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Shabbat Parashat R'ei 5773

Ask the Rabbi: Opening and Closing a Garden Parasol on Shabbat

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: We were told that our new garden parasol, which is opened by levers from a heavy, barely movable pole, can get ruined if left open in the wind. May we open and close it on Shabbat?

 

Answer: This case is similar to permitted “coverings” discussed in the gemara and Rishonim and to a different one that was forbidden by the Acharonim. Let us see those sources and see where your parasol falls.

Since you don’t keep this garden parasol open for long, there is only a question of a rabbinic prohibition of making a temporary tent (ohel ara’i), not of a Torah violation on a permanent tent (see Shabbat 138a and Shaar Hatziyun 315:6). The halacha of a temporary “tent” can depend on its use. If it is to protect that which it covers, it is forbidden even if there is only a roof of a tefach (a handbreadth) (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 315:2). If a horizontal surface is spread out just to serve the area above it (e.g., a table) and the fact that it also covers something is incidental, it is forbidden only if the “roof” is placed on vertical “walls” (ibid. 3). At first glance, your parasol seems forbidden, as it is a roof to shade the area beneath.

However, we must consider that the prohibition on making tents is a subcategory of binyan (building). Therefore, Chazal (see Shabbat 138a) allowed several apparent walls/roofs when they were not creating something new. One is extending an existing surface of a tefach (Shulchan Aruch, ibid. 2). Although the folded up parasol has a width of a tefach that hangs over the ground, opening it is worse than just extending because the existing tefach is measured only from beyond its folded up state.

Another broad leniency is when the “tent” is attached in a way that it is ready to be opened. When a cloak is attached by a string, ready to be pulled open, it is permitted to do so (Shabbat 138a). Another case is a folded chair whose seat is soft leather, where the leather becomes a horizontal surface when the chair is opened. This too is permitted (ibid.; Shulchan Aruch ibid. 5). The Rama (OC 626:3) allows opening an extending roof over a sukka to protect from rain, when it is attached by hinges to the wall.  

Based on the above, one would expect it would be permitted to open an umbrella on Shabbat, as its “tent” is made ready to be opened and closed easily. Why then is it accepted that it is forbidden to do so? The Noda B’Yehuda (II, OC:30) is concerned with the Rif’s opinion that the leniency for the cloak with the string is limited to cases where there will not be a tefach of horizontal extension. He also says the chair is permitted because it is not done to protect that which is underneath. Many (see Shut Chatam Sofer, OC:72; Chazon Ish, OC 52:6;) reject the Noda B’Yehuda’s strict analysis. The Chazon Ish argues that his distinctions do not apply where the leniency is based on the fact that the ohel already exists and is in waiting to be opened.

Your garden parasol is essentially an umbrella. Many see the umbrella prohibition as largely a stringency (with many nuances raised as to what factor(s) triggered the minhag- see Be’ur Halacha 315:8; Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 24:15; Chazon Ish ibid.). It is likely this minhag does not extend to your parasol, which is different in several ways. Perhaps most significantly, the fabric extends from a stationary pole, which is unlike picking up an umbrella and creating an ohel situation in its present location from scratch (see Noda B’Yehuda ibid).

Therefore, Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata (ibid.) rules that it is permitted to open garden parasols, and we concur. Whatever can be opened on Shabbat can also be closed. (Based on your picture and description, it appears that it is even easier to be lenient in your case. Your apparatus is movable enough to not be considered attached to the ground, something that made Rav S.Z. Auerbach “wary” of the above leniency – see ad loc. (57). It also looks like the downward slope is too small/gradual to be considered additional vertical walls, which was one of the reasons the Noda B’Yehuda forbade umbrellas.)

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