Am I Allowed to Have a Picnic on Shabbos?

Ask the Rov: During this time of year, I often like to go outside and enjoy a picnic under the sun. Is there any issues with eating outdoors on a summer Shabbos afternoon?

By Rabbi Chaim Hillel Raskin, Rov of Anash in Petach Tikva

Pouring or spilling water on grass, plants or trees – even if the water doesn’t end up reaching the earth underneath – is prohibited under the melachos of plowing and sowing, as the water softens the earth (plowing) and causes the grass to grow (sowing). Even if one does not intend to benefit the grass (e.g. washing hand), is still an inevitable outcome (psik reishei), and one assumedly is happy that his grass will grow better. If he doesn’t care about the grass at all (e.g. in a woody area), poskim debate the issue, and the Alter Rebbe holds it is nonetheless prohibited midrabanan.

Only water causes vegetation to grow; other liquids like wine, juice or urine actually ruin it. It is therefore permitted to pour them on grass, provided that they don’t contain a significant amount of water. Still, the Alter Rebbe says that it is fitting to be careful even with such liquids.

For the above reason, it is preferable not to eat over grass at all if one will be using water, since it is difficult to be careful that even a small drop of water won’t fall on the grass.

If the water falls on the floor and from there flows to the grass, some poskim permit since it is indirect (grama / koach sheni) as long as one doesn’t intend to water the grass. If the water travels to the grass through a pipe (e.g. draining from a sink), some argue that this is considered direct watering and not grama, since grama implies an indirect process, and not when the result is just an extension of one’s actions (pouring it into the beginning of the pipe).

However, if the water enters a basin and spills over onto the grass, that is indeed koach sheini, and many poskim allow it if one doesn’t care about the grass being watered and doesn’t intend for that to happen. Yet, some poskim are still stringent. Moreover, the Alter Rebbe only allows grama in a situation of loss or great need.

Therefore, before pouring water, one should consult with a rov to ascertain the exact circumstances, including how much the need is, how indirect it is, and to what extent does he not care about the grass being watered.

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