Shabbat without Soccer

Sports Balls on Shabbat

Q: Rabbi, I wish to begin by saying that what you wrote about the importance of learning Torah on Shabbat has encouraged us to learn more with our children. We started a project with them, where they receive points and prizes for study on Shabbat.

Rabbi, you wrote in your Jewish law book “Pninei Halacha” (Shabbat 24:9), that it is forbidden to play soccer on Shabbat, the ball is considered ‘mukzteh’ (items that may not be moved during Shabbat), and consequently, it is forbidden to touch it. My question is this: what should we do when our neighbor’s soccer ball falls into our yard on Shabbat, and they ask us to return it. Are we allowed to do so? Our neighbor’s are religious Jews who are of the opinion that there is no prohibition to play soccer on Shabbat. Should we let them get the ball themselves, or should we politely explain that we don’t handle balls on Shabbat, and we will return it after Shabbat is over?

A: First, it would be appropriate to deal with the question of whether or not playing games on Shabbat is permitted.

Opinions Prohibiting Playing Games on Shabbat

There is a difference of opinion amongst the ‘poskim’ (Jewish law arbiters) about whether playing games on Shabbat is permitted. Some say that seeing as Shabbat is intended for Torah study, it is forbidden to play any type of game on Shabbat, and consequently, game accessories are ‘mukzteh’. Accordingly, we have learned from the destruction of the city ‘Tur Shimon’, of whom our Sages asked: the people living there gave plenty of charity and honored the Shabbat with choice meals (Jerusalem Talmud, Taanit 4:5). Why was it destroyed? Some explained that the city was destroyed because of prostitution; others explained it was because they played with balls on Shabbat. Rabbi Eleazar of Worms (‘Rokeach’), explained that by playing with balls, they were “b’taylim min ha’Torah” (idle from Torah study) on Shabbat (paragraph 55). And since it is forbidden to play, the ball is considered ‘mukzteh’ (Shibolei Haleket, 121; Shulchan Aruch 308:45). True, we have testimony of some rabbis who played chess on Shabbat; however, according to the opinion of the ‘machmerim’ (stringent), they apparently suffered from depression, and by playing chess, relieved their anxieties. However, devoid of such a great need, it is forbidden to play games, and thus, they are ‘mukzteh’ (Mahara Sasson; Birkei Yosef (338:1).

Those Who Permit Playing Games on Shabbat

On the other hand, other authorities hold that there is no prohibition of playing games on Shabbat, for as long as no money or other benefits are involved, they are not prohibited (R’ma, 338:5), and the games are not ‘mukzteh’ (R’ma 308:45). Concerning what our Sages said in regards to ‘Tur Shimon’ being destroyed because they played ball on Shabbat, the reason was that they carried the ball in the ‘reshut harabim’ (public domain) (Gra).

However, it is clear that even according to this opinion, it is appropriate not to engage in playing games on Shabbat because of ‘bitul Torah’ (neglect of Torah study), since the main purpose of Shabbat is to study Torah and enjoy meals and sleep time. As our Sages said: “Shabbat and ‘Yamim Tovim’ (holidays) were given[to Israel] only to engage on them in the words of Torah” (Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbat 15:3). In addition, they said that a person should divide the Shabbat – half for physical ‘oneg’ (pleasure) by eating and sleeping, and half for spiritual ‘oneg’ in Torah study and prayer (Pesachim 68b; Ohr Zarua; S’mag; Rabbeinu Yerucham; Yam Shel Shlomo, and others). And, as I have written several times, the words of these Sages necessitate dedicating a minimum of six hours of Torah study every Shabbat. Yet, according to the lenient opinion, as long as one is careful to devote at least half of the Shabbat to Torah study, it is not forbidden to play games in one’s spare time.

The Practical Halacha

According to the majority of Sephardic ‘poskim’, one should be stringent and not play games on Shabbat at all, and the games themselves are ‘mukzteh’ (Knesset HaGedolah, Chida, Ben Ish Chai. This can also be implied from Shulchan Aruch 308:45). The opinion of most Ashkenazi ‘poskim’ is that there is no prohibition, but ‘l’chatchila’ (initially), it is preferable not to play games on Shabbat, both because spare time on Shabbat should be devoted to Torah study, and because it is proper to take into consideration the opinion that all games are forbidden on Shabbat (Magen Avraham 308:5; Mishna Berura 308:21).

All this relates to games played at home; but concerning games played with a lot of fanfare, such as soccer, basketball, and tennis, even according to most lenient ‘poskim’, it is forbidden to play them on Shabbat because of ‘uvdin d’chol’ (weekday activities).

Answer about the Wayward Ball

Since in the opinion of almost all ‘poskim’, it is forbidden to play soccer on Shabbat, the ball is ‘mukzteh’. Although, some authorities hold that it is forbidden to play soccer specifically on a playing field because of ‘uvdin d’chol’, but at home it is permissible, and in their opinion, the ball is not ‘mukzteh’. Since this is the practice of your neighbors whose ball fell into your yard, you should tell them that according to your practice the ball is ‘mukzteh’ and therefore, you cannot return it on Shabbat, but if they want, they can come get it themselves.

Thoughts on Games and Newspapers on Shabbat

According to numerous testimonies from various communities throughout the Diaspora, it was customary for Jews to dedicate many hours to Torah study on Shabbat, in accordance with the instruction of our Sages: “Half [of Shabbat] to the ‘Beit Midrash’ (study hall).”

We see now that in recent generations, this mitzvah has been weakened. It occurred to me that perhaps the position permitting playing games on Shabbat and reading newspapers and secular books is what caused it. True, in the past, this position did not affect Torah study on Shabbat because games were relatively few and far between, as were books and newspapers; consequently, those who held by the lenient opinion, did not spend much time participating in these activities on Shabbat. But today, when there are so many games for children and teenagers to play, and so much reading material – those who follow the lenient opinion are drawn after them, and find it difficult to devote the Shabbat to Torah study. Perhaps this is why Torah study in Ashkenazi communities has weakened more than amongst Sephardic Jews, who were inclined to be stringent about playing games and reading secular books on Shabbat.

True, it cannot be determined from this that there is an obligation ‘l’hachmir’ (be stringent), but it must definitely be said that if we see that engaging in playing games and reading secular material violates the mitzvah of Torah study on Shabbat – which should be at least six hours – it is necessary to be stringent in order to remedy the situation.

Participation of Women in Elections

Q: Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, spoke strongly against the right of women to vote and be elected as public representatives. Today, the political party “HaBayit HaYehudi” (Jewish Home Party) wants to add a woman to the party leadership. Do the students of Rabbi Kook agree with this?

A: True, in 1920 – over ninety years ago – Rabbi Kook was against granting women the right to vote. However, he did not believe that it was a halachic prohibition, and consequently, he did not agree to sign, together with the rabbis from the ‘Eida Haredit’ – Rabbi Diskin and Rabbi Sonenfeld – on a document prohibiting it. Rather, he wrote a different text, according to which participation of women is “in contradiction to ‘dat Moshe v’Yehudit’ (the laws of Moses or the practice of Jewish women), and in contradiction to the spirit of the Jewish nation in general.” In other words, it is in opposition to the modest behavior prevalent amongst Israel. This text was signed by the ‘rov binyan u’rov minyan’ (quantitative and qualitative) majority of rabbis. After his opinion was rejected and British rule determined that it would grant women the right to vote, Rabbi Kook did not wage war against this decision, or against women elected to office. Apparently, neither did he actually oppose women voting.

The reason for this is clear. Up until that time, most countries had not granted women the right to vote. England granted women the right to vote only two years before this, and from that time onward, countries increasingly began giving women the right to vote. France did so in 1944, and Switzerland, one of the last countries to do so, gave women the right to vote only in 1971.

Seeing as women voting was not a commonly acceptable phenomenon in other countries, the leading rabbis considered it as contrary to the customs of modesty, just as there were times when women driving cars was considered an immodest act. However, ever since women’s participation in elections became accepted in most countries of the world, there is no longer a problem of modesty, just as there is nothing immodest about a woman driving a car.

A Look Back at Rabbi Kook’s Position

It should be noted that even back then, there were some rabbis who believed that dealing with this question was a mistake. This was the opinion, for example, of one of Rabbi Kook’s friends and admirers, the gaon, Rabbi Avraham Shapira from Kovna, the author of “D’var Avraham”, who wrote to Rabbi Kook’s son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah, that he was very surprised that his father even entered into this issue, for what prohibition does it entail?

And although in hindsight, Rabbi Kook seemingly should not have entered this issue, on second thought, it appears that his position was justified at the time, and a pity that it was not accepted. In those days, the Jewish community was divided between the Orthodox and the secular, and Rabbi Kook attempted with all his power to unify the ranks. Had he been successful, the nation would have been immeasurably stronger in its land; the large Orthodox community in Israel and Europe would have felt a connection to the building of the land, the secular society would have felt more connected to its heritage, and many of the present flaws existing in Israeltoday would have been solved. Not having merited this does not mean the attempt to create a suitable framework for coexistence amongst all was wrong.

A Distressing Question  

Q: My sister, who is entirely Jewish, is about to get “married” to a Gentile whose father is Jewish. They found some “rabbi” (probably Reform) who will perform the “wedding ceremony”. Can my wife and I participate in this event? I must point out that our family ties are extremely sensitive, and if we don’t attend, I fear my relationship with my father will be harmed.

A: It is forbidden to participate in this event which contradicts halacha, because it is a Torah mitzvah to rebuke a Jew who sins. This mitzvah stems from a sense of responsibility and love that every Jew should feel for his fellow Jew, as it is written: “Do not hate your brother in your heart. You must admonish your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him…You must love your neighbor as [you love] yourself” (Leviticus 19: 17-18). And even if it is clear that the admonishment will not help, it is a mitzvah to rebuke once, because by doing so, there is a chance that in the future, the sinner will repent. Most probably, you have already expressed your opinion to your sister, and therefore, you need not object once again, but to participate in the ceremony is forbidden, because doing so contradicts the mitzvah of rebuke. Besides, I have heard of cases where relatives did not participate in the ceremony in protest, and this act indirectly influenced the Gentile to convert. On other occasions, the couple broke-up, as in the case of most secular couples today, and because they recalled the protest, they decided to get married the next time according to the Law of Moses and Israel.

It should be explained to members of the family that, with all your good will towards them, it is forbidden for you, according to Jewish law, to participate in their event. Nevertheless, in other settings, you should strengthen the positive connection with them, because most probably, they do not transgress Torah mitzvoth deliberately and out of hate.

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