Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Drums on Shabbat

I am asking this question for my son, who is 20 years old, a soldier in the Israeli army and also – a drummer. He wants to know if he can play the drums on Shabbat – and if this is forbidden, the reasons why it is not allowed. Why this is any different than tapping one's fingers to a nigun sung at the Shabbat table? He adds that he can put special pads on the drums so that the sound is almost nil.

Thank you so much,
Mrs. Levy

Dear Mrs. Levy,

According to Halacha, one may not play a musical instrument on Shabbat. The Rabbis prohibited the use of musical instruments because they frequently require tuning. The Rabbis were concerned that people might tune their instruments on Shabbat. Tuning an instrument on Shabbat or Yom Tov is Biblically prohibited because it involves "fixing" or "repairing" a vessel.

As far as I know, concerns about tuning do not apply to a drum in the same way they apply to, say, string instruments. However, the Rabbis did not make any distinction in their broad ruling on this matter, and forbade the use of any and all musical instruments on Shabbat.

In fact, even clapping hands, slapping knees, snapping fingers, dancing and banging on tables are included in the Rabbinic decree. This is discussed explicitly in the Shulhan Aruch, Orah Haim, 338:1-4 and 339:3.

That being said, while not allowed on Shabbat, playing an instrument is a wonderful thing. Please extend my warmest blessings to your son for continued success in developing his musical talent.

Best Regards,

Rabbi Maroof

Communicating with the Dead

Hello Rabbi Maroof,

Please tell me if it is a wrong thing to be a medium; if I can form a link with a soul from the next world and relay information to the sitter, is that wrong?
Thank you,


Dear David,

In the Book of Deuteronomy, we are told:

There shall not be found among you one who passes his son through the fire; a diviner, an astrologer, one who reads omens or a sorcerer. One who charms animals, one who inquires of Ov or Yideoni, or one who consults the dead. For anyone who does these is an abomination of Hashem; and, because of these abominations, Hashem, your God, banishes the nations from before you.

The Torah clearly prohibits any attempt to communicate with the dead. Maimonides explains the reason for this law:

All of these things are matters of falsehood and lies, and they are the very means through which the idol worshipers fooled the nations of the world into following them. And it is not proper for the Jewish people, who are exceptionally wise, to follow after these vanities, nor to entertain the possibility that they have any benefit...Anyone who believes in these things and things like them, and thinks in his heart that they are true and wise but that the Torah has prohibited them; he is one of the fools and those lacking knowledge... But those who possess wisdom and sound mind know by clear demonstration that all of these things that the Torah prohibits are not things of wisdom; rather, they are emptiness and vanity that fools stray after, and all of the paths of truth have been corrupted because of them. Because of this the Torah states, when it warns us about these vanities, "Perfect shall you be with Hashem, your God."

In other words, we reject these practices because they encourage magical and mystical ways of thinking that contradict the wise paths of our holy Torah. There is no rational basis for them whatsoever.

Those who seek mediums are usually emotionally troubled individuals who have unresolved issues with loved ones who are deceased. Instead of attempting to gain insight into their internal conflicts and resolve them, these people turn to charlatans who offer to help them "reconnect" with their dead relatives - for a price, of course.

The best thing you can do is suggest that these unfortunate human beings seek professional help to deal with their emotional difficulties. This is the healthy, reasonable approach that is advocated by our Torah. Perhaps then they will no longer feel a need to chase after fantasy and will begin to appreciate the value of wisdom.

Best Regards,

Rabbi Maroof

Friday, October 20, 2006

Moment Magazine on Trick-or-Treating

As part of its bimonthly "Ask the Rabbis" feature, Moment Magazine asked me to respond to the question "should Jewish children Trick-or-Treat?" An edited version of my answer appears in the October 2006 issue of Moment and can be found here. The original response I composed is posted here.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Tefillin at Minha on Fast Days

Dear Rabbi Maroof,

Why do Sephardic/Mizrahi Jews wear Tefillin at Minha on the Fast of Gedaliah?



Dear I.M.,

Many Sephardic communities have the custom of donning Tefillin at the Minha (afternoon) service on all fast days (except, of course, Yom Kippur). This practice is mentioned by Rabbi Yosef Karo in his classic commentary, the Bet Yosef.

Three main reasons are offered for the custom. The first explanation relates to berachot (blessings). We are required to recite a minimum of one hundred blessings a day. A typical daily routine, including blessings on foods, etc., will satisfy this requirement almost "naturally". However, on fast days, the fact that we don't consume any food takes a toll on our "beracha count." Wearing Tefillin at Minha gives us the opportunity to make an additional blessing.

Another explanation of the custom is based upon the laws of Tefillin themselves. Theoretically, Tefillin should be worn all day long on weekdays. This is problematic because wearing Tefillin requires a level of purity of thought and focus that is difficult to attain, let alone to sustain for an entire day of work, school, etc. Therefore, our custom is to wear Tefillin only during the morning service since, even during Minha prayers, we tend to be quite distracted. On Fast Days, though, our abstention from food and drink brings us to a higher level of spiritual awareness. As a result, we are capable of donning Tefillin at Minha time as well.

A third explanation of the custom points to the function of Tefillin as tools that enhance our kavanah (concentration). When we have Tefillin on our arms and heads, we remain more vigilant about the direction of our thoughts and more definite in our sense of purpose. On Fast Days, we wish for our prayers to be of an especially high quality. Therefore, we wear Tefillin at Minha as well as Shaharit, to help us engage our minds even more fully and intensely in the all of the services of the day.

Best Regards,

Rabbi Maroof