07. Permitted and Prohibited Games on Shabbat

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It is a mitzva to educate children to study a great deal of Torah on Shabbat. It is thus proper to teach them to minimize game playing so that they will not get used to wasting the precious and holy time of Shabbat on mundane activities. The closer they get to the age of bar or bat mitzva, the more they should be encouraged to study Torah more and play games less. It is good for the parents themselves to learn with their children, thus fulfilling the mitzva of “Teach them to your children” (Devarim 11:19). It is proper for each community to offer many Torah classes for children on Shabbat.

Nevertheless, children may play on Shabbat. Therefore, the laws detailed in the following paragraphs apply to all children who are under bar or bat mitzva age. However, for adults the laws are different. First of all, le-khatĥila it is preferable to follow the opinion that adults may not play any games on Shabbat (22:13 above). Second, even according to those who allow adults to play games on Shabbat, some games are problematic. For children, who are obligated to keep Shabbat only as training for adulthood, we are lenient; for adults, who are required to keep Shabbat by Torah law, we are stringent. Below we will explain the laws for minors. When adults need to be stringent even according to the lenient position that allows them to play games, we will say so explicitly.

One may play checkers, chess, and memory games on Shabbat. One may also play with dice and spinning tops. However, one may not play any game in which the winner is awarded money or food. It is also forbidden to play games that normally involve writing (SA 338:5, 322:6; Ĥayei Adam 38:11). Some maintain that it is preferable not to play Monopoly or other games in which people win money and property, even though it is not real money. Children who wish to be lenient about this may (SSK 16:33), but adults should be stringent.

All games that involve writing, pasting, cutting, or weaving are forbidden on Shabbat. However, minors may put together a jigsaw puzzle or form words by joining letters on a board. Even though adults must be stringent in these two cases, children may rely on those who are lenient. According to this opinion, there is no violation of Kotev since all the writing was already there, and the letters and puzzle pieces are simply being moved together temporarily (18:4 above).

One may not build model planes or boats out of plastic parts if they require a great deal of precision and are meant to last for a long time.

Children may play with interlocking blocks, build with them, and take apart what they have built. Children may also make paper planes or boats. However, it is proper for adults to be stringent. (See above 15:7 and Harĥavot.)

The Sages forbade making a temporary tent on Shabbat, but this is permissible if it is erected in a different order from usual. Therefore, children may not drape a blanket over chairs in order to create a tent to play in. However, this is permissible if they hold the blanket horizontally in the air, and afterward place chairs underneath. It is also forbidden to use interlocking blocks to build a house or garage whose inside area is a square tefaĥ or more, but if they start by holding the roof up and then attach the walls from underneath, it is permitted (above 15:5).

One may use a kit to make jewelry that is not made to last, on condition that the end of the thread is not tied with a regular knot but rather with a bow knot (SSK 16:22).

One may not sort playing pieces or cards of two games that got mixed up together, as it constitutes Borer. However, if people want to play one of the games, they may remove the pieces they need from the mix. This sorting is not considered derekh melakha but rather derekh misĥak (the normal way to play), because one normally begins such a game by taking out its pieces (above 11:16).

One may not make shapes out of Play-Doh or modeling clay, as it constitutes Memare’aĥ (SA 314:11). If one makes shapes that have meaning, it also constitutes Kotev (Ĥayei Adam, Yom Tov, 92:3). Therefore, Play-Doh and modeling clay are muktzeh.

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