You are on page 1of 14

Full Paper

There are a range of issues involved in the question of the use of musical instruments in
Jewish contexts. Among these is the question of whether it is ever permissible to use musical
instruments in the wake of the destruction of the Temple. Additionally, the use of certain
instruments in specific ways—particularly in the context of prayer—might be considered a
forbidden imitation of Gentile norms. Those conversations are relevant for both Shabbat and
weekdays. The following analysis addresses solely the concerns that are specific to the use of
musical instruments on Shabbat and Yom Tov.

Bemidbar 10:10 is explicit that horns are used as part of the Temple service, at least on
Yom Tov and seemingly on Shabbat as well.1 Vayikra 23:24 and Bemidbar 29:1 describe the
sounding of a horn (a ‫ )תרועה‬on the first day of the seventh month, which is described there as a
‫מקרא קדש‬, or a Yom Tov. Vayikra 25:9 commands the sounding of a shofar in the yovel
(Jubilee) year on the tenth day of the seventh month—Yom Hakippurim, described elsewhere not
just as a ‫ מקרא קדש‬but also as a ‫—שבת שבתון‬throughout the land, not just in the Temple precincts.
Tehilim 92:1-4 may make this more explicit with regard to Shabbat, if the phrase ‫עלי עשור עלי נבל‬
‫ עלי הגיון בכנור‬is interpreted as an instruction to play these various stringed instruments on
Shabbat as part of the Temple liturgy for that day. In any event, rabbinic sources clearly state
that instruments of all sorts were used in the Temple on Yom Tov (Mishnah Arakhin 2:3) and
that a harp was played in the Temple on Shabbat (Tosefta Eruvin 8:19). The natural question is
whether these practices reflect a broadly held assumption that musical instruments may generally
be played on Shabbat or Yom Tov, or whether these, like other activities in the Temple, were
seen as exceptional and specific to the Temple.

Other rabbinic sources clearly problematize the use of at least some musical instruments
on Shabbat and/or Yom Tov. Tosefta Arakhin 1:13 features a debate between an anonymous
ruling that the halil does not supersede Shabbat, and R. Yose bR. Yehudah, who rules that it
does supersede Shabbat. The halil here most likely refers to the wind instrument discussed in
Mishnah Arakhin 2:3 (mentioned above). While all agree that the sacrificial halil is played on
Yom Tov, the anonymous view here rules that at least the halil—and perhaps all of the musical
instruments accompanying holiday sacrifices—was not played on Shabbat, even when it
coincided with a Yom Tov. An alternative reading might see the halil here as the one used as
part of the ‫( שמחת בית השואבה‬the water drawing festival), which took place in the Temple on
Sukkot. That halil is discussed in Tosefta Sukkah 4:14, where R. Yose bR. Yehudah permits
the playing of this halil—and via synecdoche engaging in all the associated festivities described
in Mishnah Sukkah 5:1-4—on the first day of Sukkot, even when it falls on Shabbat (though not
on any other day of Sukkot if it falls on Shabbat).2 The Sages there disagree and forbid this halil
(and all of its associated activities) on both Shabbat and Yom Tov.

1
For the debate over whether this verse includes Shabbat, see Sifrei Bemidbar 77 and Sifrei Zuta 10:10.
2
See, however, Lieberman TK IV:899, who argues that the word ‫ בתחלתו‬does not belong here—despite its
appearance in three witnesses to the text—and that R. Yose bR. Yehudah’s position here permits the use of the
celebratory ‫ חליל‬on Shabbat generally, and not just when it coincides with the first day of Sukkot. But Lieberman
then blunts the potentially radical nature of this position by asserting that the text here is talking about the ‫ חליל‬used
in the context of sacrificial worship, thus just making it the exact parallel of Tosefta Arakhin 1:13. There would
then be no Tannaitic record of a view ever permitting the playing of the ‫ חליל‬associated with the ‫ שמחת בית השואבה‬on
Shabbat, as claims R. Yosef on Bavli Shabbat 50b.
Reading synthetically, R. Yose bR. Yehudah always permits the use of the halil in the
context of the sacrifices, permits the joyous use of the halil on the Yom Tov of Sukkot and only
forbids the halil in the Temple for joyous usage on a Shabbat that coincides with one of the 6
latter days of Sukkot. His opponents (assuming we view them as the same in both passages in
the Tosefta) rule that the halil is never played on Shabbat or Yom Tov for merely joyous
purposes and is never played on Shabbat as part of sacrificial worship. Only on Yom Tov can
the halil be sounded for explicitly cultic purposes. Note that both positions here consider there
to be a greater problem with the halil on Shabbat than on Yom Tov3 and both also agree that its
use in joyous celebrations is more problematic than in the context of sacrificial worship.4

Mishnah Sukkah 5:1 takes a definite stance on the question of the celebratory halil and
declares that its use supersedes neither Shabbat nor Yom Tov, though it implies that another
halil—which can only plausibly be the sacrificial halil—would indeed supersede at least Yom
Tov, a clear reference to the Mishnah in Arakhin and perhaps even to R. Yose bR. Yehudah’s
lenient view in the Tosefta there. But most important about all of these texts are their use of the
word ‫ דוחה‬to describe the potential playing of the halil (in both sacrificial and joyous contexts)
on Shabbat. When we say that A is ‫ דוחה‬B, it means that A is normally a forbidden and
problematic activity. The notion of ‫ פיקוח נפש דוחה שבת‬is that one is allowed, in the name of
saving a life, to perform activities otherwise considered core violations of Shabbat. These
activities are not normally innocent; it is only their context that renders them permitted.
Therefore, when these Tannaitic sources talk about the halil potentially superseding Shabbat and
Yom Tov, the implication is clear: it is normally forbidden to play the halil on Shabbat or Yom

3
This distinction might also go a long way to explaining the classic conundrum posed by Mishnah Rosh Hashanah
4:1, which lays out the rule that one only sounds the shofar on the coincidence of Rosh Hashanah and Shabbat in the
Temple (or, according to some, in any place where there is a Jewish court, after the Destruction). It may well be that
the ban on sounding the shofar outside of the Temple on Shabbat may have stemmed from a sense that this sort of
loud noise was only justifiable with a clear Biblical imperative to override that concern. Since the requirement to
sound the shofar could arguably be read as primarily applying in the Temple (it is never says ‫ בכל מושבותיכם‬as it does
with other similar general requirements in Vayikra 23), there might have emerged opposition to sounding the shofar
on Shabbat in any situation that could be interpreted as peripheral to the Biblical command. All efforts in the
Yerushalmi and the Bavli to understand this law would thus be difficult because they do not directly engage the
notion of ‫ השמעת קול‬at the core of this issue. That noise-making concern—which, according to this argument, is
more severe on Shabbat—can only be overridden with a clear Biblical instruction to sound the shofar on that day
and in that place.
4
Slightly different versions of these texts exist in the Yerushalmi and the Bavli. Yerushalmi Sukkah 5:1, 55a
reports that R. Yose bR. Yehudah allowed the halil for sacrificial worship on all days, whereas the Sages forbade it
on both Shabbat and Yom Tov. The Yerushalmi thus assigns the mishnah in Arakhin to R. Yose bR. Yehudah,
since it clearly endorses use of the sacrificial halil on Yom Tov. Bavli Sukkah 50b has a text that is a more vague
version of these texts, simply indicating that R. Yose endorses the use of the halil on all days, whereas the Sages
reject its use even on Yom Tov. This vagueness opens up the possibility of two separate interpretations: R. Yosef
reads this text in keeping with the Yerushalmi above. R. Yirmiyah b. Abba, however, reads this text as being about
the celebratory halil and thus creates an extremely lenient version of R. Yose bR. Yehudah, who would now permit
even the celebratory halil even on a Shabbat in the middle of Sukkot, whereas the Sages reject the use of the halil on
Shabbat and Yom Tov unless it is for sacrificial purposes. This reading is fairly close to Tosefta Sukkah, albeit even
more lenient. Note that all of these non-Toseftan versions are somewhat suspect in that not a single one of them
preserves any notion of Shabbat being practically stricter than Yom Tov in any way, despite the fact that the whole
discourse here suggests that R. Yose bR. Yehudah and his interlocutor drew that distinction somewhere in their field
of dispute. These other versions all show influence by the Mishnah, which in both Sukkah and Arakhin seems to
reject any distinction between Shabbat and Yom Tov on these matters.
Tov. This prohibition might be overridden by other factors (such as sacrificial worship or
potentially even its use in a joyful Temple ceremony). But the default ruling with regard to a
halil is that one may not play it on Shabbat or Yom Tov.

The natural question is: why is it normally forbidden to play a halil? What is the
substance of the ban here that requires overriding? The broader context of Tannaitic sources
suggests fairly clearly that the problem with the halil is that it is too loud and thus interferes with
a culture of quiet that we try to create on Shabbat and Yom Tov.5 A host of sources manifest this
concern. Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shimon b. Yohai 12:16 lists clapping, dancing and smacking as
non-melakhah activities that are forbidden on Shabbat and derives this ban from verses,
indicating that these activities are inherently problematic on Shabbat and not just part of some
derivative concern.6 Mishnah Beitzah 5:2 affirms this ban as well.7 Tosefta Shabbat 17:25
also bans these activities in the context of trying to scare away animals in one’s garden.
Mishnah Shabbat 5:4 forbids one from allowing a donkey to go out into the public domain on
Shabbat with a bell even if the bell is plugged up. One might think that by plugging the bell, one
has addressed the main problem; this text teaches that the bell remains an item that an animal
may not carry from one domain to another on Shabbat. The implication is clear: ringing a bell is
forbidden on Shabbat.8 Indeed, this is confirmed in Tosefta Shabbat 13:15-17, where we learn
that a shofar and a rattle—despite being forbidden to be used for their intended purpose, which is
to make noise—may be used for other legitimate purposes. Nonetheless, the text clarifies that
one may not jingle a bell or shake a rattle for a child on Shabbat. Other texts may reflect this
noise-making ban as well.9 On Yerushalmi Beitzah 5:2, 63a, R. Elazar states a simple, general
principle: “All noisemaking is forbidden on Shabbat.”10
5
Mishnah Tamid 3:8 describes how the sound of the halil could be heard as far as Jericho. Even if this is an
exaggeration, it clearly reveals that this instrument made quite an impression in terms of how loud it was. Note that
the same mishnah comments that the shofar could be heard from this distance as well, perhaps supporting the
argument advanced above.
6
There is a parallel to this text at Sifra Aharei Mot 5:7:9.
7
See also Tosefta Shabbat 17:29.
8
See Tosefta Shabbat 4:5, which requires one to plug up the bell on one’s animal even when it is just walking
around the courtyard.
9
Tosefta Shabbat 1:23 permits a host of activities that are started before Shabbat even if they are completed on
Shabbat. The one exception: one may not place wheat into a water-mill (which will run of its own accord) right
before Shabbat; the wheat must be ground before Shabbat starts. This may reflect the fact that the water-mill makes
a great deal of noise, unlike the other problematic activities described in that passage. And so explains R. Hagai on
Yerushalmi Shabbat 1:5, 4a and Rabbah on Shabbat 18a. On the other hand, it might be that this prohibition is
grounded in a concern that the grinding of each individual grain of wheat is a “new” action that cannot be
meaningfully connected to the earlier grains, and thus one is setting up a melakhah to be performed start to finish on
Shabbat itself, as opposed to beginning a process before Shabbat that will merely complete itself before Shabbat.
This is R. Yose’s position in the Yerushalmi there. Note, however, that R. Yose does not deny that the loudness of
the noise generated would indeed also be a problem in that case (unless one rejected the ban on noise-making
altogether). See also R. Yosef on Shabbat 18a. Another text, which we will return to below, is Mishnah Eruvin
10:14, which seems to imply that only in the Temple was the use of a certain kind of well permitted. One possible
reason it was forbidden elsewhere is because of its noise, though it is more likely that the concern here relates to an
assumed general ban on drawing water from a well on Shabbat, already attested to in Jubilees 2:29, 50:8 and the
Damascus Document 10-11. Finally, Mishnah Ta'anit 3:7 only allows ‫ התרעה‬on Shabbat in life-threatening
circumstances. On Ta'anit 14a, this is defined either as the blowing of shofarot or the recitation of the aneinu
prayer. This might indicate a normal ban on the sounding of a horn on Shabbat or even a ban on wailing and
screaming.
10
It is of course possible that this sort of attitude to noise on Shabbat is as ancient as Shabbat itself. But given the
clear exceptions to this approach in evidence in certain Temple practices and rituals, as well as the decay and
That same passage in the Yerushalmi provides both evidence of ongoing opposition to
noisemaking on Shabbat along with efforts to limit, contain and potentially even roll back that
ban. A story is related about Rabbi, who, along with other colleagues, clapped his hands in a
backwards fashion at a wedding celebration for his son on Shabbat. When R. Meir passed by
and heard all the clapping, he accused those assembled of violating Shabbat. R. Yonah endorses
the permissibility of clapping in a backwards fashion on Shabbat whereas his colleagues rejected
such a leniency. These debates seem to be struggling with whether the Tannaitic bans on
noisemaking are about noise per se or whether they are about making that noise in a certain way.
Rabbi and R. Yonah seem to feel that as long as one does the clapping in an unusual way, one is
permitted to generate the same kind of volume, whereas R. Meir, once he hears the loud noise
emanating from the wedding celebration, automatically feels that Shabbat has been violated.
This fundamental disagreement is played out in other stories in this passage. R. Shmuel bR.
Yitzhak reports that his grandfather used to be the public banger for the synagogue (seemingly
to notify people to come to pray),11 and R. Leil bR. Elem used to bang on a chair. By contrast,
R. Illa slept outside his house rather than knock on the door to wake those inside to let him in.
R. Yirmiyah began knocking on a door to wake up R. Eimi’s son on Shabbat morning; the latter
was astonished by this permissive behavior. These last cases seem to feature lenient positions
that are only concerned with the potential function of the noise; noisemaking in order to get
people to open doors or wake up is acceptable, whereas the noise forbidden in Tannaitic sources,
might (according to these views) be concerned with problematic uses of noise inappropriate for
Shabbat. The strict views seem focused on the volume of the noise itself, in which case the
fashion in or purpose for which it is made is irrelevant.

This basic tension in how to define the culture of quiet on Shabbat is most explicitly
taken up on Bavli Eruvin 104a.12 There, Ulla is visiting the house of R. Menashe when a man
comes and knocks on the door. Ulla, in keeping with the stricter views we saw above in the
Yerushalmi, accuses him of violating Shabbat. Rabbah13 responds that the Sages only forbade
musical (or rhythmic) noise. Indeed, many of the Tannaitic sources above can be interpreted as
focusing specifically on the issue of some sort of rhythmic or musical noise to the exclusion of

limiting of this concept in Shabbat observant communities over time—a trend we will describe in greater depth
below—it is worth asking whether this “aural zoning” was a development in Second Temple Judaism. Perhaps
Temple practices reflect a holdover ethos from an earlier era—a trend worth exploring more broadly—and the fact
that this model never fully caught on in all Jewish communities may reveal that it was not always an integral part of
a robust observance of Shabbat. If so, how and why did this concern for noise develop? One possibility—requiring
much greater thought—is that the ban on noisemaking is part of a much larger phenomenon of stringent and
isolating practices that emerge in what Albert Baumgarten has termed the “enclave culture” that developed among
more isolationist and pious elements of the population during the Hellenization of Judea. A ban on noise—along
with features like praying all day on Shabbat and attempting to engage with objects as little as possible (what later
gets termed ‫—)מוקצה‬may have been part of a tendency to create a Shabbat that was a highly isolating and intense
experience that could serve to strengthen distinctiveness from the outside world. In this context, it is worth noting
that some Second Temple groups—grounding themselves in Yeshayahu 58:13—severely restricted speech, with
some sources explicitly forbidding yelling or excessive talking on Shabbat. See ,‫ פרקים בהשתלשלות ההלכה‬,‫ גילת‬.‫ד‬.‫י‬
255-258. The ban on (musical) noise can certainly be understood as a less radical version of this sort of culture
approximating near-monastic silence. But this requires greater thought and investigation.
11
This follows Mordechai Beitzah #696 against our printed version, which seems corrupt.
12
For a full analysis of this sugya, see ‫ דגם לקראת מהדורה חדשה של‬,‫ חמש סוגיות מן התלמוד הבבלי‬,'‫ 'השמעת קול‬,‫א"א סטולמן‬
The article is available at .67-94 '‫עמ‬,‫ ירושלים תשס"ב‬,(‫ ש"י פרידמן‬:‫התלמוד הבבלי עם פרשנות )עורך‬
.http://atranet.co.il/igud/sugya3.doc
13
For variations on this name see the above article, note 5.
white noise.14 The sugya there cites a number of texts as potential challenges to Rabbah’s
position, though the most salient one is Tosefta Shabbat 17:25, where a person is forbidden from
scaring away animals from his garden by recourse to clapping, smacking and dancing. It is quite
obvious that the person is in no way engaging in rhythmic or musical activity in this context, and
yet the prohibition remains in force. R. Aha b. Ya’akov is thus forced to come up with a
strained deflection15 of this text by saying that the concern here has nothing to do with the noise
itself, but rather with the concern that in getting too involved in the scaring away of wild
animals, one will pick up a clod of earth and throw it at them. This would then either be a
violation of muktzeh (not picking up items that were not prepared before Shabbat) or transporting
an item illegally into or through public space on Shabbat.16 In any event, R. Aha b. Ya’akov is
clearly investing in having noisemaking be a secondary, derivative concern and thus defends
Rabbah’s position that noisemaking is acceptable, as long as it is not musical or rhythmic.17

A further attack on Rabbah comes from Mishnah Eruvin 10:14, which implicitly bans use
of a loud well on Shabbat outside of the Temple precincts, where such use is allowed. Here too,
however, Ameimar permits drawing water from a well in Mehoza, seemingly oblivious the the
potential problem of noise. The gemara explains: he assumed that the true basis of the ban on
drawing water had nothing to do with noise, but rather a concern that one will not just draw
water to drink but also to water one’s garden. He therefore permits in Mehoza, where he claims
there are no such gardens to water.18 Again, an earlier text that was plausibly focused on noise is
deflected as being derivative of another, primary concern in order to maintain the text’s authority
while rejecting any notion that loud, white noise is problematic on Shabbat.

Rabbah’s position thus seems pretty clearly to be a departure from the Tannaitic ban on
noisemaking on Shabbat (and Yom Tov), which seems to have been more comprehensive. His
view, like that of the lenient Amoraim in the Yerushalmi, reflects some sort of decay in the legal
culture of not tolerating noise on Shabbat. It is possible that Rabbah is actually heading in a
direction of permitting all noise on Shabbat (including musical noise—similar to what Shabbat
seems to have been like in the Temple, at least in the context of its most central activities) but
simply needs to accommodate somehow the various Tannaitic sources that clearly have a
problem with noisemaking activities. He thus does his best to limit those sources, and using the
fact that clapping, smacking and dancing seem to be musically directed in some way, he rereads
all other sources in light of this paradigm. He may also have relied on the prohibiton on the halil
14
For instance, the phrase ‫ לא מטפחין ולא מספקין ולא מרקדין‬can easily be read as referring to a specific sort of
choreographed dance and clapping arrangement that is quite rhythmic and musical. See Tosefta Shabbat 6:2 for one
cultic context for these activities.
15
In the words of the Ittur: "‫ "שינויי דשני רבה בגמ' שינויי דחיקי ורחיקי נינהו‬in "‫ ספר היובל‬,‫ אמת ליעקב‬,"‫תשלום העיטור והמנהיג‬
115-105 '‫ עמ‬,‫ ברלין תרצ"ז‬,‫ליעקב פריימאנן‬.
16
See Rashi and Rambam’s comments on this passage.
17
Note that the sugya, in deflecting a potential proof from Tosefta Shabbat 2:7, suggests that one may not—for a
healthy person—play soft, smoothing music on Shabbat, seems to move the concern about music even into the lower
decibel ranges. In fact, however, this passage in the Tosefta—contra Abaye on Eruvin 104a—may not be assuming
that we are stricter for a healthy person but rather that this sort of activity is totally permitted on Shabbat and can
therefore be done for its normal use: calming a sick person and helping to put them to sleep. See Beit Yosef’s
citation of R. Yitzhak Aboab at OH 338:1 and Meiri, Magen Avot #10. We will return to this point later. For more
on the items mentioned in Tosefta Shabbat 2:7, see Lieberman, TK III:31; ‫ תרבות חומרית בארץ‬,‫ שפרבר‬.‫; ד‬12 ,‫סטולמן‬
49-53 ,‫ כרך ב‬,‫ישראל בימי התלמוד‬.
18
See 18 ,‫ סטולמן‬for the claim that the stam is the author of this explanation and that it is not original to Ameimar,
who may have permitted for other reasons.
—a musical instrument—to focus on this halakhic category of musical noise. Indeed, it is
noteworthy that no Babylonian Amora supports a general ban on all kinds of noise on Shabbat,
despite the fact that numerous Amoraim from Eretz Yisrael (including Ulla) endorsed such a
view. If this is the correct way to understand his position, then we would expect at least
someone to continue this trend to the point of permitting all kinds of noise—including musical
noise—on Shabbat and Yom Tov.

Alternatively, Rabbah may be substantively committed to the split between musical noise
and white noise. Musical noise—with its rhythm, notes and scales—is capable of creating a
mood and drawing in an audience in a way that white noise simply cannot. If those who
objected to all noise (like Ulla) did so out of a conviction that Shabbat was supposed to be a
quiet day, Rabbah may be articulating a modified version of this sort of aural zoning: musical
noise threatens to set a tone and a mood on Shabbat in a way that is inappropriate for a day when
we are supposed to experience God’s world as it is. White noise, by contrast, provides no human
enjoyment and is merely a background distraction and is not a primary concern. In that sense,
Shabbat is not necessarily a quiet day, though it is a day when we don’t try to create overly
controlled and defining environments through music.19 One might then wonder whether, under
this interpretation, Rabbah would forbid even singing on Shabbat, a prohibition that no source
ever articulates. But it may be that even Rabbah may assume that earlier sources were only
concerned by musical noise of a certain volume; the human voice on average is not necessarily
loud enough to trigger this concern, and therefore musical instruments—at least ones that are
loud enough—are the sole focus here.20

Babylonian Jewish communities seem not to have accepted this rabbinic vision of a
Shabbat without (musical) noise.21 Abaye, in response to the fact that people routinely clapped
19
For an interesting formulation of this sort of split, see Tzitz Eliezer III:16:2: ‫שאיסור זה של השמעת קול של שיר הוא‬
‫ ורק שסובר שלא אסרו בקול משום מוליד כי אם של שיר שמגיע מזה עכ"פ הנאה רוחנית אבל‬,‫ גם משום מוליד‬,‫מלבד הגזירה של שמא יתקן‬
‫לא אסרו משום מוליד כל סתם קול שלא מגיע מעצמיותו שום הנאה שהיא‬. One other possibility—less likely, but still worthy of
consideration—is that this recoiling from musical noise on Shabbat may be connected with a broader resistance to
music, both in the wake of the destruction of the Temple and as a general source of potentially inappropriate (and
even licentious) behavior. If Hazal were resistant to music at all times, Rabbah may have understood them as using
Shabbat to truly clamp down on this potentially problematic (and even non-Jewish) sort of artistic and spiritual
expression. For the notion of Shabbat as an ascetic time in some Jewish circles, see ‫ תרביץ נב‬,"‫ "תענית בשבת‬,‫ גילת‬.‫ד‬.‫י‬
1-15:(‫)תשמג‬. R. Elisha Anscelovits has argued that this a similar ethos of simplicity is originally behind the
intensive restrictions in Mishnah Shabbat chapters 5 and 6 regarding what animals and people are allowed to wear
into the public sphere on Shabbat. For the notion of Shabbat as a day to refrain from activities that were probably
generally frowned upon, even if tolerated, during the week, see Mishnah Shabbat 22:6 and the explanation of
Lieberman, Greek in Jewish Palestine, 92-97. Since this approach would fundamentally transcend concerns specific
to Shabbat—which is the focus of this analysis—we will not focus on it in depth.
20
Maintaining this claim requires viewing the statement, ‫ דמשתמע כי קלא דזמזומי‬,‫ דתיר וקא בעי דלינים‬,‫לא‬, on Eruvin
104a, as a mere deflection devoid of any serious normative authority, since this statement ostensibly, within the
context of the sugya, asserts that even very quiet musical instruments would be problematic for Rabbah. This
indeed seems to have been a point of contention between the Ramban’s students and Meiri, a point we will return to
below.
21
It is hard to tell precisely what the valence of this practice is. There are several possibilities: 1) Biblical Judaism
never had a concern about noise on Shabbat and various noisy and musical Temple practices reflect a holdover from
that earlier model. Early rabbinic sources reflect a Second-Temple-era attempt to increase the ascetic and pious
nature of Shabbat, as did other institutions like the common practice of fasting on Shabbat. [See Gilat’s essay cited
above for more on this.] The popular practice cited here might simply reflect the fact that this pre-rabbinic and
rabbinic effort to ban noise on Shabbat was never successfully transmitted in Babylonia beyond the rarefied rabbinic
and smacked and danced on Shabbat, suggests leaving these transgressors alone: they won’t stop
this activity even if you tell them to, and admonishing them will therefore just turn them into
willful violators as opposed to ignorant and unconscious ones.

On Beitzah 36b, the stam takes Rabbah’s focus on musical noise one step further and
outright states that the reason for the ban on clapping, smacking and dancing in Mishnah Beitzah
is ‫—שמא יתקן כלי שיר‬lest one come to fix (or make) a musical instrument. This formulation
clearly grows out of Rabbah’s way of thinking,22 but seems to take it further: there is now no ban
on (musical or other) noise per se, merely a concern that noisemaking will lead one to any
number of problematic activities. Of course, further thought regarding this reason reveals that it
doesn’t really hold water as an explanation of the original ban. If it were correct, it is not at all
clear why we wouldn’t permit certain kinds of instruments (like a flute) that cannot really be
fixed in any meaningful way.23 And to the extent that the fear is that one will be inspired by
these loud activities to go and make a musical instrument, it is unclear why any number of other
permitted activities—such as singing—might not present the same concern. Therefore, one
should understand the stam’s explanation here as accomplishing two things: 1) Maintaining the
legal integrity of the Mishnah’s ruling together with Rabbah’s rejection of a ban on white noise,
such that something other than an aversion to loudness must be at work here; 2) Organizing as
many Shabbat prohibitions as possible around the 39 melakhot—a trend that grows in intensity
during the Amoraic period and reaches its peak in the redactional layer of the Talmud.24 This is a
critical turning point in the discussion, as this new terminology makes possible new kinds of
statements and formulations that could not have been said prior to its introduction, as we will see
below.

[Must add here an analysis of the stam—perhaps Rabbah as well?—that sees it as objecting to
the use of musical instruments, rather than rhythmic noise. Once we have the language of ‫שמא‬
‫יתקן כלי שיר‬, it raises the possibility for the first time that it is in fact a ‫ כלי שיר‬that is the problem
elite; the masses retained an earlier Shabbat ethos. 2) Abaye preferred the view of Ulla and forbade all kinds of
noise on Shabbat, whereas the people only objected to musical noise (not that they consciously followed Rabbah,
but that their religious instincts aligned with his sense of the problem. The clapping, smacking and dancing
described here were non-rhythmic and thus non-musical and therefore the people permitted them. 3) The people
were simply lax in their observance and reflect a decay in the culture of quiet that had existed on Shabbat since time
immemorial. Abaye clearly thinks that the third model here describes the reality, but the first model seems equally
plausible.
22
Or Sameah (R. Meir Simhah Kohen of Dvinsk, 20th c., Russia) Shabbat 23:5 points out that the explanation of ‫שמא‬
‫ יתקן כלי שיר‬is totally unnecessary to explain Ulla’s point of view and this language seems to emerge from a
preference for Rabbah’s position. He notes that according to Ulla, there is no reason to be lenient with clapping
backwards, since this too creates noise and the move in this direction by some Amoraim in the Yerushalmi is
already reflective of a departure from the legal-cultural ban on noise in general.
23
Tosafot Sukkah 50a s.v. she’eino raises another problem with this logic: If the ‫ חליל‬is only forbidden as a
derivative concern, why wouldn’t it be permitted in the Temple as part of the water drawing celebration? These
kinds of secondary prohibitions are not supposed to apply in the Temple (‫)אין שבות במקדש‬. Though they provide a
resolution, the question underscores the way in which the ‫ חליל‬seems to present an inherent problem, rather than a
derivative one, as the Bavli here would have us believe.
24
See 32-62 ,‫ פרקים בהשתלשלות ההלכה‬,"‫ "שלושים ותשעה אבות מלאכה ותולדותיהם‬,‫ גילת‬.‫ד‬.‫י‬. and ‫ "איסורי שבות בשבת‬,‫ גילת‬.‫ד‬.‫י‬
87-108 ,‫ פרקים בהשתלשלות ההלכה‬,"‫והשתלשלותם‬. Note that the second reason is a key piece here, since Rabbah on his
own may endorse the notion that musical noise is problematic in its own right and not just derivative of another
concern, and this is in fact how he was explained above. On the other hand, the second reason alone is insufficient
to explain why the stam here would have chosen the rubric of music under which to classify this behavior; the fact
that Rabbah is an antecedent in this regard helps explain that choice.
itself, as opposed to just what it produces. This, in a way, would be a kind of ‫ מוקצה‬type
restriction, wherein a vessel designated for a problematic purpose is certainly offlimits for that
purpose. This approach is still weak in that we still have to answer why using this tool as
opposed to any other is problematic, and that goes to the essence of the activity being
problematic. Not at all sure that a concern for commercial, professional activity cuts the mustard
as the answer here, and in that sense, I don’t think we can completely escape the residue of the
ban on noise/music. Nontheless, it is clear that for many medieval and modern communities, the
line indeed becomes the use of instruments, not the generation fo rhythmic or even musical noise
(as for those who permit whistling on Shabbat).

Post-talmudic authorities fundamentally split into two camps: 1) R. Hananel and others
maintain a ban on all noise, siding with Ulla and rejecting all of the Eruvin sugya’s deflections as
forced and non-binding. This view also draws on the many statements in the Yerushalmi that
unequivocally ban even non-musical noise. 2) Rif and others maintain Rabbah’s position—
pointedly rejecting any influence by the Yerushalmi’s traditions here25—banning only musical
and rhythmic noise. Rif is explicit that the reason for this ban is the concern that one will be
tempted to make or repair a musical instrument.

Practical Rulings and Developments in the Middle Ages

The culture of quiet continued to suffer well beyond Abaye’s time. Sha’arei Teshuvah
#314 features a Geonic ruling that dancing, while normally forbidden on Yom Tov, was
regularly done for the purposes of honoring the Torah on Simhat Torah. The value of the
mitzvah involved here was deemed sufficient to override the merely rabbinic prohibition
understood to be at work in the ban on dancing.26
A more dramatic step in this direction was taken by Tosafot Beitzah 30a s.v. ditnan, who
report that people in their community routinely clapped , smacked and danced on Shabbat. They,
going farther than Abaye, explain why this common practice is permitted: since the Talmud’s
reason for this ban is the fear that one will make/fix a musical instrument, it stands to reason that
this concern would not apply to a culture where the average person is not skilled at making or
fixing a musical instrument (such as their own culture). Therefore, they argue, in their circles it
would be permitted to make noise on Shabbat, since the primary concern of which it is derivative
does not apply.
Tosafot’s interpretive move is highly significant on at least two axes: 1) The practical
holding reflects a significant decay in the culture of quiet such that the Mishnah’s regulations in
this regard are no longer deemed relevant. This sustains and creates a very different Shabbat
culture than that envisioned by many earlier rabbinic texts. 2) By embracing the stam’s
characterization of this issue as being derivative of the fear that one will fix an instrument, they
25
Though the Rif makes a big deal out of rejecting the Yerushalmi in the face of the Bavli’s seeming preference for
Rabbah, one should note that there were voices in the Yerushalmi as well that seemed to permit non-musical noise
on Shabbat, at least in the cases of knocking on doors and banging on chairs.
26
Of course, this leniency has something to do with other leniencies that were followed on Simhat Torah, which are
also flagged earlier in that teshuvah. But it is noteworthy that the Geonic authority here rejects a broader lenient
approach to this day, even as he accepts this specific leniency with regard to dancing, which seems to confirm the
fact that Mishnah Beitzah’s ban in this regard is being weakened. Note also that the logic here is essentially an
extension of the way Abaye, on Eruvin 104a, understands the baraita about making noises for the benefit of a sick
person. Abaye reads this as an exception made for a sick person; in other words, the ban on noisemaking can be
overridden by sufficiently important competing values, like helping a sick person or honoring the Torah.
open the door to seeing the problem here as about a certain kind of action as opposed to avoiding
a certain kind of atmosphere. This shift manifests itself in a number of medieval rulings. Agur
Hilkhot Hotza’at Hashabbat #519 reports a ruling permitting a chime clock to run on Shabbat as
long as it was wound beforehand, since everyone knows that this sort of clock is set up a day in
advance. There is no longer any concern about the atmosphere created by the noise itself, merely
a fear that the noise will indicate a potentially problematic Shabbat activity.27 Ra’aviah #795
permits telling a non-Jewish musician to play at a wedding party on Shabbat.28 This also reveals
a lack of concern for atmospherics and a focus on action.29

Rambam Shabbat 23:5 too, evinces a shift towards action and away from atmosphere in
his endorsement of those voices in the Yerushalmi that permitted clapping backwards with one’s
hands. Despite the fact that the noise produced by this sort of clap may be just as loud, the way
in which it is done is sufficiently mitigating so as to permit it.

Perhaps the most intriguing source on musical instruments in the middle ages is cited in
R. Menahem Hameiri’s Magen Avot #10. This work is Meiri’s attempt to defend his ancestral
Provençal practices against the attacks of some students of the Ramban who had recently arrived
from Spain. One of the things he reports was common among Ramban’s students is that they
would regularly play musical instruments on Shabbat. Their argument was that the Mishnah
only forbade clapping and smacking, which are particularly loud sounds, whereas quiet musical
instruments were permissible. This approach embraces R. Hananel’s approach to this topic—and
thus is strict in not distinguishing between musical and white noise—while asserting that nothing
below a certain decibel level (an anachronistic term) can be problematic—thus being lenient in
not distinguishing between musical and white noise. Meiri was shocked by this and challenged
them from a number of texts that we have seen: 1) The reason that clapping is forbidden is
because of the fear that one will make/fix a musical instrument; this concerns applies even more
primarily to a musical instrument itself! 2) Bavli Eruvin 104a seems to indicate that even a
musical sound that is quiet and makes one sleepy is forbidden unless it is being used for a sick
person. 3) The halil is forbidden on Shabbat and Yom Tov without an overriding concern, and
this shows that musical instruments are clearly forbidden on Shabbat. Of course, Ramban’s
students likely would have deflected all three of these attacks as follows: 1) The fear of
making/fixing a musical instrument is a later frame placed on an earlier set of rules about noise
that do not entirely follow this new logic. If a sound is quiet enough, then it simply does not fall
into a category that concerns us and the fears of tinkering with the instrument do not apply. 2)
Even if the sugya uses the baraita on soothing a sick person in that way, it is not at all clear that
this is its original meaning. The baraita may simply be permitting this sort of sound without
restrictions, even as it recognizes that it will normally be used for sick people. Given that
27
Note that the Rashi describes the problem with loud noise on Shabbat as ‫אוושא מילתא‬, which seems to be a
description of a problematically disruptive atmosphere. But numerous post-Tosafot voices (including Tosafot
Shantz, Sefer Haterumah and Semag) reject this explanation, describing the issue with noise as being about the fear
that others will think someone is acting improperly on Shabbat. That shift is directly traceable to the Tosafot’s full-
throated embrace of the stam’s characterization of the problem with noisemaking on Shabbat.
28
It was a common practice in medieval communities to have the wedding ceremony on Friday afternoon followed
by a feast to be held on Shabbat (it actually seems to have happened in the story of Rabbi in the Yerushalmi cited
above as well); the arrangement afforded the opportunity to save some money on a separate meal for Shabbat during
a week in which one was already preparing a wedding banquet.
29
Interestingly, in a remnant of the earlier approach to noise as inherently problematic, Mahari Weil, Hiddushei
Dinim #7, forbids listening to a non-Jewish musician even on Yom Tov. This reflects an atmospheric attitude.
Ramban’s students are clearly following in R. Hananel’s tradition of problematizing all noise (if
it is loud enough), then it is not surprising if they would discard the halakhic implications of this
passage in the sugya just as they dismiss all the other deflections as insufficient to warrant a
departure from the plain sense of Ulla. That sensibility can extend to the plan sense of the
baraita as well. 3) They may well have conceded that the halil was forbidden. From the Meiri’s
language, it seems plausible that they only played string instruments on Shabbat, which are
considerably softer than winds like a flute.30 Their standard therefore may have simply been one
of volume, with softer musical instruments being acceptable for a Shabbat atmosphere.31

As this conversation entered modernity, three potential halakhic pathways are evident: 1)
All noise is forbidden on Shabbat in an effort to create sacred silence. Noise under a certain
decibel level is clearly permitted, and some musical instruments might be argued to fall under
that threshold. In any event, there is nothing special about musical instruments; the focus is all
kinds of noise. 2) While even loud white noise can be tolerated on Shabbat, musical noise
presents a particular problem, because of its power to create an emotionally and spiritually
manipulative mood and atmosphere. Again, certain kinds of musical noise might be
fundamentally quiet enough so as not to trigger concern. 3) All concern for the atmosphere of
noise is gone. Any formal language of prohibition focuses entirely on a concern for playing
musical instruments or generating rhythmic noise on Shabbat and Yom Tov. One either then
retains these restrictions because of their antiquity—despite the fact that the scope of the ban is
not really tailored to achieving the stated goal of preventing people from making or fixing
musical instruments—or one concludes that the concern no longer applies for various reasons,
thus opening the door, at least gradually, to the permission of all forms of noisemaking
(including musical ones) on Shabbat and Yom Tov. We will now see how these various
approaches are played out in subsequent sources and communities.

Shulhan Arukh and Beyond

SA OH 339:3 reports a host of laws on this topic but embraces the focus on action and
the abandonment of atmospherics in several ways: 1) He classifies all of these rulings as
stemming from the fear that one will make/fix a musical instrument, thus following the stam’s
interpretation of all of these halakhot. 2) He also approves of the method of clapping backwards,
despite the negligible atmospheric difference. 3) He cites (in 338:2) the view of Ra’aviah
permitting use of a non-Jewish musician at a wedding celebration. However, he does reject
Tosafot’s hard-core employment of the stam’s logic to get to a lenient ruling that actually renders
the Mishnah obsolete. For SA, one may still not clap or dance (at least in the normal fashion) on
Shabbat; this view thus preserves some of Ulla’s approach to this topic, albeit with some
modification.

30
The average wind instrument is 10dB louder (which translated to 10 times louder) than a classical guitar. Note
also Mishnah Tamid 3:8’s statement that the halil used in the Temple could be heard from as far away as Jericho.
Percussion instruments are similarly loud. Note that this approach also has the advantage of explaining why there is
no objection to the human singing voice: it, on average, is simply not as piercing or intense as the kinds of
instruments and sounds singled out by Hazal as being problematic.
31
Note that Rambam Shabbat 23:5 is explicit that string instruments are included in the ban and this also may have
affected the Meiri’s fairly uncompromising reaction to this sort of behavior.
Rema OH 339:3 first cites Abaye when he notes that many people violate some of these
noisemaking rules, such as when they clap on Shabbat, and it is not worth reprimanding them.
He then cites Tosafot’s logic for outright permitting clapping on Shabbat as the possible basis for
people being lenient with “everything”. In OH 338:2, he clarifies that one ought not to be able to
tell a non-Jewish musician to play on Shabbat except at a wedding, where there is a special
mitzvah in play. But he then notes that common practice is to be lenient even without a mitzvah
context. Magen Avraham 338:5 explains what this means: common practice was to tell non-
Jewish musicians to play on Shabbat, even just for pure enjoyment. This is because, according
to the Tosafot, there ought not to be a difference between clapping and playing a musical
instrument since both are forbidden—in their understanding—for the same reason that one might
come to fix/make a musical instrument. Therefore, theoretically, a Jew can play musical
instruments on Shabbat; consequently, it is obvious that one can ask a non-Jew to do this for
him/her.32 The practice of attending “concerts” played by non-Jews on Shabbat was common in
communities in Greece and Italy as well during the 16th and 17th centuries, and several Italian
rabbis during this period not only justified but strongly supported having a non-Jew play
instruments in the synagogue on Shabbat.33 There may even have been some 16th and 17th
century Italian communities where Jews played instruments on (the second day of?) Yom Tov,
possibly with rabbinic sanction.34 There were a number of European synagogues—including the
Altneuschul in Prague—that used musical instruments (including an organ) during Kabbalat
Shabbat, though the exact nature of this precedent was highly disputed. Some claimed that the
instruments were used into the beginning of Shabbat and thus indicated a further extension of the
Tosafot’s logic to musical instruments. Others claimed that a non-Jew played these instruments
and this was thus a more conservative approach relying on the Ra’aviah’s approach described
above. Yet others claimed that the musical instruments were always put away before barekhu
and/or the recitation of Psalm 92 (‫)מזמור שיר ליום השבת‬, the traditional markers of the beginning
of the time period of forbidden Shabbat activities, and were thus never actually used on
Shabbat.35 Mishnah Berurah 339:10 also reminds us that Rema does not give us any reason to
32
Magen Avraham’s reading of Rema is borne out as correct by a close reading of Darkhe Moshe 338:1. There, he
reports a common practice to hire non-Jewish musicians on Shabbat even outside of the context of weddings. He
doesn’t understand how one would be permitted to tell a non-Jew to do something that is forbidden on Shabbat. He
then cites the Tosafot permitting clapping through the argument that average people are not skilled in the craft of
making and fixing musical instruments and suggests that this might justify the practice. The implication here is
fairly clear: perhaps playing a musical instrument on Shabbat is itself no longer truly forbidden if one follows the
logic of the Tosafot and therefore one can certainly tell a non-Jew to do it on Shabbat.
33
See Radbaz Responsum IV:132 and various sources regarding Italian practice cited in ‫ "דעת חכמי איטליה על‬,‫ בניהו‬.‫מ‬
‫שיח‬-‫ רסה‬:(‫ אסופות א )תשמז‬,"‫ הנגינה בעוגב בתפילה‬and ,"‫ "בעיית העוגב בבתי כנסת ותשובתו של הרב יעקב חי ריקאנטי‬,‫ הברמן‬.‫מ‬.‫א‬
‫כה‬-‫ כא‬:(‫תצליל י )תשלח‬. See especially Benayahu’s citation of the opinion of R. Yehudah Aryeh of Modena: ‫כל מי שיש‬
‫וחייבים אנו לקשטה ולשמחה בכל‬...‫ כמו לשמח חתן וכלה‬,‫יקרא דבר מצוה‬...‫לו מוח בקדקדו ]יודה[ דלהלל לה' בזמרה בבית הכנסת בשבתות‬
‫מיני שמחה‬.
34
See 61-111 :(‫ ציון כט )תשכד‬,‫ התיאטרון והמוסיקה בשכונות היהודים באיטליה‬,‫ חיים שירמן‬as well as R. Yitzahk Hai Recanati’s
teshuvah, cited in Benayahu. Note that while most of the lenient approaches here seem to have totally abandoned
any atmospheric concern for the notion of ‫השמעת קול‬, R. Recanati reports that the rabbis of Corfu permitted the use
of instruments in the synagogue on Yom Tov provided the musical noise did not drown out the words of prayer.
While this approach may reflect a concern specific to the aesthetics of prayer, is may also be a version of the
approach of Ramban’s students, who felt that musical instruments that were sufficiently quiet were permissible.
Note, however, that Benayahu also quotes R. Avraham Lowenstamm of Emden as disputing the claim that the Jews
of Corrfu used instruments at all and insists that the music referred to by R. Recanati was strictly choral.
35
For more on the controversy surrounding this practice, see the article by Haberman above, as well as David
Ellenson, “A Disputed Precedent: The Prague Organ in Nineteenth-Century Central-European Legal Literature and
Polemics,” Leo Baeck Institute Year Book 40 (1995): 251-264.
believe that it was common practice where he lived for Jews to play musical instruments on
Shabbat. All we know is that people clapped and banged and that Tosafot justified that practice.
But the practice of Ramban’s students—despite possibly continuing in Renaissance Italy—does
not seem to have migrated to Eastern Europe, a key point for understanding the tumultuous
debate that sprung up around the use of music in the synagogue starting the early 19th century.

As part of the aesthetic revamping of the synagogue, some of the early European
Reformers sought to institute an organ and other forms of musical accompaniment into the
synagogue, including on Shabbat and Yom Tov. The Hamburg Temple was established in 1818
with an organ (among many other controversial features) and this triggered the most passionate
debate to date on the question of musical instruments as a part of prayer, both during the week
and on Shabbat. In an effort to ground their practices in halakhic discourse, founders and allies
of the new Temple turned to Eliezer Liebermann, a Jew who had received a traditional
education, who authored a work known as Or Nogah, which attempted to defend the various
practices adopted in the Hamburg Temple and the philosophy behind them. In addition,
Liebermann turned to various rabbis for support on a number of the specific changes, including
the question of using an organ in the synagogue on Shabbat, and he published these responses in
a work he called Nogah Hatzedek. In brief, the supportive responses essentially all followed the
third halakhic pathway sketched out above: Abandoning any atmospheric discourse, they argued
—following the anonymous holding of the Talmud—that the only problem with playing musical
instruments on Shabbat was the fear of making or fixing an instrument. More moderate Italian
rabbis—reflecting their own organic tradition in this regard—expanded on the Ra’aviah’s
position cited above to permit a non-Jew to play the organ on Shabbat in the synagogue, viewing
this to be as positive a value as the desire to create a joyous wedding celebration. Both could be
considered a ‫ דבר מצוה‬and thus warrant instructing a non-Jew to violate what would only be a
derivative, rabbinic concern for a Jew (in this case, the playing of a musical instrument).36 More
radical rabbis, such as R. Aharon Chorin (Arad, Hungary), argued for permitting Jews to play the
instruments themselves, in an effective extension of the Tosafot’s logic above (already hinted at
by the Magen Avraham).37 A swift and forceful response was issued by the Hungarian rabbinic
establishment—headed up by the Hatam Sofer—in Eileh Divrei Haberit. Much of the
opposition to the use of musical instruments in the synagogue applied to such use during the
week as well, on the axes of music in the absence of the Temple or imitation of non-Jewish
practices. Those arguments specific to Shabbat only asserted the inability of contemporary
authorities to engage in the sorts of justifications employed by Tosafot in their own day and thus
dodged the substantive issues involved, thus significantly impoverishing the discourse on this
topic for the following centuries. Discussions about musical instruments from this point forward
almost inevitably became about rabbinic authority rather than about the substance of the
question at hand. Those that have tried to engage this question—whether with an eye to

36
R. Ya’akov Hai Recanati took this approach. Some, like R. Moshe Konitz, went further, building on the common
practice to follow the Ittur’s position permitting telling a non-Jew to perform a biblical violation in a context of great
need. If common practice permitted telling a non-Jew to extinguish Shabbat candles, then it certainly permitted
instructing a non-Jew to play an instrument on Shabbat.
37
Note that Chorin’s argument as cited in Nogah Tzedek does not actually read as soundly as this, and his halakhic
expertise was indeed attacked by other rabbinic figures such as R. Mordekhai Bennet, the chief rabbi of Nikolsburg.
See also Benayahu, who casts further aspersions on Nogah Tzedek’s supposed rabbinic approbations. Liebermann,
however, makes the above argument more explicitly in his own writing. Heinrich Graetz claimed that Liebermann
later converted to Christianity, though historians have not succeeded in corroborating this claim.
permitting or forbidding—have largely continued to ignore the concerns surrounding noise and
music and have restricted their conversations to the question of making or fixing a musical
instrument. Those seeking permission have simply seized on the Tosafot’s logic to extend their
justification of clapping to the justification of musical instruments.38 Those seeking to forbid—
or at least inclined in that direction—tend to omit concerns about (musical) noise as potentially
being at the heart of this discussion.39
Nonetheless, the relevance of volume does not completely disappear. While Mishnah
Berurah 338:4 forbids the use of a tuning fork on Shabbat or Yom Tov, because of the general
ban on musical instruments,40 Yabia Omer 3:22 (R. Ovadiah Yosef) at least tolerates this
practice, since the noise is so soft that it does not even fall under the rubric of a problematic
sound or activity.41 This exchange—as well as the amount of time that has passed since the
initial firestorm that grouped this issue together with a range of others connected with
controversial religious reforms—invites us to think again about what is substantively at stake in a
conversation about the use of musical instruments on Shabbat.

Ramifications for Today

As was the case in the pre-modern period, there seem to be three basic ways to think
about the question of using musical instruments on Shabbat and Yom Tov (again, controlling for
any number of other factors that might lead one to be hesitant about using instruments ever or
during prayer, even during the week): 1) A community might attempt to create as quiet a
Shabbat as possible, forbidding banging, loud dancing and the use of musical instruments. This
approach would accord with Ulla and would say that Shabbat is intended to be a serene time with
an atmosphere devoid of all loud sounds. One might still claim, as did Ramban’s students, that
certain instruments—such as an acoustic guitar played softly, or more conservatively, a tuning
fork—fall below the threshold of concern. Permitting such quiet instruments would be subject to
all of the attacks of the Meiri and potentially redeemable by all the defenses laid out above.
Such a community would have meaningful restrictions on volume both with respect to musical
instruments (no electric guitar or synthesizer) and to other forms of noise (no banging on tables
as part of singing). 2) A community might assert that musical noise has the power to affect the
mood in ways that other noise does not, and that such an effect is against the spirit of the more
relaxed, passive world we try to create on Shabbat. White noise is acceptable (such as banging
on tables), but more manipulative and affecting noise (music) is to be avoided. This approach
best describes what almost all contemporary observant Jewish communities in fact practice.
Again, one might claim, in a variation on this approach, that certain sounds are soft enough that
they fundamentally facilitate ongoing activities rather than shape them (the distinction between
musical accompaniment and a concert). Again, such an attempt at a volume distinction would be
38
This move has also been resisted on the grounds that the Tosafot’s interpretation here met with resistance early on
—see Beit Yosef—as well as the fact that later authorities have expressed skepticism that the notion that “we have
no expertise” in making or fixing musical instruments is no longer compelling—see Arukh Hashulhan OH 339:9.
Given how we explained the more formal use of the notion of ‫ שמא יתקן כלי‬above, this is perhaps less bothersome, as
this is best understood as one kind of halakhic language for beginning to roll back the concern of ‫ השמעת קול‬entirely
as opposed to a direct engagement with the supposed fear of the creation or fixing of musical instruments.
39
For examples of the latter type of discourse, see http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2007/11/clapping-dancing-and-
musical.html and http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2008/01/rock-and-roll-davening.html.
40
Note that Mishnah Berurah himself prefers a ban on all rhythmic noise, rejecting Tosafot and trying to follow
Rabbah’s position to the fullest extent possible.
41
For another interesting source on the tuning fork, see Responsa Melamed Le’ho’il I:63.
subject to all of the attacks of the Meiri and potentially redeemable by all the defenses laid out
above. 3) A community might abandon all concern for any kind of noise, arguing that even the
playing of very loud musical instruments is in keeping with the atmosphere of Shabbat. Given
that this approach essentially ignores the insights of the first two approaches, it would only really
be acceptable in halakhic language once it had been established as a fact on the ground, and even
then, its acceptance would likely be transitional and highly contested. Just as Abaye found a way
to tolerate the noisemaking Jews in his own day, one can easily imagine saying ‫מוטב שיהו שוגגין‬
‫—ולא יהו מזידין‬better they violate in error than intentionally—about Jews who play musical
instruments on Shabbat. And just as Tosafot justified more emphatically the clapping going on
in their own community—in seemingly blatant disregard of the Mishnah—one can then imagine
a sufficiently intensive and observant community that happens to have as one of its practices the
playing of musical instruments on Shabbat receiving justification for its behavior in this regard.
The language for it would be that sketched out by the Tosafot and extended in theory by the
Magen Avraham. It would remain contested, just as those articulations are contested, and many
communities would reject the practice, just as there remain many Jewish communities that
refrain from clapping or dancing. This third model would then essentially be—as are many cases
of this sort of change—as historical gamble, where the communities using musical instruments
on Shabbat without concern for their volume might succeed in creating sufficiently learned and
observant communities to find a place within halakhic discourse. Failing that, however justified
this practice might seem to such a community, it is likely they would ultimately become a
curious footnote in a larger halakhic story that ultimately maintained some fidelity to the notion
of noise and quiet playing a central role in determining the atmosphere of Shabbat.