Question: Why did the Rabbis restrict clapping and dancing on Shabbos
and Yom Tov?
Discussion: The Talmud1 records that the Rabbis
prohibited playing musical instruments on Shabbos and Yom Tov because
musical instruments often need to be tuned, a potential violation of the
Shabbos Labor of Makeh b’patish. 2 Not only did they prohibit
all different types of musical instruments, but they also included all other
noise-making objects, such as bells, whistles and rattles. 3
The Rabbis of the Talmud 4 went even further. They decreed that
certain actions which could lead to the playing of musical instruments
should also be restricted, even if at the moment there are no musical
instruments present or even available. Apparently, they were concerned that
such an atmosphere could lead a creative individual to forget that it is
Shabbos, and fashion a makeshift musical instrument on the spot.
5 Thus they banned clapping and dancing as well, since these are
activities which generate an atmosphere in which music is played.
Question: Nowadays, does the Rabbinic injunction against clapping and
dancing on Shabbos and Yom Tov still apply?
Discussion: While all authorities agree that the original edict
against playing any kind of instrument remains in effect nowadays,
6 there are conflicting opinions whether or not the additional
decree against clapping and dancing is also in effect. Some argue that
nowadays we no longer have the ability or talent to fashion a musical
instrument on the spot, so we should not prohibit activities that could lead
to the fashioning of musical instruments. 7 Others hold that the
original Rabbinic decree applied only to dance movements which required
musical accompaniment, not to the unstructured and informal circle dancing
popular today. 8 For whatever reason, the fact remains that it
became customary for people to clap and dance on Shabbos and Yom Tov, and
the poskim did not strenuously object to this behavior. 9 While
it behooves a ba’al nefesh (a person who is especially meticulous in his
mitzvah observance) to refrain from clapping and dancing10 on
Shabbos and Yom Tov (except on Simchas Torah 11 ) ─ especially
for non-mitzvah purposes12 ─ and many people are careful about
it, 13 the basic halachah follows the opinion of the poskim who
hold that nowadays, the Rabbinic decree against clapping and
dancing14 is no longer applicable. 15
Question: When the Rabbis restricted clapping on Shabbos and Yom Tov,
was applauding also included?
Discussion: No, it was not. The original injunction against clapping
only included clapping to a specific rhythm or beat, since that type of
clapping may lead to the fashioning of musical instruments. Applause,
clapping to wake someone from his sleep or any other type of clapping not
done to a specific rhythm, is permitted. 16
The same halachah applies to banging on a table top with one’s fist or
fingers. If it is done in order to silence a crowd or catch someone’s
attention, it is permitted, since it is not a rhythmic beat. Beating on the
table top to a specific beat, however, is included in the Rabbinic
injunction against clapping and dancing, and should be avoided by those who
do not clap and dance on Shabbos even nowadays.
Tapping a bottle or a glass with a spoon or a fork to a specific rhythm or
beat should be avoided by everyone, since this is similar to using
non-musical instruments (such as a rattle) to produce a musical sound, and
may have been included in the original injunction against playing musical
instruments which applies nowadays as well. 17
1. Eiruvin 104a.
2. As explained by Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 23:4.
3. Rama, O.C. 338:1.
4. Beitzah 30a.
5. As explained by Sha’ar Efrayim, O.C. 36, quoted in Minchas Elazar 1:29.
6. Beiur Halachah 339:3, s.v. lehakel.
7. Tosafos, Beitzah 30a. See also Ritva, Shabbos 148b.
8. Aruch ha-Shulchan 339:9; Lev Avraham 42.
9. Rama, O.C. 338:2, 339:3.
10. Clapping with a shinui is permitted according to all opinions; O.C. 339:3; Mishnah Berurah 338:1.
11. Mishnah Berurah 339:8.
12.Mishnah Berurah 339:10.
13.Kaf ha-Chayim 339:13-14 and Yechaveh Da’as 2:58.
14.Certainly merely walking around in a circle while singing is permissible according to all views; Devar Yehoshua 2:42-4; Yechaveh Da’as 2:58 (footnote).
15. Minchas Elazar 1:29; Igros Moshe, O.C. 2:100. Even those who do not dance on Shabbos are permitted to do so during bein ha-shemashos; Eishel Avraham, Tanina, O.C. 299:10.
16. Mishnah Berurah 338:1, 339:9; Shemiras Shabbos k’Hilchasah 28:36.
17. Based on Beiur Halachah 339:3, s.v. lehakel.