Latest update: May 27th, 2013
For Appearance’s Sake
‘Moving Forward At The Word Of G-d’
When the umbrella was invented, poskim debated at length whether it may be used on Shabbos. The core of their debate was whether opening an umbrella is considered making an ohel for protection from the rain or sun. In practice, the prohibition against using umbrellas has been universally accepted among all Jewish communities. As the Chafetz Chaim, zt”l, writes, “One who guards his soul should utterly refrain from their use” (Biur Halacha 315, s.v. tefach).
However, when the Chasam Sofer was first informed that a great posek considered opening an umbrella to be an issur d’oraisa, he pointed to our sugya as proof to the contrary (Teshuvos O.C. 72).
As is well-known, the 39 melachos are defined and characterized by the activities that were necessary to construct the Mishkan. For example, because curtains were sewn for the Mishkan, sewing is forbidden on Shabbos. Because rams were slaughtered for their leather to cover the Mishkan, slaughtering is forbidden on Shabbos. Because building was necessary in constructing the Mishkan, building is forbidden on Shabbos.
In Talmud Yerushalmi, amora’im debate whether one may construct a temporary building. In other words, may one build a structure on Shabbos that one intends to soon demolish?
On the one hand, one can argue that doing so should be forbidden. After all, the Mishkan itself was a temporary building. When Bnei Yisrael camped, they assembled its parts. Before they traveled, they dismantled it. Since the issur of meleches boneh is based on what happened in constructing the Mishkan, temporary building should be forbidden on Shabbos.
On the other hand, though, one can argue that temporary building does not fall under the category of meleches boneh since it is unimportant, and unimportant building is not considered real “building” when it comes to the laws of Shabbos. It’s true that the building of the Mishkan was also temporary, but that was by no means a sign of its unimportance. Bnei Yisrael assembled and disassembled it by Hashem’s command. Even if the Mishkan only sometimes stood for a short period of time, the command of Hashem made it as important as any permanent building.
A Permanent Umbrella?
An umbrella is a temporary structure. As such, it is subject to the debate in Yerushalmi. Though the Yerushalmi does not resolve this debate, the Chasam Sofer argues that our sugya reaches a clear conclusion on our question.
Demolishing is one of the 39 melachos if done in a constructive fashion. In other words, one may not destroy for the sake of building. For example, one may not demolish an old building to build a new one in its place. Our Gemara wonders whether one may demolish for the sake of building in a different locale. One can argue that doing so does not fall under the category of forbidden demolishing since there seemingly is no connection between the act of demolishing and the act of building.
The Gemara suggests a proof that doing so is forbidden based on what happened in constructing the Mishkan. When the Jews dismantled the Mishkan, they did so for the sake of building it in another locale. Since the construction of the Mishkan is the very source of the 39 melachos, demolishing for the sake of building elsewhere should therefore be forbidden.
The Gemara rejects this reasoning. It states that the dismantling of the Mishkan was done at Hashem’s command, thus making the dismantling extremely significant. It cannot be compared to the demolition of mundane buildings in order to build them in a different place.
The Gemara accepts this argument. Demolishing on Shabbos in order to rebuild in a different place is not the biblical melachah of demolishing even though it was performed in the Mishkan.
The Chasam Sofer and the Umbrella
We can extend this line of reasoning to temporary building. This act was also done in constructing the Mishkan but cannot be compared to ordinary temporary building. In the Mishkan, temporary building was important because it was done at the special command of Hashem for the purpose of traveling in the desert. The same cannot be said of ordinary temporary building.
Thus, we learn from here that there is no issur d’oraisa in opening an umbrella on Shabbos. The Chasam Sofer argues further that both opinions in Yerushalmi would agree that opening an umbrella is not considered boneh since umbrellas don’t have walls! Furthermore, an umbrella is not a stable structure. It is carried around, and cannot be considered a proper structure. (The Chasam Sofer also discusses whether opening an umbrella is assur d’rabanan; see Chazon Ish, O.C. 52:6; introduction to Tiferes Yisrael, Kalkeles Shabbos; and Orchos Shabbos 9:6).
Unlike our umbrellas, the umbrellas discussed by the poskim were difficult to open and close. “They must be stretched out and then tied with straps or fastened with metal wires,” the Pri Megadim and Biur Halacha (ibid.) write. Nevertheless, it is still forbidden for us to use umbrellas on Shabbos. “The great Torah leaders of previous generations forbade opening and closing umbrellas on Shabbos and Yom Tov. Even if an umbrella is already open, a person must not use it because of mar’is ayin; it may appear that he opened it on Shabbos” (see Shemiras Shabbos K’Hilchasa 24:15 and the footnote there).
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About the Author: RABBI YAAKOV KLASS, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. RABBI GERSHON TANNENBAUM, rav of Congregation Bnai Israel of Linden Heights, Boro Park, Brooklyn, is the Director of Igud HaRabbanim – The Rabbinical Alliance of America.
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