Games on Shabbat
Can one play a game like Scrabble, Monopoly or chess on Shabbat?
Let’s start with Scrabble. Does the forming of a word by placing letters next to each other on a Scrabble-board transgress the prohibition against “writing” on Shabbat? In addition, since people keep score when playing Scrabble, would that make it prohibited to play because one might come to write down the score by accident?
Rabbi Chaim Pinchus Scheinberg was shown an edition of Scrabble which had a flat board, without grooves for the tiles, and was asked if it is permitted to play this game on Shabbat. He acknowledged that some rabbis forbid it, and others permit it. He ruled that it is permitted, but that great care must be taken to ensure that the players do not forget that it’s Shabbat and write down their scores.
Now for Monopoly. Monopoly is a game that mimics business transactions. Rabbi Scheinberg said that even though it is technically permitted to play Monopoly on Shabbat, nevertheless, playing a business-oriented game on Shabbat is not conducive to creating the proper Shabbat spirit.
Playing chess on Shabbat is discussed in the Shulchan Aruch. The Rama rules that it is a pastime that is permitted on Shabbat. Some of the poskim note, though, that in order to differentiate between Shabbat and weekday, some people had a special chess set made of silver just for Shabbat play.
A halachic consideration that should not be overlooked when playing these games on Shabbat is the prohibition of “borer”. “Borer” refers to the act of separating items from a pile or mixture of others when you don’t plan to use them immediately, but rather for future use. With games that have many different pieces, this is something that can occur when cleaning up. Don’t separate the pieces when putting them away.
Until now our discussion permitting these games has been limited to the letter of the law. However, one must certainly consider whether playing these games is conducive to the spirit of the law. Is this the way to spend the precious moments of Shabbat? Shabbat is a beautiful time to pray, learn Torah, sing zemirot, enjoy and appreciate G-d’s wonderful creation and cultivate relationships by conversing with family and friends. You’re the final arbiter — could you be spending your Shabbat time more wisely?
Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski told a beautiful story about loving rebuke that he once received from his saintly father, the Hornesteipel Rebbe, zatzal. One Rosh Hashanah when Rabbi Twerski was a young boy, a guest staying at their house asked him to play chess. The boy felt that it wasn’t right to play chess on Rosh Hashanah, but the man assured him, “What could be wrong with a game of chess?” They played, and the young boy checkmated the older guest.
After Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Twerski called young Abraham to his study. His father, never taking his eyes from the book that he was studying, chided the boy, “You played chess on Rosh Hashanah?” His tone revealed that he considered his son to be above this kind of behavior, and that he was disappointed with him. The rebuke struck deep in the little boy, who felt very ashamed.
After his father was certain that he had made his point, he lifted his head from the book he was studying, peered above his spectacles and with a proud twinkle in his eyes he pried his son, “Did you win?”
- Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 338
- Chayei Adam 38:11
- The Halachos of Muktza - chapter 1 note 24
- Shemirat Shabbat k’Hilchata 16:32