Ball-Playing on Shabbos

 Courtesy of Ohr Olam Mishnah Berurah

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 Sages237 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.238 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 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 game?

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,239 an enclosed courtyard, inside a house)240. On Yom Tov, however, this restriction does not apply.241

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.242 This ruling is accepted by all of the poskim.243 [Ball-playing equipment, such as bats, gloves, rackets, etc., is not muktzeh either.244]

3.   Exercise: If one plays for the sake of exercise, it may be prohibited as certain types of exercise are prohibited on Shabbos.245 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.246 Some poskim hold that even a paved court was included in the rabbinic decree even though there is no concern that one would level such a ground247. Other poskim are lenient with a paved court or floored surface.248 Nowadays, when most of the ground in or near our homes is paved or floored, most poskim agree that it is permitted to play ball in indoor paved courts but not in outdoor ones.249 Games played on a table (ping-pong,250 pool table or air hockey) or on a mat are permitted according to all views.251 It is questionable whether 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 included in this rabbinic decree or not.252 [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.253 If the ball falls out of the tree or bush by itself, it may be picked up and played with.254

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,255 while others hold that it is considered as fixing [or creating] an object (tikkun mana) and may be Biblically prohibited.256

Other considerations:

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,257 a waste of time,258 and a practice befitting shallow individuals.259 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,260 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.

237. Yerushalmi Ta’anis 4:5, quoted by the Beis Yosef, O.C. 308.

238. 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.

239. 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.

240. Mishnah Berurah 308:158.

241. Rama, O.C. 518:1. See Igros Moshe, O.C. 3:94, who explains why carrying a ball is considered shaveh l’chol nefesh.

242. O.C. 308:45 and 518:1.

243. 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 (Rav Y.S. Elyashiv, quoted in Shevus Yitzchak, pg. 89). Refer to Tosafos Shabbos 308:109 and Peri Megadim 308:72 for possible sources.

244. Rav M. Feinstein (Sefer Tiltulei Shabbos, pg. 26).

245. O.C. 328:42, when the purpose is to work up a sweat. When the exercise is enjoyable, it may be permitted (Rav S.Z. Auerbach, Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah, 16, note 106).

246. Mishnah Berurah 308:158, who nevertheless rules that we do not object to minors who do so. [Rav S.Z. Auerbach is quoted (Kovetz Beis Aharon v’Yisrael, vol. 39 (Shevat 5752), pg. 91) 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.]

247. Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav 338:6; Mishnah Berurah 338:20.

248. Peri Megadim (Mishbetzos) 338:3; Aruch ha-Shulchan 338:12.

249. Ashrei ha-Ish, Shabbos 17:217; Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 16:6 (note 16); Shevet ha-Levi 9:78. See, however, Shevisas ha-Shabbos, pg. 29, and Ketzos ha-Shulchan 146, pg. 131, who forbid playing ball on indoor paved courts.

250. Rav S.Z. Auerbach (quoted in Kovetz Beis Aharon v’Yisrael, vol. 39 (Shevat 5752), pg. 95); Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 16:6.

251. Mishnah Berurah 338:20.

252. Rav Y.S. Elyashiv is quoted (Kovetz Beis Aharon v’Yisrael, vol. 39 (Shevat 5752), pg. 91) as ruling that the prohibition concerns only games such as marbels, which are rolled on the ground. See, howeve, Ketzos ha-Shulchan 146, pg. 126 who seems to prohibit these type of games as well. See Teshuvos Salmas Chayim 1:71 (Toras Chayim, pg. 67) who rules that while one should be stringent, we do not object to those who are lenient.

253. Mishnah Berurah 336:3.

254. Rav S.Z. Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah, 16, note 25).

255. Rav Y.S. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 92).

256. Chelkas Yaakov 3:159; Minchas Yitzchak 6:30; Machazeh Eliyahu 69-2. Note, however, that Rav S.Z. Auerbach (see Minchas Shlomo 1:11-5, Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 16:7, 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.

257. Mishnah Berurah 518:9.

258. Kaf ha-Chayim 308:259.

259. Aruch ha-Shulchan 518:8. See also Mishnah Berurah 338:21.

260. 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.