May one play a game like Scrabble™, Monopoly™ or Chess on Shabbat?
Before addressing whether these games are in the spirit of the law, I’ll first address your question regarding the letter of the law, according to the guidance of Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, shlita.
Scrabble™. The issue here is whether forming a word by placing letters next to each other transgresses the prohibition against “writing” on Shabbat. Also, 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? An edition of Scrabble which had a flat board, without grooves for the tiles, was shown to the Rabbi who was asked if it is permitted to play this game on Shabbat. He acknowledged that some poskim 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.
Monopoly™. The problem with Monopoly is that it mimics business transactions, which are prohibited on Shabbat. Nevertheless, the Rabbi said that technically it is permitted, but playing a business-oriented game on Shabbat is not conducive to a proper attitude about Shabbat.
Chess. This game is discussed in the Shulchan Aruch. The Rema mentions it as a pastime that is permitted on Shabbat. Some of the poskim note, though, that in order to distinguish between Shabbat and a regular weekday, some people had a special Chess set made of silver just for Shabbat play. According to this, a separate Shabbat set might be in order.
When playing these games one must be careful not to transgress the prohibitions of borer or miyun which involve separating or organizing objects that one doesn’t plan to use immediately from a pile of other objects. With games that have many different pieces, this is something that can occur when cleaning up. So don’t separate the pieces when putting them away.
Even though according to the letter of the law these games may be permitted, the question is if this is the best way to spend the precious moments of Shabbat. Shabbat is supposed to be a beautiful time to sing zemirot, take a walk to appreciate G-d’s creation, get closer to family and friends and, yes, even to study Torah. You’re the final arbiter. Could you be spending the precious time of Shabbat more wisely?
- Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 338
- Chayei Adam 38:11
- The Halachos of Muktza,Chapter 1 note 24
- Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 16:32