THE LAWS OF SHABBAT
By Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon
Zoreia, Part I
I) The First Melakha
Is one allowed to throw seeds or pits into the yard?
May one put flowers in water?
Is it permitted to wash one’s hand over
plants or dirt? Is one allowed to raise
or move a flowerpot? May one open a
window or blinds next to flowerpots?
What Does Zoreia Encompass?
The first in the listof the thirty-nine melakhot
is zoreia. The Gemara (73b) determines that this
melakha includes not only the action
of sowing (zeria — not to be confused
with zeriya, winnowing) per se, i.e., putting in the ground so that they
will sprout, but also other similar actions: planting (a sapling in the
ground), pruning (cutting off pieces of a plant
so that it will grow better), grafting (attaching a piece of one plant to
another plant so that they will grow together), and sinking (bending a
branch or vine so that it enters the ground and a new shoot grows from it):
We have learnt in a
beraita: “Sowing, pruning, planting, sinking and grafting — they are all one
and the same melakha.”
Logically, it is understandable why sowing, planting, sinking and grafting are
all one melakha, because all of them
cause a new growth to sprout.
However, pruning seems out of place on this list, as one does not bring about
any new growth through this action!
(s.v. Kulan) in fact writes that we must differentiate between the
primary melakha (av, plural: avot) and its subcategories (tolada,
plural: toladot). Sowing,
planting, sinking and grafting are have the status of avot (akin to
cooking and baking), while pruning is a tolada. According to him, pruning is a
tolada of zoreia, because it also
improves the growth of the tree. Any
act which brings about growth is thus included in the category of the
melakha of zoreia, even if it
does not involve the creation of a new plant.
There are additional acts which improve the plant and are considered to be
toladot of zoreia — such as
watering (Rambam 8:2).
Furthermore, acts which prevent damage
to the plant, such as weeding,
are forbidden because of zoreia, as
are other acts which help to improve the produce.
The Acharonim raise some fundamental questions regarding the principles
of the unique melakha of
The discussion is based on the fact that the person who plants does not
create the plant; he simply puts a seed in the ground. The subsequent growth of the plant
will take place without his involvement, and will take place mostly after
Shabbat. Nevertheless, the person who
puts the seed in is liable. This
matter prompts the Acharonim to investigate: what is the law of a person
who sows on Shabbat, but removes the seed from the ground after Shabbat?
What renders one liable: putting the seed
in the ground or its taking root?
We will not elaborate on these questions,
but we will relate to the conceptual significance of the matters.
The Conceptual Significance of the Melakha
The Gemara in Ta’anit (4a) quotes the following statement from Rava: “A
Talmudic scholar is like a seed beneath the ground; once it sprouts, it
sprouts.” In other words, a seed in the
ground, once it has begun to sprout, continually rises higher and higher. This is analogous to Torah study:
once one begins to grasp the concepts, continuous growth is only natural. The seed in the ground is thus
characterized by a minor act on the part of humans, from which God naturally
develops a much greater creation.
despite its seeming insignificance, is considered one of the thirty-nine
melakhot. This teaches us
that sowing is creation! The things which
seem to be small, undeveloped, superficially simple and perhaps not so
impressive are in fact the very focus of creation. Through this, it becomes clear that
we human beings are able to reach far beyond that which is readily apparent in
the natural form. The action of
zoreia is relatively small compared to
the result of the growth which comes from it.
One who knows how to start from the basics, who knows how to sow the
fundamentals of the Torah, the fundamentals of ethics, the fundamentals of
kindness and the fundamentals of love will in the end see growth, will in the
end harvest good and significant produce.
Our role is not to worry; instead, we must believe in
zeria — believe in the powers that God
gives us to sow and to create even things which seem at first glance to be far
beyond our natural powers.
II) Putting Seeds on the Ground or in Water
THROWING SEEDS ON THE GROUND
It is clear that zeria on Shabbat is
forbidden. However, what is the
halakhic status of throwing seeds or pits into the yard, without any intention
Is this allowed?
The Yere’im (Ch. 274, 131b) writes:
This bit of wisdom I
have received from the elders: one must be careful not to cast seeds into the
courtyard in a place where it may rain, because they will eventually sprout.
According to this, even if a person does not intend to perform
zeria, there is a prohibition in this, “because they will eventually
sprout.” If the ground is wet, there is
concern for the violation of a Torah prohibition.
If the ground is dry, but it will be watered or rain may fall on it, it
is still forbidden at least rabbinically (see
Zoreia, 5, and in Be’er Rechovot,
Shulchan Arukh (336:4) rules in
accordance with this view:
One must be careful to
avoid throwing seeds in a place where it may rain, because they will eventually
sprout… But if it is in a place where
people [walk and are likely to] trample [them], this is permitted, because they
will presumably not sprout.
The Shulchan Arukh adds that if it is
likely that the seeds will not take root, one may throw them (because then it is
not a pesik reisha, an inevitable result, but merely an unintentional act
which may have the result of a melakha, which is permitted). Therefore, if the ground is hard and
it is at a time in which no precipitation is expected (such as the summer in
Israel), there is no prohibition in throwing away seeds on the ground.
In conclusion, it is forbidden to throw pits or seeds into the
backyard or garden, unless the ground is so hard and rainfall so unlikely
that it is logical to assume that they will never sprout.
TO SPROUT IN WATER
It is common for people to soak seeds in water in order
to make them sprout. Generally, the
aim is to eat them as sprouts (these are occasionally planted). Is it permissible to do this on
(8:2) writes: “One who soaks wheat or barley and the like, this is a subcategory
of zoreia, and one is liable for any
amount.” It is clear from his formulation
that there is a Torah prohibition to soak seeds in water. The
Shulchan Arukh (336:11) rules accordingly. What is the reason for liability in
Preparation for Zeria
In the Radbaz’s
Responsa (Ch. 1611), he deals with the following question:
You asked about what the master wrote in Chapter 8 of Hilkhot Shabbat:
“Similarly, one who soaks wheat or barley and the like, this is a subcategory of
zoreia, and one is liable for any
amount.” And you asked: “What is his
source for this law and what is its reasoning? Even
if they will stand there for many days, they will not sprout, because there is
Answer: What case is he addressing? One who soaks them for a long time so that
they will be susceptible to zeria and
will sprout quickly, making this a subcategory of
According to this approach, the basis of the prohibition
is that the soaking of seeds in water prepares them for
According to this, the melakha
of zoreia applies not only to actions applied to the ground, but also when
one prepares the seeds for future zeria
in the ground. It should be noted,
however, that according to this explanation of the
Radbaz, this prohibition would presumably apply only when the person
indeed intends to perform zeria. When one has no such intent, one may
not regard the activity as a preparation for
zeria, and the
zoreia is not applicable in such a
Prohibition of the Actual Sprouting
Another view is brought by the
Mishna Berura (336:51) in the name of the
Chayei Adam (11:2):
The same applies to one who soaks grain to make malt for beer: one is liable,
because it is known that his intent is to make it sprout.
According to the
Chayei Adam, there is a Torah prohibition to cause seeds to sprout in
water even where there is no intention to sow and one’s sole intent is to
eat them. The very sprouting of
the seeds is considered a process of growth, and thus putting the seeds in
water in order to make them sprout is considered an act of
zeria which causes growth.
According to this, it is prohibited to put an avocado pit in water in
order to make it sprout, even though there is no intention to sow it afterwards
in the ground.
Mishna Berura (ibid.) adds in the name of the
Chayei Adam (ibid.) that putting the
seeds in water for a short time, when one does not intend to make them
sprout, but only to soften them, is permitted:
One may soak grain for his animal, because his intent is not to make it sprout
but to soften the seeds; in addition, it will not lead to growth, because before
they will grow, the animals will eat them.
Therefore, it is permitted to put pits and seeds in
water for a short time in order to soften them for the sake of eating.
In conclusion, according to the ruling of the
Mishna Berura, the
melakha of zoreia is
applicable to causing seeds to sprout, not merely to an act of
zeria which leads an actual plant. Therefore, it is forbidden to soak
seeds or legumes in water in order to make them sprout, even if one intends to
eat them and not to sow them afterwards.
If one’s aim is only to soften them, this is permissible, on the
condition that one puts them in water only for a short time.
III) Putting Flowers in Water
The Mishna in Sukka (42a) states:
A woman may receive
[the lulav] from the hand of her son
or the hand of her husband, and she may return it to water on Shabbat. Rabbi Yehuda says: “On Shabbat, one
may return [it to water from which it was removed]; on Yom Tov, one may add…”
The mishna makes clear that one is permitted to return a
lulav to water on Shabbat. In other words, there is no
prohibition of zoreia for putting
detached branches in water. On the
other hand, one may not add new water on Shabbat (but only on Yom Tov). Why do we not add water?
explains (ad loc.) that there is an issue of tircha, exertion: “one toils
to improve something.”
May one put flowers that have never been in water into a
water-filled vase on Shabbat? Presumably,
this case cannot be defined as “returning,” since the flowers have never been in
water, but it also cannot be defined as “adding”, since one does not add water,
but rather only utilizes a vase which already has water in it. The
Mishna Berura (336:54) brings a
dispute of the Acharonim in the matter:
According to the Tosefet ha-Shabbat and the
Chayei Adam, the allowance only
extends to returning flowers to the water they had been in, but for any plant
which was not in water, putting it in water is defined as “adding” and is
On the other hand, according to the Peri Megadim
and the Shulchan Arukh ha-Rav, the prohibition is limited to filling an
empty vessel with water or adding water to a vessel which has water in it, since
there is tircha in the matter.
However, as long as one does not add water, there is no prohibition to
put flowers in a water-filled vessel, even if they were not in the vessel
earlier, and even if before this they were not in water at all.
In practice, the
Mishna Berura rules (Shaar ha-Tziyun, ibid., 48) that in a case
in which one forgets to put the flowers in water before Shabbat, there is
adequate basis to rely on the lenient view and to put the flowers on Shabbat
into a vase which has water in it, since the issue is one of doubt regarding a
The Maharil (Hilkhot Shabbat, 19) puts forth an innovative view
that the allowance of the mishna is meant to be only for branches or sticks of
spices that do not have flowers which are going to open in the future. However, if there are flowers which
are going to open in the future, one may not put them in water or even put them
back in water. The
Rema rules accordingly (336:11):
One may place tree branches in water on Shabbat, as long as there will not be
flowers and roses which open up from the moisture of the water.
What is the reason for prohibiting this? We have seen
above that, in the view of the Rambam,
one who causes seeds to sprout in water is liable because of
The Maharil and the Rema
apparently believe that if the water will cause the flowers to open, the act is
similar to causing seeds to sprout, and therefore this is prohibited. The
Mishna Berura (ibid.) stresses that in this case it is forbidden even to
put the flowers back into the same water in which they had previously been
branches which do not have buds or blossoms that are going to open may be
returned to the same water in which they had previously been placed.
In a case of great need, it is
permissible to put them in a water-filled vessel even if they were not in water
previously; however, one should not add water to the vessel or put water in an
empty vessel because of tircha.
On the other hand, flowers which have yet to open cannot be put in water,
and it is forbidden even to put them back in the vase in which they sat
previously, due to a concern of violating the melakha of
Translator’s note: We use “plant” here for any living item from that
kingdom, be it wheat, roses or sycamores, etc.