- Question: [Thursday, 4th Elul, 5781]
I am in the process of recovering from covid, and my doctor instructed me to inflate balloons several times a day for the sake of exercising my lungs. I will inflate them and then deflate them and then reinflate them for this purpose. Is there any problem for me to do so on Shabbos?
You may do so even on Shabbos to a balloon that has been inflated at least one time before Shabbos, making sure never to close the balloon after it is inflated by making a knot on its top, and the like, and you may simply inflate it and then deflate it and then re-inflate it constantly as necessary.
Inflating balloons on Shabbos enters into the question of whether it contains a fixing of a vessel prohibition, as well as a tying prohibition.
The tying prohibition: Practically, due to the tying prohibition it is forbidden to tie a balloon on Shabbos being that the way that a balloon is tied on its top is in a way that it is forbidden to be done on Shabbos, as a single not which is made using only one end of the string is questionable if it is considered a professional knot, and thus has the same status as a double knot. Now, the question is perhaps we should forbid inflating balloons on Shabbos due to this reason alone, as perhaps one will come to make a forbidden knot on its top as is usually done during the week, and as we find that the sages prohibited entering shoelaces into a shoe if it is common to make a forbidden form of knot after entering the shoelace. Now, although one could argue that the sages never intended to make a general prohibition against doing things on Shabbos lest one come to make a knot, nonetheless, we still face the issue of fixing a vessel in the process of inflating a balloon, as will now be explained.
The fixing of a vessel prohibition: As is known, it is forbidden to fix a vessel, and certainly to initially make a vessel, on Shabbos. The question however is regarding whether the action of inflating a balloon transgresses this prohibition, as it is questionable whether the act of simply entering air into a balloon and making it into a ball is considered like one is fixing a vessel or not. Practically, this matter is debated amongst the Poskim, with some viewing the act of inflating air into an item to make it usable as an act of fixing and thereby biblically prohibit it, and with others viewing it as meaningless being that air does not contain any real substance and will eventually dissipate from the item, and with others taking a compromising approach and saying that if it was a ready filled one time before Shabbos then it is permitted to reinflate it, although if it was never inflated before, then it is forbidden to be done. This compromise is based on the precedent ruling that if pillow stuffing came out of a pillow on Shabbos it may be reinserted even though it is forbidden to initially do so on Shabbos for the first time.
Our final ruling in this case: Practically, although initially one should avoid inflating balloons on Shabbos due to the above issues, and due to the fact that in any event one cannot make a knot on top of it, and therefore according to no opinion is it possible to make an actual balloon on Shabbos for it to be played with, nonetheless, in our case we were lenient. The reason for this is because aside for the medical necessity, in this case one does not desire to make a knot on top of the balloon as if one does so it will lose its ability of being used for the exercise anymore, and in such a case that one will simply deflate the balloon right afterwards, perhaps even the stringent opinions would agree that there is no prohibition involved, especially if it was inflated one time before Shabbos in which case most authorities agree that it is permitted.
Sources: See regarding the issue of fixing a vessel involved in inflating a ball: Forbidden: Ketzos Hashulchan 110 footnote 16; Minchas Yitzchak 6:30; Chelkas Yaakov 167; 3:159; Piskeiy Teshuvah 1:55; Permitted: Betzeil Hachachmah 4:92; Beir Moshe 2:20; Mishnas Yosef 11:74; Permitted if inflated before Shabbos: Rav Poalim 1:25; Yesod Yeshurun 4 page 270; Minchas Shlomo 1:11; SSH”K 15:89; 34:24 See regarding inflating balloons: Beir Moshe 2:20; 6:23 [permitted without knot]; Sheivet Halevy 9:78 [forbidden]; SSH”K 16:7 [forbidden unless uncommon to tie]; Piskeiy Teshuvos 340:2 [old] 30 [new]; See regarding making a knot at the end of an item: Admur 317:3 and 5; Rama 317:1; M”A 317:9; Tosafus Shabbos 48a; Michaber and Rama 317:2; SSH”K 16:7 See regarding inserting the stuffing of a pillow on Shabbos: Admur 340:14; Michaber 340:8