Snow in the Gush Etzion region of Judea, Feb. 20, 2015. (Photo: Gershon Elinson/Flash90) Snow in the Gush Etzion region of Judea, Feb. 20, 2015. (Photo: Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
snow in gush etzion

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By Rabbi Ari Enkin, rabbinic director, United with Israel

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, rabbinic director, United with Israel

Since Jerusalem, the hills of Judea and Samaria and the North have enjoyed an abundance of snow this year, a discussion on the white flurries in Torah law is in order.

Even snow has secured for itself a respectful place in Scripture, Talmud, and of course, Jewish law. Scripture uses snow as a metaphor for the ideal shade of white [Daniel 7:9]. We are told that snow avoids melting by “hiding” in the gorge by the stream [Job 6:16]. There is documentation of a record-breaking snowfall near Hebron [ 1 Maccabees 13:22]. It is the snow of the mountains in northern Israel thath is the source of the water flowing in the many small riverbeds across the land [Jeremiah 18:14]. Scripture notes that God’s powers extend even to the snow [Job 31:21, 37:6, 38:22]. Snow is also the frequent metaphor for purity and cleanliness [Isaiah 1:18, Psalms 51:7, Lamentations 4:7] as well as for plenty [Psalms 147:16].

Within Jewish law, snow is a recurring subject with regards to Shabbat (Sabbath) observance. For example, some authorities rule that only snow which has fallen before Shabbat is permitted to be handled on Shabbat, while snow which falls on Shabbat itself is muktza and may not be moved. Other authorities make no such distinction and permit one to handle any snow on Shabbat. One is allowed to walk upon snow on Shabbat without concern that doing so will cause the image of one’s shoes to be imprinted in the snow or possibly causing some snow to melt at the same time. One should not, however, intentionally melt snow or ice in order to use it as water.

It is permissible to chop or smash snow and ice that is currently too large for use, but snow should not be intentionally squeezed on Shabbat. Similarly, ice can be used freely to cool drinks on Shabbat without concern that in the process of doing so, one is causing the ice to melt. It is interesting to note that some authorities advise that on Shabbat it is better for one to add ice to a drink rather than pour a drink over ice. It is permissible to make ice on Shabbat by pouring water into the ice-cube tray and placing it in the freezer, though it is always best to think ahead and do so before Shabbat. It seems that ice, and similar foods, are actually considered liquids from the perspective of Jewish law, although some disagree.

snow in the north

Enjoying the snow in the north on Jan. 7, 2015. (Photo: Basal Awidat/FLASH90)

There are a number of halachic (Jewish legal) authorities who forbid one to make snowballs on Shabbat, fearing that doing so may be a violation of the prohibition to “squeeze” or to “build,” while others permit doing so without reservation. It seems that one need not protest if small children choose to make and play with snowballs. However, a “snowman” should not be made on Shabbat under any conditions. It is permissible to spread salt upon the snow and ice on Shabbat, or even shovel if need be, in order to prevent injury. Indeed, salt was placed on the ramp leading up to the altar in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem for safety considerations whenever needed, including Shabbat. Nevertheless, it must be done before Shabbat whenever possible.

There is no concern about the prohibition of carrying when snow accumulates on one’s clothes when walking outdoors in a place without an eruv (ritual enclosure permitting one to carry outdoors within the area on the Sabbath). One may gently shake snow off clothes on Shabbat if careful not to squeeze the snow in the process or to cause it to have a cleansing effect on the garment. One who has an ongoing contract with a snow removal company to clear away the snow should stipulate that no mechanical snow removal take place on Shabbat. It is interesting to note that a small amount of snow upon the covering of one’s Sukkah (hut used during the Feast of Tabernacles) is not cause for concern, but a larger amount could invalidate the Sukkah.