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The Torah of Snow & Tu Bishvat

04/20/2016 04:47:08 PM


January 22nd, 2016
12 Shevat 5776

Dear Friends,

SNOW! Oy gevalt! What's a Jew to do with snow on Shabbat?

It may or may not surprise you to know that this question has arisen and our halachic (Jewish legal) scholars have issued contradictory rulings as to what we may or may not do with snow on Shabbat. 

Question 1: Are we allowed to touch snow on Shabbat or is it muktzah, a prohibited thing we shouldn't touch? 

Answer: Why, you might ask, would snow be prohibited? According to some authorities, since snow has no explicit purpose on Shabbat, we should avoid it and therefore it's prohibited. Most scholars, however, do permit coming into contact with snow on Shabbat, ruling that just because there's no specific purpose for it doesn't make it prohibited. (There's no requirement to take a nap on Shabbat afternoon, but it's certainly permitted!)

Question 2: What, exactly, can we do with the snow on Shabbat?

Answer: According to many scholars, we may play in the snow on Shabbat, we may even throw snow at one another (though keeping score is not allowed as competition is not permitted on Shabbat). However, we may not build snowpeople as this is considered building, which we aren't allowed to do. (If, however, you build your snowperson today, you may enjoy being in his/her/its presence on Shabbat, though I suspect you can't count them in a minyan!). 

Question 3: May we sled on Shabbat?

Answer: According to Rabbi Dov Linzer of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York (a modern-Orthodox Rabbinical School), "there is no technical prohibition with sledding. Some might argue that this is weekday activity and not in the spirit of Shabbat, but this would certainly be no different from kids playing sports on Shabbos. Bringing your kids to shul on sleds would certainly be permitted and in the spirit of Shabbat." Some authorities also permit skiing to shul on Shabbat, though only if you're path to shul is fully within the eruv (strings/markers around many Jewish communities). 
Question 4: May we salt and shovel our driveways on Shabbat?
Answer: From Rabbi Linzer, "while there are some who prohibit putting salt on ice (as you are melting it) on Shabbat, one certainly may rely on the opinions that permit, especially if there is a concern for safety. Shoveling could be more of a problem (especially if the snow is compact and you are "building" walls of snow as you shovel). If there is a need to shovel a path out of the house to get to shul, it would be permitted. However, if you can avoid shoveling, this would certainly be preferable. Even if you have to shovel a path, please do not shovel the entire driveway as this would be preparing for after Shabbat." 
Question 5: I live in Memphis, Tennessee and there's snow outside. What should I do this Shabbat?
Answer: Be brave! Come to shul tonight at 6:00 pm for a spiritually uplifting musical service with your favorite new and traditional Shabbat melodies. Join us again tomorrow morning to celebrate Tu Bishvat, the Jewish New Year of the Trees. Why would we have a holiday celebrating spring and rebirth in the middle of winter? Find out tomorrow! We'll be joined by Laura Morris, Executive Director of Shelby Farms (who was Bat-Mitzvahed at Beth Sholom), who will share with us highlights of Shelby Farms's ongoing transformation. We'll also have a special Tu Bishvat-themed kiddush lunch. And, as a special treat, Walter and Ellen Poor, Geo's parents, are in town this Shabbat, and they are wonderful people who you'll enjoy meeting.
(For those paying attention to the Hebrew calendar, the holiday of Tu Bishvat is Sunday night and Monday but this will serve as our official observance of it - since the date was fairly arbitrary to begin with, and since the holiday makes a lot more sense in Israel and Babylonia than here, I think we can take a bit of leeway with this one!)
On a personal note, its nice to be back in Memphis after time away in Colorado. Was nice to see my dad and his wife for a few days, and then to spend a week with my colleagues and friends was lovely. I was attending Ohalah, the annual conference for Rabbis, Cantors, and other leaders of the Renewal movement. Good learning, nice to drum every day, always lovely to see friends be ordained, and a wonderful time away. 


I had a small amount of free time out there. I was hoping to buy a groupon that would allow me to drive a lamborghini around the mountains for an hour. When I reached the representative, they told me there was too much snow and they were closed for the winter (since someone had flipped a car on the ice once). Hopefully I can do that when I'm back in Colorado over the summer. I am, however, excited to fulfill a longtime dream this Sunday afternoon. What crazy adventure am I up to now? I'll post the video on my facebook page Sunday night. Stay tuned...


Hope to see many of you tonight and tomorrow.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Ilan

Sat, July 4 2020 12 Tammuz 5780