Eruvin 104 Soccer on Shabbos and when a גזירה’s reason doesn’t apply

One of the more contentious issues in many communities today is the question of children, teens, and even adults  playing  sports on Shabbos.

On the one hand, many argue that not only does this practise not confirm with the required atmosphere for the holiest day of the week, it also involves many other halachik problems.

On the other hand, most of these points could be arguable, and there is a strong argument that for many, they can certainly enhance their “oneg shabbos” , itself a major mitzva.

Some of the issues raised against playing games like soccer even in a private domain, are:

  1. Running itself is prohibited on shabbos. (see Shabbos 113a)
  2. The game is not in keeping with the spirit of shabbos and could even be in the category of forbidden weekday activities (see Peninei Halacha Shabbos 24/9 based on Rav A.I. Kook)
  3. Running on long  grass is problematic as one might come to uproot the grass while doing so, itself a forbidden melacha on shabbos. (see M.B. 336/25)
  4. Playing with a ball along the ground is prohibited on shabbos. (see M.B. 308/158)
  5. A ball is muktza (see S.A. O.C. 308/45)
  6. There is  a Midrash (Eichah Rabba parsha 2, possibly also referenced in the Yerushalmi  Taanis 4/5 ) that blames the destruction of the city טור שמעון on the fact that they played with balls on shabbos.

We saw in a recent post (see Eruvin 100)  that although walking in a rushed manner and running on shabbos are forbidden due to the passuk in Yeshaya forbidding weekday activities, in particular walking in a weekday rushed manner, running for the sake of a mitzva is permitted, as is running for “oneg shabbos” or even to get to an activity from which one will get “oneg shabbos.”

As such, the first 2 points seem less problematic, and although some have argued that given its nature as a commercial sport, soccer might be different to running and still be considered a weekday activity (Pninei halacha based on Rav A.Y. Kook ), this argument seems rather subject to debate, given that  both running and all sports are popular both privately and commercially.

In fact, given one’s busy school or work schedule during the week, they are actually far more popular on weekends than on “weekdays” and singling out sports like soccer as being particularly commercial in nature when it is a game played casually by young people in their backyards in most places in the world seems somewhat subjective.

We saw in that post that there is no issue with walking on grass on shabbos, even on long grass, and even with shoes with nails in them, due to the principle of דבר שאין מתכוין מותר.

We also saw that although the Mishna Berura forbids running on long grass and consider it פסיק  רישיה, this does not apply on short grass, and the Aruch haShulchan disagrees strongly and permits running on short grass as well- we also  analyzed the basis for this disagreement in classical sources.

Even on long grass according to the Mishna Berura, this would at worst only be rabbinically prohibited as פסיק רישיה דלא ניחה ליה  , seeing as one derives no benefit from any grass uprooted during the game.

The fifth point is a sugya in its own right, and needs to be dealt with separately, but the Rema (O.C. 308/45) rules that this is not an issue in any case, and the sixth point is aggadic material which needs to be understood but is not necessarily halachically relevant. Indeed, it is not mentioned by most Rishonim and Achronim at all ( see though Aruch haShulchan O.C. 38/70  who does bring it into the discussion.)

For the purposes of this post, I would like to focus  on point 4, which is based on a discussion on this very daf.

The Gemara has been discussing the prohibition of השמעת קול, making sounds with objects (as opposed to the voice) on shabbos, which is rabbinically forbidden in case on comes to fix a musical instrument.

The Gemara has been entertaining the later rejected  possibility that not only קול של שיר, the kind of sounds that accompany song are forbidden, but even other sounds, such as knocking on the door, making noise to wake someone up ,clapping hands to scare away birds, or drawing water with a wheel-run device are also forbidden.

One of the attempted proofs the Gemara brings is from a ruling of Rav quoted by Rav Yehuda that women who are accustomed to play with hazel-nuts  (rolling them like marbles, which Rashi explains was a common pastime for ladies) may not do so on Shabbos.

The Gemara at first assumed that this is because of the sounds they make and that this ruling is proof that even non song-related noises are forbidden.

It rejects this proof by explaining that the reason for this rabbinical prohibition is completely different, and is due to the concern that they might fill-in any holes in the courtyard ground that get in the way of the game (where the hazelnuts could be trapped.)

This could involve the melacha of building (indoors or perhaps in  courtyard) or ploughing (outdoors.)

It brings further evidence that this must be the reason from the fact that Rav Yehuda also forbade rolling apples along the ground, though they do not make noticeable sounds like hazel nuts.

However, it is very possible that this decree is limited to

  1. Women who play this game commonly, and not others for whom the concern is not so common
  2. Hazelnuts and apples which are relatively small and easily trappable in small to medium sized holes in the ground, and not larger spherical   objects such as a melon or a modern-day soccer balls (I am using this term for the sake of clarity although it is not a precisely accurate description for these items.)
  3. Situations and/or times where the ground used is usually already smooth and/or it is not common for players to smooth the ground out before or while playing.

Due to points 2-3, playing soccer is clearly rather removed from the decree that formed the basis for Rav’s ruling, and applying this prohibition thus seems to be quite a stretch.

Although one might argue from the case of the apples that the decree was not limited to small spheres such a hazel-nuts but included round items of all sizes, it is just as likely that it included items as large as apples, but not significantly larger, as argued in point 2 above

The issue raised in point 3 requires much analysis:

There is a general rule of אין בית דין יכול לבטל דברי בית-דין חבירו אלא אם כן גדול ממנו בחכמה ובמנין  – one court may not annul the words of an earlier court unless it is greater than it in wisdom and numbers  (Megila  2a ) .

 This and the related rules of

  1. 1.        כל דבר שבמנין צריך מנין אחר להתירו  (Beitza 5a-anything voted as forbidden by a court/group of authorities  requires another vote to permit it)


  •  לא פלוג רבנן (B.M 52a-the Rabbis do not differentiate between different cases in their decrees but rather make blanket rules )

seem to preclude annulling a decree such as this just because the concern of smoothing out holes does not apply commonly in a friendly soccer game.

Yet, there are various times where Tosfos argues that decrees do not apply in our day precisely because the reason for the decree is not relevant in our day.

For example, they argue that the prohibition of clapping, banging, and dancing even to song does not apply in our time because we are not expert in making/fixing musical instruments anymore and there is no concern one would do so (Beitza 30a ד”ה “תנן” )

They also argue that

  1.  the  prohibition of drinking מים מגולים  did not apply in their time as snakes were not common )Beitza 6a)
  2.  a bird used for children’s entertainment might not be muktza (Shabbos 45b),
  3.   the prohibition of entering into a partnership with idol-worshippers did not apply in his day seeing as the concern that they would make one swear by their idols was not relevant )Sanhedrin 63b ד”ה “אסור”, though the exact point Tosfos is making there is subject to much debate)

Whereas the question as to how the Tosfos are able to do this despite the principles quoted above requires a serious analysis, and one commonly suggested explanation is that they are not suggesting that the decree no longer applies but that the circumstances at hand are SO clearly different to those under which the decree was made that they were never included by Chazal in the decree in the first place.

While even this less controversial explanation of the approach of the Tosfos might not be accepted by many other Rishonim, there appears to be some precedent for it on our very daf.

One of the things that our Mishna permitted in the Mikdash as part of the long list of rabbinic prohibitions mentioned in our perek that do not apply there, was drawing water from certain pits with a wheel.

The implication of the Mishna is that this would be forbidden rabbinically  outside the Mikdash , and after suggesting that this is due to the prohibition against making sounds, the Gemara answered that it is out of concern that one might come to draw water to water his garden or ruin.

Despite this, the later Amora Ameimar permitted drawing water in such a way in the town of Mechoza, because there were no gardens or ruins there, until he saw that they used it for other forbidden purposes, such as soaking flax.

This seems to indicate that a later authority  (Ameimar) may permit something forbidden by an earlier authority (in this case none other than a Mishna) because the circumstances under which the decree was made do not exist.

The approach of the Tosfos thus seems clearly anchored in precedent, and even in the unlikely scenario that the decree against playing with hazelnuts and apples on a rough surface extended to larger spheres on a smooth surface, in a time and place where it is not common to play soccer on surfaces one would need to smooth during the game or directly before, there would still be reason to argue that such far-removed circumstances were never included in the decree in the first place.

Given the multiple reasons for leniency mentioned above and the fact that we are dealing with at most a rabbinical prohibition, forbidding soccer for reasons of this decree thus seems to be a rather stringent approach to the question.

We can also add to this the fact that the Tosfos on our daf say that even in the circumstances described on our daf with hazelnuts and apples, we should not protest and women and children who do this due to the principle of מוטב שיהיו שוגגין ואל יהיו מזידין , and there is strong argument that this principle also applies to teenage boys and other males who are also unlikely to listen.

At the end of the day, there are certainly worse things that kids could be up to these days, and although there might be other halachik, ideological, and policy issues that need to be taken into account before permitting it, this particular concern certainly doesn’t seem like cause for a major confrontation with them.

Having said this, achieving some balance is important- Given that Shabbos and Yom-Tov are supposed to  be special opportunities for spiritual pursuits such as davening, learning Torah, singing songs of praise, and strengthening the family, and not just for physical enjoyment, it seems clear that if these essential aspects of shabbos are replaced chas veshalom by sporting activities, this is a serious lack of כבוד שבת and is certainly forbidden.

As such, even if we permit  (or turn a blind eye to) kids playing sports during the afternoon while adults would usually be resting, it is essential to gently encourage and educate them to be a full part of the shabbos experience, both in shul and at home.

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 154-155 Tzaar Baalei Chayim, foie gras and dogs

In a previous sugya (Shabbos 128), we discussed the ruling of Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav that one is allowed to throw cushions down the steep edge of a stream on shabbos in order that an animal stuck inside can climb out, even though it is ruining the cushions, thus transgressing the rabbinical prohibition against making a כלי (useful item) unfit for its normal use.

The Gemara explained that this is because he holds that preventing cruelty to animals is a biblical requirement which overrides this rabbinical prohibition.

On Daf 154, The Gemara discusses ways of offloading muktza items from a donkey on shabbos, and amongst various opinions, brings the rather extreme story of Rabban Gamliel, whose donkey was loaded with honey containers.

Seeing as the permitted method mentioned in the Mishna of loosening the ropes and allowing the honey jars to fall on their own would have resulted in them breaking, he chose to wait until after shabbos.

By the time shabbos was over, the donkey had died from the strain of the load.

The Gemara asks why he did not simply put cushions one on top of another to absorb the blow so they did not break, and answers that this would have involved the above- mentioned rabbinical prohibition of ruining the cushions.

It then asks why he didn’t do so on the basis of preventing cruelty to animals, seeing as it was clear the animal was suffering, and answered that Rabban Gamliel was of the view that preventing cruelty to animals is only a rabbinical requirement and does not push off even rabbinical laws of shabbos.

We see that the idea that preventing cruelty to animals is a biblical requirement, something we took for granted in a previous sugya, is really subject to debate amongst the Tannaim, and none other than Rabban Gamliel himself, disagrees.

Although Rav, as the first of the Amoraim, was sometimes treated like a Tannaic sage and able to argue with other Tannaim (see for example Kesubos 8a,) it would be tidier to find a Tana that clearly holds that preventing cruelty to animals is indeed a biblical requirement.

Such a Tana has already been found on Daf 117a, where the Gemara attributes this view to Rabbi Yehoshua, at least as a strong probability.

The main discussion, however, can be found at the end of “Elu Metzius” (Bava Metzia 32b) regarding the obligation to help offloading the donkey of one’s neighbor.

There, Rava rules authoritatively that both Tannaim who discuss the matter, Rabbi Shimon AND the Chachamim, agree that צער בעלי חיים (preventing cruelty to animals) is indeed a biblical requirement.

Despite the above, when it comes to trapping and slaughtering animals for food, the Torah has clearly given permission to do so, and this overrides the requirement of preventing cruelty to animals.

The generally accepted opinion amongst later authorities, is that this applies to other genuine human needs as well – after all using animal’s for their hides was a regular and accepted practise to the point that tanning is even one of the forbidden melachot on shabbos.

Nevertheless, certain particularly cruel actions, such as plucking feathers from living birds for use as quills, though not forbidden, have been condemned as being unnecessarily cruel, and strongly discouraged (See Rema E.H 5/14)

It is also important to that this dispensation might well be limited to essential human needs, and not recreational pleasures. One later authority who specifically limits this allowance to “essential needs” is the Aruch haShulchan (E.H. 5).

Hunting, even fishing, for sport, are not essential human needs, and do not match the precedent set by the Torah by default.

As such, they also might be forbidden due to the biblically requirement to prevent suffering from animals, and even later authorities such as the Noda Bayehuda (Volume II Y.D. 1) who argue that they do not fit into the biblical law, condemn “hunting with rifles” as cruel behaviour not fitting for the Jewish people.

One of the more controversial questions in contemporary kashrus relates to the force-feeding applied to geese in order to enlarge their livers for the production of foie-grass, a French delicacy prepared from such livers.

Another relates to the force-feeding of young calves with surplus liquids and insufficient solid foods in order to fatten them quickly for slaughter and give the flesh the white look that is typical of “white-veal,” also a delicacy.

Are such luxurious items really in the category of essential human needs that justify such excess cruelty, assuming the truth of claims that they indeed suffer excessively from this (a debate I do not have enough information to address right now?)

The Mishna on our daf (Shabbos 154) refers to various force-feeding methods applied to camels, calves, and fowl, and other than issues relating to shabbos law does not seem to consider them a violation of tzaar baalei Chaim.

It requires further study to assess precisely what methods are being referred to, and what the need for them was, but if the calves were indeed being force-fed for early slaughter, there could possibly be some precedent here for considering qualitatively tastier delicacies such as veal being enough of a need to allow this excess cruelty.

In practice, Rav Moshe Feinstein (E.H. 4/92) banned production and consumption of white veal in his day, based on his view that the white color of the veal are not considered legitimate needs to cause such cruelty, and neither is the profit of the people who produce it- a careful study of this teshuva is required in order to see precisely where he draws the line.

In contrast, goose-liver has been a very popular product amongst Jews for centuries and the main issues raised with it at various times appear to have been kashrus based and not due to concern for the animal’s welfare.

This could be because unlike white-veal, the foie gras is not just aesthetically more pleasing, but also has its own superior flavor and texture which is considered more of a need than simple aesthetic factors, or it could be because the level of cruelty was not viewed by halachik authorities as being on the same level.

Or possibly, it is because this was the main source of kosher fat available for Jews in Europe for most of history, and it was thus considered a truly essential product.

Either way, unless there is truth in the claims of those who say that recent improvements in legislation have lowered the distress level into the normal acceptable limits, or that the geese do not really suffering from this feeding, it seems pretty clear that in today’s time where we have many sources of fat and such a huge variety of both basic and luxury food-products, the tzaar baalei chayim factor should be considered- it should certainly be included in the general condemnation of excessively cruel behavior even for legitimate needs, which we have brought examples of.

Could the same argument perhaps be made against eating meat in today’s times and wearing clothes from animals slaughtered for that purpose, given that there are so many alternative sources of protein and general nutrition, as well as clothing? Probably not, but that is for a different discussion.

One more related idea I would like to discuss from our daf is the question of how we relate to dogs.

There is much condemnation (Shabbos 63a) of people who raise and keep “bad dogs” due to the fear they cast on poor people coming to ask for charity, and (see sugya in Bava Kama 83a ) due to the harm and fear they cause to pregnant women, and people who raise dogs are even compared to those who raise pigs.

Yet on our daf, we are told that unlike pigs, whose welfare we are not responsible for (due to the prohibition of raising pigs, as per Rashi, and because they have plenty to eat) we are responsible for the welfare of dogs and may thus feed them on shabbos.

This responsibility seems from our daf to extend to stray dogs too, who are considered to suffer the epitome of poverty (לית דעניא ככלבא) and should be fed by us, albeit in the fields and not in town, in order not to encourage them to keep coming back and bothering people.

There is much to discuss about the seemingly different views in Chazal that relate to raising and keeping dogs, as well as the practical halacha, but we will leave that for another occasion, Hashem willing.

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 64 Positive beauty  

 Modesty is an extremely important value in Torah life, both for men and for women, and although “tzenius” has many aspects, a very strong focus has been placed particularly in recent decades, on the modesty of woman’s dress.

This extra emphasis of an existing value can be explained by the changes in general society and super liberalization of dress standards, whereby extremely revealing and suggestive clothing has become the norm.

However, this has reached ridiculous extremes in some religious circles, where the very presence of women, either in person, or even in advertising, has become at best frowned upon, and at worst, been forcibly prevented.

In such circles, women and girls are often encouraged to dress as unattractively as possible, and stay out of the way, while their male counterparts face no such restrictions. 

There is no doubt in my mind that asides for the innate unfairness of treating women simply as if they are dangerous “eye candy” for hungry men and boys, such extreme treatment backfires, and causes the exact opposite of what is desired- men become over sensitized, often resulting in unhealthy, even abusive behavior, and woman become more and more sidelined, sometimes to the point that even  their relationship with their husbands is severely impacted .

On our Daf, we are told about more items which people are not allowed to wear on shabbos in a public domain, lest one take them off.

One example is a wig (sheitel or פאה נכרית) worn by women to look attractive.

The leading Amora, Rav ,tells us that although most things that are forbidden to wear in a public domain, may also not be worn in a shared courtyard which has no eiruv ( see Tosfos who holds that we are indeed discussing a courtyard without an eruv) there are a couple of exceptions.

One exception he mentions is the sheitel, which is allowed in a shared courtyard, while still forbidden in a true public domain for the above reason.

The reason for the leniency is that we do not want a woman to look less attractive to her husband, even in front of other people in a courtyard, so she doesn’t repulse him in general.

This despite the fact that there are other people in a shared courtyard, and certainly in a Karmelit, which according to Tosfos is also permitted .

It can also be noted that if it were not for the concern of a biblical desecration of shabbos laws, “chillul shabbos deorayso” in a true public domain, it would be permitted in the most crowded places too.

While the need for married women to be attractive  for their husbands might not go down so well in today’s liberal world, this is a totally different discussion for another occasion. 

What seems clear from this daf , however .is that there is absolutely no problem with married women looking good in public, in person , and certainly not in advertisements , so long as the basic  laws of modesty are kept, and this applies even more so to unmarried women of marriageable age who are supposed to be attractive to potential partners (see Kiddushin 30b)

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 63 Dangerous dogs 

Shabbos 63 Dangerous dogs

On this daf, Rabbi Aba brings the ruling of Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish, a leading first generation Amora, that one who keeps an “evil” dog in his house keeps kindness away from his house.

Rashi explains that because of the dangerous dog, poor people will be afraid to approach and ask for money.

The Gemara in Bava Batra( 7b) makes a similar point regarding a בית שער  (courtyard gate), saying that having a locked gate to one’s courtyard is also problematic for the same reason .


In Bava Kama( 46a) , the Gemora also states that one who keeps a dangerous dog in one’s house transgresses the prohibition of לא תשים דמים בביתך ( do not place blood in your house ), a prohibition against having perilous items or unguarded patios etc.

There is  much discussion as to what is considered an “evil”  dog, but both here and in the sugya in Bava Kama, a strong emphasis is placed on the danger scary dogs poise to pregnant women, who might be so terrified by it that they miscarry, chalila.

I was learning this Gemara with my 8 year old son, Noam, last night , and he reminded me about how when Julie was pregnant with him (and no, he didn’t know what was happening when he was in her womb..), the gate of our property fell ont her ,and although she was uninjured Boruch Hashem , she went to the hospital just to be sure that  the fright had not endangered the pregnancy.

It turned out that  he was indeed in distress, to the point that she almost had to have an emergency caesarean, many weeks too early .

I was far away in the Kruger park area at the time with a group of clients, it was night ,and there was no way to get back home , other than a 7 hour drive over treacherous mountain passes in the dark, something we decided was a bad idea, and my ability to be there added to the stress .

Boruch Hashem, he calmed down and all was fine- yet this personal experience made me extra sensitive to this issue , and in the daf today , a tragic story is told which didn’t end so well.

A pregnant woman went to a neighbor, as was the norm at the time for those who couldn’t afford their own oven , to use his oven to bake bread.

He had a dangerous dog, that barked so loudly at her that she miscarried.  Unaware of what happened, but seeing she was afraid, the man tried to calm her down, saying that the dog was harmless and  had its most dangerous teeth removed and claws cut.

Suffice to say, the woman told him she wanted nothing from him and it was already too late.

Chazal have various things to say about dogs, some very positive, some rather negative , and obviously things depend a lot on the type and nature of the dog, how  it is constrained, and other circumstances- when needed for security reasons , that is also a factor.

One thing, however, is clear to me from experience, and that is that in many places, people are simply unaware or totally ambivalent about the level of fear and stress that visitors get from their more aggressive 4 legged friends , and often get extremely defensive about it.

I remember as a child growing up in crime infested Johannesburg the terror I experienced every time I walked passed a house with a Rottweiler as it attacked the gate and made out as if it was about to charge me- on some occasions, large dogs actually jumped over those towering Joburg walls and though most were more bark than bite , I was more terrified of them than of the criminals .


And I was a kid who absolutely loved dogs and had 3 of my own!

A Jewish home is supposed to be an open home, where visitors, particularly the poor , feel welcome and at ease , and anything that causes it to be the opposite, other than valid security concerns, needs to be very carefully considered .