י״ח בשבט ה׳תשע״ה (February 7, 2015)

Ketubot 5a-b: Mundane Activities and Shabbat

The baraita teaches that a celebratory party for a wedding should not take place on Saturday night. This prohibition is at first explained by Rabbi Zeira as stemming from a concern that the groom will be involved in heshbonot on Shabbat – that he will be focused on mundane matters on Shabbat. In response to this suggestion, Abayye asks, “Ve-heshbonot shel mitzvah me asiri? – are heshbonot connected with a mitzva forbidden?” To support his contention, Abayye lists a number of Sages who permit a wide variety of “mundane” activities that are permitted on Shabbat because of the mitzva involved. These include:

  • assigning charity to the poor on Shabbat
  • discussions of public affairs that take place in synagogues and houses of study
  • saving lives
  • attending theatres and circuses to guard the public interest
  • arranging marriages
  • negotiating for tutors

Convinced by Abaye’s argument, Rabbi Zeira explains instead that the concern in our case is that actual preparations for the celebration may begin on Shabbat.

The prohibition to engage in discussions of mundane matters on Shabbat stems from the passage in Yeshayahu (58:13) that commands that Shabbat be honored, and that personal matters be avoided. The Gemara in Massekhet Shabbat (150b) clarifies that only personal matters are forbidden, but that “matters of heaven” – i.e. mitzvot – would be permitted.

Of the list of activities permitted by Abaye, “attending theatres and circuses” stands out as an odd activity. Theatres and circuses were used not only for entertainment purposes, but also for other types of large gatherings. On occasion, the events that took place in these arenas – including anti-Jewish agitation – led to rioting that spilled into the streets. The presence of Jewish people in these theatres and circuses could be helpful, both to quiet these uprisings before they developed or minimally to warn others that they were about to take place. Occasionally, Jewish people were forced to participate in the matches in the arena, and with the support of Jews who were in the audience they might be saved.

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