18. Clapping and Dancing

https://ph.yhb.org.il/en/01-22-18/

The Sages’ prohibition of playing instruments includes dancing, clapping, and slapping one’s thigh with one’s hands to accompany singing out of concern lest one play an instrument and fix it (Beitza 36b). However, one may clap with a shinui, such as using the back of one’s hand; by using a shinui, he is reminded that it is Shabbat and will not end up fixing an instrument (y. Beitza 5:2). It would seem that very muted dancing, in which one’s feet never leave the ground at the same time, is not included in the prohibited dancing (ibid.).

The prohibition applies specifically while singing, because there is a concern then that it will lead to playing instruments. In contrast, if there is no singing, one may jump a bit for his enjoyment. Similarly, one may clap or to bang on a table in order to wake someone up.

In practice, many observant Jews dance, clap, and bang on a table when they sing on Shabbat. The poskim disagree about the legitimacy of this practice, as follows.

One approach, that of many poskim, is that this practice is mistaken. The only reason that the Sages did not object is that the prohibition is not stated explicitly in the Torah, so it is better that people transgress unknowingly rather than knowingly (Beitza 30a). However, if there is any possibility that people can be convinced to accept the proper halakha, we must teach them not to clap or dance on Shabbat, in accordance with the rabbinic enactment (Rif; Rambam; Rema 339:3). Nevertheless, on Simĥat Torah, when there is a special mitzva to rejoice and honor the Torah, even those who are normally stringent dance and clap (Maharik in the name of R. Hai Gaon). However, for other celebrations with a mitzva component, such as weddings, they are not lenient (MB 339:8).

A second approach defends the leniency. After all, the reason behind the prohibition is a concern that people will end up fixing a musical instrument. Nowadays, when those who play an instrument do not know how to fix it, the enactment no longer applies, and one may dance and clap on Shabbat (Tosafot, Beitza 30a, s.v. “tenan”). Some do not accept this, maintaining that all the players know how to tune their instrument (tightening guitar strings, harp strings, or the top of a drum), which is considered fixing an instrument. However, there is a different reason to be lenient. Some maintain that the rabbinic enactment was specifically relevant to the times of the Sages, when people would take out instruments whenever there was dancing and clapping. Nowadays, when many people sing, dance, and clap without instruments, the enactment no longer applies (AHS 339:9).

A third approach notes that the great Ĥasidic masters of recent centuries focused on the value of music and dance to awaken people’s hearts to cling to God joyfully. Such dancing and clapping are considered true mitzva needs. Accordingly, just as there is a leniency for Simĥat Torah, there should be a leniency for every Shabbat (Devar Yehoshua 2:42:4).

It would seem that even those who are lenient should not drum on the table on Shabbat. Such drumming is very similar to that of an actual drum, which all agree is forbidden, even for the sake of a mitzva. Furthermore, the concern that people will take out a drum is a serious one today, when many are used to bringing drums, darbukas, and the like when they sing. In contrast, when people are singing during prayer, a leader may drum with his hand on the bima. One leading the songs at the Shabbat table may also be lenient.[12]


[12]. As we said above, on Simĥat Torah all customarily clap and dance based on the opinion of R. Hai Gaon as cited by Maharik and Beit Yosef 339:3. However, the poskim do not apply this leniency to other mitzva situations (SA 339:3). Rema is inclined to follow this as well, commenting that the reason we do not object to those who clap and dance on Shabbat is that it is better that people transgress unknowingly rather than knowingly. However, Rema cites as an alternative the lenient approach of Tosafot, namely, that nowadays there is no reason to be concerned that people will end up fixing a musical instrument. Yam Shel Shlomo (Beitza 5:6) seems to state that technically one may rely on Tosafot when it is in the service of a mitzva. This opinion is quoted in Eliya Rabba 339:1 and MB ad loc. 10. (See SHT 339:6-7.) Based on the logic of this approach, Ĥasidim are customarily lenient (Devar Yehoshua 2:42:4; Minĥat Elazar 1:29). Sephardim may rely on this reasoning as well for the sake of a mitzva (see Or Le-Tziyon 2:43:9 and Harĥavot.) However, the leniency pertains to dancing and clapping – both of which are done with the body – and not to drumming on something else (Eliya Rabba 339:1; MB ad loc. 10; Avnei Yashfe 2:35:1). The reasoning is straightforward. Drumming on a table is similar to playing a drum, which is a musical instrument. Nevertheless, when it comes to a gabbai leading the congregation in song, there are two reasons to be lenient and allow him to drum with his hand on the bima. First, this is more clearly for the sake of a mitzva, and we already saw that R. Hai Gaon and Maharik are lenient for the sake of Simĥat Torah (see SHT 339:7). Second, since the gabbai is in the middle of the congregation, we are not worried that he might bring instruments that will need to be fixed. Perhaps this is also one of the reasons for the leniency on Simĥat Torah. The logic is similar to that of the permission for two people to read by candlelight (Shabbat 12b), or for even one person to read by candlelight as long as his friend is there to make sure he will not unknowingly do anything that would affect the flame (SA 275:3). This also explains why Sha’arei De’a (YD 282) allows putting a crown with bells on a Torah scroll (as opposed to Taz; see Yabi’a Omer 3:22). Perhaps we can extend the leniency to leading the singing at the Shabbat table, and allow one to drum with his hand on the table. Nevertheless, it is not proper for the rest of the participants to drum. Besides, their drumming is not always for the sake of the mitzva, as often these additional drummers actually make it harder to sing because they are out of sync with the song.
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