Sweeping or Washing Floors on Shabbos
Courtesy of Ohr Olam Mishnah Berurah
- Boneh (intentional) - Sweeping a dirt floor inside a home could be a violation of boneh, since the grooves and cracks in the dirt floor can be intentionally filled and leveled by the sweeping. Any addition or improvement made to an existing structure is considered boneh95, and may be forbidden min-ha-Torah96. [If the leveling is done in a field or a yard, then it is considered choresh, plowing, since the field is being improved and is now ready for planting97.]
- Boneh (unintentional) – The Rabbis forbade sweeping a dirt floor because they were concerned that even one who would be careful not to intentionally fill a groove or crack in a dirt floor on Shabbos, may become distracted while sweeping and do so inadvertently98.
- Choresh - While sweeping, one might dislodge some dirt from a loose area on the ground, potentially “plowing” the ground and violating the melachah of choresh99.
- Muktzeh – dirt on the ground is considered muktzeh machmas gufo and may not be moved for any reason. When broom sweeping, the dirt will be moved and might be considered as if one is moving muktzeh100.
These halachic concerns and their implications are widely debated by the poskim. Some hold that all the above issues are problematic, others are concerned about only some of them, while yet others do not see a problem with any of them. In practice, Rama rules stringently and forbids sweeping a dirt floor with a broom on Shabbos, but in deference to the lenient opinions he makes two exceptions: 1) It is permitted to directly instruct a non-Jew to sweep a dirt floor. 2) Only sweeping with a broom is restricted; lightly dusting a dirt floor with a garment, rag or feathers is permitted101.
The above discussion applies to a dirt floor, a phenomenon that was common in most homes in earlier times. Some homes, however, had tiled floors made from either stone or wood. Since none of the previously mentioned issues are a concern with a tiled floor, some rishonim, including the Rambam, ruled that the prohibition against sweeping applies only to an area that has no flooring, but is not in effect in an area which has a tiled floor. But Tosafos and other rishonim disagreed. They rule that sweeping a tiled floor is forbidden as well since we are concerned about confusion as some people may not be aware of the halachic distinction between dirt floors and tiled floors and will come to sweep dirt floors as well.
Although Rama rules stringently regarding this dispute and forbids sweeping tiled floors as well, Mishnah Berurah102 suggests that Rama’s stringent ruling applied only in the middle-ages when there were still many homes which were not floored, and thus a confusion between tiled and dirt floors was a real possibility. In the modern era, however, when the clear majority—if not all—of the inside of our homes are tiled, there is no longer a likelihood of confusion and it is permitted to sweep any tiled area inside a home103.
It follows, therefore, that sweeping a driveway, or a sidewalk outdoors remains an issue even nowadays, since Mishnah Berurah’s leniency applies only inside a home. Certainly, in rural and vacation areas it is safe to assume that most of the land outside of the homes is not paved. The issue becomes particularly important during Sukkos, as it remains questionable whether it is permitted to sweep the crumbs which fall to the floor during the meal, even if the sukkah is built on a paved area104. Certainly, if the sukkah is built on an area which is not paved, it is forbidden to sweep there according to all opinions.
93. In previous generations, brooms were made from inferior quality dried tree branches, which often broke during usage. This led the poskim to forbid using them on Shabbos (Mishnah Berurah 337:14, Beiur Halachah s.v. shelo, and Sha’ar ha-Tziyun 10). Nowadays, when brooms are made from soft, flexible bristles that do not break with normal usage, this is no longer a concern (Beiur Halachah s.v. V’yesh).
94. Although garbage and other debris being swept is often muktzeh, there is no issue of moving muktzeh when sweeping, based on the graf shel re’i principle explained in CHD Chapter 308. In addition, sweeping the garbage is tiltul min hatzad which is permitted in this case according to most poskim, as explained in CHD chapter 311.
95. See full explanation of this concept in CHD Chapter 313.
96. A minority opinion holds that leveling the ground when sweeping is forbidden min ha-Torah, while most authorities consider leveling the ground when sweeping to be forbidden miderabanan, since it is being done in a back-handed manner; see Beiur Halachah 337:1 s.v. assur and Sha’ar ha-Tziyun 4 for the various opinions on this issue.
97. Mishnah Berurah 312:24.
98. Semag, quoted by Mishnah Berurah 337:6.
99. Ohr Zarua, quoted by Sha’ar ha-Tziyun 337:3. Since, typically, one would have no reason or purpose in creating a hole or a groove in his home or yard, this will only be forbidden miderabanan (melachah sheinah tzrichah lgufah).
100. Mordechai and Beiur ha-Gra, quoted by Sha’ar ha-Tziyun 337:3. It is difficult to understand why moving muktzeh via a broom is not considered tiltul min hatzad, which is generally permitted; see Sha’ar ha-Tziyun 337:7. See also CHD Chapter 311, where the various views concerning tiltul min hatzad are discussed.
101. Some poskim permit using a soft brush as well, while others are more stringent; see Beiur Halachah 337:1 s.v. hakalim.
102. Beiur Halachah s.v. V’yesh. Although Beiur Halachah is somewhat hesitant to rule conclusively on his suggestion, this has become the accepted halachah and custom (Eglei Tal, choresh 12; Aruch ha-Shulchan 337:5) followed by all contemporary poskim.
103. A carpeted area, however, may not be swept, since a carpet is considered like a garment and is subject to the prohibition of Melaben; see CHD Chapter 302 for the details. A mechanical carpet sweeper is forbidden to use as well.
104. Chut Shani (vol. 1, Chapter 11, pg. 90); Orchos Shabbos 18, note 73. See Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 23, note 10, for a more lenient approach.