Zoreia (Part 2) Pouring Water on the Ground

  • Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon


By Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon


Shiur #28:

Zoreia, Part II


IV) Pouring Water on the Ground



Watering a plant on Shabbat is forbidden by Torah law.  In Mo’ed Katan (2b), the Talmudic sages argue about the nature of the prohibition in terms of the appropriate warning to give one who is about to violate the prohibition (in which the relevant melakha must be specified):


What warning do we give to one who waters seeds on Shabbat? 

Rabba said: “Because of choresh;” Rav Yosef said, “Because of zoreia.”

Rabba said: “My view makes sense: just as the way of choresh is to soften the ground, here too one softens the ground.”

Rav Yosef said: “My view makes sense: just as the way of zoreia is to make produce grow, here too one makes produce grow.”


According to Rav Yosef, irrigation is forbidden as a tolada (subcategory) of zoreia, since it is promoting plant growth, while according to Rabba, watering is forbidden as a tolada of choresh (plowing), since the water makes the ground softer.  In the continuation of this passage, the Gemara brings the view of Abbayei: watering is forbidden because of both choresh and zoreia. 


The Rishonim have a dispute as to the halakhic ruling here: according to the Rambam (8:2) and the Or Zarua (Vol. II, Ch. 54), the prohibition falls under zoreia, while according to the view of the Yere’im (Ch. 274, 131a) and the Semag (Prohibition 65, Choresh), the prohibition falls under both zoreia and choresh.


Unplanted Ground


The Or Zarua (ibid.) points out that there is a practical difference that emerges between the two views:


Now, according to Rav Yosef, it is permitted to pour water on unsown ground, and according to Rabba, it is forbidden…  Therefore, now that we have explained that the law follows Rav Yosef, it is permitted to pour water on unsown ground, and even on ground which is normally plowed… and it is forbidden to pour water on sown ground and on top of grass.


In other words, if irrigation is forbidden because of zoreia, one is allowed to water ground which has no plants on it, but if the irrigation is forbidden because of choresh, one is forbidden to water even ground such as this, since this softens the ground.


Halakhically, the Mishna Berura rules (336:26) according to the view of the Yere’im and the Semag, that one is liable because of zoreia and because of choresh; consequently, he writes (Sha’ar ha-Tziyun, 18) that one should be careful not to pour water even on ground which has no plants on it:


See the Or Zarua, whose view is in accordance with that of the Rambam: one is not liable because of zoreia, and he writes there that according to this, one is allowed to urinate on unsown ground even though it is designated for threshing.  Indeed, the views of the Semag and the Hagahot Maimoniyot follow the conclusion of Abbayei, and the Rokeiach seems to concur, for he cites this law under both the melakha of choresh and the melakha of zoreia.  It seems that the Vilna Gaon also concurs in his commentary.  Consequently, one should be careful also about unsown ground, if it is destined for plowing. 


However, it appears that if the ground is unsown and not designated for plowing (for example, one has no intent to sow it in the future, and thus there is no reason to plow it), there is no prohibition to pour water on it, since neither choresh nor zoreia is applicable here.  Nevertheless, sometimes there is a problem of lash with pouring water on dirt, as we discussed in our analysis of that melakha.


With No Intent of Propagation


The Yere’im writes (ibid.) that one may not wash one’s hands over grass, as by doing so one causes the grass to grow.  The Shulchan Arukh rules accordingly (336:3):


Those who eat in gardens may not wash their hands over grass, because they irrigate it; even though they do not intend, it is a pesik reisheih. Yet, one may urinate on it or pour out other liquids that are not conducive to growth. 


In other words, one cannot wash one’s hands over plants, even if one does not intend to make them grow, since this action will certainly help them to do so.  Thus, it is included in the category of pesik reisha or pesik reisheih — the inevitable result of an unintentional action.[1]  However, the Shulchan Arukh adds that if one is talking about a liquid which damages plants, there is no problem in pouring it on them, and therefore it is permissible to urinate on plants[2] or pour wine on them (but it is forbidden to pour liquids which contain water). 


Indirect Irrigation


May one use a sink from which water flows onto plants?


It would seem that this should be forbidden, since there is a pesik reisha here; the plants will inevitably benefit from the sink water.  However, Rav S.Z. Auerbach (cited in Shemirat Shabbat Ke-hilkhata, Ch. 12, 18) allows this:


If a sink has a pipe which transports the wastewater and empties it onto sown land, one may nevertheless wash one’s hands in this sink on Shabbat.  Thus, it is permissible to pour water into it for any other reason, and there is no concern of irrigating plants by doing this, as long as one has no intent for it.


In a note there (51), he explains his view:


…Here one may be lenient even more so, since one does not intend to remove water in order to irrigate with it.  Even though it is a pesik reisha, in any case, since one does so only by a secondary action, it is also considered a gerama, and there is no need to forbid it even in this case of pesik reisha.


In other words, since the water does not directly reach the plants, but rather travels initially through a pipe, and this is done through gerama (causation), it is allowed — one may be lenient with a pesik reisha accomplished through gerama.  Naturally, all of this applies when there is a pipe, but if the water empties directly onto the plants, one may not use such a sink on Shabbat.


Similarly, one may wash one’s hands over a stone or tile surface, even if the water will flow from the stone to the plants, since this is considered to be gerama; thus, in this case, they allow it if one does not intend to cause the plants to grow.  However, if one owns the yard, and one benefits from its being watered, one should find another way to wash one’s hands, because this is a pesik reisha de-neicha leih (which benefits the person doing it).  However, if there is no other way, one may wash one’s hands in this manner, since one may be lenient in a case of gerama even for a pesik reisha de-neicha leih.[3]


During the rainy season, when the ground is saturated with water, one may be more lenient in spilling water on plants (for example, by sweeping rainwater into the yard), since this exercise does not seem to encourage additional growth of the plants, and the person does not intend to make them grow (see Rav Karelitz’s Chut Shani, Vol. I, p. 89).  In any case, one should take care to ensure that the water hits the tiles first and then reaches the yard (not watering as a direct result of one’s actions). 




To conclude, one may not wash one’s hands over plants, even if one does not intend to make them grow.  One may not wash one’s hands over land which does not have plants in it if it is designated for plowing.  However, one may urinate on plants, and it is permissible to pour regular water on plants (when one does not intend to make plants grow), if one pours it on stone or tiles and the water gets to the plants on its own.  Similarly, it is permissible to use a sink which has a pipe which empties out over plants. 


V) The Laws of Flowerpots on Shabbat


An atzitz (literally, flowerpot) is a vessel which contains a growing plant in soil.  Halakha differentiates between a perforated pot and an unperforated pot: the former is considered to be attached to the ground on a Torah level if it sitting on the ground, since it draws nourishment through the holes, while the latter is considered attached to the ground on a rabbinic level.  This is what the Mishna (95a) states:


One who detaches from a perforated pot is liable; from an unperforated [pot], one is not liable.[4]


While there is much discussion as to the defining characteristics of what makes an atzitz perforated or not, this debate is more significant for questions of tithes, shemitta (the sabbatical year) and the like, so we will not elaborate in this context.


Suffice it to say that the above source makes it clear that one may not plant in an atzitz on Shabbat, whether it is perforated or not.  Similarly, if the atzitz falls on Shabbat and the soil spills out, there is no way to allow putting the soil back in it. 


Lifting a Flowerpot

May one pick up a flowerpot on Shabbat?


If an atzitz is perforated, one may not lift it up off the ground, since this interrupts its nourishment, and this entails a violation of the melakha of kotzer (harvesting).[5]  Similarly, if an atzitz is suspended in the air or sitting on a table, etc., one may not take it and put it down in the ground, since one brings it to a place where it can draw nourishment from the ground, and thus the matter is forbidden because of zoreia (Shulchan Arukh, OC 336:8). 


The language of the Shulchan Arukh (ibid.) suggests that one should be stringent even when it comes to an unperforated pot, i.e., one should not pick it up off the ground or put it down on the ground.  However, the Acharonim explain (Bei’ur Halakha ibid., s.v. Afillu; Shaar ha-Tziyun, 37, in the name of the Vilna Gaon; Rabbi Akiva Eger, ibid.) that the Shulchan Arukh’s stringency applies to an atzitz made from earthenware or wood, because there are Rishonim who believe that it is always considered perforated (due to its porous nature).  However, if an unperforated pot is made from plastic or metal (or has a bottom made from these materials), there is no prohibition to lift it off the ground or put it down on the ground, since in any case it does not draw sustenance from the ground.[6]


However, there are those who hold that even if the atzitz itself is not perforated or has a solid bottom, if there is overhanging vegetation (nof) which protrudes beyond the perimeter of the atzitz, it is drawing sustenance from the ground through the air, and thus the receptacle is considered to be a perforated pot.[7]  However, when the atzitz is on a tile floor and has a bottom, one may be lenient and consider it like an unperforated pot, even if the nof goes beyond the perimeter of the receptacle.  While it is true that some do not consider flooring to be an interruption, by the letter of the law we are lenient about this, certainly when one is not talking about the ground floor, and particularly when the atzitz itself has a bottom and the problem is only relevant to the nof.[8]


There are some who are stringent and do not raise any atzitz on Shabbat, unless it has a solid bottom (made of something other than wood or earthenware) and has no protruding nof (see Orechot Shabbat, Ch. 18, 26-27).  However, even according to this view, it is permitted to move the atzitz on the floor without picking it up, since this act does not interrupt the nourishment (ibid., 28).


Aside from issues of sowing and harvesting, one must analyze lifting an atzitz because of the rabbinic prohibition of muktzeh (that which set aside as unfit for Shabbat use).  The Sages banned the moving of items which are considered not necessary or appropriate for Shabbat.  Without getting into all the detail of muktzeh here, there are three possible muktzeh classifications for an atzitz.  Some believe that an atzitz is muktzeh mechamat gufo (set aside by its very nature, like sticks and stones) and should not be moved by hand at all.  Others believe that it a keli she-melakhto le-issur (utensil designed for prohibited use, like a hammer), and one may move it le-tzorekh gufo (to utilize the item itself for a permitted use, such as to weigh down a tablecloth) or le-tzorekh mekomo (to use its place, to sit in the place where it is placed).  Finally, there are those who believe it is a keli she-melakhto le-hetter (a utensil designed for permitted use, like a challa knife) in which case it may be moved as necessary.




To conclude, it is best not to pick up flowerpots or planters on Shabbat, because of the issues of kotzer (or zoreia) and muktzeh.  However, one may move an atzitz with one’s foot to another place, and there is no issue of zoreia, kotzer or muktzeh in this action.  If the atzitz has a solid bottom (made of something other than earthenware or wood) and it is on a tiled floor, there are sources upon which one may rely to allow lifting it from the ground or putting it down on the ground (even if the nof protrudes beyond the atzitz).


Moving Flowers 


We should note that all of these rules apply to an atzitz, but there is no prohibition to move flowers that are in water on Shabbat, and it is permissible to move even a vase full of flowers on Shabbat (Shemirat Shabbat Ke-hilkhata 26:25, following Rema 336:11).  One is also allowed to remove the flowers from the vase (Rav S.Z. Auerbach, cited in Shemirat Shabbat Ke-hilkhata 26:26) as long as they have not taken root in the water, and there is no problem of kotzer.  The prohibition which we have mentioned in the previous shiur is limited only to putting flowers into water.


Translated by Rav Yoseif  Bloch


[1]     Therefore, it is forbidden to wash one’s hands even in his neighbor’s field, since a pesik reisha that is unwanted is still forbidden, certainly when the resulting action violates a Torah prohibition.  (See Mishna Berura 336:27, according to Tosafot 103a, s.v. Lo, et al.)  We have dealt with the general rules of pesik reisha in our analysis of the concept of melakha on Shabbat. 

[2]     The Yere’im (Ch. 274, 131a) forbids urinating on plants.  The Sefer ha-Teruma (end of Ch. 235) disputes this, since urine damages plants; as mentioned above, the Shulchan Arukh rules in accordance with this position.  However, the Tiferet Yisrael (Kalkalat Shabbat, Kelalei Lamed-Tet Melakhot, Zoreia) writes that today agronomists are of the opinion that urine is excellent for fertilizing agricultural land, and therefore it should be forbidden.  The Bei’ur Halakha (336:3, s.v. Oh) cites the Tiferet Yisrael’s view, but he writes that people are not concerned about this at all.  Furthermore, he brings a proof to allow it from Shabbat 81b.  In any case, if one can choose a place from which the urine will not land directly on the plants, it is preferable to do this, though by the letter of the law, we rule that it is permissible to urinate even directly onto plants. 

[3]     In order to avoid a question of irrigation, it is preferable for one who is eating outside, and is also interested in drinking, to be careful to eat only on paved stones or in a place which has no plants (one must especially careful to avoid such action in one’s own garden, which one has a vested interest in seeing irrigated).  The Rema writes (336:3): “And therefore it is good to be stringent and not to eat in gardens if one will use water there, because it is difficult to be careful that water will not fall there.” However, in terms of the letter of the law, it is permissible to eat even on one’s own grass, even if drinks are served during the meal.

[4]     Whatever grows in an unperforated flowerpot is subject to tithes on a rabbinic level (Rambam, Hilkhot Terumot 5:16), and the prohibition of crossbreeding is also applicable on a rabbinic level (Rambam, Kilayim 1:2).  As for application of the issue of shemita to potted plants, see my book, Shemita: From the Sources to Practical Halakha, pp. 106-110. 

[5]     The Rishonim (Shabbat 81b) argue about raising a perforated pot from the ground to the air above: does this involve a prohibition of kotzer from the Torah, or is the prohibition is only rabbinic, since the perforated pot continues feeding off the ground even when it is in the air.  The Shulchan Arukh (312:3), seems to rule that the prohibition in this case is rabbinic (see Magen Avraham ibid., 3).  In any case, if one raises the pot from the ground and puts it on a table and the like, one is liable on a Torah level according to all views.

[6]     Indeed, with regard to many areas of Halakha, the Sages decreed that an unperforated pot should be treated as stringently as a perforated pot.  However, when it comes to lifting up a pot, the Shulchan Arukh holds that even for a perforated pot, the prohibition is only rabbinic, as explained in the previous note; therefore, the Sages did not ban moving an unperforated pot at all.

[7]     This arises from the Mishna in Uktzin (2:9) as explained by Rashi (Chullin 128a), the Rash, the Rosh and most Rishonim.  According to the view of the Rambam (Commentary to the Mishna ad loc., as well as Hilkhot Tumat Okhalin 2:9), it appears that the nof does not give the plant the status of being attached to the ground.

[8]     In his Responsa (Vol. VI, Ch. 167), the Shevet ha-Levi writes that the Chazon Ish rules that modern flooring is not considered a barrier.  According to him, a perforated pot which stands on the floor is considered a perforated pot even on the upper floors (Shevet ha-Levi, Vol. VII, Ch. 184).  However, we must analyze whether the Chazon Ish is talking about today’s reality, in which the tiles do not sit on dirt, but rather over a concrete foundation, and there is full isolation from the floor to the ground.  The simple approach is that our modern floors do constitute a barrier, and a perforated pot upon them is not considered to be in contact with the ground.  However, to determine this question requires clarifying the rationale for the stringency regarding a pot on the floor.  If those who are stringent floor believe that there is some sustenance from the ground, it stands to reason that this would not be applicable to the floor of today where there is no sustenance derived at all.  Alternatively, if they see the floor and the ground as legally contiguous regardless of sustenance, then one would have to be stringent nowadays as well, at least regarding the ground floor.  This topic deserves elaboration at great length on in light of the words of the Rosh (Responsa 2:4, and see Chiddushim U-vei'urim, Demai, 9:8), but in any case the simple understanding is that modern floors are considered a barrier and turn the pot into an unperforated one.  Particularly, one may be lenient in a case in which the pot is unperforated and only the nof protrudes, because the notion that the nof gives the plant the status of being attached to the ground is subject to dispute.