05. Using a Sink Whose Water Drains into the Yard

If a sink’s drainpipe empties onto soil where plants grow, it may not be used on Shabbat by anyone who has an interest in the plants being watered. It goes without saying that one may not use this sink on Shabbat if it was intentionally set up to water the plants.

Nevertheless, many poskim maintain that one who does not care about watering the plants may use such a sink on Shabbat – for example, if the plants do not belong to him and he has no interest in their growth. In a time of need, one may rely on these poskim. To be sure, one who pours water directly onto plants violates a prohibition, even if he does not intend to water them, because he is helping them grow. In contrast, here the water is poured indirectly and is therefore a case of grama and permitted (SSK 12:19). If the water from the sink reaches plants that have already been adequately watered, whether through heavy rains or water that drained from the sink before Shabbat, then even one who is interested in the plants growing may use the sink on Shabbat, since he is not helping them at all.

Rain sometimes falls on Sukkot, and in order to prevent one’s sukka from getting wet one might extend a sliding roof over it. When the rain stops, he will want to retract the roof, but he knows that if he does so, water that accumulated on the rooftop will spill onto the nearby plants. May he retract the roof anyway on Shabbat and Yom Tov? It depends: If the rain was hard enough and long enough to saturate the ground, one may retract the roof, because the extra water serves no purpose. However, if there was only a little rain, the roof may not be retracted, because this will water the plants and violate Zore’a.[5]

[5]. This is the approach of Ĥut Shani (melekhet Zore’a) and Orĥot Shabbat ch. 18 n. 10; see Kaf Ha-ĥayim 336:29. Concerning the sink, I followed the position of those who are lenient and maintain that as long as one is not interested in watering the plants, one may use the sink. However, some are stringent and maintain that even if one is not interested in watering the plants, one may not spill water in the sink. This is the position of Az Nidberu 4:17 and R. Levi Yitzĥak Halperin (Ma’aseh U-grama Ba-halakha 4:2:5). According to them, the water that flows into the yard via the drainpipe is not viewed as arriving there through grama and ko’aĥ sheni, but rather it is as if the person is pouring it directly. However, in practice, when necessary one may rely on those who are lenient, as I write in the main text in the name of SSK. A psik resiha de-lo niĥa lei is only rabbinically prohibited (and according to Arukh it is permitted), so when it is unclear whether it is also grama and permitted, the halakha follows the lenient position. Indeed, Yalkut Yosef 336, Zore’a 9 and Menuĥat Ahava 2:3:8 say as much. If the water that flows from the sink reaches plants that have no need of water – whether because there was heavy rainfall and the ground is saturated, or a large amount of water flowed from the sink before Shabbat – watering these plants is not prohibited on account of Zore’a (Petaĥ Ha-devir as quoted by Kaf Ha-ĥayim 336:29). It would seem that in such a case, even those who are otherwise stringent would be lenient.

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The Laws of Shabbat (1+2) - Yocheved Cohen
The Laws of Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Women’s Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Pesach - Joshua Wertheimer
The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

Editor: Nechama Unterman