The Shabbat Umbrella

February 21, 2014

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, February 21, 2014.

The Shabbat Umbrella

In the light of the odd rainy winter days we’ve been having, we might take a moment to consider the provocative issue of using an umbrella on Shabbat. In the orthodox world, most people feel there is no question: no one SHOULD use an umbrella on Shabbat. However... the matter has been historically a matter of some controversy. And... the arguments about umbrella usage can give us some insight into the intricacies of interpreting halachah (Jewish Torah Law).

The general consensus is that opening an umbrella is a violation of one of the basic 39 forbidden labors on the Shabbat: Namely “Boneh” building a structure. The building of the Tabernacle in the days of the Israelites in the desert was forbidden on Shabbat, therefore building anything is forbidden on Shabbat... building a house – forbidden; building the Temple – forbidden; even building a tent - forbidden. And what is an umbrella, if not a kind of tent? So... according to the consensus: no pitching of tents, and no unfurling of umbrellas on Shabbat. What if I opened the umbrella BEFORE Shabbat, you might ask, in preparation for the approaching storm? Well... not a good idea because of “ma’arit ayin” (appearances). People might see you with an open umbrella and assume you just opened it as you stepped into the rain. It would give altogether the wrong idea, because they wouldn’t know that you opened up the umbrella in the rain on Shabbat.

There is another opinion, however, as you might imagine. According to the Chatam Sofer (German Rabbi, b. 1762) an umbrella on Shabbat is absolutely permitted! He ruled that the prohibition on building only applies to permanent structures, and an umbrella is, in fact, a temporary structure. Furthermore, it is not attached to the ground or nailed to a wall, and therefore should be permitted. Most orthodox Jews today, however, don’t take the chance of siding with the Chatam Sofer.

My solution? A hat and coat. This solution also minimizes the risk of losing your umbrella.

Shabbat Shalom

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