Question: With many outdoor minyanim utilizing tents for shade and protection, may these tents be assembled or disassembled on Shabbos?
Short Answer: One may not assemble or disassemble a tent on Shabbos. One may, however, assemble or disassemble a temporary addition to an existing tent. There is a dispute among the poskim whether one may move a preexisting tent from one area to a different area on Shabbos.
I. Assembling a Tent
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 315:1), based on the Gemara in Shabbos (138a), rules that assembling a permanent tent on Shabbos in order to protect against the sun or rain is a toladah of Boneh (building) and thus one of the 39 M’lachos that are forbidden on Shabbos. The Gemara further explains that assembling a temporary tent on Shabbos is a rabbinic prohibition, lest you come to build a permanent tent.
The Mishnah B’rurah (Orach Chayim 315:14-15), however, notes an important exception. It is permitted to build a temporary addition to a tent that was already assembled from before Shabbos. In other words, if a tent – even a permanent tent – is assembled before Shabbos, it is permitted to add to the tent, as long as the addition is only temporary. Importantly though, the Sh’miras Shabbos K’Hilchasah (24:6:24) cites the Chazon Ish who ruled that it is only permitted if you begin assembling the temporary addition from the side that is connected to the preexisting tent. To start from the other end and then attach it to the preexisting tent is forbidden because you are essentially creating a new temporary tent on Shabbos, which is rabbinically forbidden.
II. Permanent vs. Temporary
The key question thus becomes: What makes a tent temporary or permanent?
As an initial matter, the Sh’miras Shabbos K’Hilchasah (24:1:4) rules, based on the Mishnah B’rurah (2), that a tent may still be considered permanent even if it has no walls or sides. A sheet spread out over four poles can also be permanent. Indeed, the Shaar HaTziyon (2) cites a machlokes whether, in this scenario, the tent is considered permanent where the sheet is not even tied to the poles but is merely hanging over the poles. However, in order to be permanent, the tent must be assembled with the intent to last “a few days.” See the Mishnah B’rurah (35) and the Shaar HaTziyon (6).
Thus, in order to figure out what makes a tent permanent, we need to explore the definition of “a few days.” The discussion centers on whether a sukkah, the ultimate “tent” that is built to last eight to nine days, is considered permanent or temporary. The Orchos Shabbos (9:1, n. 3) cites a machlokes on this issue. The Pri M’gadim understands a sukkah to be a permanent structure, while the Bikurei Yaakov understands that a sukkah is a temporary structure for the laws to ohel. The Bikurei Yaakov presumably holds that a tent is not considered permanent until it is assembled with the intent to remain standing for 30 days. See the Piskei T’shuvos.
Accordingly, assuming one plans to take down the tent within a few days after Shabbos, one would be allowed to add to a preexisting tent on Shabbos, such as by attaching a side piece or unrolling or elongating the top cover.
III. Moving the Tent
But may you move a tent that was assembled before Shabbos? In other words, you set up a tent on one side of your lawn, but want to move the entire tent (four poles and roof) to a different part of your lawn?
The Orchos Shabbos (9:39, n. 60) appears to suggest that this is permitted (assuming the poles are not stuck into the ground). The Orchos Shabbos, however, does not provide much discussion on the issue and concludes that he is unsure whether one may rely on this leniency.
On the other hand, Rav Nissim Karelitz is cited (sefer Dinei Muktzah, by Rav Avraham Adas, p. 40) as ruling that it is forbidden. Although the tent was built before Shabbos, you are essentially creating a new tent when you move it on Shabbos, as there was never a tent in the new area to where it is being moved.
The Piskei T’shuvos (315:2) cites the M’or HaShabbos, who cites a letter from Dayan Yisroel Yaakov Fischer zt”l (the Av Beis Din of the Eidah HaChareidis) who permitted one to move a pre-assembled tent on Shabbos. The Piskei T’shuvos elaborates that even though an umbrella, which was opened before Shabbos, should not be used on Shabbos, that is only because of a separate prohibition. An opened umbrella is forbidden because of uvda d’chol and zilusa d’Shabbos – that it will degrade and profane the sanctity of Shabbos if we walked around with umbrellas on Shabbos. A tent, however, does not fall under this category and thus may be moved, in its entirety, on Shabbos. Notably, the M’or HaShabbos limits this ruling to a case where the tent is less than 40 sa’ah (approximately 575 liters), as above this amount is considered a structure that is connected to the ground (for laws of tum’ah) and thus moving it constitutes a new and prohibited building.
IV. Taking Down the Tent
It is forbidden for one to take down a tent on Shabbos, because anything that is forbidden to assemble on Shabbos is also forbidden to disassemble. See Mishnah B’rurah (315:1). Accordingly, one is permitted to take down the extra temporary part of a tent that he added on Shabbos to a preexisting tent.
The trickier question is whether a person may take down most of a temporary tent that was built before Shabbos? The Orchos Shabbos (9:34) cites a machlokes regarding this issue. The Avnei Neizer permits one to disassemble part of a temporary tent (that was built before Shabbos) as long as one tefach (approximately 3.2 inches) of the top of the tent remains spread out. The Chazon Ish, however, disagrees and forbids taking down any part of a temporary (and certainly a permanent) tent that was built before Shabbos. The Orchos Shabbos rules strictly like the Chazon Ish.
Next Week’s Topic: How should a person perform Kiddush L’vanah when in quarantine in his house, such as in Israel when the quarantine is strictly enforced?