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For the week ending 25 December 2004 / 13 Tevet 5765

Instruments on Shabbat

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - www.rabbiullman.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

From: Ken Cohen

Dear Rabbi,

Is playing live music, namely a guitar, allowed during services on Shabbat or holidays. If not, why? Thank you.

Dear Ken,

Musical instruments play a very important role in Torah. They were used by the Prophets to put them in the correct frame of mind to receive prophecy, they are used to enhance and beautify prayers, and they can even be used to inspire people to greater diligence in their Torah studies.

When the Jewish People were doing what G-d required of them, they merited receiving the Divine Presence. However, after the destruction of the First Temple this incredible gift was taken away. Our lack of prophecy is one of the repercussions of exile. Together with this, beautiful and inspiring Jewish melodies that were beyond compare were lost, and even many of the instruments themselves have been forgotten.

Regarding playing musical instruments on Shabbat, the Sages decreed that no instruments can be played on Shabbat and Yom Tov out of concern that in search of spiritual enlightenment, or while in the throes of religious rhapsody, a person might come to build or repair an instrument on Shabbat which is a Torah transgression.

A decree passed by an earlier Bet Din, court of Jewish Law, is binding on the generations that come after it. This is because in order for a Bet Din to be able to annul a ruling of an earlier Bet Din, it must be greater in both wisdom and number. This is almost unheard of since each generation further removed from the Revelation at Sinai is further away from the source of truth and understanding. This means that even if a person were the proud owner of one hundred Stradivarius violins, he would not be allowed to play even one of them on Shabbat!

Sources:

  • Eruvin 104a
  • Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 339
  • Rabbi Reuven Lauffer

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