Of Umbrellas, Trees and Other Kohen Concerns

Question #1: Does tumah spread under umbrellas?

Question #2: The exit off the highway I take to work borders on a non-Jewish cemetery, and there are trees overhanging the road. One of the fellows I carpool with is a kohen, but he is not bothered about this issue. Even though I am not a kohen, should I be concerned?

INTRODUCTION

Parshas Chukas discusses tumas meis, the spiritual defilement that results from contact with a corpse or other human remains. When the parah adumah is restored and we endeavor to keep ourselves tahor whenever possible, Jews will be more mindful of how tumah spreads. In that era, every Jew will be careful to be tahor when separating challah and terumah, eating maaser sheini and korbanos, and entering the Beis HaMikdash, all of which should be performed only when tahor. (Unfortunately, today we separate challah, terumah and maaser sheni when we are tamei because we have no other option.) For these and many other reasons, the laws of tumah and taharah will then affect everyone.

In the interim, the laws of tumas meis do not directly concern most people, but they certainly affect kohanim, since the Torah prohibits them from contracting tumas meis. Nevertheless, every Jew should be familiar with these halachos since a knowledgeable non-kohen can often prevent a kohen from becoming tamei, as we will soon see. Furthermore, a non-kohen may not cause a kohen to become tamei.

SOME BASIC LAWS OF TUMAH

A person can become tamei meis in three different ways: 1) maga (touching), 2) masa (carrying or moving, even if one does not touch the remains), and 3) being under the same ohel (roof). A kohen is prohibited from becoming tamei meis by any of these methods and therefore he may not touch, move, or be in the same ohel as human remains. (There are two exceptions when a kohen must become tamei: either to a close relative, or to a meis mitzvah, the corpse of a Jew that has no one else to take care of it.)

DO REMAINS OF A NON-JEW CONVEY TUMAH?

The remains of a gentile convey tumas meis if they are touched or carried. There is a dispute whether these remains convey tumas ohel, and the Shulchan Aruch rules that it is proper to be careful (Yoreh Deah 372:2). Therefore, a kohen should not enter a room containing the remains of a non-Jew. This last halacha affects kohanim entering hospitals when it is not a life threatening emergency, and visiting museums which may have human remains. (My experience is that most museums contain some form of tumas meis.)

AN OHEL IS NOT JUST A TENT

Although the word ohel also means “tent,” or “roof,”  tumas ohel has much broader connotations and  is conveyed via almost any cover or overhang at least a tefach wide (about three inches) [Ohalos 3:7]. Therefore, a protrusion, overhang, umbrella, or branch with this width is an ohel; if it is over a grave or corpse, it conveys tumah to anyone standing anywhere underneath.

NARROW BRANCHES

Many authorities contend that an ohel that is a tefach wide at one point spreads tumah under its entirety, even under a narrower part (Rambam, Tumas Meis 12:6; 18:1; cf. the Rosh’s commentary to Ohalos 15:10, who disagrees). According to this approach, a tree branch that is a tefach-wide at one point continues to be an ohel when it narrows and can thus spread tumah rather extensively. Some contend that this is true only when the branch or protrusion is a tefach-wide for a majority of its length (Aruch HaShulchan, Yoreh Deah 371:25; the Tosafos Yom Tov seems to disagree.), whereas others maintain that it becomes an ohel only if the tumah is located beneath its tefach-wide section (Sidrei Taharos, Ohalos 12:6).

CONNECTING OHEL AREAS

Tumas ohel spreads from one ohel area to any other ohel that overlaps or connects even if the different ohel “roofs” are of very different heights. Therefore, a series of overlapping or connecting roofs, ledges, caves, umbrellas, tree branches, or even people, can create a continuous ohel that transfers tumah for great distances. Indeed, what appears to be separate buildings or structures may be one large ohel connected by open doors and windows (under certain circumstances, even through closed ones), ledges or tunnels, and tumah in one building may spread across an entire complex of buildings. This is particularly common in hospitals, museums, shopping malls, university campuses and airport terminals where remains in one part of the building, or even on an airplane connected to the terminal through a jetway, may spread tumah throughout the entire facility.

Another example of this principle is that if human remains are transported into an airport terminal or medical facility that connects to a subway station, tumah spreads throughout the entire subway system and prohibits any kohen from remaining anywhere in the subway, since the entire system qualifies as one large ohel. Therefore someone dying in a Bronx subway station contaminates a kohen awaiting his commuter train in Penn Station!

KEEP YOUR DISTANCE

The human body can also function as an ohel that conveys tumah. For this reason, a person leaning out of a window over a corpse or grave becomes an ohel that transfers tumah into the house (Ohalos 11:4). Similarly, people crowded around a corpse or a grave can create a continuous ohel that transfers tumah to anyone who touches them. Because of this, a kohen attending a funeral should keep his distance from the crowd.

In the same vein, when a crowd of people escort a meis on a rainy day, one person whose body is partly above the casket spreads tumah via his body to the area under an umbrella, and then the tumah spreads throughout the crowd from umbrella to overlapping umbrella. Some authorities contend that a kohen must distance himself four amos (about seven feet) away from the umbrella nearest him.

I once attended a funeral in a yeshiva beis hamedrash where the tumas meis spread through an open door under the building’s awning, under umbrellas outside, and then from umbrella to umbrella for a very extended area. The tumah eventually reached an area where many kohanim had gone to avoid becoming tamei, but they were completely unaware that they had violated a Torah prohibition! All this could and should have been avoided with a little foresight and planning, such as arranging an assembly area for kohanim distant enough to keep them tahor. A well-educated yisroel could have resolved the unfortunate problem. Since many people have told me that this is not an uncommon problem, I advise that funerals be arranged for sunny days!

TREES

As we saw above, a kohen must be careful not to pass beneath a tree branch that also overshadows a grave. It is common to find large trees overhanging a cemetery and a section of roadway at the same time. As I pointed out, even if the cemetery is not Jewish the Shulchan Aruch advises that a kohen should avoid defiling himself in the ohel of a non-Jew. It is certainly a problem if the cemetery is Jewish. If this case affects you, I suggest asking a shaylah what to do.

Also, it often happens that one side or one lane of a road passes under trees that overhang a cemetery while the other side or lanes do not. Sometimes, while driving down a city street, a kohen suddenly realizes that the street ahead passes alongside a cemetery and that there are trees overhanging the roadway. Obviously, he should not swerve suddenly and endanger people in order to avoid defiling his kedusha; however, people should prevent this situation by notifying kohanim that the road is problematic.

LEAVES OR ONLY BRANCHES?

Although several places in the Mishnah and Gemara (Bava Basra 27b; Negaim 13:7; Kiddushin 33b) assume that tumas meis spreads underneath trees, the authorities dispute whether leaves and twigs create an ohel, or only branches. Some poskim contend that leaves and twigs rarely become an ohel; others make a distinction between sturdy ones that can bear weight and those that cannot; others distinguish between large leaves and small ones; and still others discriminate between leaves of deciduous trees and those of evergreens that have leaves all year round (see Sukkah 13b; Rambam, Tumas Meis 13:3).

DATELINE: LVOV, POLAND, ROSH HASHANAH, 1620

The halachic questions raised above became mired in controversy in 17th Century Lvov (more commonly known to Jews as Lemberg), Poland. (Because of the extensive shift of international borders at the end of World War II, this city is now located in the Ukraine.)

On Rosh Hashanah 5381 (corresponding to September 1620), Lvov’s new rav, Rav Yaakov Kopel Katz, noticed that people were walking into a nearby forested area. Rav Katz noticed that the dense foliage under which people were relaxing continued until the local cemetery. Rav Katz prohibited kohanim from entering this area, contending that tumah from the cemetery spread under the tree canopy, contaminating the entire area. Thus, he felt that kohanim relaxing in this area were violating the Torah prohibition of contracting tumas meis.

The townspeople claimed that the Drisha, possibly the greatest posek of his generation, who had himself been a kohen, had walked and sat under these same trees when he had served as Rav of Lvov only a few years before. Rav Katz countered that at the time of the Drisha, the tree canopy must not have extended so far, and the areas he walked under were not connected to the cemetery.

What exactly was the question? Apparently, the trees in question did not have wide branches, but did have dense foliage comprised of small leaves that touched together, leaving no space between them. Rav Katz held that even twigs and leaves not strong enough to support any weight can still combine to form an ohel. He also held that although plants that die in the winter are not significant enough to be an ohel, the deciduous leaves of trees that survive from year to year do qualify as an ohel.

Rav Katz wrote an extensive responsum outlining his halachic concerns and sent it to a different kohen in Lvov, a talmid chacham named Rav Avraham Rapaport. Rav Rapaport disagreed with Rav Katz and penned his own correspondence wherein he maintained that these trees did not spread tumah. Rav Rapaport contended that twigs and leaves form an ohel only when they fulfill the following conditions:

  1. They are strong enough to bear the weight of a layer of plaster applied to them.
  2. Each leaf is itself the size of a square tefach, approximately three inches by three inches. He maintained that one does combine different leaves and/or twigs to form an ohel, even if there is no space between them at all.
  3. The leaves are evergreen (see also Gesher HaChayim pg. 87).

According to Rav Rapaport, the Drisha might indeed have been relaxing under the same foliage that still existed in 1620! (Of course, we will never know.)

Rav Rapaport then mailed the two responsa, his own and Rav Katz’s, to a third scholar, Rav Aharon Abba HaLevi, who concluded like Rav Rapaport, although for slightly variant reasons. He agreed with Rav Katz that leaves combine to form an ohel, but in addition to remaining through the winter and being strong enough to withstand the weight of a layer of plaster, he added yet another condition: They must be sturdy enough not to be blown by a typical wind (see Tosafos, Sukkah 13b).

Rav Rapaport then sent the three responsa to the gadol hador, the Tosafos Yom Tov, for his ruling on the famed trees of Lvov. The Tosafos Yom Tov sided with Rav Rapaport and Rav Aharon HaLevi that the leaves involved were not an ohel. However, the Tosafos Yom Tov held a stringent opinion concerning a related issue that none of the other scholars had addressed. He contended that if the branches are a tefach wide at any point, tumah continues to spread even when they narrow. (As I mentioned above, this is subject to a dispute between the Rambam and the Rosh. Among the later authorities, most rule like the Rambam and the Tosafos Yom Tov [Dagul MeiRevavah on Shach 371:14; Chochmas Odom; Aruch HaShulchan], whereas some rule like the Rosh [Chasam Sofer, Chullin 125a].) (Rav Rapaport printed the correspondence of the four rabbonim as a chapter in his own magnum opus, Shu”t Eisan HaEzrahi #7.)

FROM LVOV TO NORTH AMERICA

This last distinction is critical. It is very common that the branches of a mature tree are a tefach wide near the trunk although they narrow as they grow. According to Tosafos Yom Tov’s conclusion, these trees will spread tumah under their boughs even if they narrow considerably, thus spreading tumah to a considerable extent. The result is that if the branch of a tree one tefach wide at one point spreads over the graves, and this branch then extends over or under a branch from another tree, which in turn stretches over or under a branch from another tree, the tumah will continue to spread as long as each branch is a tefach wide at some point. (As mentioned above, some commentaries contend that the tumah spreads from one branch to another only when both branches are a tefach wide at the point that they cross one another.) This is because beneath each branch is an ohel, and the tumah extends from one ohel to another.

In the contemporary world, this shaylah is extremely germane due to the widespread use of large trees as urban landscape. It is very common for trees to overhang cemeteries in a way that spreads tumah onto nearby highways, streets, and sidewalks. With this information, we can now address the first question raised above: “The exit off the highway I take to work borders on a non-Jewish cemetery, and there are trees that overhang the road. One of the fellows I carpool with is a kohen, but he is not concerned about this issue. Do I need to be?”

There is indeed cause for concern. Due to technical factors such as the width of the branches and the locations of the graves, and halachic factors, one should ask one’s rav what course of action to follow in this situation.

EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

A shaylah very similar to our contemporary case involved a dispute between two mechutanim, both of them prominent rabbonim, Rav Yosef Hock and the Teshuvah Mei’ahavah, Rav Elazar Flekelis, who was the primary disciple and successor of the Noda BiYehudah. The case involved a shul adjacent to a cemetery that was used for fetuses and stillborns, whose unmarked graves convey tumas meis and tumas ohel. A tree’s branches extended over the cemetery and its branches brushed against the shul building. When the windows of the shul were open, if indeed the tree conveyed tumah, the tumah would now spread from the tree through open windows into the shul, creating a problem for kohanim. Rav Hock contended that the tree limbs did not require trimming since they were very weak and would not withstand any weight. Furthermore, it was uncertain whether the tree overhung the unmarked graves, since no one was certain exactly where the fetuses were laid to rest.

However, the Teshuvah Mei’ahavah took issue with many of the facts presented by his mechutan, contending that it was possible that the entire cemetery was already filled with graves, that the tree branches would eventually grow strong enough to bear weight, and that it is far better to accustom the community to trim the branches regularly and avoid any problem. Furthermore, he notes that it is not certain that a branch too weak to support any weight is not an ohel (Teshuvah Mei’ahavah Vol. 1 #89).

CONCLUSION

Certainly umbrellas and trees can convey tumas meis; the halacha discussion is whether thin branches, twigs, and leaves do. Thus, a tree overhanging both a cemetery and a highway provides good reason to research whether a halachic problem exists. The checking of the layout and other factors should be performed by a non-kohen who is highly knowledgeable in the laws of tumas meis.

WHY IS IT PROHIBITED FOR A KOHEN TO COME IN CONTACT WITH A MEIS?

Although it is beyond our ability to fathom the reasons for the mitzvos, we can and should attempt to glean a taste of Hashem’s mitzvos in order to grow from the experience of observing them. Thus, it behooves us to attempt to explain why the Torah bans a kohen from having contact with a meis under normal circumstances.

Rav Hirsch, in his commentary on Vayikra 21:5, provides us with a beautiful insight into this mitzvah. In most religions, fear of death and what happens afterwards are the major “selling points.” Thus, the role of the priest is most important when dealing with death. However, the Torah’s focus is how to live like a Jew—to learn Torah and perform mitzvos, and devote our energies to developing ourselves in Hashem’s image. To emphasize that the Torah is the blueprint of perfect living, the kohen, who is the nation’s teacher, is excluded from anything to do with death. The kohen’s role is to imbue us with the knowledge and enthusiasm to live!!

 

Of Umbrellas and Eruvs

umbrellasQuestion #1: Umbrellas and Eruvs

“Why can’t I use an umbrella on Yom Tov or on Shabbos within an eruv? Is it a mitzvah to get wet?”

Question #2: My Shabbos Nap

“May I shade an area for my Shabbos nap by throwing a blanket on top of some lawn chairs?”

Question #3: Cocktail Torah

“May I place a cocktail umbrella on top of a drink on Shabbos?”

Answer: The original sunscreen

The umbrella, or parasol, was invented in the eighteenth century and came into use very quickly as a simple and practical way to be protected from the rain and the harshest rays of the sun. Shortly after its invention, we already find discussion among great halachic authorities whether this “new apparatus” could be used on Yom Tov or Shabbos in a location where carrying is permitted. Before analyzing their positions, we need to discuss the laws regarding the construction of an ohel on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

Building and roofing

One of the 39 melachos, categories of work that the Torah forbids on Shabbos, is boneh, constructing (Mishnah Shabbos 73a). A subheading, or toldah, of boneh is making an ohel kavua, which translates literally as creating a permanent roof or shelter (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 10:13). Constructing an ohel arai, a “temporary” roof, on Shabbos or Yom Tov, was not forbidden by the Torah, but was prohibited by Chazal, our early Sages. Now we need to define:

  1. What is considered a permanent ohel that is prohibited min hatorah?
  2. How do we define a temporary ohel, so that we know what is prohibited because of a rabbinic injunction?
  3. What type of covering, if any, is permitted?

What is an ohel kavua?

Based on how the Rif (Shabbos, beginning of Chapter 20), the earliest of the great halachic codifiers, presented the topic, most respected authorities understand him to rule in the following way: Virtually anything that covers an empty area at least a tefach (about three to four inches) long, a tefach wide and a tefach high is halachically considered a permanent ohel. This “roof” does not need to be connected to the ground in any way. According to this approach, assembling such a covering is a violation of Torah law, even if the ohel is intended to exist for only a short period of time. The defining line between a permanent ohel and a “temporary” one (ohel arai), which was not prohibited by the Torah but only by the Sages, is that an ohel kavua has a “roof” that is one tefach squared, whereas an ohel arai’s “roof” is narrower than a tefach.

If the ohel is not flat on top, but peaked, yet it widens to a tefach squared within three tefachim of its peak, it is also an ohel kavua that is prohibited, min hatorah, to assemble on Shabbos. Only if it is very narrow on top and does not widen at all, or only widens at a lower point, does it qualify as an ohel arai, whose construction is prohibited only because of rabbinic injunction.

Thus, according to this opinion, throwing a blanket over a few lawn chairs so that you can crawl underneath to play or relax violates a Torah prohibition. Even those who hold that this does not violate a Torah law agree that it is prohibited because of a rabbinic injunction.

We can already answer one of the questions asked above: “May I shade an area for my Shabbos nap by throwing a blanket on top of some lawn chairs?”

According to all opinions, this is prohibited. Some opinions hold that this is prohibited min hatorah.

What is permitted?

When is it permitted to make a temporary ohel?

According to this opinion, there are two situations in which a temporary cover, roof or tent may be assembled on Shabbos or Yom Tov.

  1. When the area being covered is less than a tefach in height (see Shu’t Noda Biyehudah. Orach Chayim 2:30, s.v. Vehinei; Nimla Tal, Boneh, 15). Covering an area this low is not considered creating a “roof.”
  2. When the ohel is very narrow — less than a tefach wide — and it is attached to something to make it easier to open and close (see Shabbos 138a). Since the area being covered is less than a tefach wide, it is not considered an ohel area min hatorah. We mentioned above that covering such an area is usually still prohibited, because of a rabbinic injunction. However, when there is some form of hinge to make its opening and closing easier, or any other indication that the ohel is meant to be opened and closed frequently, Chazal permitted its use on Shabbos or Yom Tov.

In addition, if a temporary ohel exists from before Shabbos or Yom Tov, it is permitted to open and close it. It is also permitted to make the ohel wider (Eruvin 102a).

A differing approach

Not all authorities accept this approach that assembly of any “roof” over an area of a tefach squared is an ohel kavua prohibited min hatorah. Others rule that anything temporary is prohibited only because of a rabbinic injunction (Mishnah Berurah 315:34). This latter approach contends that any temporary ohel that is hinged, or has some other indication that it is meant to be opened and closed regularly, may be opened and closed on Shabbos, even when it covers an area a tefach squared. Thus, some authorities rule that one may open and close the hood of a baby carriage on Shabbos, since it is clearly meant to be closed temporarily, and it is hinged to facilitate its opening and closing (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 52:6). Other authorities are less lenient, requiring that opening the hood on Shabbos is permitted only when it was open the width of a tefach before Shabbos (Magen Avraham 315:4; Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:105:3; Ketzos Hashulchan 120:4).

London, 1782

One of the first internationally distinguished authorities to discuss whether one may use an umbrella on Yom Tov or Shabbos is the Noda Biyehudah, Rav Yechezkel Landau, renowned posek hador and Chief Rabbi of Prague (Shu’t Orach Chayim, 2:30). Sometime in late 1782, as the American Revolution was beginning to wind to a close, Rav Leib Hakohen, a talmid chacham in London, sent a missive to the Noda Biyehudah. Their correspondence was not about how the redcoats and their Hessian mercenaries were getting by in the western hemisphere, but about important halachic matters. Rav Hakohen wrote that he felt that one may not use an umbrella on Shabbos, but that he had sent the question to a different, unnamed posek who permitted it. Rav Hakohen was still not comfortable with the lenient approach and, therefore, wrote to the Noda Biyehudah, presenting the two reasons why the first rav had ruled leniently. (Based on his level of scholarship, we may assume that the first rav was not from the American colonies.)

The first reason to permit use of umbrellas on Shabbos and Yom Tov was this posek’s opinion that an ohel must cover a specific, defined area, and an item which is constantly being moved from place to place, such as an umbrella, does not qualify as an ohel. The permitting rabbi substantiated this position on the basis of his understanding of Rashi (Shabbos 138b s.v. ela) that an item meant only to cover a person does not qualify as an ohel for the purposes of the laws of Shabbos. This is based on the following:

The Gemara rules that a type of felt hat called a siyana may not be worn on Shabbos if its brim is a tefach wide. Rashi explains that the Gemara’s conclusion that a wide-brimmed siyana may not be worn on Shabbos is because of concern that it will be blown off, and when the wearer retrieves it he may come to carry it in a public area, thus desecrating Shabbos.

The posek questioned why Rashi did not prohibit wearing a siyana on Shabbos because of making an ohel arai on Shabbos, since the brim is a tefach wide. The posek answered that since a hat is meant only to shelter a person who moves, this does not qualify as an ohel, which he defines as something that shelters a location. He rallied further evidence substantiating the truth of this principle by noting that, regarding the laws of tumas ohel, the Mishnah mentions several items, a bird in flight, fluttering cloth, or a ship that is sailing, that are not considered an ohel because they are in motion (Ohalos 8:4).

The second reason to permit the umbrella was based on the fact that it is hinged, to ease opening and closing. The permitting rabbi held that any temporary covering cannot possibly involve a Torah prohibition — the issue with an umbrella is only whether opening and carrying it violates the rabbinic injunction of an ohel arai. Since an umbrella is hinged, he felt that there are two valid reasons to permit using an umbrella on Yom Tov and on Shabbos within an eruv, although he admitted that some of the evidence for his position might be refutable.

However, Rav Hakohen felt that the reasons to be lenient were not sufficient and therefore referred the question to the Noda Biyehudah.

First response: Prague, 1783

On the eighteenth of Shevat, 5543 (1783), the Noda Biyehudah responded to Rav Hakohen, disputing both reasons of the permitting rabbi. He pointed out that careful analysis of the sources would reach the opposite conclusion. The Noda Biyehudah explained that there are many other ways to understand what Rashi wrote, such that they do not prove that something covering only a person is not an ohel. Furthermore, most authorities disagree with Rashi and, indeed, understand that wearing a siyana is prohibited on Shabbos because of the laws of ohel.

The Noda Biyehudah reports that several years previously, when the umbrella was first introduced to Prague, he taught publicly that it is strictly forbidden to use it on Shabbos, and that the prohibition might be min hatorah. He bases his approach on the Rif’s opinion that it is forbidden, min hatorah, to create any ohel that covers an area that is a tefach squared, which will certainly forbid the use of an umbrella. The Noda Biyehudah mentions that the majority of the people of Prague do not use umbrellas on Shabbos, in accordance with his ruling. He contends that, notwithstanding the fact that other rishonim (Rosh, Shabbos 20:2) clearly dispute the Rif’s definition of ohel, the Rif’s opinion should not be disregarded. Furthermore, in this instance, the Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 22:29) may agree with him. Thus, we have two of the three great halachic codifiers (the Rosh being the third) ruling that a roof or awning constructed for very short term use may be prohibited min hatorah, if it is more than a tefach squared. This description seems to fit an umbrella very accurately. The Noda Biyehudah concludes that, indeed, the Rosh may be the only early authority that disputes this conclusion of the Rif, and that even the Rosh would prohibit use of an umbrella on Shabbos, albeit only because of the rabbinic injunction on an ohel arai. Many other authorities accept the Noda Biyehudah’s analysis of the topic (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 301:113; 315:12; Shu’t Sho’el Umeishiv 3:2:42).

Nineteenth century Bratislava

On the other hand, the Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Orach Chayim #72) saw the responsum of the Noda Biyehudah and took issue with his analysis of the topic. In an undated halachic essay, the Chasam Sofer, posek hador of his generation and rav of Pressburg, concludes that although he does not recommend using an umbrella on Shabbos, he is not convinced that it is prohibited, and feels that if it is, it should be only because of rabbinic injunction, and not because it violates Torah law.

The Chasam Sofer first contends that no authorities hold that any type of temporary construction is prohibited min hatorah. Thus, he disputes those who interpret that the Rif and the Rambam hold that a temporary cover may be prohibited min hatorah. Second, the Chasam Sofer contends that something movable cannot be prohibited because of boneh, since all construction in the mishkan, which is the source of the melachos of Shabbos, was not movable. Third, there is no Torah concept of ohel unless the covering has walls that reach the ground. To sustain the last position, he notes that the Rif, himself, implies that this is a defining factor of an ohel kavua.

The Chasam Sofer contends that once he has established that an umbrella cannot possibly be an ohel according to Torah law, opening or carrying it on Shabbos is not even prohibited because of rabbinic injunction, because of its hinges, which are meant to facilitate its use. The Chasam Sofer thus concludes that although he does not advise using an umbrella on Shabbos, there is no technical violation in using it. He permits asking a gentile to open an umbrella on Shabbos for one to use, implying that he sees no problem at all with carrying it afterwards (obviously within the confines of an eruv). Several prominent halachic authorities follow this approach and permit use of an umbrella on Shabbos (Beis Meir, Orach Chayim 315; Daas Torah 301:40).

A lawn umbrella

We should note that the arguments raised by the Chasam Sofer as to why an umbrella is not an ohel may not apply to a lawn umbrella. This apparatus is meant for use in a backyard or garden, to provide shade against the sun. It is often left in its open position for months on end, or even indefinitely. Several prominent authorities contend that any ohel meant to remain open for more than a week is considered permanent, which would make it a Torah prohibition to open it (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 315:8; Eishel Avraham 315:1; Tiferes Yisroel, Kilkeles Shabbos 34:2).

In addition, since a lawn umbrella is not moved from one location to another, another of the Chasam Sofer’s reasons to permit a regular umbrella does not apply. Although one of the Chasam Sofer’s reasons, that an ohel is prohibited only when its “walls” reach the ground, applies to a lawn umbrella, it is difficult to rely only on this justification to permit opening a lawn umbrella on Shabbos. Therefore, there is strong reason to prohibit opening a lawn umbrella, even by a gentile, even according to the Chasam Sofer.

The position of the Chazon Ish

A third approach to the question of whether an umbrella may be used on Shabbos and Yom Tov is presented by the Chazon Ish (Orach Chayim 52:6). Although he concludes that it is prohibited to use an umbrella on Shabbos, his ruling is based on completely different considerations. He rejects the Noda Biyehudah’s position, contending that since umbrellas are meant for temporary use and are hinged for this purpose, opening them on Shabbos is not considered creating an ohel, just as opening and closing a door on Shabbos is not prohibited as an act of construction, since both are meant to be opened and closed frequently. The Chazon Ish rejects the position that any rishonim disagree with this definition of ohel. As I mentioned above, upon this basis, the Chazon Ish permits opening and closing the hood of a baby carriage on Shabbos. However, as I noted above, most authorities do not understand the Rif’s position as the Chazon Ish does, and consequently rule that one should leave the hood open at least a tefach before Shabbos.

Notwithstanding that the Chazon Ish rejects the Noda Biyehudah’s approach to the topic, he prohibits using an umbrella on Shabbos for two other, completely different reasons. First, he suggests that opening an umbrella might be prohibited because of tikun maneh, a general prohibition of completing items, which is a subcategory of the melachah of makeh bepatish. He then rules that opening an umbrella is forbidden as a takanas chachamim established by the Torah leadership of the recent generations to reinforce the sanctity of Shabbos.

Umbrellic conclusion

As I noted above, most authorities contend that there are rishonim who prohibit min hatorah creating a temporary ohel on Shabbos, if it is a tefach wide. It is indeed widespread custom to prohibit carrying an umbrella on Yom Tov or Shabbos, either because we are concerned about the prohibition of ohel, or, perhaps, because of the reasons advocated by the Chazon Ish.

A cocktail umbrella

At this point, I would like to discuss the last of our opening questions: “May I place a cocktail umbrella on a drink on Shabbos?”

A cocktail umbrella is a tiny umbrella used to decorate a glass. Since it does not resemble an ohel in any way, opening it on Shabbos is permitted.

Conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos in order to provide a day of rest. This is incorrect, he points out, because the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melachah, which implies purpose and accomplishment. On Shabbos, we refrain from constructing and altering the world for our own purposes. The goal of Shabbos is to emphasize Hashem’s dominion as the focus of creation by refraining from our own creative acts (Shemos 20:11). By refraining from building for one day a week, we acknowledge the true Builder of the world and all that it contains.