Question: Is it permissible to arrange flowers in a vase on Shabbat?
Answer: Regarding our question whether or not arranging flowers nicely in a vase in honor of Shabbat is permissible, this is a discussion among the great Acharonim. Let us now discuss some of the main points and the halachic conclusion.
Arranging Flowers- Repairing a Vessel
Hagaon Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l writes (in his Responsa Igrot Moshe, OC Volume 4, Chapter 73) that it is forbidden to gather various flowers on Shabbat and place them on the table, for this resembles the prohibition to repair a vessel on Shabbat.
Nevertheless, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l (in his Chazon Ovadia- Shabbat, Volume 3, page 26) rebuffs his opinion, for even if we were to consider flowers as a vessel, bunching several flowers together should be considered joining several vessels together. The prohibition of repairing a vessel on Shabbat only applies when every component of the vessel is not considered a vessel on its own and joining them together will create a complete vessel. Furthermore, Maran zt”l quotes (in his Responsa Yabia Omer, Volume 1, Chapter 20) several Rishonim who maintain that the prohibition of repairing a vessel on Shabbat does not apply to something which does not require the work of a professional to make it and is not meant to last for a prolonged amount of time. Thus, since arranging flowers in a vase is quite a simple task and is not meant to last for a prolonged period, the prohibition of repairing a vessel on Shabbat does not apply here. It is for the same reason that Maran zt”l permitted screwing on the carbonation tank of a Soda Stream (seltzer maker) on Shabbat and this does not constitute the prohibition of repairing a vessel since this is only temporary and can be done by anyone. Hagaon Harav Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss zt”l agreed with Maran zt”l’s ruling in his Responsa Minchat Yitzchak, Volume 4, end of Chapter 122.
Arranging Flowers- Gathering
Nonetheless, Hagaon Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l adds that there is an additional issue with arranging flowers on Shabbat which is the forbidden work of gathering on Shabbat. This forbidden work refers to gathering fruits and vegetables in the field into one pile. Thus, Hagaon Harav Feinstein posits that gathering flowers together and then arranging them constitutes the forbidden work of gathering on Shabbat and is prohibited.
However, Maran zt”l disagrees with him on this point as well and proves from several Rishonim that the forbidden work of gathering applies only in the place where the fruits or vegetable grew, i.e. in a field or garden. However, in a place where the ground is paved or surfaced, the forbidden work of gathering does not apply at all. Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch and the Mishnah Berura rule likewise. Since flowers are usually grown either in the field or in a greenhouse and not in a home, there is thus room for leniency and one may arrange flowers nicely in a vase on Shabbat in honor of Shabbat, whether there is only one kind of flower or several kinds.