THE LAWS OF SHABBAT
By Rav Yosef Zvi
Choresh, Part III
Washing the Floor
The Gemara (151b) indicates that it is
forbidden to wash a tiled floor or pour oil on it:
It once happened that a student of Rabbi Meir entered the bathhouse. He wanted to wash the floor, but he
said to him: “We do not wash it.” To oil the floor — he said to him: “We do not
oil it; ground can be confused with ground.”
In other words, washing and oiling a floor
which is not tiled is forbidden because of filling holes (Rashi), and therefore the Sages forbid washing and oiling tiled
floors, because one may confuse them and come to wash or oil an unpaved floor.
The Rambam (21:3) and the Shulchan Arukh
(337:3) rule accordingly:
“One may neither oil the ground nor wash it,
even if it is tiled.”
Why are we stringent when it comes to washing
tiled floors, while the Rambam and the Shulchan Arukh themselves are lenient
when it comes to sweeping them, as we saw in our previous shiur? The Maggid Mishneh (ad loc.) explains
that washing the floor is not as necessary an act as sweeping, and therefore the
Sages are more prepared to ban it:
One may not oil… or wash the floor…
Even though sweeping is allowed on tiles, this matter is forbidden; they
decreed against it, as there is not as great a need as there is for sweeping.
The Mishna Berura (17) writes to this effect
When All the Houses are Tiled
What is the rule when all of the houses in
town are tiled? The halakha here
depends apparently on the dispute among the Rishonim which we saw in our
previous shiur. According to
Rashi and Tosafot, the Sages only banned sweeping hard floors because of dirt
floors in the same locale, but if all of the houses in the town are tiled, there
is no reason to ban this. According
to the Ramban, on the other hand, there is no difference between one place and
another. The Sages did not always
decree against tiled floors, but in an area in which they did decide to make a
decree — e.g., washing the floors — this decree is relevant even in a place in
which all of the houses have tiled floors.
This is also what the Rambam (21:3) indicates, as he writes simply that
oiling or washing the ground is forbidden even if it paved, and he does not
distinguish between different locales.
In practice, the Bei’ur Halakha, as we have
mentioned, endorses the lenient view when it comes to sweeping the house in a
town in which most of the houses have tiled floors; however when it comes to
washing the floor, he gives no hint that he is prepared to be lenient about it. It is possible to explain this
simply: sweeping the house is allowed by the Rambam upon any tiled ground (and
the Ramban would say the same about a dirt floor), and the reason we are
stringent is in accordance with the view of Tosafot, who compare the prohibition
of sweeping to the one against dragging heavy objects; consequently, we should
not be more stringent than Tosafot themselves, who are lenient in a locale in
which all of the houses have hard floors.
When it comes to washing the floor, on the other hand, the prohibition
upon tiled ground is stated explicitly in the Gemara, and therefore it is more
difficult to be lenient in a dispute among Rishonim and to allow washing
the floor, even in a locale in which all of the houses have hard floors.
In fact, the Ketzot Ha-shulchan (146;
Baddei Ha-shulchan, 59) is inclined to allow washing the floor in a locale
in which all of the houses have tiled floors; nevertheless, Rav Neuwirth writes
(Shemirat Shabbat Ke-hilkhata 23:6) that one should be stringent about
this, and this is the view of most Acharonim.
Leniencies for Washing Floors
However, Rav Neuwirth adds (ibid.) that in
extreme cases, e.g., in hospitals, in which one must be very strict about
hygiene and cleanliness, one may be lenient about washing the floor on Shabbat. (Apparently, the same would apply in
an army dining hall when there is a great deal of dirt on the floor: hygienic
concerns should make it permissible to be lenient about this.)
One may not wash the floor even if it is tiled, neither with a rag nor with a
squeegee… However, in extreme cases
— for example, in hospitals, in which hygiene is particularly important — one
may be lenient and permit washing the tiled floor, as long as one will use a
In a note, he cites the justification:
See the Mishna Berura (ibid.), that sweeping is more important than washing,
and therefore it is allowed upon tiles; if so, one may say that, in cases of
extreme need, the rule of washing is like the rule of sweeping, particularly in
a place where there are individuals in ill health.
In other words, we are lenient when it comes
to sweeping a tiled floor, and the reason for being stringent about washing is
that it is not as urgent as sweeping, as we saw in the abovementioned words of
the Maggid Mishneh. Therefore, in a
place in which the washing is particularly necessary, it is possible to be as
lenient about it as we are about sweeping.
We should add that one may enlist the view of Rashi and Tosafot that one
should not forbid washing a tiled floor in a locale in which all the floors are
When there is a danger that someone will slip
and fall, it is certainly permissible to wash the floor, since the prohibition
is only rabbinic in nature, and in a place in which there is a concern of
personal injury, the Sages did not make their decrees (Gemara 42a, Shulchan
Arukh OC 334:27).
Naturally, in any case in which we are lenient
about washing floors, the intent is only to allow moving water about with a
because this raises problems of squeezing and
laundering (Mishna Berura 337:17).
Rav S.Z. Auerbach (Shemirat Shabbat
Ke-hilkhata 23:7, n. 27) is cited to the effect that in a case in which
water has been spilled on the floor, one may mop the water and remove it using a squeegee. According to him, the prohibition of
washing the floor is applicable only when water is put on the floor in order to
wash it, not when one is removing water which has been spilled.
Rav Auerbach adds (ibid.) that one may even be
permitted to spill water on a dirty spot and then remove the water with a
squeegee, because cleaning one spot in this manner is not included in the ban. This is also the ruling of the Or
le-Tziyon (Vol. II, Ch. 43, n. 8) and the Yalkut Yosef (Vol. V, p. 65).
one may not wash a floor, whether its surface is
made of dirt or tiles.
Even in our times, when all of the houses have tiled
floors, one should still be stringent about this.
Nevertheless, one may be lenient in certain cases, as long as one uses a
squeegee without a cloth:
If there is a case of great need, e.g., in hospitals or in a place in which a
spilled substance seriously threatens hygiene or the honor of Shabbat, one may
be lenient and wash the floor (with a squeegee).
When there is a need (even not as great as in #1), one may spill water on the
ground and after that mop it with a squeegee.
If water spills on its own, it may be removed in any case.
Playing with Marbles
In the Gemara in Eruvin (104a), the Sages argue about the
prohibition of making loud noise on Shabbat: does this include all noisemaking
(Ulla) or only “a musical sound” (Rabba), i.e., producing a sound which is
pleasant to the ear? The Gemara
there notes a prohibition to play with walnuts on Shabbat:
Rav Yehuda says in
the name of Rav: “It is forbidden for women to play with walnuts.”
What is the reason?
Is it not because one produces a sound, and it is forbidden to produce any
No, it is lest one
come to fill holes. Were you not to
say so, what would you say about what Rav Yehuda said, “It is forbidden for
woman to play with apples” — what sound is produced there? Rather, it is lest one come to fill
The Gemara considers the possibility that the prohibition is based on
the fact that it is forbidden to produce
sounds on Shabbat, and it brings proof to the view of Ulla that every production
of sound is forbidden. However, the
Gemara rejects the proof: it may be that only “a musical sound” is forbidden, following the view of
Rabba, and the walnut game is forbidden because of a different reason — one may
come to smooth out the ground and fill depressions in it. This stands to reason, given that
playing with apples is also forbidden, even though one makes no inappropriate
noise while playing it.
According to Rabbeinu Yerucham (12:7), there
is a difference between the two approaches when it comes to the question of
whether may play the walnut game on top of a mat, upon which filling holes is
When it comes to playing with walnuts or almonds on Shabbat, for those who
rule in accordance with Ulla, it is forbidden even on a mat; for those who rule
in accordance with Rabba, this is allowed on a mat, because there is no filling
In practice, we rule in accordance with the
view of Rabba, as there is no prohibition of producing a sound unless it is “a musical sound” (Shulchan
Arukh OC 338:1). As such, the
Shulchan Arukh and Rema (338:5)
rule that the prohibition to play with walnuts is based solely on the concern of
filling holes, which does not exist in a place in which there is no issue of
smoothing out the ground:
One may not play with walnuts or apples and the like, because one may fill
Gloss [Rema]: This is only upon the ground, but on top of a table it is
allowed, as there is no need to ban it because of holes.
May one play on top of
This depends apparently on the dispute of the
Rishonim which we have seen: does one apply a ban to paved ground even if
the Gemara does not explicitly say so, as is the case with sweeping the house? According to this, just as the Rema
rules stringently concerning sweeping a tiled floor, the same should apply to a
game of marbles on a hard floor.
This is how the Mishna Berura (ad loc., 20; Shaar Ha-tziyun, 23) rules,
and he adds that this is implied by the Rema: the allowance is limited to the
table, but it would not apply to the floor.
What is the rule in our time,
when all of the houses have tiled floors? May one
play marbles on a hard floor?
Apparently, one should be lenient about this, as the Bei’ur Halakha is lenient
concerning sweeping the house, and this is what Rav Neuwirth writes (Shemirat
Shabbat Ke-hilkhata 16:5).
However, there is good reason to be more stringent about a game of marbles, as
the Ketzot Ha-shulchan writes (Baddei Ha-shulchan 146:60, end):
This applies only to sweeping, because one does not sweep the courtyard and
the alley on Shabbat, only the house; therefore, since all of the houses have
tiled floors, it is allowed.
However, a game of walnuts is played also in the courtyard or the alley, and
they are not tiled; therefore, it is forbidden even in houses with tiled floors.
In other words, sweeping is done specifically
inside the house. Therefore, as the
entire reason to forbid sweeping a tiled house is a concern that one may come to
floor, in a place in which there is practically no
house such as this, there is no reason for the ban. However, a game of walnuts and the
like is played outside as well, not only inside, and therefore one should
prohibit doing so even in a house with tiled floors, lest one come to play
outside in an unpaved area.
Thus, it makes
no difference whether the houses in the town have tiled floors or dirt floors,
because the concern has nothing to do with houses. The Shevitat Ha-shabbat (Choresh
28) also writes to this effect.
According to this, the halakha varies from
game to game. A game which is always
played upon a hard floor may be played on Shabbat on the floor of the house. A game which is played inside the
house as well as outside the house, on the ground, should not be played on the
floor on Shabbat, following the stringent view.
When it comes to
marbles, in the past it was very common to play with them
outside, and therefore it was appropriate to be stringent even inside the house
and confine it to the table, but in places in which we are accustomed nowadays
to play only inside the house, there is good reason to be lenient.
In conclusion, the Sages banned playing games
with walnuts and the like which require smooth ground, lest one come to fill in
holes while playing the game. Today,
one may be lenient about games which are always played on a hard floor and play
them on the floor of the house on Shabbat, but not outside (not even on
Translated by Rav Yoseif Bloch