Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Working Out on Shabbos

The Forward had an article about the recent trend in Jewish Community Centers being open on Shabbos (link).

Currently, two-thirds of JCCs open at some point during the Sabbath, according to a new study — but JCCs are constantly shifting their policies. The study, conducted by the JCC Association’s research branch, suggests that 40% of JCCs have changed their Sabbath policies during the last four years.
This raises a number of interesting historical and halakhic issues. For now, I'll leave the historical issue for a later post and address only one of the many halakhic issues -- may one exercise on Shabbos? I used to attend early Shabbos services (7am) and I would see one person jogging who would later come to shul for the late/regular services. Is this allowed?

Click here to read moreThe Mishnah in Shabbos (147a) states: "One may anoint with oil and massage [lightly] but not hard (lo misam'lin)" and the Tosefta in Shabbos (17:16) states: "One may not run on Shabbos in order to exercise (lehisamel) but one may travel normally and need not worry". Rashi explains that a hard massage is prohibited because of "uvda de-chol", it is a weekly, non-Shabbos activity. The Rambam, however, in Mishneh Torah (Hilkhos Shabbos 21:28) explains that the problem is that one tires oneself out to the point of sweating (cf. Rabbenu Chananel on the Gemara). The Shiltei Ha-Gibborim (Shabbos 62b in the Rif, no. 2) explains that according to Rashi, any kind of heavy exercise is prohibited while according to the Rambam, exercise that leads to sweating is prohibited.

This leaves us with two different distinctions regarding exercise:
1. Heavy vs. light exercise
2. Exercise that makes you sweat vs. that doesn't make you sweat

Everyone agrees that light exercise that does not make you sweat is permitted. Light exercise that makes you sweat (is there such a thing?) would be forbidden according to the Rambam but allowed according to Rashi. Heavy exercise that does not make you sweat would be forbidden according to Rashi but allowed according to the Rambam. And everyone agrees that heavy exercise that makes you sweat is prohibited.

R. Yosef Kafach, in his edition of Mishneh Torah (ibid., n. 83) deduces from the Rambam's language in an earlier halakhah that he only forbids exercise that sick people do but something that a healthy person does regularly is allowed. Based on this, he allows (within the Rambam's opinion, which is what he follows) someone to do on Shabbos his regular daily routine of running or exercise. However, I think there might be room to distinguish between what healthy people do to maintain their health and what they do for fun. The former would, possibly, be prohibited while the latter would be permitted (see below).

The Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 327:2) rules like Rashi but later (328:42) rules like the Rambam. In other words, we must be strict like both opinions.

[It is interesting that in explaining the above Tosefta, the Minchas Bikkurim writes: "In order to exercise: to sweat, which is medicinal, but for pleasure it is permissible." However, R. Yechezkel Abramsky writes in his Chazon Yechezkel: "In order to exercise: to sweat, which is medicinal and forbidden because of grinding herbs, but for pleasure it is permissible." In other words, he removed the phrase "to sweat". Thus the Minchas Bikkurim explained the Tosefta according to the Rambam while the Chazon Yechezkel explained it according to Rashi (or both Rashi and the Rambam).]

However, what if one exercises for fun and not for health (or weight) purposes? The Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 301:1) writes that young men who run around for fun may do so on Shabbos. The Taz writes that if one does not enjoy running but only does so to help one's appetite (or presumably also one's digestions) then it is forbidden. Apparently, someone who truly enjoys running or jogging would be allowed to do so. Since we are strict for both Rashi's and the Rambam's views, running must be considered light exercise and therefore only forbidden if it is done for health reasons (and causes sweating). But heavy exercise would be forbidden regardless of one's intentions.

R. David Zvi Hoffmann (Melamed Le-Ho'il 1:53) was asked about some sort of exercise on Shabbos that I believe was done in secular schools on Shabbos (there is a long footnote in German or Yiddish explaining what it is but I don't understand it). He ruled that one should not permit this exercise. However, in a place where people already do this, one should not forbid it because it all depends on the type of exercise and one's intentions (and there is an additional consideration of causing anti-semitism). (Cf. Responsa Maharshag 2:93 and She'arim Metzuyanim Ba-Halakhah 90:1 that if you are forced to do it in school, it is assumed that it is not fun for everyone.)

R. Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer 6:4) addresses whether one may use some sort of home gym equipment on Shabbos. He considers this to be heavy exercise that induces sweat, which is prohibited according to both Rashi and the Rambam. He also adds the view of the Ramban (Commentary to Lev. 18:21) that there is a positive commandment of "Shabbason" -- to rest on Shabbos -- and such exercise is contrary to that commandment (on this Ramban, see this article of mine).

R. Yehoshua Neuwirth writes in Shemiras Shabbos Ke-Hilkhasah (24:22):
a. One may not do strenuous physical exercises on Shabbath.
b. Nor may one engage in muscle-building exercises with the aid of spring-fitted, physical-training apparatus.
c. One may do simple exercises with one's hand, even if one's purpose in so doing is to relieve or alleviate pains.
R. Gersion Appel writes in The Concise Code of Jewish Law (vol. 2, p. 351, n. 3):
One is permitted to go walking, but not running or jogging. Youths who enjoy jumping and running may do so on the Sabbath, as this is their enjoyment. One is not permitted to do exercises on the Sabbath that involve physical exertion and are intended to work up a sweat and tire oneself. Some permit one to follow a daily routine of calisthenics intended to maintain physical fitness. One may do breathing exercises to correct an impairment. One may use a small, hand exerciser to strengthen the hand and the fingers.

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