Shabbos 148 The unhelpful rebuke and clapping hands and dancing on Shabbos

 
On our daf, Rava bar Rav Chanan asks Abaya about a Mishna (Beitza 36b) that says:
 
לא מספקין ולא מטפחין ולא מרקדין ביום טוב.
One may not “mesapeik”, “metapeiach”, or dance on Yom Tov.
 
When one examines the original Mishna, one sees that these prohibitions are brought as examples of a general rule that all שבותים (rabbinical decrees relating to forbidden work) that apply on Shabbos, also apply on Yom Tov.
 
The Gemara there explains that these 3 decrees were all made because of the concern that one might come to fix כלי שיר (musical instruments) on shabbos.
 
This   would involve the biblical prohibition of מתקן כלי (fixing a vessel,) a תולדה (derivative) of the אב מלאכה (category of forbidden work) of מכה בפטיש (the final hammer blow.)
 
Whereas the meaning of the third of these actions is relatively clear ,  the Rishonim discuss what  מספק  andמטפח  are exactly- for purposes of this post, we shall go with Rashi’s definition in Beitza, that they refer to clapping hands and clapping one hands on one’s leg.
 
Both of these activities involve making sounds which accompany music, and like with  dancing, Chazal were concerned that if they were to be done on Shabbos, one would also come to fix the musical instruments they accompany should they break.
 
 Following the  principle of לא פלוג רבנן  (the Rabbis did not discriminate with their decrees,) it follows that even in situations where musical instruments are not present, seemingly harmless activities performed for the enjoyment of Shabbos and Yom-Tov, such as clapping hands or banging on the table to singing, or dancing, are forbidden.
 
Rava bar Chana’s question to Abaya concerned the fact that despite this, it seems to be common practise amongst the people to do so, yet we do not protest about it.
 
There is an obligation in the Torah of “tochacha”- rebuking one’s neighbor when he is doing something wrong (Vayikra 19/17)- so why is this not applied in this case?
 
Abaya answered that הנח להם לישראל מוטב שיהיו שוגגין ואל יהו מזידין – “leave the Jewish people alone: better they should transgress unknowingly rather than transgress knowingly.”
 
From his answer, it is clear that Abaya acknowledged that public practise was indeed incorrect, but justified the failure to protest with a general rule that when it comes to things that people are unlikely to follow even after rebuke, it is better to refrain from rebuking them in the first place and let their transgression remain in the far less severe category of שוגג    (unknowing transgression.)
 
Abaya brings another example where this rule applies from the laws of Eruvin, a fitting introduction to our next exciting masechta!
 
In order to be permitted to carry within a  מבוי  )side-street or alley that is closed on 3 sides, but open on one side to a public domain(, one has to place either a לחי  (upright pole) on one side of the entrance, or a beam across its width (the precise requirements and different opinions on the matter are discussed in the first chapter of Eruvin, see Mishna on Daf 11b.)
 
Rava had ruled  that one should not sit inside this מבוי  right by the לחי  in case something one is holding falls out of one’s hands, and rolls into the public domain, in which case one might come to retrieve it and desecrate shabbos.
 
 Abaya points out that people seem to ignore this ruling, sit in such places all the time, and no one protests. He explains that this is for the same reason.
 
The Gemara points out that this rule does not only apply for rabbinical prohibitions such as the above two decrees, but also to biblical prohibitions.
 
It gives the example of תוספת יום הכפורים (adding on to the fast by starting a little before nightfall) which is a biblical requirement, is ignored by many people, yet we still do not rebuke them for it.
 
Whether this would apply also to more serious biblical prohibitions and/or those that are explicitly mentioned in the Torah, such as eating on Yom-Kippur, lighting a fire on shabbos, or eating non-kosher animals requires more analysis.
 
 On the one hand, the Gemara does not seem to make any such distinction, on the other hand, from the fact that the example given is a relatively unknown biblical law derived by Chazal from דרשות  and possibly also not of the severity of eating on Yom-Kippur itself, it could be argued that this applies only to  less severe and/or lesser known biblical transgressions.  (see Rashba, Meiri, and others who indeed state that this rule does not apply to prohibitions which are explicitly stated in the Torah, and Rema O.C. 608/2 who rules this way.)
 
 
It is fascinating that this tendency to ignore this prohibition has followed us through centuries, and it is common practise to this very day among many observant Jews to ignore this prohibition and dance, clap, and bang while singing on shabbos.
 
While this is clearly reason not to rebuke people who are so accustomed to doing this that they are not likely to listen, it is certainly not justification for  Bnei Torah who are fully aware of the prohibition to intentionally ignore it.
 
Yet, one finds that many Bnei Torah and Torah scholars have also taken on this lenient practise over the centuries, and it is thus pertinent to try and find some reasons that justify this practise in the first place.
 
Below are a few possibilities.
 
1.    There is a well-known rule that אין גוזרין גזירה על הצבור אלא אם כן רוב הצבור יכולין לעמוד בה – Chazal did not make decrees on the community unless most of the community were able to bare it (Bava Basra 60b.)
 
What happens if Chazal made a decree, thinking that the community was able to handle it, but it later become apparent that it was too much for the community to handle and the decree never took hold?
 
The Rambam (Mamrim 2/6) rules that in such a case, the decree is null and void!
 
The Rambam goes further (Mamrim 2/7) and says that even if it appeared for a while that the decree was or might take hold, but in later generations it became clear that it had never taken hold, the decree may be annulled, even by a lesser Beis Din..
 
Although it seems from Abaya’s answer that he admitted that the decree had taken hold but simply didn’t see rebuke as being effective in this case, it is possible that in later generations it became clear that it has in fact never taken hold at all, and can thus be annulled. (I saw later that Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe O.C. 2/100) takes a somewhat similar approach to what I suggested here, with a few differences that might answer some of the outstanding issues.)
 
 
2.    It is possible that the things that even Bnei Torah do were never in the category of the forbidden decrees in the first place.
 
For example, it seems from a parallel sugya (Eruvin 104a), that not any noise is forbidden under this decree, but only “השמעת קול של שיר” – (making sounds of singing.)
 
Rashi explains that this refers to “הנשמע כעין שיר, בנעימה ובנחת”-the kind of sounds that sound like a song, with a gently rhythm. 
 
 
 
Later in the sugya, he goes further and explains that only soft, pleasant sounds that would help someone fall asleep are forbidden, but loud noisy sounds that would wake someone up are permitted.
 
As it is doubtful that the kind of noisy clapping and banging common amongst Yeshiva Bochrim and at a Chasidic Tisch (Friday night get-together with the grand Rabbi of the sect) would help anyone fall asleep, or be considered “pleasant” to the musical ear.
 
Such clapping or banging might thus not ever have been forbidden, seeing as it would not be done at any self-respecting musical event.
 
The Aruch haShulchan (O.C. 339/9) applies a similar idea to dancing, and claims that the type of dancing commonly done by Bnei Torah while singing  on Shabbos is not in rhythm to the music, and does not fit into the decree against dancing at all- see there for more details.
 
It seems to me that the wording of Rashi  )(Beitza 30a) back this distinction , as he defines מספקין   as “hand on hand”, מטפחים as “hand on the thigh”, and מרקדין as “with the legs.”
This seems to imply that dancing involves the same kind of accompaniment to the music as clapping does, namely in tune to the music, but with the feet, rather than the hands.
 
Otherwise, it is kind of spurious for Rashi to tell us that dancing is done with the legs!
 
If it wasn’t too much of novelty for me to make on my own, I would go further and argue that Rashi holds that מרקדין  is not simply referring to dancing movements, but to the sound one makes with one’s feet while dancing in tune to the music, and the main concern is this rhythmic sound generated by the dancing, not the dancing itself.
 
3.    Tosfos (Beitza 30a) rules that this decree only applied in Talmudic times where it was common for musicians to fix their own musical instruments on the spot if they broke, but in today’s times, where we are not trained to do that, and instruments are generally taken to professionals to fix, there is no such concern, and the decree does not apply.
 
The halachik weight of the Tosfos in Ashkenazi halacha is evident by the fact that the Rema (O.C. 339/3) brings this view, yet it is difficult for several reasons, among them:
 
a.    The biblical obligation to listen to the shofar on Rosh Hashanah or wave the Lulav on  Sukkot was pushed aside by a rabbinical decree out of concern that one might carry it  in the public domain to an expert who would teach him how to perform the mitzva (Rosh haShana 29b.) This shows that Chazal were not only concerned that one would come to fix something himself, but also that one would take it to an expert to show him what to do.  If this concern  pushes aside a biblical obligation, surely it would be enough to forbid voluntary actions such as these?  Although this seems like an obvious question, the major Achronim (later authorities) who take issue with the lenient view of the Tosfos do not seem to bring this as one of their concerns- perhaps this is because we do not compare one decree of Chazal to another, and the fact that they made such a decree specifically by Shofar, Lulav, Megila and nothing else could show that they had unique considerations in those cases (it should also be noted that this decree was made by the Amora Raba, many centuries after the tannaic decree against clapping and dancing.)
b.    The Gemara says (Beitza 5a) that anything that was forbidden by the decree of a court, needs another court to permit it, even if the reason for the decree no longer applies.  Elsewhere (Megila 2a,) it goes further and says that a later court may not annul the words of an earlier court unless it is greater in both wisdom and numbers.
The Rambam (Mamrim 2/2) learns a general rule from this and other places, that once Chazal have made a decree and the decree has taken hold, a later court may not annul it, even if the reason it was made for no longer applies, unless it is greater in wisdom and size.
He goes further and rules that decree made as a  סיג  (to prevent one transgressing a biblical transgression) cannot even be annulled by a later court that is greater both in wisdom and in numbers (even in the unlikely event that one is found.)
 
As  there was no such court in the time of the Baalei Tosfos, and there is also no mention by them of the decree being annulled,  even without the Rambam’s further stringency, it seems clear from this Talmudic rule that even if the original concern that we might come to fix musical instruments no longer places, the decree should remain in place.
 
 
Either one has to find a way to explain that despite the לא פלוג  principle, this decree never included  our modern circumstances in the first place, or one is forced to concede that the Baalei Tosfos have a different approach to the Rambam and indeed hold that decrees of Chazal can become permitted when the reason no longer applies in society at large.
 
Protagonists of the later suggestion would need to show that they apply the Talmudic principle that a later court cannot annul the words of an earlier court to something completely different to such decrees.
 
During the course of writing this up, I discovered that the Meiri (Beitza 5a) disagreed with the Rambam and holds that if the reason for the decree no longer applies, a later court may annul the decree even if it is inferior to the original one, and the requirement for the court to be greater in size and number only applies when the reason for the decree still applies!
 
Perhaps the Tosfos follow the approach of the Meiri and hold that seeing as the reason for the decree no longer applied in their time, they had the right to abolish the decree in their own courts despite their inferiority to the  courts of the Amoraim. Whether they did this explicitly (in which case it is somewhat missing from their words) or considered the common minhag together with rabbinic sanction thereof to be the equivalent of it being annulled requires further discussion, should this approach be followed (see the above quoted Igros Moshe where he makes the later suggestion.)
 
In practise, whereas many Talmidei Chachamim are indeed careful to stick to the parameters of the original decree, the Rema has brought the permissive ruling of the Tosfos, giving people permission to rely on it, and baring in mind all 3 above reasons for leniency and the fact that this is a dispute in a rabbinical prohibition, it seems that there is strong reason to permit leniency, certainly for the sake of Oneg Shabbos and Simchas Yom-Tov.
 
As everyone agrees (see O.C. 339) that clapping in a back-handed manner (with the top of one’s hand on the palm of the other hand) or banging without any rhythm at all is permitted, this is certainly a good solution for someone who wishes to satisfy all opinions, and for Sephardim who follow the rulings of the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch on the subject.
 
These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.

Shabbos 148 The unhelpful rebuke and clapping hands and dancing on Shabbos
 
On our daf, Rava bar Rav Chanan asks Abaya about a Mishna (Beitza 36b) that says:
 
לא מספקין ולא מטפחין ולא מרקדין ביום טוב.
One may not “mesapeik”, “metapeiach”, or dance on Yom Tov.
 
When one examines the original Mishna, one sees that these prohibitions are brought as examples of a general rule that all שבותים (rabbinical decrees relating to forbidden work) that apply on Shabbos, also apply on Yom Tov.
 
The Gemara there explains that these 3 decrees were all made because of the concern that one might come to fix כלי שיר (musical instruments) on shabbos.
 
This   would involve the biblical prohibition of מתקן כלי (fixing a vessel,) a תולדה (derivative) of the אב מלאכה (category of forbidden work) of מכה בפטיש (the final hammer blow.)
 
Whereas the meaning of the third of these actions is relatively clear ,  the Rishonim discuss what  מספק  andמטפח  are exactly- for purposes of this post, we shall go with Rashi’s definition in Beitza, that they refer to clapping hands and clapping one hands on one’s leg.
 
Both of these activities involve making sounds which accompany music, and like with  dancing, Chazal were concerned that if they were to be done on Shabbos, one would also come to fix the musical instruments they accompany should they break.
 
 Following the  principle of לא פלוג רבנן  (the Rabbis did not discriminate with their decrees,) it follows that even in situations where musical instruments are not present, seemingly harmless activities performed for the enjoyment of Shabbos and Yom-Tov, such as clapping hands or banging on the table to singing, or dancing, are forbidden.
 
Rava bar Chana’s question to Abaya concerned the fact that despite this, it seems to be common practise amongst the people to do so, yet we do not protest about it.
 
There is an obligation in the Torah of “tochacha”- rebuking one’s neighbor when he is doing something wrong (Vayikra 19/17)- so why is this not applied in this case?
 
Abaya answered that הנח להם לישראל מוטב שיהיו שוגגין ואל יהו מזידין – “leave the Jewish people alone: better they should transgress unknowingly rather than transgress knowingly.”
 
From his answer, it is clear that Abaya acknowledged that public practise was indeed incorrect, but justified the failure to protest with a general rule that when it comes to things that people are unlikely to follow even after rebuke, it is better to refrain from rebuking them in the first place and let their transgression remain in the far less severe category of שוגג    (unknowing transgression.)
 
Abaya brings another example where this rule applies from the laws of Eruvin, a fitting introduction to our next exciting masechta!
 
In order to be permitted to carry within a  מבוי  )side-street or alley that is closed on 3 sides, but open on one side to a public domain(, one has to place either a לחי  (upright pole) on one side of the entrance, or a beam across its width (the precise requirements and different opinions on the matter are discussed in the first chapter of Eruvin, see Mishna on Daf 11b.)
 
Rava had ruled  that one should not sit inside this מבוי  right by the לחי  in case something one is holding falls out of one’s hands, and rolls into the public domain, in which case one might come to retrieve it and desecrate shabbos.
 
 Abaya points out that people seem to ignore this ruling, sit in such places all the time, and no one protests. He explains that this is for the same reason.
 
The Gemara points out that this rule does not only apply for rabbinical prohibitions such as the above two decrees, but also to biblical prohibitions.
 
It gives the example of תוספת יום הכפורים (adding on to the fast by starting a little before nightfall) which is a biblical requirement, is ignored by many people, yet we still do not rebuke them for it.
 
Whether this would apply also to more serious biblical prohibitions and/or those that are explicitly mentioned in the Torah, such as eating on Yom-Kippur, lighting a fire on shabbos, or eating non-kosher animals requires more analysis.
 
 On the one hand, the Gemara does not seem to make any such distinction, on the other hand, from the fact that the example given is a relatively unknown biblical law derived by Chazal from דרשות  and possibly also not of the severity of eating on Yom-Kippur itself, it could be argued that this applies only to  less severe and/or lesser known biblical transgressions.  (see Rashba, Meiri, and others who indeed state that this rule does not apply to prohibitions which are explicitly stated in the Torah, and Rema O.C. 608/2 who rules this way.)
 
 
It is fascinating that this tendency to ignore this prohibition has followed us through centuries, and it is common practise to this very day among many observant Jews to ignore this prohibition and dance, clap, and bang while singing on shabbos.
 
While this is clearly reason not to rebuke people who are so accustomed to doing this that they are not likely to listen, it is certainly not justification for  Bnei Torah who are fully aware of the prohibition to intentionally ignore it.
 
Yet, one finds that many Bnei Torah and Torah scholars have also taken on this lenient practise over the centuries, and it is thus pertinent to try and find some reasons that justify this practise in the first place.
 
Below are a few possibilities.
 
1.    There is a well-known rule that אין גוזרין גזירה על הצבור אלא אם כן רוב הצבור יכולין לעמוד בה – Chazal did not make decrees on the community unless most of the community were able to bare it (Bava Basra 60b.)
 
What happens if Chazal made a decree, thinking that the community was able to handle it, but it later become apparent that it was too much for the community to handle and the decree never took hold?
 
The Rambam (Mamrim 2/6) rules that in such a case, the decree is null and void!
 
The Rambam goes further (Mamrim 2/7) and says that even if it appeared for a while that the decree was or might take hold, but in later generations it became clear that it had never taken hold, the decree may be annulled, even by a lesser Beis Din..
 
Although it seems from Abaya’s answer that he admitted that the decree had taken hold but simply didn’t see rebuke as being effective in this case, it is possible that in later generations it became clear that it has in fact never taken hold at all, and can thus be annulled. (I saw later that Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe O.C. 2/100) takes a somewhat similar approach to what I suggested here, with a few differences that might answer some of the outstanding issues.)
 
 
2.    It is possible that the things that even Bnei Torah do were never in the category of the forbidden decrees in the first place.
 
For example, it seems from a parallel sugya (Eruvin 104a), that not any noise is forbidden under this decree, but only “השמעת קול של שיר” – (making sounds of singing.)
 
Rashi explains that this refers to “הנשמע כעין שיר, בנעימה ובנחת”-the kind of sounds that sound like a song, with a gently rhythm. 
 
 
 
Later in the sugya, he goes further and explains that only soft, pleasant sounds that would help someone fall asleep are forbidden, but loud noisy sounds that would wake someone up are permitted.
 
As it is doubtful that the kind of noisy clapping and banging common amongst Yeshiva Bochrim and at a Chasidic Tisch (Friday night get-together with the grand Rabbi of the sect) would help anyone fall asleep, or be considered “pleasant” to the musical ear.
 
Such clapping or banging might thus not ever have been forbidden, seeing as it would not be done at any self-respecting musical event.
 
The Aruch haShulchan (O.C. 339/9) applies a similar idea to dancing, and claims that the type of dancing commonly done by Bnei Torah while singing  on Shabbos is not in rhythm to the music, and does not fit into the decree against dancing at all- see there for more details.
 
It seems to me that the wording of Rashi  )(Beitza 30a) back this distinction , as he defines מספקין   as “hand on hand”, מטפחים as “hand on the thigh”, and מרקדין as “with the legs.”
This seems to imply that dancing involves the same kind of accompaniment to the music as clapping does, namely in tune to the music, but with the feet, rather than the hands.
 
Otherwise, it is kind of spurious for Rashi to tell us that dancing is done with the legs!
 
If it wasn’t too much of novelty for me to make on my own, I would go further and argue that Rashi holds that מרקדין  is not simply referring to dancing movements, but to the sound one makes with one’s feet while dancing in tune to the music, and the main concern is this rhythmic sound generated by the dancing, not the dancing itself.
 
3.    Tosfos (Beitza 30a) rules that this decree only applied in Talmudic times where it was common for musicians to fix their own musical instruments on the spot if they broke, but in today’s times, where we are not trained to do that, and instruments are generally taken to professionals to fix, there is no such concern, and the decree does not apply.
 
The halachik weight of the Tosfos in Ashkenazi halacha is evident by the fact that the Rema (O.C. 339/3) brings this view, yet it is difficult for several reasons, among them:
 
a.    The biblical obligation to listen to the shofar on Rosh Hashanah or wave the Lulav on  Sukkot was pushed aside by a rabbinical decree out of concern that one might carry it  in the public domain to an expert who would teach him how to perform the mitzva (Rosh haShana 29b.) This shows that Chazal were not only concerned that one would come to fix something himself, but also that one would take it to an expert to show him what to do.  If this concern  pushes aside a biblical obligation, surely it would be enough to forbid voluntary actions such as these?  Although this seems like an obvious question, the major Achronim (later authorities) who take issue with the lenient view of the Tosfos do not seem to bring this as one of their concerns- perhaps this is because we do not compare one decree of Chazal to another, and the fact that they made such a decree specifically by Shofar, Lulav, Megila and nothing else could show that they had unique considerations in those cases (it should also be noted that this decree was made by the Amora Raba, many centuries after the tannaic decree against clapping and dancing.)
b.    The Gemara says (Beitza 5a) that anything that was forbidden by the decree of a court, needs another court to permit it, even if the reason for the decree no longer applies.  Elsewhere (Megila 2a,) it goes further and says that a later court may not annul the words of an earlier court unless it is greater in both wisdom and numbers.
The Rambam (Mamrim 2/2) learns a general rule from this and other places, that once Chazal have made a decree and the decree has taken hold, a later court may not annul it, even if the reason it was made for no longer applies, unless it is greater in wisdom and size.
He goes further and rules that decree made as a  סיג  (to prevent one transgressing a biblical transgression) cannot even be annulled by a later court that is greater both in wisdom and in numbers (even in the unlikely event that one is found.)
 
As  there was no such court in the time of the Baalei Tosfos, and there is also no mention by them of the decree being annulled,  even without the Rambam’s further stringency, it seems clear from this Talmudic rule that even if the original concern that we might come to fix musical instruments no longer places, the decree should remain in place.
 
 
Either one has to find a way to explain that despite the לא פלוג  principle, this decree never included  our modern circumstances in the first place, or one is forced to concede that the Baalei Tosfos have a different approach to the Rambam and indeed hold that decrees of Chazal can become permitted when the reason no longer applies in society at large.
 
Protagonists of the later suggestion would need to show that they apply the Talmudic principle that a later court cannot annul the words of an earlier court to something completely different to such decrees.
 
During the course of writing this up, I discovered that the Meiri (Beitza 5a) disagreed with the Rambam and holds that if the reason for the decree no longer applies, a later court may annul the decree even if it is inferior to the original one, and the requirement for the court to be greater in size and number only applies when the reason for the decree still applies!
 
Perhaps the Tosfos follow the approach of the Meiri and hold that seeing as the reason for the decree no longer applied in their time, they had the right to abolish the decree in their own courts despite their inferiority to the  courts of the Amoraim. Whether they did this explicitly (in which case it is somewhat missing from their words) or considered the common minhag together with rabbinic sanction thereof to be the equivalent of it being annulled requires further discussion, should this approach be followed (see the above quoted Igros Moshe where he makes the later suggestion.)
 
In practise, whereas many Talmidei Chachamim are indeed careful to stick to the parameters of the original decree, the Rema has brought the permissive ruling of the Tosfos, giving people permission to rely on it, and baring in mind all 3 above reasons for leniency and the fact that this is a dispute in a rabbinical prohibition, it seems that there is strong reason to permit leniency, certainly for the sake of Oneg Shabbos and Simchas Yom-Tov.
 
As everyone agrees (see O.C. 339) that clapping in a back-handed manner (with the top of one’s hand on the palm of the other hand) or banging without any rhythm at all is permitted, this is certainly a good solution for someone who wishes to satisfy all opinions, and for Sephardim who follow the rulings of the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch on the subject.
 
These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.

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