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


Anonymous said...


I've heard that a loophole to this law is to clap by striking the back of one hand against the palm of another.

Most non-instrumentalists do not know this, but drums also require tuning. Adding that to the fact that hard playing - even with a mute pad - can tear the head and "create new vessels", there should be no doubt that playing drums is forbidden on Shabbat.

Now, this brings me to a more complex question: are pitch pipes/forks, which are often used by a capella artists, forbidden? After all, they produce tone as instruments, but they are static-pitched and not "tuneable", and it could be said that in-tune chazzanut is a hiddur mitzvah...

Anonymous said...

At the shul where I grwe up, the choir leader would use an old-fashioned wristwatch that would continuously emit a sound at a particular pitch. Thus, if he held the watch up to his ear, he would know what pitch to start from.
I'm not sure, though, if he used the wristwatch to the exclusion of a tuning fork.