Sports on Shabbos: Can you? Should you?
(יג) אִם־תָּשִׁ֤יב מִשַּׁבָּת֙ רַגְלֶ֔ךָ עֲשׂ֥וֹת חֲפָצֶ֖יךָ בְּי֣וֹם קָדְשִׁ֑י וְקָרָ֨אתָ לַשַּׁבָּ֜ת עֹ֗נֶג לִקְד֤וֹשׁ יְהוָה֙ מְכֻבָּ֔ד וְכִבַּדְתּוֹ֙ מֵעֲשׂ֣וֹת דְּרָכֶ֔יךָ מִמְּצ֥וֹא חֶפְצְךָ֖ וְדַבֵּ֥ר דָּבָֽר׃

"If you restrain your foot because of the Sabbath, from performing your affairs on My holy day, and you call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord honored, and you honor it by not doing your wonted ways, by not pursuing your affairs and speaking words."


(14) (ישעיהו נח, יג) וכבדתו מעשות דרכיך וכבדתו שלא יהא מלבושך של שבת כמלבושך של חול וכי הא דרבי יוחנן קרי למאניה מכבדותי מעשות דרכיך שלא יהא הילוכך של שבת כהילוכך של חול ממצוא חפצך חפציך אסורין

Shabbat 113.

(14) (Isaiah 58:13). The Rabbis derived from the words “and you honor it” that your dress on Shabbat should not be like your dress during the week, as Rabbi Yoḥanan would refer to his clothing as my honor, indicating that appropriate clothing is a form of deference. The words “going your own way” mean that your walking on Shabbat should not be like your walking during the week. “From attending to your affairs” means it is prohibited to deal with your weekday affairs and to speak about them on Shabbat. However, affairs of Heaven, i.e., those pertaining to mitzvot, are permitted. “And speaking idle words”


טור שמעון הוה מפיק תלת מאוון דגרבין דמרקיע לקייטא כל ערובות שובא. ולמה חרב יש אומר מפני הזנות וי"א שהיו משחקין בכדור.

Tur Shimon used to provide three hundred loaves of bread (for the poor) every eve of Shabbat. Why then was it destroyed? One says, due to licentiousness. Another says, because they used to play ball.

We may reasonably assume that it considers ball playing not just a violation of Mukseh, but a more general desecration of the special sanctity of Shabbat. According to the Yerushalmi, it appears, one may not play ball on Shabbat because it undermines the spirit of the day and the aura of sanctity that should characterize our Shabbat observance.


טוּר שִׁמְעוֹן הֲוָה מַפִּיק תְּלַת מְאָה גָּרָבִין, וְלָמָּה חָרְבוּ, אִי תֵימָא מִפְּנֵי הַזּוֹנוֹת, וַהֲלֹא לֹא הָיְתָה אֶלָּא רִיבָה אַחַת וְהוֹצִיאוּהָ מִשָּׁם. אָמַר רַבִּי הוּנָא מִשּׁוּם שֶׁהָיוּ מְשַׂחֲקִין בְּכַדּוּר בְּשַׁבָּת.

ֵEicha Rabba 2:4



There are six halachic violations that may possibly result from playing ball on Shabbos and Yom Tov:

  1. CARRYING: Obviously, playing ball can only be allowed where carrying is permitted (a kosher eruv, an enclosed courtyard(3), inside a house)(4). On Yom Tov, however, this restriction does not apply(5).
  2. MUKTZEH: Although some poskim are of the opinion that a ball is muktzeh since it serves no purpose [similar to a rock], the Rama clearly rules that balls are not muktzeh(6). This ruling is accepted by all of the poskim(7). [Ball-playing equipment, such as bats, gloves, rackets, etc., are not muktzeh either(8).]
  3. EXERCISE: If the purpose of playing ball is for exercise, it may be prohibited as all exercise is prohibited on Shabbos(9). When the exercise is medically necessary, a Rav should be consulted.
  4. LEVELING OF THE GROUND: Games which require that a ball [or another item, e.g., nuts] be rolled on the ground, such as soccer or marbles, are Rabbinically prohibited to play, since playing those games can easily lead the player to level the playing field, which is a Biblically forbidden Shabbos Labor(10). Some poskim hold that a paved court is also included in the Rabbinical decree(11), while other poskim are lenient with a paved court or floored surface(12). Games played on a table [ping-pong(13)] or on a mat are permitted according to all views(14). Games which are played on the ground but do not require that the ball be rolled on the ground (e.g., baseball, basketball, football), are not included in this Rabbinical decree(15). [Obviously, though, it is clearly Biblically forbidden to actually level any playing area.]
  5. TREES AND BUSHES - If the ball gets stuck in a tree or in a bush [which is over 10 inches high], it is forbidden to retrieve or remove the ball...If the ball falls out of the tree or bush by itself, it may be picked up and played with(17).
  6. INFLATING A BALL - Many poskim hold that it is forbidden to inflate a ball on Shabbos. Some forbid it because it is a week-day activity(18), while others hold that it is considered as fixing [or creating] an object (tikkun mana)
  7. Washing the body after becoming dirty and sweaty. Tying and untying nets.

(מה) אָסוּר לִשְׂחֹק בְּשַׁבָּת וְיוֹם טוֹב בְּכַדּוּר. הַגָּה: וְיֵשׁ מַתִּירִין, וְנָהֲגוּ לְהָקֵל (תוס' פ''ק דְּבֵיצָה).


(ט) {ט} בכדור אפילו בר"ה [בראש השנה]- ר"ל [=רצונו לומר] אע"ג [=אף על גב] דעי"ז [=דעל ידי זה] רגיל להעביר ד"א [ד׳ אמות] ממקום למקום אפילו הכי מותר דהוא בכלל טיול ושמחת יום טוב. ורש"ל [=רבינו שלמה לוריא] כתב דדבר תימה הוא להתיר זה דאין בו צורך היום כלל אלא שחוק של ילדים והנח להם אבל לגדולים שנוהגין כן מנהג רע הוא דאין זה שמחה וטיול אלא שיחת ילדים וקלות ראש ובלא"ה אין דין זה מוסכם לכולי עלמא דדעת המחבר לאסור.

"frivolous and inappropriate behavior"


(ד) ומותר לשחוק. וביש"ש כתב דמנהג רע הוא דאין זה שמחה וטיול לגדולים אבל לקטנים אין מוחין ונ"ל דשאר מיני שחוק דינן כמו בשבת עסי' של"ח:

Rule that the leniency only applies to children under the age of bar mitzvah.


(ב) בַּחוּרִים הַמִּתְעַנְּגִים בִּקְפִיצָתָם וּמְרוּצָתָם, מֻתָּר. וְכֵן לִרְאוֹת כָּל דָּבָר שֶׁמִּתְעַנְּגִים בּוֹ וְכֵן מֻתָּר לְטַיֵּל (בְּשַׁבָּת) (בֵּית יוֹסֵף).

Allows children to jump and run for their enjoyment and pleasure. Accordingly, there would not seem to be any difference between playing ball and playing tag, hide and seek, jump rope, etc. Somehow, though, ball-playing is associated with Shabbos desecration more than these other activities.


ערוך השולחן אורח חיים סימן תקיח סעיף ח

וכתב רבינו הרמ"א דמותר לשחוק בכדור אפילו ברשות הרבים אף על גב שאינו אלא טיול בעלמא עכ"ל ויש מתרעמים על זה שאין זה שמחה וטיול רק לקטנים ולא לגדולים [שם ומג"א סק"ד בשם יש"ש] ובאמת אין זה תרעומות דכיון דחביב עליו לפי דעתו השפלה איך נמנע ממנו עוד כתב דאם הניח עירוב מותר לטלטל ולהוציא כל שיש לו תורת כלי אף על פי שאינן לצורך היום כלל עכ"ל דלא עדיף יום טוב משבת אבל בלא עירוב אפילו מחצר לחצר אסור שלא לצורך כלל

Orach HaShulchan O:H 518:8

Our teacher, the Rama, wrote that, "It is permissible to play with a ball even in public domain, even though it is only general pleasure." There are those who object to this on the grounds that this is not (religious) joy or pleasure except to children, but not for adults. In truth this is not a valid objection for since it is precious to him within his own undeveloped (religious) consciousness, how can we withhold this from him? Additionally, he (himself, MaHarShaL) wrote that if he had set up an eruv, then it would be permissible to move and to carry out anything which is considered a utensil, even if it is for "no need" related to the day (of the holy day) at all.


The Sabbath Sport Controversy:

The following article by Rabbi Raymond Apple appeared in the Journal of the Australian Jewish Historical Society in June 2009, Vol. XIX, Part 3.

-In Britain, it is reported that Chief Rabbi Hermann Adler was once asked whether children might swim on Shabbat. His succinct answer was, “They may swim, but I would like to think they had davened (prayed) first”...

-Though Jews as individuals played sport and some achieved fame, such as the boxer Daniel Mendoza in 18th-century England, European Jews were generally urban dwellers, with little contact with nature and few opportunities for physical exercise. Their health and appearance were unimpressive, and they rarely had the physical stamina to defend themselves against antisemitic attacks. Attempts to improve their physical condition were dubbed “Muscular Judaism”, a phrase coined in 1900 by Max Nordau, who urged, “Let us continue our ancient tradition of being heroes with deep chests, nimble limbs, and fearless looks”.

-The Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, expressly states: “Young men who derive pleasure from jumping and running are permitted to do so on the Sabbath” (Orach Chayyim 301:2).

–The fear was of ancillary infringements of the Sabbath law, such as taking equipment from place to place, using transport, writing down results and handling money, and even making holes in the ground. These problems could be minimized when playing sport privately but were almost inevitable when it came to organized team matches.

-Yet it was not because of the Judean League that the problem surfaced in Melbourne. In February 1930, Rabbi Brodie made a fierce public statement on the subject at the annual prize distribution of the United Jewish Education Board. Referring to “a group of Jewish newcomers who called themselves the Hakoah football club (and) wanted permission from the Beth Din to play with non-Jews on the Sabbath afternoon”, the rabbi said, “The Beth Din has not granted and will not grant permission”. He declared, “Our enemies in the past tried to make us give up the Sabbath. They failed. Now enemies in our midst try to do the same thing. They, too, would rob us of our Sabbath. But they, too, will fail.”

-“Rabbi Mestel–I welcome the opportunity to correct the erroneous but widespread idea that such sport is contrary to Jewish Law – an idea which I can only attribute in part to the fact that the conception of the Sabbath as a day of gloom, which has been adopted by some of our Gentile neighbours, has ousted the true Jewish conception of the day as being not only one of rest but of joy and recreation. Possibly the restricted movement and liberty of our people in Russia, Poland, and other countries, created such economic conditions as did not allow them time for sport.”

-He affirmed that “Amateur sport on the Sabbath is not only not prohibited but is expressly permitted by Jewish Law”. His permission extended “to competitive sport, to competitions for trophies of no intrinsic value, and to organized sport, but not to sport pursued as a business or for gain”, and warned against “committing numerous incidental breaches of Jewish law”. He was, however, prepared to envisage conditions under which sports could be played on Shabbat, so long as matches were strictly supervised. He added, “I would regard it as a fine thing that, instead of young men engaging in Sabbath sport in defiance of authority, committing numerous incidental breaches of Jewish law, and forming undesirable attachments, they should play together under Jewish religious supervision, observing Jewish Law, and strengthening their Jewish Faith, enthusiasm, and consciousness” (Mestel re-published the full text in the London Jewish Chronicle years later, when there was a Sabbath sport controversy in South Africa: JC, 19 Dec 1954).


Rabbi Saul Berman: Playing Ball On Shabbat And Yom Tov (Edah Journal 1:1)

...The call to limit ball playing on shabbat and yom tov does not, then, derive from a valid place in the literature of halakhah. Where then does it come from? Why has it been so recurrent? Further, what response ought to be made to this concern? To deal with these questions we need to turn to an entirely separate discussion of the spiritual condition of our community...

I believe that we as a community have a problem in regard to the use of time on shabbat. We seem to have evolved only three activities through which we positively and effectively enhance the holiness of the day. First, "davening" time; second, meal time; and third, learning time. Whatever time cannot be consumed in one of these three activities remains available for sleep.

Is this really it? In God’s whole wide world the only permissible activities which can serve spiritual purposes on shabbat are davening, learning and eating, leaving then only sleeping as the residual means of consuming time not otherwise able to be put to positive use?

My life experience, as a person, as a parent, as a rabbi, as a teacher, lead me to the conclusion that these three areas are simply not sufficient for most people, and are certainly not sufficient for children and young adults. Adults are somewhat able to cope with the bad situation. As time grows heavy on their hands, meals protract into feasts, davening time protracts to fill some of the available time, and people will take a sefer with them to bed, or just sleep more...

Simply telling people that ball playing on shabbat is now prohibited will not ... really improve in the slightest the positive experience of shabbat by any Jews.

Ball playing on shabbat and yom tov is a vacuous, pointless activity, almost as useless as sleeping hours on end. But it is halakhically permissible and serves a perceived need for relaxing, enjoyable and physically energetic activity time. Let’s not take that away from people until we can replace it with something that serves approximately the same purposes, and also serves to enrich their religious and ethical beings.