Quoting a passage in Sefer Yeshayahu (58:13): “Nor pursuing your business, nor speaking of it” the Gemara explains that one must be careful about the topics of his conversation on Shabbat. At the same time the Gemara explains that although speaking about business on Shabbat is generally prohibited, it is permitted in certain cases because the verse is understood as forbidding “your business,” but the business of Heaven, that is, matters which have religious significance, one is permitted to speak of.
What falls under the category of “the business of Heaven”? The Gemara explains:
Rav Ḥisda and Rav Hamnuna both said: It is permitted to make calculations pertaining to a mitzva on Shabbat, and Rabbi Elazar said that this means that one may apportion charity for the poor on Shabbat. And Rabbi Ya’akov bar Idi said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: One may attend to activities necessary for saving a life or for communal needs on Shabbat, and one may go to a synagogue to attend to communal affairs on Shabbat. And Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: One may go to theaters [tarteiot], and circus performances [kirkesaot], and courthouses [basilkaot] to attend to communal affairs on Shabbat.
What sort of communal affairs took place in these settings?
Permission to enter theaters and circuses on Shabbat was not limited to public gatherings at which important decisions were made relating to the city, but also applied to entrance during performances. The entertainment that took place in the theaters and circuses of Talmudic times were not identical to today’s activities. The source of the word kirkesaot, for example, is from the Latin circus, meaning an arena where fights between animals or between animals and humans were staged for the public. At times, Jews were brought out before the audience either as a form of public disgrace or to participate in matches with gladiators or with animals. Oftentimes, it was possible for the crowd to save the lives of the fighters, and for this reason attending these events was considered a matter of saving Jewish lives and protecting the community.