Among the many transgressions which are enumerated throughout Talmudic
literature as causes for the destruction of the Second Temple, we find one
very puzzling. Our Sages(1) report that the city of Tur Shimon, a large
city in the Judean hills, was destroyed on account of ball-playing!
According to many commentators, their sin was that they played ball on
Shabbos.(2) But could so "minor" an infraction have such disastrous
consequences? Perhaps our Sages are alluding to an overall spiritual
malaise in Tur Shimon. People who can while away the precious, sacred
hours of Shabbos on a mundane sporting activity like ball-playing are
surely wanting in their commitment to Torah and mitzvos in general. Their
choice of diversion is symptomatic of a dismal spiritual state; they lack
entirely the concept of what is required from a Jew on Shabbos - how a Jew
is to spend the Shabbos day. Thus, the decree of destruction, originally
issued for many other greater sins, was sealed.
Indeed, all of the poskim frown on any type of ball-playing on Shabbos,
for it blemishes the aura of holiness that sets the Shabbos day apart from
the other days of the week. In recent years, however, with the
proliferation of eiruvim in many communities, more and more children are
seen playing ball on Shabbos. Since many of these children are of chinuch
age, the question arises: May parents permit their children to play ball
on Shabbos? If the children are already playing, must the parents stop the
THE HALACHIC CONSIDERATIONS:
There are six halachic violations that may possibly result from
playing ball on Shabbos and Yom Tov:
1. CARRYING: Obviously, playing ball can be allowed only where
carrying is permitted (within a kosher eiruv,(3) an enclosed courtyard,
inside a house)(4). On Yom Tov, however, this restriction does not apply.
2. MUKTZEH: Although some poskim are of the opinion that a ball is
muktzeh since it serves no purpose (similar to a rock),the Rama clearly
rules that balls are not muktzeh(.6) This ruling is accepted by all of the
poskim(.7) [Ball-playing equipment, such as bats, gloves, rackets, etc.,
is not muktzeh either.(8)]
3. EXERCISE: If one plays for the sake of exercise, it may be
prohibited as certain types of exercise are prohibited on Shabbos.(9) When
the exercise is medically warranted, a rav should be consulted.
4. LEVELING OF THE GROUND: It is Rabbinically prohibited to play
games which require that a ball [or another item, e.g., nuts] be rolled on
the ground, such as marbles, soccer, kickball, hockey and golf. Playing
those games can easily lead the player to level the playing field, which
is a form of Plowing, a Biblically forbidden Shabbos Labor.(10) Some
poskim hold that a paved court is also included in the Rabbinical decree,
(11) while other poskim are lenient with a paved court or floored surface.
(12) Games played on a table (ping-pong,(13) pool table or air hockey) or
on a mat are permitted according to all views.(14) Games which are played
on the ground but do not require that the ball be rolled on the ground
(e.g., baseball, basketball, football), are not included in this
Rabbinical decree.(15) [Obviously, though, it is clearly Biblically
forbidden to actually level any playing area.]
5. MOVING TREES AND BUSHES: If the ball gets stuck in a tree or in
a bush which is over 10 inches high, it is forbidden to retrieve or remove
the ball, even if the removal can be accomplished without shaking the bush
or climbing up the tree.(16) If the ball falls out of the tree or bush by
itself, it may be picked up and played with.(17)
6. INFLATING A BALL: Many poskim hold that it is forbidden to
inflate a ball (e.g., a basketball, soccer ball) on Shabbos. Some forbid
it because it is a week-day activity,(18) while others hold that it is
considered as fixing [or creating] an object (tikkun mana) and may be
As stated earlier, beside the possible halachic violations listed above,
there is an additional consideration when it comes to playing ball
on Shabbos. The poskim are almost unanimous in condemning ball-playing on
Shabbos as being frivolous and inappropriate behavior,(20) a waste of time,
(21) and a practice befitting shallow individuals.(22) Accordingly, even
when not expressly in violation of a Shabbos prohibition, adults over the
age of bar/bas mitzvah are strongly discouraged from participating in any
type of ball-playing on Shabbos.
It is praiseworthy, therefore, for parents to instill in their children
the proper understanding of the spirit of Shabbos. Even if it is not
technically forbidden for children to play ball,(23) they should be taught
that it is not fitting and proper to do so.
It would be ideal, of course, if the children were given some positive and
constructive Shabbos activities to take the place of playing ball. Simply
prohibiting children from playing ball and then allowing them to aimlessly
roam the streets or to read material of dubious value is not the way to
imbue them with the holy spirit of Shabbos.
TOYS AND GAMES ON SHABBOS
Hashem gave us the gift of Shabbos, a holy day of rest, to be spent in
prayer and Torah study.(24) This concept of Shabbos should be impressed
upon children as well, even while allowing them the games and toys that
are permitted on Shabbos. In the following pages, we have divided many of
the most popular games and toys into two lists: The first includes those
which may be used on Shabbos by children under the age of bar/bas mitzvah.
The second lists those that entail Biblical or Rabbinic violations of
Shabbos Labors, and children who are above the age of chinuch should be
taught to avoid them. [Games involving balls and marbles were discussed
earlier.] There are no restrictions concerning infants or toddlers playing
with toys or games on Shabbos.
PERMITTED GAMES AND TOYS:
Beads - Beads may be strung, but only if the knot at the end
of the string was tied before Shabbos.(25)
Binoculars - Adjusting the focus is also permitted.(26)
Board or dice games - Battleship, Chutes and Ladders, Risk,
Books(27) - Most poskim maintain that it is permitted to open
and close books which have words stamped on their edges, as is commonly
found in library books. The basic halachah conforms to their opinion.(28)
In deference to the minority view, however, it is proper not to use such
books when others are available.(29)
Cards - After the game is over, the cards may not be sorted by
color, type, etc.
Checkers, chess, dominoes
Hide-and-seek, hopscotch, jump rope, tag(31)
Lego, Bristle Blocks, Clicks, Tinkertoy - Most poskim allow
playing with these on Shabbos.(32) There are, however some poskim who rule
Monopoly - Play money is not prohibited.(34)
Pick-up-stix - If the game is usually played with the score
being recorded, it is forbidden to play even if the score will not be
recorded. If it is usually played without recording the score, then it is
Sandbox - Water may not be poured into the sand.
Scrabble for Junior.(35)
Stamp collection - It may be shown and looked at when stamp
collecting is a hobby, not a business.
Sticker collection - It may be handled when the stickers are
easily - effortlessly - stuck on and peeled off. If they are stuck on
firmly and will remain intact for 24 hours, it may be prohibited.(36)
Tent - It is permitted to drape a blanket over a table or a
single chair so that children can play underneath.(37) It is prohibited,
however, to place a blanket over an empty space in between two or more
Tricycle(38) - It may be ridden in an enclosed area only.
FORBIDDEN GAMES AND TOYS:
Bells, rattles, phones, whistles - Any object whose purpose is
to make noise is forbidden.(39) If it makes noise immediately upon being
picked up, it is also "severe" muktzeh.(40)
Bicycle - It is prohibited because it is generally ridden out
of an enclosed area and is liable to require adjustment.(41) It is
considered "light" muktzeh, which may be moved if the space it occupies is
Boggle - Since it usually entails writing words and recording
the score, it is forbidden to play even if the words or the score will not
be written. (42) Placing the cubes in the individual slots may also be
considered writing, since the letters remain fixed in the board. For this
reason, Junior Boggle may also be prohibited.
Clay, Playdough - These could involve aspects of the forbidden
Shabbos Labors of "Kneading," "Building," or "Writing."
Etch-A-Sketch, Magna Doodle
Models - Toys composed of parts which are screwed together are
prohibited because of the prohibition of "Building". These include
airplane or train models, etc.
Paper airplanes and boats - These can be played with, but not
Puzzles -Many poskim are of the opinion that assembly of a
puzzle is considered "Writing" and should be avoided on Shabbos,
especially if the pieces are fitted into a frame or are tightly fitted
Scrabble, Deluxe Scrabble - Because this usually requires
writing the score, it is forbidden to play even if the score will not be
written. Deluxe Scrabble may also be considered "Writing", since the
letters remain attached to the board.(45)
Snowballs, snowman - Snow that fell before Shabbos is
definitely not muktzeh. Snow that fell on Shabbos is questionable muktzeh.
(46) Almost all poskim agree, however, that a snowman or snowballs should
not be made on Shabbos.(47) Writing in the snow is prohibited.(48)
Weaving, Lanyards - Yarn, plastic, and other materials are all
Wind-up toys - Some poskim do not object to children playing
with wind-up toys (cars, robots, etc. without batteries) unless they
produce a spark. (51) Other poskim disagree.(52)
1 Yerushalmi Ta'anis 4:5, quoted by the Beis Yosef, O.C. 308.
2 Rokeiach 55, Pnei Moshe, and Korban Eidah on Yerushalmi, ibid. See also
Midrash Eichah 2:4 where it specifically says that the ball-playing took
place on Shabbos.
3 Ball-playing should not take place if the ball is liable to leave the
enclosed area, since in one's eagerness to retrieve the ball, he can
easily forget that he is carrying outside the eiruv.
4 Mishnah Berurah 308:158.
5 Rama, O.C. 518:1. See Igros Moshe, O.C. 3:94, who explains why carrying
a ball is considered shaveh l'chol nefesh.
6 O.C. 308:45 and 518:1.
7 Although the Shulchan Aruch, O.C. 308:45 rules stringently on this
issue and Kaf ha-Chayim 308:257 notes that Sefaradim should follow his
opinion, it is possible that his ruling referred to an item such as a
rock, etc. which was later designated for play, not to a modern-day ball
which is manufactured as a ball (Harav Y.S. Elyashiv, quoted in Shevus
Yitzchak, pg. 89). Refer to Tosfos Shabbos 308:109 and Pri Megadim 308:72
for possible sources.
8 Harav M. Feinstein (Sefer Tiltulei Shabbos, pg. 26).
9 O.C. 328:42, when the purpose is to work up a sweat. When the exercise
is enjoyable, it may be permitted (Harav S.Z. Auerbach, Shemiras Shabbos
K'hilchasah, 16, note 99).
10 Mishnah Berurah 308:158. Harav S.Z. Auerbach is quoted as suggesting
that the Rabbinical decree does not apply to a standard playing field
which is usually used as such, since playing fields are usually prepared
in advance (Kovetz Beis Aharon v'Yisrael 3:39).
12 Pri Megadim 338:3; Aruch ha-Shulchan 338:12. In addition, nowadays
when most of the ground in or near our homes is paved, possibly all poskim
would agree that paved courts are not included in this decree (Shemiras
Shabbos K'hilchasah 16, note 16; Harav Y.S. Elyashiv, quoted in Shalmei
Yehudah, pg. 91). See, however, Shevisas ha-Shabbos, pg. 29, and Ketzos ha-
Shulchan 146, pg. 131, who disagree with this logic concerning ball-
19 Chelkas Yaakov 3:159; Minchas Yitzchak 6:30; Machazeh Eliyahu 69-2.
Note, however, that Harav S.Z. Auerbach (see Minchas Shelomo 1:11-5,
Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 16:8, 34:24; Binyan Shabbos, Makeh be-Patish,
pg. 156) holds that once a ball has been inflated, it is permitted to
inflate it again, even with a pump, as long as no tying is involved.
20 Mishnah Berurah 518:9.
21 Kaf ha-Chayim 308:259.
22 Aruch ha-Shulchan 518:8. See also Mishnah Berurah 338:21.
23 Note that Shulchan Aruch 301:2 allows children to jump and run for
their enjoyment and pleasure. Accordingly, there would not seem to be any
difference between playing ball and playing tag, hide and seek, jump rope,
etc. Somehow, though, ball-playing is associated with Shabbos desecration
more than these other activities.
33 Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (quoted in Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 90 and in Yashiv
Moshe, pg. 35); Machazeh Eliyahu 69. Harav M. Feinstein is quoted (Sefer
Tiltulei Shabbos, pg. 24) as not rendering a final ruling on this issue.
See also Igros Moshe, O.C. 5:22-27. It stands to reason that Waffle
Blocks, which are loosely connected blocks, would be permitted even
according to the more stringent view.
44 Harav M. Feinstein (oral ruling, quoted in Sefer Tiltulei Shabbos, pg.
25); Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 16:23; Shulchan
Shelomo 340:13-2); Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 90). See
Children in Halachah, pg. 140, for opinions who are more lenient.
45 Igros Moshe O.C. 5:22-14. See also Sefer Tiltulei Shabbos, pg. 25.
46 Mishnah Berurah 338:30 writes that rain which fell on Shabbos is not
muktzeh. Some poskim (Har Tzvi, Soser; Sefer Hilchos Shabbos, Dosh, pg.
120, quoting Harav M. Feinstein; Harav Y.S. Elyashiv, Shalmei Yehudah, pg.
203; Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 16:44) hold that snow is similar to
rain, while others (Igros Moshe, O.C. 5:22-37; Harav S.Z. Auerbach,
Shulchan Shelomo 310:26-2) suggest that snow may be considered severe
muktzeh. See also Mishnah Berurah 310:32, quoting Chayei Adam.
52 Harav M. Feinstein (orally quoted in Sefer Tiltulei Shabbos, pg. 28);
Harav S.Y. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 93; Orchos Shabbos 8:92). For an
explanation of the issues involved, see The Weekly Halachah Discussion on