Using a tree (mishtameish b’ilan)
It is forbidden to use a tree on Shabbos or Yom Tov. “Use” in this halachic context means, among things, climbing a tree, leaning against a tree, or sitting on it. The Sages prohibited using a tree on Shabbos because this type of activity is likely to lead to the transgression of kotzair. This restricted activity is known as ‘mishtameish b’ilan’ (using a tree). A person climbing a tree, swinging and leaning on a tree is prone to inadvertently detach part of the tree, e.g. breaking off some bark or a branch or twig, etc. The Sages therefore imposed a form of muktzah status upon trees. The usage of any part of the tree is forbidden, including branches and exposed roots (that are above 3 tefachim/handbreadths – approximately 12 inches - from the earth.) The restriction on usage of trees includes the following:
- climbing a tree
- leaning against a tree
- shaking a tree
- placing objects upon a tree
- removing objects from a tree (e.g. dislodging a ball from bushes)
Tree swings and hammocks that are fastened directly to a tree are also considered as using the tree. Merely touching a tree, however, is not classified halachically as use, and is permitted, as long as doing so does not cause the tree to move or shake at all.
A closer definition of the decree
Not all types of usage are prohibited with trees. Certain forms of indirect usage are not included in this Rabbinic injunction, and are permissible. The principle of use of trees is, in fact, divided into three categories, two of which are prohibited, and one of which is permissible. They are:
1. Prohibited: Direct use of the tree itself
2. Prohibited: Tz’dadim (lit. “sides”, e.g. climbing up a ladder that was leaning against a tree) 3. Permissible: Tzidei tz’dadim (lit. sides of sides, e.g. lying in a hammock that was attached to a hook screwed into the tree. Note: Hanging the hammock on the hook in the first place on Shabbos would be tz’dadim and therefore prohibited!)
Many other details of this and related prohibitions are covered in the full version of this siman. They include: leaving items on a tree before Shabbos, the penalty for climbing a tree on Shabbos, using a dead tree or stump, and more.
The Rabbinic ordinance restricting the use of trees on Shabbos applies only to trees and tree-like plants, such as bushes, shrubbery, firm reeds, etc. However, soft, pliant, or flexible plants (e.g. grass, leafy-weeds, etc.) are not included under this ordinance. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with walking, playing, sitting or even lying on grass during Shabbos or Yom Tov.