New York – With another Snow Storm in the Tri-State area fresh on the heels of the ‘Arctic Vortex’ or ‘Polar Blast’ that recently causing record breaking freezing temperatures all across the Eastern United States (when Niagara Falls freezes over and Polar Bears prefer to be indoors, you know it’s C-O-L-D), and the aftereffects of the Yerushalayim Asarah B’Teves “Blizzard” of 5774 [seemingly the worst since 5547 (1787) – see Yalkut Yosef (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 143, 6), or at least 5717 (1957) – see Shu”t Har Tzvi (Orach Chaim, Ta”l Harim, Soser 1)] there is one specific Halacha sheilah that readily comes to mind. The very same one that my kids asked me several times over that snowed-in Yerushalayim Shabbos several weeks ago: Is making snowballs permitted on Shabbos? And if not, why?
Truthfully, the question is far more complex that one might think, with quite interestingly, no clear-cut consensus as to the proper rationales and reasons, even among those who deem it prohibited.
Yet, one very important fact is clear. If the Eruv is down, or in a locale that does not have an Eruv, outdoor snowball fights (unless in a walled-in Reshus HaYachid) would certainly be forbidden, as throwing snowballs would transgress the prohibition of Hotza’ah, ‘Carrying’.
Interestingly, according to Tosafos (Shabbos 2a and Eruvin 17b), this well known halacha of not carrying outside on Shabbos is based on the episode in this week’s Parsha, Parshas Beshalach, of several people attempting to gather the mun (manna) on Shabbos. The Pasuk states “On the Seventh Day each person should remain where he is and not leave his place”, referring to refraining from carrying from one’s house or private enclosed area to a Reshus HaRabbim.
However, to define which actions or set of actions define snowball making, and whether or not it is prohibited is not so simple. Let us explore these issues further.
First of all, is snow actually Muktzeh? Is one allowed to move it?
The common consensus is that rain is not Muktzeh, even if it fell on Shabbos, as proven by Tosafos (Beitzah 2a s.v. ka, based on the Gemara in Eruvin 45b – 46a), as the moisture existed beforehand in the form of clouds. [See, for example, Meiri (Eruvin 45b s.v. me’achar), Beis Yosef (Orach Chaim, end 310; citing Rav Tzemach Gaon), Teshuvos HaGaonim (242), Magen Avraham (Orach Chaim 397, 13), Daas Torah (Orach Chaim 340, end 1), Mishna Berura (338, 30; citing the Zechor L’Avraham), and Kaf Hachaim (Orach Chaim 310, 52 and 397, 56).]
Many poskim, including the Chavos Yair (Mekor Chaim, Orach Chaim 320, 11), Even HaOzer (Orach Chaim 363), Maamar Mordechai (Shu”t 2), and the Butchatcher Rav (Eshel Avraham, Orach Chaim 312, Tinyana), as well as many contemporary authorities including the Minchas Shabbos (on Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, 80, 56), Har Tzvi (ibid.), Ba’er Moshe (Shu”t vol. 1, 20), Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (as per Shmiras Shabbos K’hilchasa Ch. 16, 45 and Shulchan Shlomo 310, 26, 2; and not as quoted in Sefer Tiltulei Shabbos pg. 13, 13), Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (as per Minchas Yehuda Ch. 13, 19 and Orchos Shabbos vol. 2, Ch. 19, footnote 259), Rav Ovadia Yosef (cited in Yalkut Yosef, Shabbos vol. 2, pg. 498, footnote s.v. ul’inyan), Rav Chaim Kanievsky (cited in Sefer HaNosein Sheleg, Kuntress HaShu”t 7), the Nishmas Shabbos (vol. 4, 247 and 249), and Rav Pesach Eliyahu Falk (Shu”t Machzeh Eliyahu 68), define snow similarly, maintaining that the same rationale permitting utilizing rain on Shabbos applies to snow as well, and it is not Muktza.
However, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu”t Igros Moshe Orach Chaim vol. 5, 22, 37 and Sefer Tiltulei Shabbos pg. 165, footnote 10; not as quoted in Sefer Hilchos Shabbos of R’ Shimon Eider pg. 120, footnote 331), held that snow is indeed considered Muktzeh, as nowadays people generally do not have a real use for it, and is akin to gravel, that its main use is simply to walk on it. Additionally, he held that snow would be prohibited due to another concern as well. As opposed to rain, snow would be considered Nolad (came into existence on Shabbos) if it fell on Shabbos, since people do not associate snow with being carried in the clouds.
An interesting upshot of this shitta is that although he held snow is Muktzeh, Rav Moshe did not ascribe any other prohibition to making snowballs. Accordingly, Rav Moshe would hold that if one gathered snow on Erev Shabbos and set it aside for a snowball fight on Shabbos (within an Erev, of course) then one may make and throw those snowballs on Shabbos! [See Mesores Moshe (pg. 68, 148).]
On the other hand, many other authorities, although maintaining that snow itself is not Muktzeh, nevertheless held that making snowballs on Shabbos is problematic for other reasons, chief among them Boneh, building. The Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos, Ch.7, 6 and cited as halacha by the Mishna Berura 319, 63) discussing cheese making, rules that anytime one takes separate parts and joins them together to make a new item, is ‘similar to Boneh’ and therefore prohibited on Shabbos.
The Chavos Yair (Mekor Chaim ibid.), Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (cited in Shmiras Shabbos Kehilchasa and Shulchan Shlomo ibid.), and Rav Chaim Kanievsky (cited in Sefer HaNosein Sheleg, Kuntress HaShu”t 6 & 27), as well as others, apply this rule to the formation of snowballs, prohibiting them. Although by making snowballs one is not actually creating something new, he is still giving form to something new, which gives the appearance of and is akin to building.
Yet, other poskim, including Rav Moshe Feinstein (Mesores Moshe ibid.), the Debreciner Rav (Shu”t Ba’er Moshe vol. 6, 30) and the Nishmas Shabbos (ibid) disagree, maintaining that the prohibition of Boneh can only apply when someone builds something which has at least a semblance of permanence. Snowballs, they argue, which have a transient and ephemeral existence lasting a grand total of several seconds from time of throwing, cannot be including in the ‘building’ category. Nonetheless, they concede that when it comes to building snowmen, which generally are meant to stick around until they melt several days later, it would be proscribed due to Boneh.
Another potential prohibition involved with making snowballs on Shabbos is Risuk, mashing or crushing, related to the prohibition Sechita, squeezing (as in squeezing out juice from a fruit). The Shulchan Aruch regarding washing one’s hands on Shabbos with icy or snowy water (Orach Chaim 320, 11), rules that one should be careful not to rub his hands together with the ice as it may crush the ice, causing it to melt and him to unwittingly transgress the prohibition of Risuk.
Several authorities, including the Chavos Yair, and the Ba’er Moshe apply this ruling to making snowballs. In the formation of a snowball by applying direct pressure to it, one cannot avoid crushing the snow, causing a bit of it to melt. Ergo, they explain, snowballs would still be prohibited to make on Shabbos for this reason.
However, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Mesores Moshe pg. 67, 147 s.v. ulgabei) and the Nishmas Shabbos (ibid.) disagree. They aver that any miniscule amount of water that is possibly melted while forming a snowball outdoors in the freezing cold is definitely not noticeable, and in no way would it constitute crushing or squeezing out a liquid.
Other potential prohibitions others in the formation snowballs mentioned by some authorities and rejected by others include: Ma’mar, gathering (i.e. gathering the snow to make the snowballs), Uvda D’Chol, weekday activities, and Soser, destroying (i.e. when the thrown snowball hits its target).
In the final analysis, although there are some poskim who give a dispensation to allow young children to make and throw snowballs on Shabbos (see Shu”t Ba’er Moshe and Shu”t Nishmas Shabbos ibid.), nevertheless, the vast majority of authorities rule that it is assur, period. In fact, the Chavos Yair states that if one sees children throwing snowballs at each other, one should attempt to make them stop.
Although they do not see eye to eye in their rationales, and there is no clear cut consensus as to the singular reason why it should be prohibited, all the same the hachra’as haposkim, is indeed that making snowballs on Shabbos is assur. Just another reason to stay and play indoors when a ‘Polar Vortex’ comes a knocking.
For any questions, comments or for the full Mareh Mekomos / sources, please email the author: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rabbi Yehuda Spitz serves as the Sho’el U’ Meishiv and Rosh Chabura of the Ohr Lagolah Halacha Kollel at Yeshivas Ohr Somayach in Yerushalayim.