Soaking Seeds on Shabbat
We have been asked regarding people who have a pet parrot at home and they must soak different kinds of seeds in order to feed them to the parrot. Is this permissible on Shabbat or not?
At first glance, it would seem that this should be prohibited based on what the Rambam writes (Chapter 8 of Hilchot Shabbat) that if one soaks wheat or barley kernels on Shabbat, he is liable for transgressing the forbidden work of planting. Nevertheless, in truth, this is only prohibited when one soaks the seeds for several hours until they are soft and ready for planting. However, if one soaks them for only an hour or two and immediately places them before the birds, this is not prohibited. Maran zt”l rules likewise in his Chazon Ovadia-Shabbat Part 4, page 17. We have written this several years ago in the Halacha Yomit.
Nevertheless, we must add that in general, the owners of parrots and other birds usually intend for the seeds to sprout completely in which case all Poskim agree this is forbidden. Additionally, this only applies to wheat or barley seeds; however, regarding sesame or flax seeds which immediately upon becoming wet stick to one another, it is forbidden to soak them in water on Shabbat because of the prohibition of kneading (see Shulchan Aruch, Chapter 340, Section 12). In general, seed mixes meant for parrots and other exotic birds include seeds that stick together like flax seeds and there is a Torah prohibition of soaking them in water on Shabbat.
Opening a Faucet When the Water Will Eventually Flow to the Garden
The Poskim discuss a scenario where there is a sink where people wash their hands and the water that enters the drain flows through a pipe and eventually spills out onto a patch of earth where plants are growing. Is one permitted to use such a sink on Shabbat or does this constitute the forbidden work of “planting”?
Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l addresses this issue in several places (Responsa Yabia Omer, Volume 5, Chapter 27, Chazon Ovadia-Shabbat Part 1, page 135, and Chazon Ovadia-Shabbat Part 4, page 10) and concludes that according to the letter of the law, one may act leniently and use such a sink on Shabbat when one intends to wash one’s hands and not to water the plants.
His reason for this leniency is because the pouring of the water is not being done directly by the individual; rather, this is being done in an indirect fashion, for the water is first poured into the sink and it then flows on its own until it reaches the ground. This cannot be considered a direct watering like one who waters plants with a hose and aims the water directly towards the ground. Since the individual’s intention is not to water plants at all and only wishes to wash his hands, at the very worst, this only constitutes a rabbinic prohibition and when one does not have in mind to perform the forbidden action at all, this does not constitute any prohibition whatsoever. Maran zt”l quotes many sources to support his opinion and writes that the Chatam Sofer and other great Poskim rule likewise.
Nevertheless, clearly, one may only be lenient to use such a sink when one has no intention of watering the garden and is only using it to wash one’s hands and the like. However, if one is doing so in order to water one’s garden, this will be prohibited on Shabbat.
Summary: Regarding a sink whose pipes lead the water poured into it onto earth where plants are growing, one may use such a sink on Shabbat as long as one intends only to wash one’s hands and not to water the plants.
One may not soak seeds in water on Shabbat unless one is doing so for a short period of time, such as for an hour or two, in order to feed them to a bird or animal in one’s possession. Nevertheless, seeds which stick together immediately upon becoming wet, such as sesame or flax seeds, may not be soaked in water at all.