Covering Baby Carriages on Shabbos

 Courtesy of Ohr Olam Mishnah Berurah

Constructing an ohel kavua on Shabbos, even one that is meant to last just a few days, is forbidden min Hatorah as a transgression of meleches boneh. Constructing an ohel ara’i is forbidden miderabanan. It is forbidden to set up an ohel even if one plans to take it down on that same day, and even if the ohel has no walls but consists merely of a protective roof, such as a mat spread over poles to protect from the sun or from insects.114 The basic rule is, therefore, that it is forbidden on Shabbos to place a net, canopy or hood over a baby carriage in order to protect a baby from the sun or insects. There are, however, two important exceptions to this basic rule so that in many cases it is, indeed, permitted to cover a baby carriage on Shabbos. The exceptions are as follows:

1. It is only forbidden to erect an ohel ara’i from scratch. If, however, the covering was already in place and unrolled at least a tefach (approx. 3.5 inches) before the onset of Shabbos, then it is permitted to continue to open or unroll it to its full extent on Shabbos. For example, if a tarp that is meant to protect a Sukkah from rain is already unrolled at least a tefach, it is permitted to further unroll it to its full extent, even if the Sukkah is large and unrolling the tarp will provide far more coverage that the tarp provided before it was unrolled.

2. It is forbidden to erect an ohel ara’i only if the protective covering, e.g. a tarp, was not attached to the structure (the carriage) before Shabbos. If, however, the covering was attached to the structure by means of hinges or screws or any other device as in the case of an awning, for example, merely opening and closing the pre-attached covering is not considered as if one is erecting an ohel and it is permitted,115 even if the awning was completely closed and rolled up before Shabbos.

Based on the above, the practical halachah concerning covering a baby carriage on Shabbos is as follows: As long as the hood or canopy was attached to the carriage before Shabbos, it is permitted to open and close it on Shabbos without restriction.116 Furthermore, according to the opinion of most poskim,117 once the pre-attached hood or canopy is opened on Shabbos at least a tefach, it is further permitted to spread a net or a blanket (which was not attached to the carriage before Shabbos) over the hood, since at this point the net is merely an added extension of an existing ohel and not considered as construction of a new one. If, however, the hood or canopy was not attached to the carriage before Shabbos, then it would be forbidden to open it on Shabbos (even if one attached the hood or canopy in a permitted manner, such as by pressing it into slots). In a situation where the baby will be in distress because of the sun, rain or insects, it is permitted to ask a non-Jew (directly) to open or close the hood, even if it was not attached before Shabbos.118

114. Mishnah Berurah 315:2.

115. Rama, O.C. 626:3. Based on this principle, it is also permitted to open and close (on Shabbos) a sun umbrella which is attached to the ground or to a picnic table (Chazon Ish 52:6). It is however, forbidden to open or close a hand-held umbrella (see Beiur Halachah 315:8, s.v. tefach), as a hand umbrella is not attached to any existing structure.

116. Chazon Ish 52:6; Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 24:13 and most other poskim. See, however, Igros Moshe, O.C. 4:105 and Minchas Yitzchak 10:26.

117. Rav S.Z. Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 24, note 44); Be’er Moshe 6:97; Rav Y.Y. Fisher (Me’or Hashabbos, vol. 4, letter 7); Rav N. Karelitz (Orchos Shabbos 9, note 44). See a dissenting opinion in Shevet ha-Levi 3:54, based on Chazon Ish 52:8.

118. Based on O.C. 328:17. See also Sha’ar ha-Tziyun 626:32.