13. Games on Shabbat

Poskim disagree whether one may play games on Shabbat. Some say that since Shabbat is meant for Torah study, one may not play games, as that would be wasting time that could be used to study Torah. Accordingly, one may not play checkers, chess, backgammon, billiards, or any ball game, whether the games are played inside on the floor or outside on a paved area. And since one may not play these games, they are considered muktzeh as well (R. Aharon Sasson, cited in Birkei Yosef 338:1; Petaĥ Ha-devir ad loc. 4).

Others maintain that there is no prohibition on playing games on Shabbat, as long as nobody is playing for money (Rema 338:5; Ma’amar Mordechai). Indeed, some rabbis would play chess on Shabbat, as it is a game that requires thought and sharpens the mind (Shiltei Giborim).[8]

In practice, it is appropriate for adults to be stringent and not play ball games, chess, and the like, both because it is prohibited according to some poskim and because one should not to get used to neglecting Torah study on Shabbat. Those who wish to be lenient have an opinion on which to rely (see SA 308:45; MA 338:5; MB ad loc. 21; Kaf Ha-ĥayim ad loc. 39). Children should also be trained to study Torah on Shabbat, but almost all poskim agree that one should not prevent them from playing games on Shabbat (as explained below in 24:7).

In contrast, sports that are a big deal, like soccer, basketball, baseball, and football, may not be played on Shabbat, because of the prohibition on weekday activities. It goes without saying that one may not play them on the court or field designated for them. Children may not play these sports either, because it is a weekday activity (below 24:9).

[8]. Ĥida is inclined to forbid playing chess (Birkei Yosef 338:1). He suggests that the rabbis who played chess on Shabbat were suffering from depression. In order to take their minds off their worries, they played chess, after which they were able to return to their Torah study. However, barring this situation, one should not play on Shabbat. The Sages tell us that there was a place named Tur Shimon that was destroyed even though the people there respected Shabbat. Some say the reason was that they played ball there on Shabbat (y. Ta’anit 4:5). R. Elazar of Worms explains that by playing games they were wasting time during which they would have been learning Torah (Roke’aĥ §55). Based on this, some conclude that one may not play ball on Shabbat, and that therefore balls are muktzeh (Shibolei Ha-leket, Beit Yosef, and SA 308:45). Others are permissive and maintain that one may play ball in a paved yard (Tosafot, Rema). Nevertheless, one may not play on an unpaved surface, out of concern that people will end up leveling the ground (above 15:2). As for the punishment of Tur Shimon, that was because they were playing ball in the public domain (Vilna Gaon), or because they were taking away too much time from their Torah study.