Shabbat Parashat Shemini| 5767
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Question: May I move a potted plant on Shabbat, or is it muktzeh?
Answer: There is another issue to discuss before we get to the matter of muktzeh. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 336:8) states: “A plant-pot (atzitz), even if it has no hole (eino nakuv), one should be careful not to take it from on the ground and hang it from pegs or vice versa whether it is made of wood or pottery.” This halacha is based on the fact that we consider an atzitz to be nourished from the ground. (Biur Halacha, ad loc., discusses the degree to which and why this is so for an atzitz she’eino nakuv). Distancing the atzitz from the ground and bringing it closer are forbidden on Shabbat under the categories of uprooting and planting, respectively.
Intuitively, one would assume that within one’s home, considering the space and materials in between the plant and the ground, the plant’s nourishment is only from the dirt in the pot. On the other hand, poskim say that one may not pull things off even those plants that are inside the house (see Mishna Berura ad loc.:41). There are various opinions as to what type of separation under the atzitz serves as a sufficient separation. Metal or glass certainly break the connection between the plants and the ground (Ketzot Hashulchan 142:(5)). There is much discussion regarding a case where the plant (not its roots) extends beyond the separation (see Orchot Shabbat 18:24). There is further discussion whether the floors in most homes form a separation (see Piskei Teshuvot 336:7). The Tehilla L’David (OC 336:6) infers from the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling that the problem of moving an atzitz is only when one moves it from the ground to a place above it or vice versa. It is permitted to move the atzitz in between two similar places, even if it passes through a different type of area in the process. This is a strong but certainly not simple or unanimous contention (see Ketzot Hashulchan, ibid.; Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 26:(5)).
If we can satisfy the aforementioned issue, we still must deal with the matter of muktzeh. Earth is a classic muktzeh item, as it is not a utensil, a food, or similar item that is slated for a Shabbat appropriate activity. Yet, if one sets aside dirt for a specific appropriate purpose, it is not muktzeh (Beitza 8a).How do we consider the dirt in an atzitz? The Tehilla L’David (ibid.) infers from the discussion above, focused on planting issues, that muktzeh is not a problem. The rationale is that the earth serves to preserve the plants, which adorn the house. Some say that even if the dirt is considered having a function, it is like a kli shemelachto l’isur (utensil for a forbidden purpose). It helps plants live and grow, something one may not do on Shabbat. Such a utensil is permitted to be moved only to be used for its purpose or because the location it occupies is needed (see Shevitat Hashabbat, Zoreiah (4)). Others say that it is not muktzeh at all; still others say that it cannot be moved for any purpose. In general, there is a machloket whether vegetation, where there is no fear that one will uproot improperly, is muktzeh. The Taz 336:4 and Magen Avraham 312:6 say it is muktzeh; the Machatzit Hashekel ad loc. brings those who are lenient. The author of the Mishna Berura leaves the matter undecided (Sha’ar Hatziyun 336:38).
Two of our generation’s major authorities rule that one should not move an atzitz on Shabbat (Rav Moshe Feinstein, cited in Tiltulei Shabbat pg. 86; Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 26:2). (Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 26: 25 sees no problem with moving a vase of flowers in water.) It is unclear to us what the exact basis of their ruling. The simplest advice is to arrange matters before Shabbat so that there is no need to move the plant-pot and avoid the significant problems. On the other hand, we cannot fault one, who as a matter of course or, at least in a case of need, relies on the opinions that one can move an atzitz, especially she’eino nakuv,from place to place.
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