Monday, 6 January 2014

Seattle Seahawks and Shabbat

After spending 10 years outside of England, I no longer speak English with the accent I grew up with instead it's morphed into an English which is clearly from England but with American and Australian twangs reflecting the different places I've lived over the years but it plays havoc on dialect tests. But one of the things which still makes me very English is my love of all English sports - football (soccer), cricket and rugby. I'm still crazy about Manchester United and I've been watching the Ashes all Winter although maybe it's time to give up on that after losing so badly in Australia. 

I never really got very into Aussie Rules Football when I lived in Melbourne but I've slowly got quite keenly interested in (American) football watching the Seattle Seahawks. Now it may have to do with them playing really well but I find myself compelled to know the results and watch the games which brings me to the purpose of this blog.

This coming Shabbat at 1:35pm the Seahawks are playing the Saints in the playoffs. It's the ultimate test for someone who keeps Shabbat and is a crazy sports fan. It's the time when all types of questions get asked to the rabbi like is it ok to turn on the television before Shabbat and keep it on? Is it ok to record the game on Shabbat and watch it straight after Shabbat? In Melbourne the perennial question always surrounded walking to the AFL Grand Final with a ticket around your neck! 

Shabbat is all about stopping one's normal workday routine and getting in touch with our spirituality. It's about a cessation of work rather than a day for sleeping in. I love the moment on on Friday afternoon when I turn my phone off and all of the week's troubles are left behind for 25 hours. I'm never more at peace than at that moment. Shabbat isn't a list of things you can't do it's all about connecting to the more spiritual things in this world. As such we have to take great pains to make sure that our Shabbatot are reserved for activities that will enhance our Shabbat experience such as synagogue attendance and delicious meals with friends and families. 

The question of leaving the television on Shabbat can be addressed as follows. There is a well known principle that if something is started before Shabbat it can continue into Shabbat. The Gemara in Masechet Shabbat (18a) addresses the case of a water-operated mill that one sets into motion before Shabbat so that it will operate and grind wheat throughout Shabbat. Bet Hillel permitted such an arrangement, since all the activity is performed before Shabbat. The mechanism operates on Shabbat without any involvement on the part of the individual, and thus no Shabbat violation is entailed.

The Talmud quotes Rava that it is prohibited to add wheat on Friday to a water mill that runs automatically on Shabbat, since the mill produces a large amount of noise and this noise denigrates Shabbat (zeluta deShabbat). Furthermore, people will say that the owner of the mill is running it on Shabbat. Rav Yosef is quoted in the Talmud as disagreeing with Rava and permitting any action done prior to Shabbat even if it creates large amount of noise.

This view is codified by the Shulhan Arukh (O.H 252:6), who adds that even if the mechanism makes a sound, it may nevertheless be allowed to operate on its own during Shabbat. The Rema notes that the Ashkenazi custom is not to allow it if it makes a sound. 

This Halacha is the basis for the widespread use of timers, or "Shabbat clocks," to turn on and off lights and appliances on Shabbat. Thus, for example, one may set a timer before Shabbat to turn on and off a light, an electric fan or heating system during Shabbat. Since the person's involvement occurs only before Shabbat, and not during Shabbat, the timer's operation on Shabbat does not entail any violation.

This Halacha does not extend to televisions. It is, of course, strictly forbidden to watch television on Shabbat, even if one sets the television on a timer before Shabbat, as watching television is not at all in the spirit of the day (and for Ashkenazim would also be not allowed for the noise). 

However, this does not apply to recording the game on Shabbat when the television is left off. Since you haven't been making your Shabbat like Sunday. It is so vital  that the essence of Shabbat be enhanced to the maximum of our ability. Whether we keep Shabbat 100% or whether we keep aspects of Shabbat we must try and remove things that have nothing to do with Shabbat whatsoever.

I will be watching the game after Shabbat and it will probably be better because we can skip the 2 hours of commercials! Wishing the Hawks all the best and wishing you a Shabbat that is full of spirituality.


  1. you are in the states oh man id love to see you and talk

  2. If the Seahawks win, everyone in town will watch a replay (maybe 2 or 3 times over). The key for Shabbat observers is to not let anyone divulge the score prior to viewing. That can be difficult because those who keep Shabbat but are not interested in football will turn on the 530PM Newscast, then call their friends..."Did you hear...?" Let's be vigilant for Shabbat-observant football lovers and practice the highest level of shemirat lashon. Go 'Hawks!

  3. Janet you are so right! I'll have to get Simon Amiel to make an announcement on Shabbat!

  4. You are so right about the cricket. I think the technical term is a whitewash. Aussie Aussie Aussie Oy Oy Oy!


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