden doesn’t belong to him, and he has no pleasure from the plants. This is also true if the said plants are weeds that grow in his neighbor’s yard, which the neighbor also doesn’t want.

Rav Nissim Kareltiz (Chut Shani 10:4) permits spitting outside, or walking on plants with wet clothes or hair (from a sudden downpour) because nobody waters in this manner, and he has no intention of watering plants (especially where one is indifferent to the growing plants.)


The Shulchan Aruch (OC 336:3) rules that one is permitted to urinate on plants on Shabbos because the acidic nature of urine harms plants. The Tiferes Yisroel (Kalkalet Hashabat, Zore’ah) writes that today urinating is forbidden because science has discovered that urine fertilizes soil. Therefore, we must say that nature has changed in this regard. The Mishna Brura, however, maintains (336:3) that it is permitted.

The Chazon Ish (Shvi’is, chapter 18:2) writes that after the soil has been sowed, urine causes more damage than benefit, but before that, the benefit (from the urine’s loosening the dust) is greater than the damage (from the acidity). Therefore, before sowing, urinating on earth is forbidden. However, urinating on plants or seeds, is permitted. Nevertheless, where human dignity is involved, even if it involves the prohibition of ploughing, since the action is not done in the accepted manner and the forbidden result is unintended, it is permitted to urinate even if the result is a psik reisha.


Washing or emptying a cup or bottle outdoors on Shabbos with intention to benefit plants is a Torah prohibition, even if it is a secondary intention, or one is indifferent to the plants in that spot.

Where there is no intention to assist plants, and it is uncertain that the water will actually reach the plants, pouring water is permitted. For example: drinking from a fountain far from plants, or washing into another receptacle.

Without intention to assist plants, if the water will certainly reach them, the halacha depends: if the garden is one’s own or one he cares about, and the plants need water, pouring involves a full Torah prohibition.

Where he doesn’t particularly care about the plants, pouring is a dispute: the Mishna Brura rules that l’chatchila one should refrain from pouring there.

Where water clearly does not assist plants because they are fully watered and the ground is waterlogged (after watering or a plentiful rainfall), washing is permitted.

Pouring water on soil and creating mud: Where mud is a desirable result, pouring is a full Torah prohibition. Where mud is undesirable, one should preferably refrain from doing so. Drinking from a fountain where creation of new mud is uncertain (because the area is already muddy), is permitted.

Urinating on top of plants: when one has no intention to benefit the plants and lacks clear knowledge that acid assists them, urinating is permitted. However, urinating into soil which will be planted is prohibited since it assists in softening it. Where human dignity is involved and the result is unintentional, since earth is not normally softened and prepared for plowing in this manner, it is permitted.

Since people can easily come to transgress Shabbos prohibitions when eating outside, the Rama discourages (OC 366:3) eating outside on Shabbos. The Mishna Brura adds (336:30) that in another person’s lawn, where one doesn’t care about the plants or grass, even though he must exercise caution, he does not have to refrain from eating or drinking. Aruch Hashulchan adds a blessing (OC 336:22) to those who are careful not to eat outside: the Shabbos itself will protect them.

In light of the above, it is highly recommended to refrain from holding a Shabbos day kiddush on a lawn or on a grassy area of a park.


This year is the Shmitta year in Eretz Yisroel, in which we must not water plants even on a weekday. Nevertheless, the halachos of Shmitta differ slightly from the halachos of Shabbos and require a separate article (see Derech Emunah, Shmitta 1:18)

Next week we will focus on other halachos pertaining to a Shabbos picnic.

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