Shabbat Parashat Shemini| 5766
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Question: Can one use a birdfeeder on Shabbat?
Answer: The mishna in Shabbat 155b assumes that one may feed animals and discusses which systems are permitted and which are not. The gemara (ad loc.) presents sources that indicate that it is forbidden to feed animals in any manner and provides two distinctions to resolve the apparent discrepancy. The main one is that one can feed only those animals whose food is his responsibility. The gemara also distinguishes between those animals which are dependent on man for food and those which can find food independently. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 324:11-12) accepts both distinctions and says that only if one has responsibility for an animal, and it needs to be fed, is it permitted. (When the owner can feed, others can do so on his behalf (Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata (= SSK) 27:21). Otherwise it is forbidden as unwarranted toil on matters not related to Shabbat (see Mishna Berura 324:29). (As is normal for rabbinic prohibitions of this type, it is forbidden even for one who enjoys feeding animals.)
The main determining factor of whether one has a responsibility to feed animals is whether he owns/controls the animals. If he takes them to his home, barn, etc. for his benefit, then he has a strong responsibility to provide for them properly. (See Yalkut Yosef 324,1 who compiles several sources to show that this is a very serious responsibility). Apparently, members of the animal kingdom that are out of the human domain are in the Divine domain, and Hashem looks out for their needs. Thus, it is forbidden to fill a birdfeeder to feed wild birds on Shabbat.Under certain circumstances, some poskim allow feeding an animal that one does not own. The Shulchan Aruch (324:11) mentions that one can feed a dog. While some explain that this refers to a one’s own dog, the Magen Avraham (ad loc.:7) says that it refers to a dog that one does not own, and that it is a special dispensation based on the gemara (ibid.) that mentions Hashem’s concern for dogs’ difficulty finding food. Some prominent poskim (Aruch Hashulchan 324:2; SSK 27:23; Yalkut Yosef 324:4) extend this concept to any animal that we know is hungry and suffering. The same might apply to birds at certain times of the year, if one knows that they have difficulty finding food elsewhere. This would especially be the case if he made them accustomed to frequenting the area of his home, and the surrounding area does not have sufficient food opportunities. (We cannot offer a zoological opinion, and certainly not about circumstances that we have not observed.)Since the problem on Shabbat has to do with unwarranted toil, many say that if one needs to shake out his tablecloth for his own purposes, he can purposely do so in a place where animals will benefit (see SSK 27:21 and Yalkut Yosef, ibid.). An interesting, longstanding machloket is whether the minhag of some to throw breadcrumbs to birds on Shabbat Shira (to recognize the birds’ assistance in glorifying the miracle of the man that fell before Shabbat) is permissible. The Magen Avraham (ibid.) and Mishna Berura (324:31) object, because one is feeding birds that he does not own. The Aruch Hashulchan (324:3) and others justify the minhag by claiming that we are throwing them food for our sake, not theirs.On Yom Tov, it is permissible to slaughter animals in order to eat the meat that day, but it is forbidden to trap them. In order to distance us from the possibility of trapping free animals, the Rabbis forbade on Yom Tov throwing food to an animal that it would be forbidden to trap (Beitza 23b; see Tosafot, ad loc.). In such cases, Yom Tov is more stringent than Shabbat.In general, the logical suggestion is to fill the birdfeeder before Shabbat (or Yom Tov). If one forgot to do so, he should not, under normal circumstances, do so on Shabbat, in which case he can assume that the birds’ Maker will provide for their welfare.
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