Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Moshav Leitzim

Previously, at I had a back and forth with Reb Chabakuk Elisha about the permissibility of attending sporting events, or other similar venues for entertainment. I would like to take the opportunity to revisit the topic a [very] little more systematically.

Those of you who may remember the earlier discussion should know that there was a source I was keeping silent about. In addition to seeming at such odds with the other sources as I understand them, I was unable to actually read the source:

Divrei Chachamim 5:42

Question: If it is permitted to go to a קרקס, circus, theatre, etc, because of the prohibition of “do not rejoice, Israel, in jubilations like the nations” (as is written in Mishneh Berurah 301:59)?

Response: Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg shlita ruled that nowadays it is permitted since the prohibition was only relevant when their culture was contrary to the Jewish faith”

It would seem that Rav Sheinberg shlita allows one to go to a baseball game or so forth (In Heart to Heart Talks it is recorded that he instructed mothers to allow their children to go to amusements parks, but I believe the issues are a little different). Rav Sheinberg reviewed the psak's brought in his name in the Divrei Chachamim so we can trust that this reflects his opinion, but it is the nature of the work that we are not told his full line of reasoning. I'm not sure that Rav Sheinberg would consider a football game or boxing match to be in the category of entertainment which is not "contrary to the Jewish faith." Indeed the violent aggression in tackle football or boxing is enough that I'm not certain one is allowed to play them, i.e. the issue is even more than that of moshav leitzim. Nevertheless it seems to me that Rav Sheinberg's position does not appear to be shared by other Gedolei HaPoskim of our lifetime and is difficult to square with the earlier sources:

T’hillim 1:1

“The praises of a man are that he did not follow the counsel of the wicked, neither did he stand in the way of sinners nor sit in the company of scorners.”

Rashi on T’hillim 1:2

“But his desire is in the law of the Lord”—Hence you learn that the [trait of the] company of scorners brings one to neglect of the study of Torah.”

From this Rashi it would seem that Moshav Leitzim, a "company of scorners", is an issue not because of specifically unkosher activities, even bitul Torah, but because it produces bitul Torah as a habit.

Based on the Gemara in Avodah Zarah 18b this concept is brought down in the halachah:

Magen Avraham 307:22

“Because of the prohibition against participation in a gathering of scoffers.” And this is the ruling for one who goes to theaters and circuses which are places of amusement as stated in Avodah Zarah 18b and places of pastime….”

Chayei Adam Hilchos T’fillah u’Brachos 63:17

“The Bach wrote in the name of Sefer HaEshkol [to guard yourself from seeing?] hunts of the gentiles, and this is the ruling for their dances or any type of their celebrations. And if you hear the sound of gentile feasting or rejoicing, lament and grieve over the destruction of Jerusalem, and pray to the Holy One blessed be He about this. And about this it is said, “Do not rejoice, Israel, like the exultations of the peoples.” [Hosea 9:1, adapted from Stone Edition Tanach]. Additionally there is with all of this [a prohibition of participating in a] “gathering of scoffers”, and even if it is [held by] Jews. And Chazal said in tractate Avodah Zarah (18a) “Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi expounded, ‘Happy is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked’ (T’hillim 1:1) this is one who walks to theaters and to circuses (Rashi explains, ‘a palace, and anything when they gather to laugh and scoff.’) ‘And in the path of sinners he does not stand’ (ibid), this is one who doesn’t stand in hunts (Rashi explains, ‘trapping wild animals by means of dogs and any action of their done for laughter or rejoicing.’) ‘And in a gathering of scoffers he does not sit.’ (ibid) he does not sit in their councils.” .....

Mishneh Berurah 307:59 (Translation from the Feldheim Edition)

“Because of the prohibition against participation in a gathering of scoffers.” One certainly transgress this prohibition if he goes to theaters and circuses [which are places of amusement [שְׂחוֹק] as stated in Avodah Zarah, 18b] or participates in other pastimes. Even on Purim, only merriment that is intended to remind one of the miracles that occurred in the time of Achashveirosh is permitted [M.A.] Nowadays, because of our many sins, some people are completely unrestrained in this matter and go to theaters, despite the fact that Scripture cries out saying, “do not rejoice, Israel, in jubilations.” (Hosheya 9:1) One also transgresses the prohibition against inciting one’s evil inclination if he goes there, and our Sages of blessed memory said, “Whoever scoffs, falls into Geyhinnom, as it is written, etc., and suffers afflictions even in this world, as it is written, ‘and now, do not scoff, lest your afflictions become heavier.” [See additional sayings and quotations regarding this matter in the Gemara there.]

Aruch HaShulchan 307:9

“And this is the ruling for one who goes to theaters and circuses which are places of amusement and pastime.”

It is difficult to say that there is any inherent difference between the theater today and the theater in the days of the Magen Avraham or the Mishneh Berurah which would be come out in favor of theaters today. Certainly modern theaters routinely display scenes which would not have been acceptable even to non-Jews of that era. And while my translation skills aren't the best but it seems that the Aruch HaShulchan agrees that this prohibition applies to contemporary theaters and not merely those which featured gladiators and the like. Furthermore we must remember that there seems to be a concern about habituation of bitul Torah.

Igros Moshe O.C. 2:95

“And on the matter of entering a theater or movies, behold, it is something forbidden, and how is it relevant to permit removing one’s hat and being bare headed for it? He adds sin on top of his sin. And if the question is about one who is seized by his inclination to go there, and will not listen to not going, perhaps it is good that he remove his hat so that there will not be a chilul Hashem, since they will not know he is a Torah observant Jew. This is a great reason but only if intended l’shem shemayim. However since it is implausible to say that one seized by the inclination actually has intent l’shem shamaym, rather to belittle the matter even further with uncovering his head, therefore there is nothing to permit it.”

Not only does he apply the prohibition to contemporary theaters, he applies it to sports stadiums:

Igros Moshe Y.D. 4 simon 11

"However when there is a reason for doing so such as with theaters and [circus?], which are [mentioned] in Avodah Zarah 18b, which are leitzanus, there isn't an issue of avodah zarah, even though it is prohibited on the side of leitzanus, and all that go there transgress the prohibition of moshav leitzim and bitul Torah--not only at this moment-- but he will be caused to completely neglect Torah as explained there. And all the more so with the theaters found now in our lands, and so with sports arenas."

And bearing the involvement of Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach zt'l (particularly in the footnotes) with Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa it is significant that Chapter 16 footnote 25 applies the above Mishneh Berurah to attending sporting events on the weekdays. One should also note Shulchan Shlomo 307:26 which indicates those things classified moshav leitzim were prohibited because of bitul Torah.

Likewise we find that the prohibition applies when it is under "Jewish" auspices:

Mishneh Berurah 224:3

“It is stated in the Gemara that it is even prohibited to go to a Jewish hunt or theater, since this is equivalent to participation in a gathering of scoffers.”

This is also the ruling of the Magen Avraham 224:3, further emphasizing that the concerns where not bloodshed, idolatry, or pritzus per se.

Now, we all know that we need to relax, each according to his or her need. Moshav Leitzim does not apply to just any recreation. According to HaRav Ovadia Yosef shlita going to the Zoo, for example, is permitted. What is the difference if it is not the content which we are concerned about?

Note the diagram at the top of the post which illustrates they dynamics of watching a sporting event. The same is true of attending theater or a circus. It is a collective experience where the audience passively fixate on a central display of entertainment. It is the group aspect of the event which seems to be most problematic since it means that the event is dictating when you will refrain from learning Torah, not your own need to relax, and your decision to refrain from learning is ratified by the excitement of the crowd.

Going to the Zoo, or park, camping, hiking, biking, etc. there is no such central focus. You choose your own adventure, generally on your own terms.

This is, it seems to me, one aspect of problematic "entertainment" in contrast with needed "relaxation".

Other activities, more private ones, present issues of Moshav Leitzim too. Certain literature is prohibited by the Shulchan Aruch in OC 307 and although the Rama is lenient may authorities include playing Chess and "similar" games in the prohibition of Moshav Leitzim. In these instances it would seem that the problem is more of an issue of the amount of time needed involvement in such activities (such as learning the otherwise useless rules).

Now of course there is the famous:

Avos 3:3

“Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon says: If two sit together and there are no words of Torah between them, it is a [gathering of scoffers], as it is said ‘In the [gathering of scoffers] he does not sit.” (Thillim 1:1).”

It would seem that when the activity isn't merely passive entertainment, but has a ruchnius quality, then the prohibition of Moshav Leitzim does not apply. This would seem to include a cheder play or a religious concert. Perhaps, just perhaps, this might be part of the consideration in reports of major Yeshivos taking their talmidim to ball games. While it could be argued that it might be misleading as to what the halachah is, it may be that the Rebbeim reckoned that such an outing in the "Yeshiva" context would give chizuk to boys who might otherwise have found it difficult to dedicate themselves to learning Torah and therefore in such a case it would lead more learning Torah rather than less. The talmidim get needed relaxation, albeit when they are told to relax, while bonding with other talmidim. I'm not so certain that it is the best line of reasoning, or the one utilized, but one could make a case...

Which brings me to the next point, that it may not be the best thing to bring this topic up. Regarding playing chess for gain the Rama (O.C. 338:5) says: Nevertheless, one should not protest to women and children who play for gain, since in view of the fact they will not heed us it is preferable that they transgress be-shogeyg (in ignorance of the fact that they are transgressing) rather than be-meyzid (knowing that they are committing a transgression).” Perhaps the same could be said here, after all it is said that one can often find frum yidden, even Chassidim, and ball games. In the later part of the Chayei Adam cited above he writes that even in his generation there were lomdim who weren't careful to refrain from speaking leitzanus (mockery). There are, however, plenty of sources available which speak of this prohibition so it seems safe to discuss it openly, but it could be that some do feel that way but aren't going to be discussing the prohibition openly in order that they should explain they don't think it should be discussed openly.

And, it could be that I'm all wet. If anyone has any sources to add which would present an opposing view point I would greatly appreciate it. Even if you doubt I would be persuaded, believe me anything that can help me be dan l'kaf zchus is always appreciated. But it seems to me that the oft repeated claim that this only applied when there was idolatry or gladiators seems to have no basis whatsoever in the Poskim. Likewise while Rav Scheinberg is a gadol and I could not fault his talmidim for accepting his psak, it seems very difficult to make a distinction between these events in the time of the Magen Avraham or Mishneh Berurah (even Jewish operated events) and now to permit them. This is especially when we consider that the motivating factor for the prohibition is that not only is one not learning Torah but that it will lead to more bitul Torah down the line.


In the above (I believe) I did not address the issue of watching Television. I have an impression that their is a psak by Rav Moshe Feinstien zt'l, Rav Shach zt'l, and as I recall Rav Kamenetzky zt'l (?) which says watching Television is ossur, but I have not been able to see this inside. Nevertheless, while I am inclined to believe that their is halachic issues which may be strong enough to present an issur, my understanding of Moshav Leitzim as presented above would preclude Television as a medium from this category (although, like a book, a program could be "moshav leitzim" based on content). That is to say the same otherwise "kosher" show seen at a movie theater would be moshav leitzim, while it is not in the comfort of your own home. It seems that this understanding has support in a teshuvah of the Mishneh Halachos (6:270) of Rabbi Menashe Klein shlita discussed here.

It was also interesting to notice that among his text message psakim, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner shlita has the following:

Q: Is it a sanctification of Hashem's Name if an Israeli sports team is victorious?
A: No. To be a sanctification of Hashem, it needs to be a mitzvah, and competitive sports are a "Moshav Leitzim" (frivolity).

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