Can I Attend the Theatre on Shabbat? - Episode 63
Rav Avi: Hi, and welcome to Responsa Radio, where you ask and we answer questions of Jewish law in modern times! I'm Rabbi Avi Killip here with Rabbi Ethan Tucker, Rosh Yeshiva at Hadar, a center for higher Jewish learning based in New York City. I'm excited about this question today, I'm gonna put it in a category that is our usual can-you-on-shabbat category, but this one we'll call "shabbat and leisure."
Rav Eitan: Okay.
Rav Avi: It's gonna be about attending performances. Is that part of your life? Have you seen any good shows recently?
Rav Eitan: Well I was, actually, I had a guilty pleasure of I was on a business trip to Chicago and I realized that Hamilton plays in Chicago.
Rav Avi: Oh, making good use of time!
Rav Eitan: And I woke up in the morning and I was like, I have free time tonight, is there any chance that there's a ticket? And I scored a $72 ticket! That was great.
Rav Avi: For the New York Hamilton standards, that's basically a giveaway price.
Rav Eitan: Yeah, practically they paid me. Right.
Rav Avi: Amazing. Well, that sets the bar pretty high in terms of performances, I gotta say. We'll be curious to know whether the quality of the performance will weigh in on the answer to this question here. The questioner writes: "May I attend a performance such as a theater performance that starts while it is still shabbat if I buy the tickets before shabbat and walk to the venue? Does it matter if I can assume the performers are not Jewish? Is this any different from the common practice of shabbat-observant people I know to attend free museums on shabbat?" So this is, yeah, a question of how — I almost feel like I could call this "when shabbat is also Saturday afternoon." Can you use it as a time to explore and take advantage of the kind of leisure opportunities that are in our world for those for whom it is just a Saturday? Can we go to that show, can we go to that museum?
Rav Eitan: Yeah. Maybe we'll end back up here, but just to name at the beginning, I guess this is one of those questions where the "why" behind it feels a little important to me, which is to say, why is the person asking? What, either, hole is being filled, or what challenge do they have, who are they in relationship with — and not that those are gonna make or break the question, which I think still is gonna be shabbat- and the laws-of-shabbat-centered, but it's important to kind of get to that. So we don't seem to have that in the question here, but maybe we'll speculate on that and how it might be relevant.
Rav Avi: Yeah, I'll be very curious to hear how it's relevant.
Rav Eitan: Alright, so let's jump in. Let's start — a couple of different pieces here we should break apart. The first, I would almost rephrase as, is it permissible to pay for services or items given on shabbat prior to shabbat, or after it? Or is that some kind of illegal transaction, because you're paying for a thing that is happening on shabbat?
So, we dealt with this a little bit in an earlier podcast, like around babysitting or something like that, I think, and working on shabbat, and can you pay a babysitter beforehand, et cetera, et cetera. And essentially, like, if the person is not Jewish and they're not doing any kind of real melakhah for you, like in the case of babysitting, that kind of opens up the basic flexibility of saying, well, you're not necessarily really paying them for something, et cetera, that they're, like, doing on shabbat on shabbat, but you are, I think more directly here, in the question of a performance — before we get to the type of performance, you know, a ticket is a different kind of thing, right? A ticket to a venue or to a performance is not sort of fee-for-service, you do x for me and I will pay you; it is actually, right, it's an admission fee, as it were. It's essentially something you pay in order to be let in.
And then the thing that's happening happens, and that does feel different — I think the questioner here already notes what is indeed a reasonably widespread practice for shabbat-observant people to say, oh, that gallery's free, it has no admission fee, so of course I can walk in there. And in fact, even more than that, shmirat shabbat k'hilkhatah, which is a contemporary Israeli work of practical halakhah observance, explicitly says you're allowed to buy a ticket to a zoo before shabbat starts, so that you can visit the zoo the next afternoon on shabbat.
Rav Avi: And that means you bring the ticket with you.
Rav Eitan: Yeah, you'd bring the tickets. So you'd have to assume, you know, that there's an eruv, or that there's some other way that you don't have to carry it, but whatever it is, basically you've paid to get access to something, which you arranged before shabbat, and then you just show up and you're getting access to that thing. And, you know, think about being — there's like, you know, a park near my house that has an admission fee — imagine you, like, yeah, you join as a member, right, for the year, and then you show your membership card on shabbat — so, of course that's okay to do, and the one-time ticket is just a more localized version of that, and that's why that's permitted.
Actually it comes out of an interesting earlier case, the Nodah b'Yehudah, who is in 18th century, with someone dealing with, actually, someone paying a fee for a mikvah in advance of shabbat, where, you know, the mikvah needs fees in order to be supported and that's no less true for people who need to use the mikvah on shabbat, but are they violating something, right, by paying for use on shabbat? The Nodah b'Yehudah says no, like, you're just being allowed in to use the mikvah, which is just there, and you're making an arrangement beforehand to make sure you're supporting it appropriately.
Rav Avi: It's interesting, we live in a world that is now so saturated with the idea of credit and online payment that it almost feels silly to think that you would actually pay at the door to get into a show. Obviously you got your ticket in advance, you know, you ordered it online, and in a sense, actually, that's what a ticket is, is that you paid in advance and this is basically a receipt that shows that you paid in advance, which is what's allowing you in. But it sounds like the concept — I guess we're starting with the question of payment as a transaction, and then we'll get to the question of what's happening in the show.
Rav Eitan: Yeah, but I'd say, threshold one, which we can very easily cross, is just as it's hard to imagine why you would forbid someone with an annual membership to a place from going in, actually being allowed in for shabbat is almost just like, you're shrinking down the annual membership to, you know, a day, but which you have secured beforehand. And so that's no real obstacle, the sort of pre-payment to get access to, let's just start with, let's say, something static, right, it's grounds, it's art hanging on a wall, it's anything like that. So, now I think let's turn to the question of, okay, performance, and something that has something more dynamic, and where there's people who are working, right, in some way.
Rav Avi: Although truthfully, there's people who work at the zoo as well.
Rav Eitan: That's correct. So you're not paying those peoples' salaries, we've already established, and so that doesn't seem like that's the issue. And there are many performances that I would say by dint of the nature of them not involving any melakhah or any problematic activity vis a vis what an observant Jew themselves might do on shabbat, is no different than going to an art gallery, right? If you were going in to an a capella concert, well, you might sing in an a capella concert on shabbat — anything that basically you would say I as a shabbat-observant person would do that very thing that is going on here, the fact of it being classed as a performance also doesn't create any kind of issue.
So I think where it's going to become interesting is mainly going to be around performance that involves music, amplification, even if it's a, you know, a play, what if it's, you know, there's music accompanying it or it's a musical, and then, of course, things like movies and other things that are, you know, potentially not involving live actors but involving the use of projection, light, heat, electricity, et cetera, that you would say, well, I would never do this on my own — can I go and attend it?
Rav Avi: Right, and it feels a little bit different to the culture of shabbat, I would say, in addition to questions of, are the actual activities melakhah, are they actual prohibitions on shabbat? So I'll be curious to hear how those two either come together or if you think of them separately.
Rav Eitan: So that's exactly, actually, how I want to break it down. I think you've really hit it. Which is, let's first think about what's the nature of the activity in terms of, sort of, the physical significance of what's going on? And let's also think about the question of the appropriateness. So, let me throw out a couple precedents, and we can try to break them down and see what we make of them. So, one is an interesting source from medieval Germany, the Ravya, Rabbi Eliezer ben Yoel Halevi, which is part of the larger discussion of musical instruments on shabbat and yom tov. The Ravya says you are allowed to schedule a wedding on Friday afternoon, have the meal that follows the wedding essentially be Friday night dinner, and hire a non-Jewish band.
Rav Avi: Wow! I feel like I've heard that that schedule of the Friday afternoon wedding is common in Israel — I've never actually been to a Friday afternoon wedding that goes into a shabbos dinner.
Rav Eitan: So yeah, I think it's certainly not common in Israel today, at least in religious quarters, the way the Ravya is describing it. But it was pretty common, actually, in the Middle Ages, if you think about it practically, you would kind of save some money, right, which is to say, instead of, oh, my shabbat meal and my wedding meal, I'd double it up.
Rav Avi: Yeah, I completely see the practicality, especially when Friday is your weekend day.
Rav Eitan: Right, exactly. But the band is the curious part. Now, the Ravya explicitly says, the way he plays it out is he says, look, the prohibition on playing musical instruments is itself basically a rabbinic-level prohibition, it's not really a melakhah to pluck strings on something or blow into a wind instrument; it's understood to be something that is not appropriate on shabbat, but basically at a rabbinic level. And you're allowed to ask a gentile to do a rabbinic violation of shabbat for the purposes of a mitzvah. And he says the mitzvah here is, you know, l'sameakh chatan v'kallah, to make the bride and groom rejoice, and therefore it's okay to ask them to be the band. Okay? So the striking thing about that is, of course, the Ravya does not seem to be bothered, at least in the context of the mitzvah, does not seem to be bothered at all by the atmospherics of hearing live music. Right? In other words, even though you would not play the music yourself, hearing the music by someone who's not themselves forbidden from doing it is no problem.
Rav Avi: Right, so the volume, the ethos, the dancing, none of that is a problem.
Rav Eitan: Right. So there's kind of two different ways you can branch out from that Ravya. One is to say, oh, so I guess the atmospherics of listening to music are not a problem at all. The only reason you need to ask a gentile to do it is because the act of playing the instrument is a problem, so that's the thing that has to be gotten around, and that's the thing you only allow when a mitzvah is on the line, is instructing someone not Jewish to do something for you. But if they were doing it on their own, right, and had no problem with it, then it's fine.
Rav Avi: Right, meaning there's a little concert in the park, and I happen to walk past on my way to shul, and I stop and I listen to the concert. No problem.
Rav Eitan: Correct. There's a reading of the Ravya that would say that's no problem at all. Alright? That seems to me actually the better reading of the Ravya, if you ask me just in terms of, kind of, analyzing his text and his logic inside. But there is another way of reading it, which is, no, the mitzvah element of the wedding here is important not just for enabling asking the gentile to play, right, hiring the non-Jewish band — it's also important for kind of overriding the atmospheric concern. And Maharivayil, who was a later German authority just a short time after the Ravya, he takes that reading and he actually gives us an amazing window into, how shall we put it, shabbat and leisure in medieval Germany in Jewish communities, where it seems people had some of the same challenges that people have today, of figuring out how to spend their afternoon.
So listen to what Maharivayil says — he's actually not talking about shabbat, he's talking about yom tov, but it would apply all the moreso to shabbat. He says, you know those people who hold big dances on yom tov afternoon and the non-Jewish bands play for them with musical instruments? I don't know where they came up with permitting this, because all the earlier authorities like Ravya who permitted having non-Jewish bands only allowed that in the context of a marriage. And implied in that permission is that unless unless it's a marriage, of course you're not allowed to do it. And he ends by saying — always this sort of poignant rabbinic line — and if I had the power, I would put an end to it. So he doesn't have the power, and apparently he doesn't put an end to it, but you see there, there's a kind of feeling of, I don't care that you're not doing this, right, and it's non-Jews playing — this is not a wedding, and this should not be happening.
Now, truth be told, the Maharivayil here is also not clear. Is he bothered by the fact that this is a case where perhaps the non-Jewish band players are being told to play? In other words, actually what he's bothered by is, they're setting this up and instructing them and telling them even though it's not a wedding. Or, is the Maharivayil, when he says, I would end this, bothered by Jews spending their yom tov afternoon dancing to music? Okay? And that's where you start to get to, if we just jumped to the contemporary, modern question.
So, am I allowed, for instance, to just leave my television on for all of shabbat? Leave my radio on for all of shabbat? Put it on a timer at a certain point? That will a little bit hinge on how you read these earlier sources. Because there you're not telling anyone to do anything on shabbat, there's no one who's not Jewish who's doing something for you, you've set it up all beforehand, okay? And at that point the question is, is the very atmosphere of it problematic?
Rav Avi: Well, I think there's something even deeper than is the atmosphere problematic, which is, actually, very surprising to me, because I think it's not what you typically think of as important in making a halakhic decision, is exactly where we started, of why do you want to do the thing? Why is that music playing? It's for a wedding — and that actually making a difference. I feel like my own personal conversations with people who don't share my halakhic practice, there is sometimes a feeling of, if I could convince you that there's a good reason to do this other thing, then it would change, right? If there's a good reason to eat the non-kosher food, then it's okay to eat the non-kosher food, and having to say that's not actually how halakhah works.
And it sounds, actually, in this instance, like it almost is how halakhah works, to say, is there a mitzvah behind it? I'm struck in particular that the text is about weddings, because I have to say, when we first read this question and I start to think in my mind, when have I tried to play this game of, well, if I can walk there, if I can get in in advance, has been times where I've been attending weddings of non-Jewish friends that started before, you know, before shabbat was completely out, and thought to myself, well, if I can stay at a close enough place and I can walk over, and so it, you know, it's actually very compelling to me to hear that reflected back as, yeah, when somebody's getting married it's a value to be there and celebrate in a different way.
And maybe that is gonna also impact your TV question, right, to say, is your TV on because you get bored? Is your TV on because there's a war going on and you feel that you need to hear the news? Because there is a storm happening and you need to hear a flood warning? You know, why, why are you doing these leisure activities? Do they have some other, greater purpose? That's really striking to me.
Rav Eitan: Yeah, yeah. No, so the mitzvah language there, and of course, like, yeah, how elastic is that and what do we apply it to — we could play out, but the notion that there's a category there, potentially to interact with, is part of that legacy. And again, I think, to just say again, that Ravya can be split, right, in a number of different directions, where it's either just focused on, oh, there's a problematic action, or it's also engaging implicitly with that atmospheric piece.
Rav Avi: I have a question which is, is there in modern times a halakhically observant community that will hire musicians to come in and play on yom tov? Does that happen?
Rav Eitan: Yeah, I think that's pretty much dead, as far as I know, even though that ruling of the Ravya is cited in the Shulkhan Arukh, okay? One of the most controversial applications of it was some of the early proponents of religious reform in synagogues in Europe wanted to say, well, if a wedding is a d'var mitzvah, then surely praying to G-d in the synagogue is a mitzvah! And therefore, I can hire a non-Jewish organist to play —
Rav Avi: It's pretty compelling, I gotta say!
Rav Eitan: Right, I mean, this was actually, some of the earlier waves of reform were still very focused on wanting to justify things, you know, in certain precedents, you know, from the Shulkhan Arukh, even if, you know, they maybe would play a little fast and loose with some of the edges of it, that first wave did care about that in a significant way. And that was one of the places. And that's where, yeah, the backlash against that position ended up ultimately being one —
Rav Avi: Turns out he had his dream — practice is gone!
Rav Eitan: Yeah, that's right. Maharivayil, right, would have been happier. But yeah, there's some aftermath of that. The other place where it comes up is, yeah, there are discussions about, let's say, poskim who are more lenient with the use of electricity on yom tov, something we've talked about in a previous podcast also — you have Rav Masas, who was a prominent Sephardi posek in the contemporary period, who basically justified the use of a radio on yom tov. Alright? Use of a record player, and these different things.
Later authorities, Rav Ovadia Yosef, go crazy, how could you allow that, you know, that's unacceptable — but his logic is some version of, after he deals with the electricity piece, is just sort of like, yeah, it gives people pleasure on yom tov, and there's nothing really wrong with it. And it's very clear, he is sort of following the thread that can come out of the Ravya, of, there's no problem on the atmospherics front, with the music — the only problem is, is someone doing something forbidden on this day that they shouldn't be?
Rav Avi: And what's the response from Rav Ovadia, what's his pushback?
Rav Eitan: Yeah, so the response from — well, I'll say, the surface response from Rav Ovadia is no, you're not taking seriously enough the, you know, action of turning on the phonograph or the radio, and those are like forbidden actions by Jews. Which doesn't really address the question of something being on a timer. Or going into someone else's — right, can I go into my non-Jewish neighbor's house and watch the movie that they're watching anyway, right? I'm doing nothing. So that, other poskim —
Rav Avi: That comes up a lot, I think.
Rav Eitan: Other poskim will, you know, to the extent that they don't like it, will essentially engage the atmospheric thing directly — we'll come back to a version of that in a minute — though sometimes another factor that will be brought up if it's in your own home is, oh, people will think you turned it on, or people will hear noises and assume all kinds of shabbat violation is happening. But none of that really applies to, let's say, a performance venue, right, or places that are not in your domain.
Rav Avi: Right. It makes me think, a little bit, of when we lived in Boston and we used to walk home from shul on Friday evening, and my husband would be peeking into the sports bars to see if he could see the score of the games on somebody else's TV that was on for some other reason, was like, you know, there's a way to access this information. To see a little of that "show."
Rav Eitan: That's right. Okay, let me give you another precedent here, which is relevant and interesting. So, the Talmud in one place gets into a kind of discussion of whether doing certain kinds of, almost, mock melakhah is a problem, like, sort of rehearsing or training for something. Like if I take a hammer and I, you know, sort of wield it and strike it towards an anvil, but I'm not actually hammering anything out, what's the sort of propriety of that on shabbat? We won't get into the details of that, but it culminates in a really interesting formulation by the Mishnah Berurah, a modern posek and major authority on the laws of shabbat, who actually says you are allowed to watch someone else do melakhah on shabbat in order to learn a skill.
Rav Avi: To go to class.
Rav Eitan: Something like that, okay? But with a caveat, and here's his important thing: it has to be an unplanned opportunity, and you are totally passive, and you're in no way interacting with the person who's doing it.
Rav Avi: So it really is, I'm walking through the park and I see a juggler, I can take some mental notes on the juggling technique?
Rav Eitan: Great, but the juggler is not really even doing melakhah — it would be a glass-blower.
Rav Avi: Got it.
Rav Eitan: You see someone doing an outdoor glass demonstration and you're like, ooh, I would really like to see that. Now, the Mishnah Berurah basically — on the one hand, is, I would say, saying, well, you're not doing anything, you're just walking by, it's okay to, like, take information into your brain on shabbat. But on the other hand, is sort of nervous, I don't want you to get too close, like, here, do you want to try — and next thing you know, you're potentially stepping into that.
Rav Avi: I like about this the sort of insistence of, shabbat is not a time to pretend that melakhah doesn't exist — it's just a time not to do it.
Rav Eitan: Yeah.
Rav Avi: You know, I'm not gonna plant in my garden, but it doesn't mean I can't watch somebody else garden as I walk past their house and think to myself, oh, interesting, she puts her tomatoes further apart than I would have put mine.
Rav Eitan: Right. Right. And there are some views that even are a little more lenient than the Mishnah Berurah and will say, well, if you're really doing this to learn a trade, and particularly maybe it's a lifesaving trade or it's gonna give, you know, basic livelihood to your family. Rav Yaakov Breish, who was from Switzerland in the 20th century, engages this around the question of an observant medical student, and even if they can't operate, you know, do stuff on the cadaver on shabbat, can they show up and watch other people od it and pay attention? He's much more lenient, both because of his value of the medical profession, but also his notion of, this is sort of to have a career, to be able to support one's family — that's a little different form, let's say, oh, that's cool, right, I've always wanted to know how to blow glass, right? Like, do that on a Sunday.
Rav Avi: So again, it's a really interesting case of the reason why you wanna watch the show actually matters.
Rav Eitan: Yeah. So I think by those standards, even the more lenient ones, the more there's some kind of, you know, intensive melakhah that's going on, unless you are really detached from it, right, the more potentially problematic that is. Which is to say, yeah, something like a movie, where there's not really any melakhah happening — I mean, there's the screening of it, right? But the movie itself is sort of images — might be very different than going to a glassblowing demonstration, right? Where there's really a thing that's being done that's a melakhah itself, though the distance between you and the person up on the stage sort of might also matter, as the Mishnah Berurah kind of talks about, like, how engaged are you in this? As opposed to, I'm in seat G-35, you know, completely separate from the whole thing.
Rav Avi: Whereas being a passive observer, in this case, makes it more acceptable, going to an actual workshop on nail-hammering, even though you don't hold the hammer, less okay.
Rav Eitan: Correct. That seems, that seems like part of what's happening there. So that's another precedent where I think you can see it being, you know, pulled a little this way, a little that way, depending on how you're thinking of it. But also opens up this question of being present on shabbat for activities that are not being done for you, but that potentially kind of engage you around melakhah.
Okay. Let me say one more thing now about the atmospheric stuff, and then we'll see if we can pull it together. So the other angle here goes to what kind of content and experiences are appropriate for the atmospherics of shabbat. And here there's a debate — we may have also talked about it at some point earlier — between Rambam, Maimonides, and Rashba, in terms of engaging secular subjects and secular literature on shabbat. The Rambam says on shabbat, you study Torah, and that's it. Interesting, man of letters, engaged deeply in philosophy and science, but he felt, that's for the other six days of the week, and shabbat is focused on sort of the sacred.
The Rashba disagreed with that, and said no, what do you mean — business is inappropriate on shabbat, you shouldn't be sort of, like, looking at the stock market pages, but, you know, reading about science and medicine — and he talks about using an astrolabe and other tools of that sort — that's okay, that's okay on shabbat. So, that's another factor here, right? Like, from the perspective of the content — so, sure, a play, some notion of culture, et cetera — I think the Rashba would say yeah, that's alright, that feels like it could be alright on shabbat.
Rav Avi: Yeah, that sounds actually like a great definition of leisure — it's the non-Torah stuff that's not your work. That's what you're reading for leisure!
Rav Eitan: Right. And the Rambam, no matter how highbrow it was, would not be okay with it. Right? Would say, that's not appropriate for shabbat. And the Rashba himself, I think, would say anything that feels like it starts to pull you away from, you know, the sort of contemplative space, and it's really about, like, either direct engagement with melakhah, or something else that just feels like it's wildly inappropriate for the sanctity of shabbat, that already feels like it's in a different place.
Rav Avi: Yeah. I haven't heard you say, I think, the thing that would most make me pause before choosing to go see a show like this, which is that if you take yourself out of a shabbat context, you may forget that it's shabbos. You know, I could imagine, like, reaching for my phone, or even maybe, you know, reaching for somebody else's — you know, here could you take a picture of us? — and not being thoughtful about that once I'm stepping out of what would be my normal shabbos context in a way that I would almost say if every shabbos afternoon I go walk around the Met, then maybe that wouldn't come up.
Rav Eitan: Yeah, no, I remember, actually, seeing someone on shabbat afternoon — I was in a context like that with them, and they suddenly, like, bummed a cigarette off of someone else, and started smoking it. I was like, what are you doing?
Rav Avi: And they hadn't realized?
Rav Eitan: They had just forgotten, right? So it's exactly what you're saying, and, you know, where that comes up in halakhah sort of most directly is the notion of bigdei shabbat, the idea that you're supposed to dress differently on shabbat, is very much consciously tied into, among other things, not just honoring the day, but if you dress like you do the rest of the week, you may act like you do the rest of the week, and totally forget. Because shabbat, at the end of the day, is a total construct. Right? That is to say, unlike, let's say, the first night of Pesach, where you can look up and see that there's a full moon, you actually cannot, on shabbat, ever tell that the world is different in any way from Friday and Sunday. It's all about the way in which you create that environment.
Rav Avi: Yeah, I love it, I love the image, you know, next shabbos you can find me at Wrigley Field, but don't worry, I'll be wearing my heels, my shabbos shoes, so it'll be clear.
Rav Eitan: Yeah, and having something, as we come to a summer, here, of some guidance, having something that you do differently, you know, in an environment that you might be in during the week but that you're in on shabbat, does feel like it is appropriate and important if you're gonna keep those guidelines. Alright, so let's try to, sort of, sum up here.
Rav Avi: Yeah, where does that leave us? I'm clear that we can go to ancient parties if it's a wedding and I sit very far back in the theater, or something like that.
Rav Eitan: Medieval, medieval.
Rav Avi: Okay, right, medieval.
Rav Eitan: Yeah, so let's try to, I think, sum this up, and then I want to offer one concluding thought about how one manages this in a religious life. So, yeah. I think we've sort of said, the admission fee, if paid in advance, that's not the issue here. Okay? There's an appropriate approach, channeling some version of the Rambam's only learning Torah and some of the tighter readings of the Maharivayil that we mentioned earlier, that's just like, yeah, don't do that stuff on shabbat. Right? Don't go there, create a day that's different, don't piggyback on some free stuff that's coming along. Okay, you walk by it in the park, you can stop for a minute, but don't plan attendance at a venue with something that's going on that's just not about shabbat. That's — okay, I think we get that.
I think we've also seen — you can pretty solidly ground pre-purchasing a ticket to something where the event that's going on, even with performers, is something where the performers themselves are not doing anything you wouldn't do, right? That's pretty easy, and as long as you're not adopting the Rambam's hardcore reading of only do Torah, sort of Rashba-appropriate performances, if you will, are potentially totally fine. Now, when we start getting into things that are either, you know, movies and TV, the projection of sound, or the actual playing of musical instruments, or the actual performance of melakhah — that's where it feels like a combination of it not being a weekly practice, it being something that you have some clear distance from, and it not being in an environment, particularly, let's say, you know, TV, radio, et cetera, that might give the impression that, oh, this is a Jewish space where melakhah happens, but you are, kind of, you're on someone else's turf, or, you know, everyone maybe already knows that certain things go on a timer.
Or, we didn't get into this, but just to throw out another thing — it's like you have your earbuds plugged into something for the entire shabbat, that no one else can hear, and it goes on a timer, and then you listen to them, right, or something like that — okay, those are cases where I think you can imagine saying, here's how I could justify that being a case of, I didn't do any melakhah, I didn't ask anyone to do melakhah — this is happening whether I show up or don't, and I've taken care of all the logistics so that I can be present.
Now, to me what's important about actually laying out — and this is the sort of comment I want to end with, like, laying out the extremes of, just don't ever go to anything, or, here's how you could justify, you know, as long as you're sort of detached — is that then I think it pushes you back into the question of the why are you asking that we started with. And this feels very important to me — here I'm almost taking my, like, more focused, halakhic hat off and putting on, kind of, religious perspective hat — and that is, you have to, I think — certainly some people do — think about how these different modes kind of interact, sometimes with different chapters of one's life.
So, speaking, I'd say, both to some degree personally but also what I feel like I see in a lot of people — there are periods in life where it actually feels like the most important thing is that I have, like, total consistency, total atmosphere construction, total, like, I am building a life that looks this way. A lot of people feel that when they're raising their children. A lot of people feel that when they are themselves kids coming to be like, I want a rhythm that, like, defines who I am. And that's, that's often a whole significant chapter of life. I think for many people there also chapters of life — and I would say young adulthood is often one of these — where you're trying to figure out, can I wear this garment called observance in the world and feel like I'm comfortable in its skin? And for some people, only having lines and clarity and full atmosphere control is helpful in that regard. For other people, the feeling of, yeah, my being shabbat-observant does not totally cut me off from the a capella concert, is actually, in the long-term, a huge investment in them being able to say, this is awesome, I'm an observant person, it doesn't make me have to swear off the world, and I'm more committed as a result.
Rav Avi: Yeah. I think that can be true for people, also, with — you know, you used the phrase, earlier, of the question of how to fill your afternoon is not a new one. I think there are life stages where the question of how to fill a long summer shabbat afternoon becomes something that's much bigger than just, okay, so you're bored, read a book, becomes something more important about, I need to be able to find the people that I want to be around, and do what they're doing at that time. Or, you know, having a screen or a podcast come on a timer, maybe allows you to stay within the realm of shabbat observance without it becoming painful in some ways. And I think that's probably also a life stage question, in different moments even moreso than different weeks.
Rav Eitan: Yeah, and I think the balance is, you know, the right mix of, sort of, halakhically appropriate, you know, passive entertainment, as we've talked about, can be life-giving to certain people at certain times of, like, yeah, I can hold this observance, this is working. It can threaten to be also a sort of, like, running away from or avoiding shabbat. Right? Particularly on some of those long afternoons — look, for some people, taking a nap is really about caring for their body; for some people, a nap on shabbat afternoon is also avoiding shabbat, right? It's like, I don't know what to do, I guess I'm tired —
Rav Avi: Pass a couple hours…
Rav Eitan: — I could kill three hours with this nap, and that's not necessarily a great spiritual place to be in, either. So I think part of the "why" I would come back to is, I would love for the person asking this question to think about, in a deep way, how are the ways in which I'm navigating this shabbat space leading in the long arc of my life to actually being more spiritually alive, present, engaged by shabbat, as opposed to, it's a problem I need to manage, or an obstacle to avoid.
Rav Avi: Yeah. So we're leaving people with a lot to think about and take in as they decide to purchase or not purchase that ticket to the show tonight.
Rav Avi: Responsa Radio is a project of the Hadar Institute and Jewish Public Media. Thanks to Annah Leah Bernstein Simpson for producing this podcast, and to Noa Gendler for editing this episode.