19 – Agricultural Melakhot (Ĥoresh, Zore’a, Kotzer, and Me’amer)

01. Ĥoresh

The melakha of Ĥoresh refers to preparing ground for sowing or planting, by making furrows or holes in the soil in order to plant seeds or seedlings. Plowing also loosens and softens the soil, making it easier for roots to spread out and absorb nutrients.

Thus, one who levels the surface of the ground violates Ĥoresh, because doing so softens the soil and makes it easier to prepare for sowing and planting. Making even a small hole is a transgression of Ĥoresh because a seed can be planted in it. Similarly, clearing rocks from a field, fertilizing it, and weeding are all toladot of Ĥoresh, since these actions improve the soil and make it easier to sow and plant. Anyone who undertakes any activity in order to improve the ground prior to sowing or planting violates Torah law (Shabbat 103a; y. Shabbat 7:2). Even if he does not intend to sow or plant there, he has still violated Ĥoresh, since in fact he has improved the land for sowing or planting (Eglei Tal, Ĥoresh 16).

One may not make a hole in the dirt of a flowerpot or even stake something into the dirt of a flowerpot, thereby making a hole in which one can plant, as these violate the melakha of Ĥoresh (MB 498:91; see n. 4 below).

The Sages prohibited sweeping the ground in the yard, out of concern that one would end up leveling the ground, thus transgressing a Torah prohibition. If it is arable land, he violates Ĥoresh. If it is land that serves simply as a yard, he transgresses Boneh. However, one may sweep a part of the yard that has a hard, paved floor.[1]

One may not kick dirt and sand, or move it around with one’s foot, because this both loosens soil and levels the ground. Saliva that is on the ground should not be rubbed into the dirt with one’s shoes, to avoid leveling the ground. However, if one finds the saliva disgusting, he may step on it in the natural course of his walking, as long as his intention is not to spread it and level the ground (SA 316:11).

One who has mud stuck to his shoes should not try to rub it off against the ground, because he may end up leveling the ground (SA 302:6). Some are not concerned about this possibility, and allow rubbing off the mud (Rema, Taz). One who wishes may be lenient, but le-khatĥila it is preferable to be stringent. In contrast one may rub off the mud against a grate, tiles, or stones even le-khatĥila (MB 302:28; also see above 15:2).

[1]. See above 15:2 and n. 1 for the laws about sweeping floors. In practice, one may sweep all paved floors in the home and all paved areas outside. See below 23:14 and n. 14 on why doing so presents no problem of muktzeh.

02. Dragging Objects and Pushing a Baby Carriage

One may drag a bed, chair, or bench on the ground, since it is not certain that doing so will make a furrow. Even if the item could easily be lifted off the ground, thus avoiding the possibility of creating a furrow, it may still be dragged on the ground. As long as the person dragging the item does not intend to make a furrow, and there is no certainty that one will be formed, this is permitted, as it is considered a davar she-eino mitkaven (SA 337:1). However, if it is certain that a furrow will be made, one may not drag the item, as it constitutes Ĥoresh. Even if one does not intend to plant there, making the land cultivatable is in fact an act of Ĥoresh (via the principle of psik reisha; see above 9:5).[2]

In an area with an eruv, one may push a baby carriage or stroller even if it is clear that the wheels will make grooves in the dirt. This is because the wheels do not dig in and loosen the earth as a plow does. Rather, they pack down the earth, which actually does not effectively prepare it for sowing or planting. One may even pivot in the dirt with the carriage, because even then it is not certain that earth will be turned over and prepared for planting (SSK 28:48; Yeĥaveh Da’at 2:52).

[2]. Davar she-eino mitkaven refers to a case where it is not certain that a melakha will be performed. It is permitted in accordance with the opinion of R. Shimon in Shabbat 22a. However, if it is certain that a melakha will be performed, it is considered a psik reisha, which R. Shimon agrees is prohibited (Shabbat 103a; MT 1:5-6). According to most poskim, psik reisha is prohibited even when the melakha performed is rabbinic. Their proof for this is derived from the prohibition on dragging. Even though the furrow is made with a shinui and not by an instrument normally used to plow, it is still prohibited (Shabbat 46b). Others maintain that making a furrow by dragging a heavy object over the ground is prohibited by Torah law, because it is not considered a shinui. Rather, it is extremely similar to the classic way of plowing. This is the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam and R. Avraham ben Ha-Rambam. See Menuĥat Ahava 2:1:6. If a furrow would actually be detrimental to the yard, it would seem that one may drag items, as the action would be considered a psik reisha de-lo niĥa lei in a case of a double rabbinic prohibition (according to many), since the furrow is made in a way that is irregular as well as destructive. See above, ch. 9 n. 2.

03. Zore’a

The melakha of Zore’a refers to causing plants or trees to grow by, for example, planting seeds or saplings or by grafting trees. All actions that improve the growth of branches or fruit are forbidden by Torah law as well. Thus, pruning and weeding are forbidden, because these actions promote plant growth. Similarly, one may not water plants or fertilize the soil surrounding them. It is also forbidden to apply dressings (such as tar or paint) to a tree’s wounds in order to heal it (Shabbat 73b; MT 7:3, 8:2).[3]

One may not leave an avocado pit in a dish of water so that it will take root and begin to grow. Likewise, one may not put a branch in water so that it will take root and start growing.

Included in the prohibition is germinating seeds in water so that the sprouts can then either be eaten or transferred to soil. It is also forbidden to soak seeds in water to soften them, preparing them to take root and grow (SA 336:11).[4] However, one may soak barley to soften it before feeding it to animals. This is because one does not desire for the barley to grow; besides, the barley is removed from the water and fed to the animals before the roots emerge (MB 336:51).

One should not toss seeds onto damp ground. Since they could start growing, one who tossed them would be guilty of planting on Shabbat. However, one may throw seeds somewhere they probably will not grow. Therefore, one may throw seeds in a place where people walk regularly, or in front of animals who will eat them within a day or two (SA 336:4).

One may not open or close the windows or doors of a greenhouse in order to encourage the growth of the plants inside. However, if there is a houseplant in the room, one may still open the shades and the windows for one’s own sake, even though the sunlight and air that enter will indirectly help the potted plant grow. Since he did not open the shades and windows for this purpose, and the benefit to the plant is remote, it is not prohibited (as it is a psik reisha in a case of a double rabbinic prohibition, since the melakha is done both with a shinui and via grama; Har Tzvi, OĤ §133 and Yeĥaveh Da’at 5:29).

[3]. If one plants a seed on Shabbat but removes the seed from the ground before it takes root, then according to Rashash, he has not violated Torah law, because the prohibition takes place only when the seed takes root. According to Minĥat Ĥinukh and Eglei Tal, Zore’a 8, simply placing the seeds is already a Torah prohibition.[4]. According to Nishmat Adam 11:1 and AHS 336:30, planting seeds even in a planter that does not have holes is prohibited by Torah law. In contrast, according to Mahari Ĥagiz and Eglei Tal, Zore’a 9, the prohibition is rabbinic, since normally people do not plant using such a flowerpot. The reason that soaking seeds is prohibited by Torah law is because that is the way it is generally done (see Menuĥat Ahava vol. 2 ch. 3 n. 33). Recently, people have begun growing seeds and plants hydroponically, using water and a combination of chemicals to substitute for the nutrients normally found in soil. It would seem that all would agree that one who plants seeds hydroponically violates Torah law, since nowadays this is a normal way of planting, similar to the case of planting in dirt on a roof (Responsa Rosh 2:4).

04. Irrigation

One may not water plants, as it helps them grow and thus constitutes Zore’a. However, one may open irrigation pipes or turn on sprinklers before Shabbat even if they will water plants during Shabbat. Similarly, one may program a computer before Shabbat to activate sprinklers on Shabbat, as on Shabbat no action will be done by a Jew. One who opened irrigation pipes before Shabbat may close them on Shabbat, as this involves no melakha (see above 2:9).

One who eats in a yard must be careful not to wash his hands over plants or their roots (SA 336:3). If the plants are small and their roots are short, the prohibition applies only in the immediate vicinity of the plants, but if the plants are large, the prohibition applies to the entire garden bed around them.

One may pour water on the ground if there are no plants or roots nearby. Even though it is possible that eventually the water will reach roots or that wild flowers will subsequently grow there, this is not prohibited since one does not intend this to happen (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 336:27).

One may not pour water on his own soil if it is suitable for planting. Since this softens the ground, preparing it for planting, it is considered Ĥoresh (MB 336:26; SHT ad loc. 18).

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.

06. Kotzer

Kotzer refers to cutting something off from its source of growth, and it includes harvesting grain, picking grapes, dates, olives, or figs, and pulling off any other fruit or branch from a tree. Cutting down trees to use for heating or building is included in this prohibition as well. It is also forbidden to pull grass out of a crevice in a wall or to remove fungi from bucket handles (Shabbat 73b and 107b). Taking an avocado pit or a branch out of water is forbidden as well, if it has started growing roots.

According to Torah law, there is no prohibition on picking fruits, branches, or leaves from a tree that has completely dried out. Since the tree is not absorbing nourishment from the soil, one who pulls off a part of it is not detaching it from the source of its growth. However, since this resembles harvesting, the Sages forbade it. (See SA 336:12.)

In contrast, if a branch was cut off a tree before Shabbat, since it is clear that the branch has already been detached from its source of nourishment, the prohibition of Kotzer no longer applies to it, and one may pull off its fruits on Shabbat. If it is a fragrant branch, one may pick twigs or leaves from it in order to smell them (Rema 336:8).

07. Using a Tree

As a precaution, the Sages prohibited using a tree on Shabbat, out of concern that one may end up breaking off a branch or leaf. Therefore, one may not climb or lean against a tree[6] and may not place items on trees or remove items from them. If the wind blows an item of clothing into a tree on Shabbat, one may not remove it. Similarly, one may not recover a ball that fell into a tree nor shake the tree so that the ball will fall out (SA 336:1; MB ad loc. 3). One should take care not to place things on a tree before Shabbat if they will be needed on Shabbat (MB 336:12). However, one may touch a tree if he is not using or moving it (Rema 336:13).

Not only is using a tree prohibited, it is also prohibited to use items resting directly on a tree. For example, one may not use a swing that is attached to a tree, even if only one side is attached. One may not remove an item of clothing from a clothesline that is tied to a tree. Similarly, one may not climb a ladder that is resting against a tree, and one may not remove things from a basket hanging from a tree.

However, if a peg was driven into a tree and a swing was hung from the peg, one may use the swing. This is because only the peg is considered resting on the tree, while the swing is resting on the peg. Since the swing is two steps removed from the tree, this was not included in the rabbinic prohibition. Similarly, one may remove an item of clothing from a clothesline that is tied to a peg stuck into a tree, because the clothesline is two steps removed from the tree. If before Shabbat one rested a ladder against a peg embedded in a tree, one may climb the ladder on Shabbat, because the ladder is two steps removed from the tree. If before Shabbat items were placed in a basket hanging from a hook stuck in a tree, one may put items into it and remove them on Shabbat, because this too is two steps removed from the tree. However, on Shabbat one may not rest the ladder against the peg or hang the basket on the hook, because that would be making use of an item resting directly on a tree (SA 336:13; MB ad loc. 63).

Regarding the roots of an old tree that protrude above the ground, if they protrude less than three tefaĥim from the ground (about 23 cm), then they are considered equivalent to the ground, and one may sit upon them. However, if the roots protrude above this height, they are considered equivalent to a tree, and one may not sit upon them (SA 336:2).

[6]. The prohibition of leaning against a tree applies only when one puts all his weight on it. In contrast, a healthy person may lean a bit on a strong tree, since leaning on it slightly is not considered using the tree. This is on condition that the tree is strong enough that it will not move. Furthermore, a weak person may not lean even slightly on the tree, since due to his weakness he may end up shifting all his weight onto the tree and thus violate the prohibition of using it (MB 336:63).One who unknowingly climbed a tree may descend even though he will be using the tree again, because remaining in the tree would also be considered using it. However, if he purposely climbed a tree on Shabbat, the Sages mandated as a penalty that he may not descend until Shabbat is over (SA 336:1). If he can get down by simply jumping, without using the tree, he should do so (R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach cited in SSK ch. 26 n. 45).

08. Additional Laws

The Sages’ enactment against using trees applies to shrubs and vines that have hard branches or yield hard fruit, like pumpkins. However, the enactment does not include soft weeds, bushes, or branches. Therefore, one may sit on a lawn on Shabbat, even if it moves the grass slightly.

One may not smell an edible fruit while it is attached to its tree, lest one end up plucking the fruit in order to eat it. However, one may smell fragrant flowers where they grow. This is because he has no reason to pick them, as they can be smelled while still attached to the ground. If tree branches themselves are fragrant, one may not grasp them and move them closer to smell them, because one may not move them, just as one may not move a tree. If the branches are soft and pliant, as are myrtle branches, one may grasp them and move them closer to smell them. One must, of course, be careful not to pluck the branches.[7]

One may walk on a lawn even though walking on it may uproot some grass. This is because he does not intend to do this, and it is not necessarily going to happen. But if the grass is high and it is certain that walking on it will cause some of it to be torn up, one may not walk on it (SA 336:3; BHL ad loc.).

Not only did the Sages prohibit using a tree, they also prohibited riding on an animal, lest the rider break a branch to use as a riding crop to direct the animal. The Sages also prohibited extracting honey from honeycombs, because this resembles picking produce (SA 321:13).

One may bring his animals to a grassy area so that they may graze. This is not considered Kotzer because the animals are eating for themselves. We are not commanded to ensure that animals keep Shabbat; we simply must ensure that they do not perform melakhot on our behalf (Shabbat 122a; SA 324:13).

[7]. Some say that the prohibition on using a tree includes moving soft grass or weeds (Baĥ and Taz). Alternatively, some prohibit moving grass on account of muktzeh (MA to SA 311:6; Kaf Ha-ĥayim 336:62). However, most are permissive, as Rema writes in 336:1 and SA implies in 336:10 and 312:6. This approach is also followed by MB 312:19; 336:15, 48 and Livyat Ĥen 104:6. The grass is not muktzeh because they maintain that muktzeh does not apply to anything attached to the ground.

09. Flowers and Branches in a Vase

Flowers, branches, or stems that were picked before Shabbat for their beauty or fragrance, are not muktzeh on Shabbat. Therefore, a vase containing branches that are used for their beauty or fragrance may be moved. Similarly, they may be removed from the water for viewing or smelling. There is no problem of Kotzer, since there are no roots. One may also return stems to the water if they do not have flowers, or if they have fully-developed flowers. There is no problem of Zore’a, since the water will not cause any further growth but will only preserve their freshness so they do not wither.

However, one may not place in water any stems with flowers that are budding or that have not yet fully opened, because placing them in the water causes further growth. Nevertheless, one may remove them from the water. This is not considered Kotzer, because they have not put down roots in the water. Once removed, though, one may not replace them. Therefore, if one receives a bouquet of flowers as a gift on Shabbat and it contains flowers that have not yet fully opened, one may not place them in water, as this will cause the flowers to grow and open. Rather, one should put the bouquet in a vase that does not contain water.[8]

[8]. Rema 336:11. According to Maharikash, one may put flowers in water as well, since even if they open it is not considered new growth. His opinion is not accepted. SHT 336:48 even states that a Torah prohibition may be involved. It is generally agreed that one who removed branches from water may put them back. Aĥaronim disagree, however, whether one may put them in water to begin with. Tosefet Shabbat and Ĥayei Adam prohibit doing so, while SAH and Pri Megadim permit it, as is quoted by MB 336:54. SHT ad loc. 48 states that one may be lenient, as the law in question is rabbinic. This is on condition that he prepared a container of water before Shabbat. However, on Shabbat, one may not fill a container with water in which to place the branches. This is because it involves exerting effort for the sake of the branches, which is prohibited, as explained in Sukka 42a in the context of a lulav. Yeĥaveh Da’at 2:53 is lenient, based on Rashba, and allows one to fill a container with water on Shabbat. The reason is that while we are stringent regarding a lulav because it is muktzeh, this stringency does not apply to other branches. As SA 321:11 states: “One may water a detached plant to prevent it from withering.” This is also the position of Menuĥat Ahava vol. 2 ch. 3 n. 18. It would seem that one may rely on the lenient position, since this is a dispute regarding a rabbinic prohibition.

10. A Flowerpot

Just as one may not break off a branch or leaf from a plant growing in soil, so too one may not break off anything from a potted plant. If the flowerpot has holes in the bottom, it is considered connected to the ground. Thus one who plucks anything from it transgresses Kotzer by Torah law. If the flower pot does not have holes in the bottom, it is not considered connected to the ground, as this is not the way plants normally grow. Thus one who plucks anything from it transgresses only rabbinically (SA 336:7; MB ad loc. 42). Similarly, one may not water potted plants (MB 336:41; see n. 4 above).

One may not move a potted plant from its place on Shabbat, because it is muktzeh. It is considered a kli she-melakhto le-isur (see ch. 23) since watering its contents or picking them is prohibited. However, one may move it if he needs the space it occupies (below 23:8). If the potted plant is frequently moved from place to place for aesthetic reasons or so that it can be smelled, it is not muktzeh, since its primary use is a permissible one.

Sometimes moving a potted plant is prohibited on account of Zore’a or Kotzer. For example, if the flowerpot has a hole in the bottom the size of a small root and it is resting on the ground, the hole allows the plant to draw sustenance from the ground, and thus it is considered connected to the ground. Thus, one may not move the pot from the ground and place it on a hard plastic surface, because that would violate Kotzer. Conversely, if the plant is on a hard plastic saucer, it may not be moved from there and placed on the ground, because that would violate Zore’a. Thus, if one needs to move the flower pot to use the space it is occupying, he must be careful to move it together with the saucer underneath it.[9]

If a flower pot tipped over and some of its dirt spilled out, one may not put the dirt back in the pot, because doing so helps the plant grow and thus transgresses both Ĥoresh and Zore’a. Additionally, soil is muktzeh and may not be moved. Even if no dirt spilled, but the flowerpot’s fall exposed the roots of the plant and they will be covered back up if the plant is restored to a standing state, one may not do so even using one’s foot (such that muktzeh is not an issue), because covering the roots violates both Ĥoresh and Zore’a. (One may open a window in a room containing a plant, as explained above at the end of section 3.)

[9]. This law is explained in SA 336:7-8. If a flower pot has a hole in the bottom, one may not lift it from the ground and place it on pegs. Even if it is only removed for a short period of time, and even if there is no object coming between it and the ground, it has nevertheless been distanced from its life source. Similarly, one may not remove the flower pot from the pegs and return it to the ground (SA 336:8 and MB ad loc.)There are many opinions about how big the hole must be. The standard ruling is about 2-2.5 cm. There is disagreement whether floor tiles are viewed as separating the hole from the ground. Brit Olam and Menuĥat Ahava 2:4:7 maintain that they do. R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach says that floor tiles only separate the hole from the ground when they are on the second floor or higher. Ĥazon Ish maintains that ceramic tiles do not separate, but marble tiles do. If a flower pot is on a plastic saucer, it is equivalent to a flower pot that does not have holes. (See Orĥot Shabbat 18:18 and Harĥavot.) Thus, as long as the flower pot has a saucer underneath it, it may be moved from place to place.

11. Me’amer

Me’amer refers to gathering harvested grain into sheaves or piles. Similarly, one who gathers picked fruit and places them in boxes or piles transgresses Me’amer, as does one who gathers cut branches or reeds to use as fuel.

This melakha, as a rule, relates to objects that grow in the ground and are still located in the area where they grew. This is because the harvest is generally gathered where it grows. However, some types of produce are gathered in two stages. For such produce, both stages are prohibited by Torah law, even if the second stage does not take place in the field. This is the case, for example, when producing a pressed fig cake. The first stage in this process involves gathering figs from the field, which is prohibited on Shabbat on account of Me’amer. The second stage involves pressing them together to produce a cake. Doing this even at home is prohibited by Torah law as a tolada of Me’amer, since this is the standard way to form these cakes (SA 340:10; MB ad loc. 38; see Menuĥat Ahava 2:5:2).

Gathering fruit scattered in a yard is not prohibited by Torah law, because they are not located where they grew, yet the Sages nevertheless prohibited gathering them because it resembles a weekday activity. However, one may collect a few pieces of fruit and eat them. If the fruit fell in one place and did not scatter very much, one may collect them and put them in a basket. If they fell into gravel or dirt, even if they are all in one place, one may not gather them and place them in a basket, because doing so resembles Borer. However, one may pick them up one at a time and eat them (SA 335:5).

One may collect fruit that is scattered inside one’s home, because gathering items inside does not resemble Me’amer (MB 340:37).[10]

Although according to Torah law, Me’amer applies only to things that grow in the ground, the Sages forbade collecting salt from salt mines. Since this salt looks like it grows from the ground, collecting it resembles Me’amer (SA 340:9). Based on this, several Aĥaronim rule that one may not gather eggs that were laid before Shabbat (Ketzot Ha-shulĥan; however, Shevet Ha-Levi 4:39 is lenient). Eggs that were laid on Shabbat are muktzeh, and therefore one may not pick up even one egg.

Me’amer does not apply to items that have undergone major transformations. Thus, one may gather cooked fruits together. Similarly, gathering clothing made from natural fibers is not a problem, since they have been transformed from their original state (AHS 340:3).

[10]. However, some prohibit gathering fruit even inside, maintaining that it requires just as much effort in one’s home as in the yard (Az Nidberu 14:17; Menuĥat Ahava 2:5:6). MB 340:37 implies that this is permitted inside. Or Le-Tziyon 2:43:7 also permits, maintaining that fruit inside is viewed as having already been gathered, and thus Me’amer is irrelevant. Even those who are stringent regarding gathering inside would still allow throwing candies or almonds at a groom in the synagogue. Even though children will collect them and put them into bags, it is an effortless expression of happiness and not a weekday activity (Menuĥat Ahava 2:5:7).