Shabbat Parashat Bereishit l 5767
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Question: As a sports fan, I was wondering whether Shawn Green, or any other Jewish baseball player, can play a game without violating Shabbat?
Answer: Mr. Green did not send this question, and we are not answering it as a practical question, which would touch, among other things, on the general question of going to work on Shabbat without direct violations of Shabbat. Rather, your question affords the sports fan the opportunity to apply some of the intricacies of the laws of Shabbat to an area of interest.
All professional stadiums are fully enclosed. Thus, carrying, hitting, and throwing are permitted. In general, there may be restrictions on carrying even in enclosed areas without an eiruv. However, that is only when carrying between areas owned by different people or groups. An entire stadium is owned by one person or group, so this is not a problem. What if one hits a homerun, which, in certain parks, may “leave the park” to an unenclosed area or one owned by other people or the public? A disciplined hitter will not intend to hit the ball out of the stadium, just out of the playing field. Therefore, even if Shawn hit one extra far, it would be a davar sh’eino mitkavein (an unplanned, uncertain violation of Shabbat), about which he need not be concerned in advance.
Often, hitters “dig in” with their cleats at the batter’s box, making a small ditch to help them push off when swinging. This is a Torah-level violation of choresh (plowing), done directly and purposely to improve the ground for one’s purposes (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 327:1).
Sliding on the base paths dirties a player’s uniform. The gemara (Shabbat 147a) says that one who shakes out his clothes to remove dew (according to Tosafot) or dirt (according to Rashi) violates a Torah prohibition. The gemara continues that this is only regarding new, black clothes, which he is careful to keep clean. The Rama (Orach Chayim 302:1) says that one may not do so to any article of clothing which one is conscious not to walk around in with this level of dirt. While the matter is more complex than we can address here, the Biur Halacha (ad loc.) rules stringently on the matter when one does not just shake out but performs an action of cleaning on the place of the dirt. Therefore, it is at least preferable to do no more than lightly shaking off the top layer of dirt, leaving that which is partially imbedded in the fabric.
When playing the outfield, is there a problem of cutting or uprooting the grass? In general, one is allowed to walk on grass because even if he were to cut some blades, it is a davar sh’eino mitkaven (Shulchan Aruch, ibid. 336:3). However, the Mishna Berura (ad loc.:25) points out that if one runs on tall grass, it is a p’sik reishei (a certainty that one will inadvertently perform the prohibition), which is forbidden. Although stadiums have short grass, it is possible that with cleats, the matter is a p’sik reishei, and this respondent lacks the technical expertise to rule on the matter.
The Shulchan Aruch (ibid. 308:45) rules that balls are muktzeh because they lack a serious use that would make them utensils. The Rama argues because balls are set aside for the purpose of playing, which he considers sufficient. Therefore, balls are not muktzeh for Ashkenazim; Sephardim are divided on the matter (Yalkut Yosef, Shabbat 308:26). (See Mishna Berura’s (ad loc.:158) objection to playing on the ground, which does not seem to apply to baseball.)
In summary, by taking proper precautions, one can solve most if not all of the
technical halachic issues of playing baseball on Shabbat, while certain halachic and fundamental issues would remain (including some we have not mentioned). So, “play ball”… preferably, another day.
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