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Shabbos Picnics [Part II]



This week’s article will focus on what is and what isn’t permitted when eating or spending time outdoors on Shabbos. Is running across the lawn permitted? Does it make a difference if the grass is clipped or not? The ants are parading across the path scavenging for food. Is walking on them permitted if a few will certainly be trampled? Is picking mushrooms permitted? What about gathering seaweed from a rock on the seashore? Last week’s article mentioned dragging a baby carriage on soil. Is there a difference if the soil is going to be ploughed or not? Many people have swings or hammocks hanging from tree branches in their yards. Can they be used on Shabbos? Does a public eiruv include a park? Is one permitted to sniff a flower or aromatic fruit from a tree? What about touching or holding a plant that is connected to the ground? And what is the halacha in Shmitta? Of this and more, in the coming article.

Hilchos Shabbos

The parashiyos of Vayakhel and Pikudei describe how the Mishkan was built. First, however, 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. The activities that were necessary for building became the categories of work forbidden on Shabbos.

Last week’s article focused on Shabbos and nature – how Shabbos is observed outdoors. Eating the Shabbos meal as a picnic lunch, or just spending time outdoors can raise several issues. Last week we discussed the Shulchan Aruch, OC 336:3, which discusses using water or drinking outside since it may water the ground. We discussed washing hands, using a water fountain, emptying a drinking bottle or cup, spitting, urinating, and other liquids. This week, we will cover other aspects of Shabbos and nature.

Unintentional Action vs. Resulting Action – Review

In order to expound on this we must first review an important rule, which we mentioned last week. This rule is relevant to most topics in this week’s article.

Halachically, one is forbidden to do an action that will cause a prohibited action, even if unintentionally. For example, if, when running on grass, blades of grass will certainly be cut, although running normally is permitted, in this situation it is forbidden because the result – cutting grass, is forbidden. Running, in this situation comes under the category of psik reisha — an action that leads to a certain forbidden result is also forbidden.

Desired Result

For an action to be 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 considered psik reisha denecho lei and is a Torah prohibition. If running in the weeds results in uprooting them (which he desires) since the results are desirable, running is a full Torah prohibition. However, if in running one’s orchids get an undesired pruning — since he prefers the plants remain intact, cutting them does not come under the title of psik reisha denecho lei. If he is indifferent towards the plants, there is a dispute if the action is psik reisha denecho lei or not. See Shulchan Aruch (OC 320:18).

Running on Grass

Running, in general, is prohibited on Shabbos for a different reason. Youngsters, however, who enjoy running are permitted to do so (Shulchan Aruch 301:1-2).

Running on grass, though, may result in cutting blades of grass. However, if it is uncertain if grass will be cut or not, running is permitted because it isn’t a psik reisha.

It is important to define what it means for grass to certainly be cut. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach rules (Shmiras Shabbos Kehilchaso 26:62) that if a blade of grass will be severed with every single step, running is forbidden. However, if it will only occur sporadically and each individual step only might result in cutting a blade of grass, although some grass will be cut by the end of the day, running is permitted.

The Shulchan Aruch (OC 336:3) rules that walking on grass or weeds, both damp and dry, is permitted on Shabbos, because if blades will be cut or not is uncertain. But the Mishna Brura (ibid, footnote 25) writes that running on long, overgrown grass is forbidden because blades will certainly become detached. Seemingly, the same is true for walking quickly. Practically, this depends upon the kind of grass, its length, dampness, the type of shoe, walking pace, etc. When in doubt, it is preferable to check it out during the week.

The Mishna Brura adds (footnote 24) that blades of grass that were severed and stuck to the shoe are muktze and must not be removed by hand. Removing them is permitted by scraping the shoe across a step or rail.

Gathering Mushrooms

After a rainy spell one may encounter edible mushrooms growing out of a fallen tree trunk. Since the bracha recited on mushrooms and other fungi is she’hakol, could gathering them be permitted on Shabbos?

The Shulchan Aruch (OC 336:5) defines the melacha of Reaping or Picking as any form of detaching something from its source of growth. This can be applied to animals as well, such as removing a fish from water. Therefore, disconnecting fungi from their life source is forbidden under the category of Kotzeir – Reaping.

Dragging Heavy Items On Mud

Loosening soil in order to prepare it for seeding is forbidden. Therefore, pushing a baby carriage over soil which will be sowed is permitted only if it is uncertain that the weight of the carriage will, indeed, cut into the soil, and he has no intention of doing so. However, if the earth is so soft that the carriage or wagon will certainly dig into it, or the item being dragged is especially heavy and will even gash the hard, dry soil — dragging it is forbidden, even if he has no intention to make a hole. The same is true if seeds have already been sown and they will benefit from added air and minerals when the earth is broken up. Despite not meaning to do so, when this is a guaranteed and desirable result, dragging is a full Torah prohibition.

The Chazon Ish (Shvi’is, 18:2) writes that once seeds have been sown, although aerating the soil contributes to the roots, the damage to the plants is greater than the benefit, and turning the soil is permitted. Therefore, dragging a carriage or wagon across grass (where it will not necessarily cut it), although it does dig a rut in the earth, damages the current plants and is therefore permitted (despite the benefit to the soil for the next season’s planting).


If an ant column is foraging for food it may be impossible to walk through without stepping on several and killing them. Rabbi Nissim Karelitz (Chut Hashani I, Meleches Machsheves 8) ruled that if ants will certainly be killed with every step, walking is forbidden. However, if every step is an unknown – perhaps ants will be killed, and perhaps they will not, walking is permitted. Killing an ant is a rabbinic prohibition, and where it is done unintentionally, compounded by the uncertain nature of every step — if it will kill an ant or not, it is not considered a psik reisha, and is permitted. Furthermore, one is not obligated to scan the ground to ensure the area is insect free, or make a special effort to walk only in a clean area.

Using a Tree

Using a tree is forbidden on Shabbos. Therefore, one may not climb or even lean one’s entire body on a tree even if it will not sway (If it will sway it is always prohibited to lean on the tree.). Even leaning on a peg or lying on a hammock that is connected to a tree is forbidden. However, if the hammock hangs from a peg that is connected to a tree, sitting or swinging in it is permitted. If the hammock was not mounted before Shabbos, mounting it on Shabbos is forbidden since doing so will be using something directly connected to a tree.

Any plant taller than 30 centimeters is defined as a tree for this purpose.

Park Eiruv

The eiruv is another issue mentioned in the Mishna Brura. Any area larger than 35 square meters cannot be included in a public eiruv.

While a city park is considered a living facility – it provides residents with an outdoor leisure area in which they can eat, rest, play and rock babies to sleep (Igros Moshe volume I, 139:1), a forest or nature reserve may not.

Therefore, before going on a stroll outdoors it is important to ascertain that the area is included in the eiruv (if you are carrying anything) and that it’s not outside techum Shabbos (see the Vayishlach 5781 newsletter for more on this topic.)

Stop to Smell the Flowers

Smelling flowers or aromatic leaves on a bush is permitted on Shabbos, provided the leaves or flowers are inedible. In sniffing them, one must make sure not to pluck them by mistake. If the plant is edible – either flowers or fruit, smelling it is forbidden out of concern that one might come to pick it by mistake (Shulchan Aruch OC 336:10; Mishna Brura footnote 48).

Holding a plant in order to sniff it properly is deemed by the Mishna Brura (336:48) permitted (obviously, provided one is careful not to pick it) if the plant is soft and will not firm up in the future. If it is hard, or will harden in the future, it is forbidden.

Discarding Seeds or Pits

You finished eating an apple in the park. Can you throw the seeds on the ground?

The Shulchan Aruch (OC 336:4) writes that throwing seeds in a damp spot where they can sprout and take root is forbidden. The Mishna Brura (footnote 38) offers two reasons for the prohibition: One is that they may sprout in a damp place; and the other – the seed may fall into a hole and begin growing.

The Achronim understand from the Mishna Brura that throwing seeds on the ground invokes two prohibitions. One is causing a seed to sprout, and the other – causing it to grow. (See Nishmas Adam, Shabbos klal 11:1; Shevet Halevi volume VII chapter 94:6; Piskei Teshuvos 336:12.)

In order to sprout, a seed does not necessarily need the ground – all it needs is a damp, wet spot. In order for a seed to grow, though, it must remain inside the ground for a length of time.

Where Seeds Won’t Grow

The Shulchan Aruch (OC 336:4) writes that throwing seeds where they won’t grow is permitted. He mentions two examples: 1) Throwing seed out for chicken feed, which will be eaten within two days. This is permitted because we assume that the chickens will find all of the seeds and eat them before they have a chance to sprout and grow. 2) Discarding seeds on a walkway where the seeds have no chance of growing.

The Mishna Brura writes (footnote 33) that giving chickens more than two days’ worth of seed is forbidden. This time limit is derived from wheat – which requires three days in the ground in order to germinate and grow. Therefore, discarding a seed on Shabbos where it will sit for at least three days is forbidden because it stands a chance of taking root.

The Shevet Halevi writes (volume VI, chapter 180:1) that the prohibition only exists where the seed is likely to take root and grow. Therefore, throwing a peach pit in a yard without intention to plant a peach tree is permitted, since a tree is not likely to result from a seed. However, throwing pieces of tomatoes or pepper seeds, which are likely to sprout and take root, is forbidden even without intention of planting a vegetable garden.

Sprouting Seeds

The above halacha refers to throwing seeds where they can grow. However, throwing them in an area wet enough for them to germinate is forbidden since seeds that tend to sprout can begin doing so within half a day (Magen Avraham 336:12). Therefore, one may not soak wheat or barley berries in water or in a damp place for even half a day. The Nishmas Adam (Shabbos 11:1) adds that where one has no intention of allowing the seeds to sprout and only soaks them for animal feed, soaking them is permitted for even slightly more than half a day.

Both, however, agree that soaking beans or seeds in order to sprout or ferment them is forbidden.


This year is Shmitta in Eretz Yisroel. In light of the above concern, may one throw a fruit or vegetable seed on the ground in Eretz Yisroel during the week?

Rabbi Chayim Kaniyevsky shlita (Derech Emuna, Shmitta 11:18) writes that the Chazon Ish was careful not to discard seeds during Shmitta where they could take root and grow. But the Shevet Halevi (volume VII chapter 180:1) writes that this concern exists only where one can safely assume that the seeds will eventually grow into a plant. Where it is unlikely to happen, throwing a seed without intention of planting, since it is not a psik reisha, is permitted during Shmitta.

The Shevet Halevi adds that Shmitta prohibitions are not as severe as Shabbos prohibitions: a seed which will sprout above ground but will not grow, while forbidden on Shabbos, is permitted during Shmitta.



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