The Melachah of Plowing/Leveling

 Courtesy of Ohr Olam Mishnah Berurah

Question: Which activities are prohibited on Shabbos because of the first of the thirty-nine forbidden melachos, Choresh—Plowing? Does the prohibition of Choresh have any non-farming applications?

Discussion: The melachah of Choresh prohibits one from doing any activity which either prepares or improves the ground for planting. Since most people are not farmers who would understand or appreciate the various aspects of this Labor, we shall give a partial, brief and general list of agricultural activities that prepare or improve the soil for planting: loosening the soil, digging holes or making furrows in the soil, leveling the soil so that one is planting on an even surface, fertilizing, weeding, removing stones, watering the soil, etc.

Question: May children dig in a sandbox on Shabbos?

Discussion: It is permitted to play in a sandbox if the sand is dry and any holes dug in it will immediately collapse; this type of “digging” is not considered Choresh. If, however, the sand is damp and clumpy and the holes that are dug will retain their shape for a while, it may be a violation of Choresh to dig such holes on Shabbos and Yom Tov.88

[It is only permitted to play with dry “play” sand in a sand box. Industrial sand which is designated for building purposes is considered severe muktzeh and may not be moved on Shabbos for any reason89.]

Question: Which additional activities did Chazal prohibit so that one does not come to violate Choresh min ha-Torah?

Discussion: As in all forbidden Shabbos Labors, Chazal prohibited other, related activities because they were concerned that performing them might lead one to transgress the Biblical prohibition itself. Depending on the case, sometimes the restriction applies only to the ground outdoors, while other times Chazal felt that the restriction should include indoor flooring as well. The following is a partial list of activities which are restricted because of Choresh miderabanan:

  • Pulling or dragging heavy items across the ground, since the weight of the objects will inevitably make a furrow in the ground. Pulling or dragging lightweight items which will not inevitably make a furrow in the ground is permitted. Pushing a heavy baby carriage or a wheelchair is also permitted.90
  • Playing games which require a ball (or nuts) to be rolled on the ground, such as marbles, soccer, kickball, hockey and golf. Playing these games can easily result in the player leveling the playing field. It is forbidden to play these games even on a paved court.91
  • Securing a table or a bench to the ground, since it may lead one to level the ground so that the table or bench will stand straight and firm.92
  • Sweeping and washing a paved or unpaved outdoor courtyard, since it may result in leveling the ground. (Details in the next installment.)

88. See Mishnah Berurah 498:73; 498:89. In addition, playing with wet sand may be a violation of Lash, Kneading; Mishnah Berurah 321:50.

89. Shevet ha-Levi 9:78.

90. This is permitted because the depressions caused by wheels on the ground are not considered furrows. No soil is being dug out; it is merely being pressed into the ground. See Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 28:48, note 103.

91. Mishnah Berurah 338:20. Other poskim permit playing these games on a paved court; see CHD to Chapter 308 for a complete review of this subject.

92. Mishnah Berurah 337:20