Last Shabbat, I was pushing my two-year-old on a swing hanging from a tree in my yard when a well-meaning neighbor told me it may be a problem on Shabbat. Is that the case?

Using a Tree on Shabbat

It is true that there are potential issues with using a swing or hammock attached to a tree on Shabbat. Depending on how it is installed, there may be ways to mitigate these issues. But first, some background.

According to Jewish law, one may not climb, hang from or use a tree or its branches on Shabbat. The reasoning is that doing so may lead one to detach fruits, leaves or branches, which would transgress one of the 39 actions prohibited on Shabbat. This applies to all trees and branches that are more than three tefachim1 (approximately 9.5 inches) off the ground, regardless of whether the tree actually has fruits, leaves or branches.2

One is, however, permitted to simply touch a tree, as long as the tree doesn’t shake.3

The “Sides of a Tree”

One concept that we need to discuss is tzidadei ilan, literally translated as “the sides of the tree.” Just as one may not use the tree itself, one may not use anything that is attached to or touching the tree, referred to as tzidadei ilan. One may, however, make use of items that are not directly supported by a tree, but supported by an item that is supported by the tree, known as tzidei tzidadei ilan, “the side of the sides of the tree.”4

Practically, this means that one may not hang a towel or jacket on Shabbat on a hook that is attached to the tree, since that is considered making use of “the sides of the tree.” However, if one hung a basket (before Shabbat) on a hook that is attached to the tree, then he is permitted to place something in the basket on Shabbat.5

We can now turn to the question of using a swing or hammock on Shabbat.

Proper Way to Install Swing for Shabbat Use

If the swing or hammock is connected directly to the tree, then it may not be used on Shabbat. This applies even if the swing has a hook, chain or rope that supports the swing, and only the chain or rope is directly attached to the tree. Why is this? Wouldn’t the rope be defined as “the sides of the tree,” making the actual swing seat “the side of the sides of the tree”? However, in this case, since the entire swing (e.g., the seat together with the chain) is considered one unit, the entire swing is considered merely “the sides of the tree” and may not be used on Shabbat.6

If, however, one affixes a hook, nail or pole to the tree and then attaches the rope or chain of the swing or hammock to it, one would be permitted to use it, as this is considered “the side of the sides of the tree”—provided that no part of the tree will shake while using the swing or hammock.7

It should, however, be stressed that although using the swing on Shabbat is permitted, one would not be allowed to hang the swing on Shabbat, as that would be considered making use of the hook or pole itself (e.g., merely “the sides of the tree”), which is problematic on Shabbat.8

Thus, in short, as long as the swing or hammock is indirectly attached to the tree before Shabbat, and using it doesn’t cause any part of the tree to shake, it is permitted to make use of it on Shabbat.

Enjoy, and have a great Shabbat!