Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, is a unique opportunity to spend “quality time” with one’s friends and family. One way of doing so, particularly on long Shabbat afternoons, is by playing games.* Since the day is structured by specific “dos and don’ts” designed to secure the holiness of the day, Jewish Treats presents some general guidelines to ensure Shabbat-friendly play. 

The first qualification for being Shabbat-friendly is that the game does not use or require the use of electricity. While this disqualifies many newer games, many of the great classics are still available in non-electronic form. (Think back to the fun of actually announcing, “You sunk my battleship!”) 

Another important factor in choosing a game for Shabbat is whether or not writing is required. Writing is one of the 39 melachot – “creative labors” prohibited on Shabbat.  Although this rules out games such as Pictionary™, many games one associates with writing can still be played with small adjustments. For instance, one can play Clue using one’s memory rather than by writing notes, which also makes for a more challenging game. The biggest issue of games and writing on Shabbat is the question of keeping score. Here too, the challenge is easily overcome with a little creative thinking. Some people use a book to bookmark the page number of their score. Others use playing cards to keep count of their points.

Playing cards is another excellent example of Shabbat-friendly activity. Most games are fine to play on Shabbat (but not for money!). The main caution in playing cards on Shabbat is the temptation to sort the deck to make certain that the deck is complete or to deliberately remove certain cards, such as the jokers, which could be a problem of bo’rayr (taking the bad from the good).

This Treat presents just a brief look at Shabbat-friendly game playing. Different games may present other questions about which one can (and should) ask one’s local rabbi. 

*Please note that this Treat refers only to board games, not ball games.

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