09. Cleaning the Floor and Making Repairs

If the floor is dirty, and leaving it in such a state dishonors Shabbat, one may sweep the floor. A yard, though, may not be swept, because one may end up leveling the ground and thus transgressing Boneh (see section 2 above, n. 1).

In contrast, one may not wash the floor, since leaving the floor unwashed does not dishonor Shabbat as leaving it unswept does, and there is concern that one who washed an area with a hard floor will end up washing a dirt floor as well, which would involve leveling the ground and thus transgressing Boneh (SA 337:3; MB ad loc. 3). However, if water spilled on the floor, one may remove the water using a squeegee (SSK 23:7).

If a particular spot on the floor has become especially filthy, for example, if juice spilled on it, one may pour a bit of water on it and then either wipe it away with a squeegee or soak it up with something that would not normally be wrung out (R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach cited in SSK ch. 23 n. 30; Yalkut Yosef 337:2). If the entire floor is filthy, one who is lenient and pours water on it and wipes it away with a squeegee has an opinion upon which to rely (Or Le-Tziyon 43:8).

If clumps of grass are blocking a drainage pipe, causing water to back up onto the roof and leak into the house, the Sages permit stepping on the clump to break up and remove the blockage. Normally, even fixing something with a shinui is rabbinically prohibited, but in this case, where otherwise a loss will be incurred, the Sages permit (Ketubot 60a; SA 336:9).

Based on this, some prohibit unclogging a sink using a plunger. They maintain that the Sages permit removing blockages only if a shinui is used, but using a plunger to break up a blockage is the normal way to deal with this problem. Thus it is forbidden by Torah law, and even in a time of need one may not be lenient (Yabi’a Omer 5:33; R. Yosef Shalom Elyashiv). In contrast, others permit this, maintaining that a blockage that can be broken up using a plunger is not a total blockage, and thus breaking it up is not considered a true repair. Furthermore, the improvement that is made is not to the pipe itself. Rather, one is simply dislodging the sludge that clogged it (Minĥat Yitzĥak 5:75; R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach cited in SSK 12:18; Menuĥat Ahava 3:24:29). In practice, in a case of need, it is proper for two people to hold the plunger and unclog the drain together. This way, even according to the stringent opinion, the prohibition would only be rabbinic; and when in doubt about a rabbinic mitzva, the halakha follows the lenient position. (See above 9:3 and n. 1.)

All agree that one may not remove a blockage using professional equipment like a plumber’s snake. It is also forbidden by Torah law to take apart the pipe under the sink in order to empty it of sludge and then reassemble it.

One may remove garbage that accumulates in the sink strainer. It is not necessary to do this with a shinui, because this action does not fix anything; one is simply removing filth (SA 308:34; SSK 12:17; below 22:12).

One may not oil a door’s squeaky hinge or a baby carriage’s wheel, as this is considered a repair (SSK 23:43; 28:53). If pantyhose start to tear (or “run”), one may not put nail polish or soap at the tip of the run to prevent further ripping, because this reinforces the hose (SSK 15:77).

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