Insights into Halacha

For the week ending 18 January 2014 / 17 Shevat 5774

Snowballs on Shabbos?

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

With the after-effects of the Yerushalayim Asarah B’Teves / Erev Shabbos[1] “Blizzard” of 5774[2] [seemingly the worst since 5547 (1787)[3], or at least 5717 (1957)[4]] still lingering, and the ‘Arctic Vortex’ or ‘Polar Blast’ recently causing record-breaking freezing temperatures all across the Eastern United States (when Niagara Falls freezes over and Polar Bears prefer to stay indoors, you know it’s C-O-L-D), there is one specific Halacha sheilah that readily comes to mind[5]. The very same one that my kids asked me several times over that snowed-in Yerushalayim Shabbos several weeks ago: Is making snowballs permitted on Shabbos? And if not, why?

Truthfully, the question is far more complex that one might think with, quite interestingly, no clear-cut consensus as to the proper rationales and reasons, even among those who deem it prohibited.


Yet, one very important fact is clear. If the Eruv is down, or in a locale that does not have an Eruv, outdoor snowball fights (unless in a walled-in Reshus HaYachid) would certainly be forbidden, as throwing snowballs would transgress the prohibition of Hotza’ah, Carrying[6].

However, to define which actions or set of actions define snowball making, and whether or not it is prohibited, is not so simple. Let us explore these issues further.


First of all, is snow actually Muktzeh? Is one allowed to move it?

The common consensus is that rain is not Muktzeh, even if it fell on Shabbos, as proven by Tosafos, as the moisture existed beforehand in the form of clouds[7].

Many poskim, including the Chavos Yair, Even HaOzer,Maamar Mordechai, and the Butchatcher Rav[8], as well as many contemporary authorities including the Minchas Shabbos, Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the Debreciner Rav, Rav Ovadia Yosef, Rav Chaim Kanievsky, the Nishmas Shabbos, and Rav Pesach Eliyahu Falk[9], define snow similarly, maintaining that the same rationale permitting utilizing rain on Shabbos applies to snow as well, and it is not Muktza.

However, Rav Moshe Feinstein[10] held that snow is indeed considered Muktzeh, as nowadays people generally do not have a real use for it, and is akin to gravel, in that its main use is simply to walk on it. Additionally, he held that snow would be prohibited due to another concern as well. In Rav Feinstein’s assessment, snow would be considered Nolad (came into existence on Shabbos) if it fell on Shabbos, since, as opposed to rain, people do not associate snow with being carried in the clouds.

An interesting upshot of this shitta is that although he held snow to be Muktzeh, Rav Moshe did not ascribe any other prohibition to making snowballs. Accordingly, Rav Moshe would hold that if one gathered snow on Erev Shabbos and set it aside for a snowball fight on Shabbos (within an Eruv, of course) then one may make and throw those snowballs on Shabbos![11]


On the other hand, many other authorities, although maintaining that snow itself is not Muktzeh, nevertheless held that making snowballs on Shabbos is problematic for other reasons, chief among them Boneh, Building. The Rambam[12], cited as halacha by the Mishna Berura, discussing cheese-making, rules that anytime one takes separate parts and joins them together to make a new item, it is ‘similar to Boneh’ and therefore prohibited on Shabbos.

The Chavos Yair, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, and Rav Chaim Kanievsky[13], as well as others, apply this rule to the formation of snowballs, prohibiting them. Although by making snowballs one is not actually creating something new, he is still giving form to something new, which gives the appearance of and is akin to building.

Yet, other poskim, including Rav Moshe Feinstein, the Debreciner Rav, and the Nishmas Shabbos[14] disagree, maintaining that the prohibition of Boneh can only apply when someone builds something which has at least a semblance of permanence. Snowballs, they argue, which have a transient and ephemeral existence, lasting a grand total of several seconds from time of throwing, cannot be included in the ‘building’ category. Nonetheless, they concede that when it comes to building snowmen, which generally are meant to stick around until they melt several days later, it would be proscribed due to Boneh.


Another potential prohibition involved with making snowballs on Shabbos is Risuk, mashing or crushing, related to the prohibition Sechita, squeezing (as in squeezing out juice from a fruit). The Shulchan Aruch[15] regarding washing one’s hands on Shabbos with icy or snowy water rules that one should be careful not to rub his hands together with the ice as it may crush the ice, causing it to melt and his unwittingly transgressing the prohibition of Risuk.

Several authorities, including the Chavos Yair, and the Debreciner Rav[16], apply this ruling to making snowballs. In the formation of a snowball by applying direct pressure to it, one cannot avoid crushing the snow, causing a bit of it to melt. Ergo, they explain, snowballs would still be prohibited to make on Shabbos for this reason.

However, Rav Moshe Feinstein and the Nishmas Shabbos[17] disagree. They aver that any miniscule amount of water that is possibly melted while forming a snowball outdoors in the freezing cold is definitely not noticeable, and in no way would it constitute crushing or squeezing out a liquid.

More Melachos?

Other potential prohibitions in the formation of snowballs mentioned by some authorities and rejected by others include: Ma’mar, gathering (i.e. gathering the snow to make the snowballs)[18], Uvda D’Chol, weekday activities[19], and Soser, destroying (i.e. when the thrown snowball hits its target and consequently falls apart)[20].

In the final analysis, although there are some poskim who give a dispensation to allow young children to make and throw snowballs on Shabbos[21]; nevertheless, the vast majority of authorities rule that it is assur, period. In fact, the Chavos Yair states that if one sees children throwing snowballs at each other, one should attempt to stop them.

Although they do not see eye to eye in their rationales, and there is no clear cut consensus as to the singular reason why it should be prohibited, all the same, the hachra’as haposkim is indeed that making snowballs on Shabbos, and certainly making snowmen, is assur[22]. Just another reason to stay and play indoors when a ‘Polar Vortex’ comes a’ knocking.

[1]For more on the topic of Asarah B’Teves falling out on Erev Shabbos, see previous article titled ‘Fasting on Friday?’.

[2]Yes, this author is familiar with the ‘Coincidences’ involved with this snowstorm. According to the Targum (Rav Yosef), ‘Yom HaSheleg’, ‘The Day of Snow’ that Binayahu ben Yehoyada ‘smote the lion in the pit’ (Shmuel II, Ch. 23, verse 20 & Divrei HaYamim I, Ch. 11, verse 22; see also Gemara Brachos 18a), is none other than Asarah B’Teves! Additionally, since it was a fast, the Haftara read by Mincha included the apropos verse (Yeshaya Ch. 55, verse 10) referring to ‘ka’asher yai’rade HaGeshem V’HaSheleg min HaShamayin’, ‘when the rain and snow fall from the heavens’. Furthermore, that day’s Daf Yomi was Yoma 35, which includes the famous account of Hillel almost freezing to death on the roof of Shmaya and Avtalyon’s Beis Midrash, while trying to listen to their teaching ‘Divrei Elokim Chaim’, when he could not afford the admission fee. That day was described by the Gemara as an Erev Shabbos in Teves, that a tremendous amount of snow (3 amos!) fell upon him from the heavens! Moreover, this incident ostensibly occurred in Yerushalayim, as it is well-known that Shmaya and Avtalyon, the Gedolei HaDor, lived in Yerushalayim! [See Mishnayos Ediyus (Ch.1, 3 & Ch.5, 6), Gemara Brachos (19a), Shabbos (15a), and Yoma (71b).] Thanks are due to Rabbi Dovid Alexander for his paper on these ‘Coincidences’.

[3]See Yalkut Yosef (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, O.C. 143, 6), who relates a historical sheilah from a snowstorm on Shabbos in Yerushalayim in 1787 when the shul’s entrance was so covered with snow that it was impossible for anyone to have possibly attended. Therefore, would the tzibbur have to lein a double parsha the next week?

[4]See Shu”t Har Tzvi (O.C., Ta”l Harim, Soser 1), who mentions a Shabbos snowstorm in Yerushalayim in 1957 that was so bad, that people asked if they may hack and/or shovel the snow and ice off their roofs on Shabbos. On this important topic there are several other contemporary authorities who later addressed this issue. See also Shu”t Lev Avraham (49), Shu”t Ba’er Moshe (vol. 1, 28), Shu”t Mishneh Halachos (vol. 4, 45), Shu”t Machazeh Eliyahu (67), Shu”t Nishmas Shabbos (vol. 4, 247 & 248), Shemiras Shabbos Khilchasa (Ch.25, 11), Mesores Moshe (pg. 67, 147), and Kuntress Gevuros Akiva (L’fanos Sheleg B’Shabbos).

[5]For a fascinating exposition on the various and varied roles snow plays in halacha, see Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin’s “Le’Ohr HaHalacha’ (Chapter ‘HaSheleg’, ppg. 232 - 239). Thanks are due to Rabbi Eliezer Brodt for providing this author with this mareh makom.

[6]For more on this topic, see previous article titled ‘The Curious Case of the Karpef’.

[7]Tosafos (Beitzah 2a s.v. ka, based on the Gemara in Eruvin 45b - 46a). This is the common halachic consensus; see for example Meiri (Eruvin 45b s.v. me’achar), Beis Yosef (O.C., end 310; citing Rav Tzemach Gaon), Teshuvos HaGaonim (242), Magen Avraham (O.C. 397, 13), Daas Torah (O.C. 340, end 1), Mishna Berura (338, 30; citing the Zechor L’Avraham), and Kaf Hachaim (O.C. 310, 52 and 397, 56), and many later authorities. Although the Pri Megadim (Pesicha Koleles to Hilchos Yom Tov, Ch. 3, 2, Dinei Muktzeh 29) implies that rain is muktzeh, this is not the halacha and many ‘answer up’ his shitta explaining that he was referring to the hava amina of the Gemara [See Nezer Yisrael (38, 3, 28), Minchas Shabbos (on Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, 80, 56 & Shiyurei HaMincha ad loc. 19), Toldos Shmuel (pg. 197b), Shu”t Har Tzvi (ibid.), Shu”t Ba’er Moshe (vol. 1, 20), and Shu”t Nishmas Shabbos (vol. 4. 249 s.v. u’mitzad).] Although, the Mishna Berura (310, 32) rules like the Chayei Adam (vol. 2, 65, 63, pen 8), that water that drips from trees on Shabbos during Nisan (possibly sap) is Nolad and therefore Muktzeh, this does not affect his ruling regarding rain, which is not considered Nolad, nor Muktzeh, as one does not associate water with coming from trees, and thus it is akin to a new creation on Shabbos.

[8]Chavos Yair (Mekor Chaim, O.C. 320, 11), Even HaOzer (O.C. 363), Maamar Mordechai (Shu”t 2), and the Butchatcher Rav (Eshel Avraham, O.C. 312, Tinyana).

[9]Minchas Shabbos (on Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, 80, 56), Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank (Shu”t Har Tzvi ibid.), Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (as per Shmiras Shabbos K’hilchasa Ch. 16, 45 and Shulchan Shlomo 310, 26, 2; and not as quoted in Sefer Tiltulei Shabbos pg. 13, 13), Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (as per Shalmei Yehuda Ch. 13, 19, pg. 203 and Orchos Shabbos vol. 2, Ch. 19, footnote 259), the Debreciner Rav (Shu”t Ba’er Moshe vol. 1, 20), Rav Ovadia Yosef (cited in Yalkut Yosef, Shabbos vol. 2, pg. 498, footnote s.v. ul’inyan), Rav Chaim Kanievsky (cited in Sefer HaNosein Sheleg, Kuntress HaShu”t 7), the Nishmas Shabbos (vol. 4, 247 and 249), and Rav Pesach Eliyahu Falk (Shu”t Machzeh Eliyahu 68).

[10]Shu”t Igros Moshe (O.C. vol. 5, 22, 37 and Sefer Tiltulei Shabbos pg. 165, footnote 10; not as quoted in Sefer Hilchos Shabbos of R’ Shimon D. Eider pg. 120, footnote 331).

[11]See Mesores Moshe (pg. 68, 148).

[12]Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos, Ch.7, 6), cited as halacha by the Mishna Berura (319, 63).

[13]Chavos Yair (Mekor Chaim ibid.), Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (cited in Shmiras Shabbos Kehilchasa and Shulchan Shlomo ibid.), and Rav Chaim Kanievsky (cited in Sefer HaNosein Sheleg, Kuntress HaShu”t 6 & 27). Although they acknowledge the differences between cheese-making and snowball forming and it can’t be considered actual building and Boneh D’Oraysa [see Shmiras Shabbos Kehilchasa (Ch. 15, footnote 117)], nevertheless, Rav Shlomo Zalman referred to making snowballs as ‘an issur lechatchilla (of Boneh), since snow is not food’, and Rav Chaim Kanievsky as ‘ra’ui l’hizaher d’mechzi k’Boneh’.

[14]Rav Moshe Feinstein (Mesores Moshe ibid.), the Debreciner Rav (Shu”t Ba’er Moshe vol. 6, 30) and Shu”t Nishmas Shabbos (ibid.).

[15]Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 320, 11). Although there are poskim who do permit this, [see Magen Avraham (ad loc. 16), Ba’er Heitev (ad loc. 15), and Aruch Hashulchan (ad loc. 25; who concludes ‘tzarich iyun l’dina’)], nevertheless, the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (80, 14), Ben Ish Chai (Year 2, Parshas Yisro 9), and Mishna Berura (Biur Halacha ad loc. s.v. yizaher) conclude ‘ain lehakel b’zeh’, as ‘many many Rishonim’ cite this as well.

[16]Chavos Yair, and Shu”t Ba’er Moshe (ibid.). Actually, the Chavos Yair refers to it as ‘Dush’, ‘Threshing’. However, as the Nishmas Shabbos (ibid.) and Me’Ohr HaShabbos (vol. 3, Ch. 13, 59, and extensive footnote) explain, he could not have meant threshing, which does not seem to apply to snowballs [as the Shmiras Shabbos Kehilchasa (Ch. 15, footnote 117) points out and concludes ‘tzarich iyun’]. Rather, they maintain he was referring to Risuk, which is a type of Sechita, which in itself is a Toldah of ‘Dush’ [see Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos Ch. 8, 10) and Aruch Hashulchan (O.C. 320, 3)].

[17]Mesores Moshe (pg. 67, 147 s.v. ulgabei) and Shu”t Nishmas Shabbos (ibid.).

[18]See Minchas Ish (Ch. 11, 23, footnote 38). However, the Ba’er Moshe (Shu”t ibid.) rejects this out of hand as this only applies to ‘Gidulei Karka’, or at least ‘Makom Gidulo’, neither of which seem to apply to snow [see Daas Torah (O.C. 340, 9) and Mishna Berura (340, 35 & 36)].

[19]See Rabbi Shimon Eider’s Sefer Hilchos Shabbos (pg. 120, footnote 231) who posits that making snowballs should be ‘Uvda D’Chol’. However, in this author’s estimation, as no one else seems to cite such logic, it seems that this would be a novel approach. Additionally, we find that when something is prohibited for this reason or a similar one, nevertheless, if it is something that is an ‘oneg’ or ‘hana’as guf’ for the one performing the action, it is permitted. For example, although running and jumping are technically prohibited on Shabbos, they are nonetheless fully permitted for children to do, as that is their ‘oneg Shabbos’ [see Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 301, 1 & 2), Aruch Hashulchan (ad loc. 44), and Mishna Berura (ad loc. 5 & 6 and Shaar HaTziyun 3, 6, & 7); Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky (Emes L’Yaakov on Shulchan Aruch O.C. 328, footnote 377) even applied this distinction to one who is suntanning simply for ‘Hana’as Gufo’.]. The same would seemingly pertain to children and their snowball fights. What greater fun do children have on a Snow Day?

[20]See Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa (Ch. 16, footnote 117) who raises this issue but cites Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach as ruling that it is not applicable, as once one throws a snowball he does not care about it breaking apart. Furthermore, even when thrown, it is not one’s kavanna to davka destroy the snowball. The Nishmas Shabbos (ibid.) expresses similar sentiments. Additionally, as making snowballs is not considered ‘Binyan Gamur’, even according to those who consider it a type of Boneh; therefore it would be difficult to label a snowballs falling apart as Soser, as it can only apply when Boneh does.

[21]See Shu”t Ba’er Moshe (vol. 6, 30) and Shu”t Nishmas Adam (vol. 4, 249).

[22]Aside for the teshuvos previously mentioned, this is how many contemporary sefarim on Hilchos Shabbos conclude, irregardless of the reason presented, including Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa (Ch. 16, 45), Me’Ohr HaShabbos (vol. 3, Ch. 13, 59), Orchos Shabbos (vol. 1, Ch. 8, 39), Sefer Hilchos Shabbos (pg. 120, 14), The 39 Melachos (vol. 4, pg. 1092), Shabbos K’Halacha (Tza’atzuim 51), and Uv’Yom HaShabbos (Ch. 10, 16).

Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive guide, rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issues. In any real case one should ask a competent Halachic authority.

L'iluy Nishmas the Rosh HaYeshiva - Rav Chonoh Menachem Mendel ben R' Yechezkel Shraga, Rav Yaakov Yeshaya ben R' Boruch Yehuda, and l'zchus for Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam and her children for a yeshua teikef u'miyad!

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