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Shooting Hoops on Shabbos

Friday October 26, 2012 4:15 AM - 15 Comments

basketballBy Rabbi Yair Hoffman

They can be found in virtually every neighborhood in the Five Towns and Far Rockaway.  Walk from Lawrence to Woodmere and you will find many dozens of them.  And, even on Shabbos, they are being utilized.

They are portable, movable basketball hoops.  The question is - what is the Halachic status of this pastime when done on Shabbos?  Should parents discourage their children from playing ball on Shabbos?  Is there a difference between very young children, children who have reached the age of Chinuch, and children above the age of Bar Mitzvah?

Certainly we can all understand the sentiment that children need to be given some space and to let off  steam or energy.  If the issue is not forbidden, should we really be making an issue out of it?

The Talmud Yerushalmi (Taanis 4:5) tells us of a great city named Tur Shimon with its very own Tomchei Shabbos that delivered 300 barrels of material to the poor each Friday. The Jerusalem Talmud, however, goes on to explain that this city was ultimately destroyed.

Why?  One opinion says that it was because of untoward activity. Another opinion says that it was on account of, yes, ball playing. Gulp.  Ostensibly, it was ball playing on Shabbos as most of the commentators explain.  Indeed, Rav Huna in Midrash Aicha Rabasi explicitly states that the ball playing was on Shabbos.  This Yerushalmi is cited by the Bais Yoseph (OC 308).  Finally, there is a third opinion (See Rokeach Hilchos Shabbos 55) that they played ball on Shabbos and did not learn Torah.

What is remarkable is that nowhere in these sources (other than in the words of the Rokeach) is the exact problem with ball-playing on Shabbos fully or even partially explained.  What was the violation? There are, of course, an entire litany of halachic possibilities as to the exact nature of the problem (which, as the reader may have surmised, will be explored), but perhaps the very silence of the sources is instructive in and of itself.

Perhaps, the reason Tur Shimon was destroyed was that such a town - with such remarkable chessed going on in its midst should have utilized the Shabbos as a means to further their Dveikus Bashem - their cleaving to Hashem.  Excessive ball-playing, or any other mundane activity can sometimes be indicative of a lack of such a relationship with Hashem - and that may very well have been the reason for Hashem not having saved this town from destruction. But let’s get to the possible halachic issues involved.

One possibility is the prohibition of carrying (not the basketball violation - the Shabbos one).  The Machzor Vitri (Hilchos Pesach #94) actually permits a type of ball-playing on Yom Tov on account of it being a form of Simchas Yom Tov!  Indeed, the Responsa of Rashi (285:2) entertains a similar position.  But even according to this more lenient view, the permission is limited to Yom Tov and not Shabbos.  If this is the sole reason (which is by no means clear), in our communities where an Eruv exist, is the prohibition and the destructive potential of ball-playing still an issue?  Or perhaps the problem was that the ball playing may lead to the ball rolling outside of the Eiruv.  But here where are Eiruvs often extend far distances - perhaps it may not be an issue.

There is a second possibility.  The Shevulei haLeket (Shabbos 121) considers balls as items of no purposeful utility and deems them to be Muktzah.  The Ramah (OC 518:1 and 308:45), however, rules that it is not considered Muktzah and that a ball would have utility.  The Shulchan Aruch (OC 308:45) rules that it is forbidden to play ball on Shabbos and on Yom Tov.

The Mishna Brurah explains that it is because he holds that the balls have no purposeful utility and are Muktzah. The Mishna Brurah adds that if children would not listen otherwise it is best not to stop them because it is preferable that they sin inadvertently rather than on purpose. The Aruch HaShulchan tends to be stringent as well, in regard to ball playing on Shabbos.  It may beargued that even the Muktzah issue in our day and age is different because nowadays the balls are manufactured for the purpose of playing.  It could be argued that in the days of the Shulchan Aruch and before, the balls were made on an ad-hoc basis and therefore the issue of Muktzah was more acute.  The Shvus Yitzchok (p. 90), a contemporary Sefer on Muktzah makes this point in the name of Rav Elyashiv zt”l.

Another possible issue is the problem of leveling the ground.  The ball may inadvertently roll into an unpaved area and cause some ground leveling problems.  It would seem, however, that the ground leveling problem is limited to games where the ball is to be rolled on the ground as the purpose and method of game-playing (Rabbeinu Chananel would disagree with this, but Halacha seems to follow other opinions).
There thus might be a distinction between soccer and basketball, at least in regard to this particular concern.  Some (e.g. the Shvilei HaLeket) are of the opinion that the Rabbis therefore prohibited ball-playing even in areas that are paved.  There is also the possibility that the noises involved in ball playing may be halachically problematic too (ibid).  However, the views of the Shvilei HaLeket have not been cited authoritatively by the Poskim. On the stricter side, it is interesting to note that the Ramah’s own cousin, the Maharshal (Beitzah 1:34) questions the lenient position of his cousin and writes that if he had the ability he would forbid it entirely.  The Maharshal is quoted by the TaZ (OC 518:2) and he labels it an “evil custom.”

Rav Shlomo Kluger (Ha’elef lecha Shlomo 339), however, is more lenient and strongly questions the attack on the Ramah by the Maharshal and TaZ.  The Aruch HaShulchan likewise questions the strong words attacking the Ramah and provides room for leniency. Rabbi Yom Tov Ben Moshe Tzahalon (1559-1638), author of the Maharitatz in the new responsa (#202) discusses the question of a large city of Torah scholars that never had any ball playing and a group of gentiles came and began ball playing.  Eventually a group of young men arose and began playing on the Shabbos with gambling and betting and eating without rinsing of the hands.  Some wished to refrain from forbidding it on account of the position of the Ramah.  The Maharitatz blasted those who refrained from forbidding it and that those who violated it should seek acts of contrition and Teshuvah.

In conclusion, Tur Shimon was a wealthy vibrant town filled with acts of charity and unprecedented Chessed.  It fell, according to many authorities, on account of ball playing running out of control. Hundreds of years later, in the time of the Maharitatz, another great city also fell victim to Shabbos violation and other violations on account of the inroads made by this type of activity. Whenever one deals with issues regarding youth, there are no easy answers.  One might wish to object that our youth are subjected to so many pressures, if the Ramah permits it why not allow it?  On the other hand, we must realize that quite often one things leads to another.  We have witnessed, unfortunately, cases where our youth have taken other paths not in accordance with our traditions because of various other activities that have developed.  The real answer is that each parent should ask their Rav how to approach the situation with their particular child.

In this author’s opinion, it might be preferable to arrange for wholesome ball playing on Motzei Shabbosim and Sundays, and some other type of spiritually nurturing activity on Shabbos.  If not, at least an indoor packaged game is preferable to outdoorball-playing.

Perhaps what is really required, in addition to the rigorous Torah learning programs that already exist, is organized Chessed programs similar to those that allow the young ladies in ur community to flourish spiritually.

The author can be reachedat yairhoffman2@gmail.com

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15 Responses to “Shooting Hoops on Shabbos”

1. Comment from Mehadrin
Time October 26, 2012 at 9:57 AM

Why is this photo of frum boys that can be identified here? Surely you wouldn’t want correlating these boys to the issue discussed, which could do damage to their reputations, chas v’shalom.

2. Comment from miising one point
Time October 26, 2012 at 10:13 AM

In the Tshuvas of Rashi (our famous Rashi) it states that it is allowed to play ball on Yom Tov because of “Simchas Yom Tov”.
Tshuva 285 Sif 2.

3. Comment from Oldtimer
Time October 26, 2012 at 10:18 AM

Consult your local halachic authority. IMHO you’re just looking for another “chumrah of the month.” We give our boys so little to enjoy outside of school that anything that lightens the burdens of the week should be allowed whenever possible.

Our boys need free time just to breathe a little - they don’t need additional obligations on Shabbos. Come to think of it, our girls are under a lot of pressure too. Maybe they should also have a “day off” on Shabbos. Can all the pressure be one of the reasons we are seeing so many kids going off the derech, and so many young couples divorcing because they don’t have the personal resources to deal with marriage?

Nobody can give you a life - you have to build it with your own hands and will. You can’t do that when you’re spending all your waking hours in an activity that someone else assigned to you and where you’re being judged unmercifully (to the point where you can be expelled from school if you wear the wrong color shirt).

If we’re rachamim bnei rachamim, why don’t we have a little mercy on our kids?

4. Comment from Oldtimer
Time October 26, 2012 at 10:20 AM

BTW - your photojournalism is a little misleading, too. The photos are of organized teams with uniforms playing in an arena. The kids on my block playing in the driveways aren’t wearing anything but Shabbos clothes with the hat and jacket left on the side.

5. Comment from gb
Time October 26, 2012 at 11:25 AM

no question that for sephardim it is forbidden.

6. Comment from Michael in Seattle
Time October 26, 2012 at 12:02 PM

I really like the last suggestion about having Chessed programs for the young men (like there is for the ladies). Young men need a physical outlet for their energy, and that should be channeled appropriately.

I also think that doing more Mitzvos will help their Torah learning. It will make learning real and tangible. Many young men don’t feel the relevance of their learning. They don’t have an ox to gore another ox, they have not lost a bunch of figs, etc.

I also think that it will help young men to feel more part of a community and help them mature as they do Chessed in their communities.

All in all, I think that it would be a tremendous growth experience.

7. Comment from Anonymous
Time October 26, 2012 at 12:33 PM

it is pashtus uvdah d’choil. y not?

8. Comment from FYI
Time October 26, 2012 at 1:18 PM

Maybe they need to play games like ‘chumash baseball’ with the kids…which I recall from my youth…

9. Comment from someone
Time October 26, 2012 at 2:24 PM

Why does the first sentence specify the 5 towns? no one in flatbush or boro park or monsey plays ball on shabbos?

10. Comment from DerNister
Time October 26, 2012 at 3:02 PM

It is very difficult, impossible actually to convince my son, who wears shorts after lunch on Summer Shabbat afternoons, to refrain from playing basketball on Shabbat. Every time I try to broach the subject with him, he points to the yeshivish clad boys in our neighborhood, playing ball in their black pants and white shirts, and asks “If their fathers allow it, why won’t you?”

11. Comment from oy_vey
Time October 26, 2012 at 3:42 PM

Let them ride bikes too!

12. Comment from Dvarim Pshutim
Time October 27, 2012 at 8:10 PM

B”h the Five towns have an abundance of Rabbanim and Poskim
Let them decide what is proper for their shul and community .

13. Comment from Shidduch Crises
Time October 27, 2012 at 8:16 PM

Bottom line: Si past nisht! What would the Michutanim think!

14. Comment from tzippi
Time October 28, 2012 at 9:46 AM

Matzav, can you suspend this article till you’ve looked into all the halachic ramifications - the picture, the geographic pinpointing? It’s a bit disappointing and not worthy of your site.

15. Comment from goodguy
Time November 14, 2012 at 1:18 PM

I think they should let off “steam ” by playing ball on friday and or motsai shabbos and or sunday . I liked also the idea of indoor ballplaying as an alternitive to outdoor ballplaying . I would also suggest that the boys attend a halachic shiur on shabbos where they can “throw ” a question at the magid shiur and then he’ll ” throw” back an answer , after a while that will be just as fun as throwing a ball back an forth.

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