With terms like Nor’easter (Northeaster) and Polar Vortex peppering the local weather reports, there is little doubt that winter has arrived. Individuals and families can now look forward to long Shabbat evenings inside a warm home, enjoying the soft glow of the Shabbat candles and the delightful smell of chicken soup. When the snow starts falling, however, not everyone wishes to stay tucked up inside their home. Today’s Jewish Treat is dedicated to those who love the snow.
A snowy Saturday seems the perfect opportunity for building forts, snowmen and snowballs. Building and shaping objects out of snow, however, raises numerous questions concerning Shabbat observance that neither the Torah nor the Talmud dealt with specifically. Since the Middle East only experiences occasional snowfall, later rabbinic scholars were left to grapple with the issue. Whether these scholars classified these activities as m’la’chot (creative labor prohibited on Shabbat) under the category of building, gathering, grinding or squeezing (a subcategory of threshing), the most common opinion is that one should not build forts, snowmen or make snowballs on Shabbat. One may, however, technically, use snowballs that were formed before Shabbat. (Keeping in mind, of course, that many people would not appreciate being hit by a snowball!)
One of the primary questions that rabbis consider when deciding questions related to snow on Shabbat is whether the snow fell on or before Shabbat. Some rabbinic opinions judge snow that fell on Shabbat to be muktzeh (something one should not move on Shabbat). Others disagree.
This difference of opinion is one major factor in the different rulings on whether one may or may not shovel one’s walkway.* If one is concerned about the dangers of a slippery walkway, almost all opinions allow the use of salt to melt the ice.
*Please consult your local rabbi if you have a question.