Note: While this article contains halachic content, no practical conclusions should be drawn from this analysis. Consult you local Rabbi if you have any questions.
Can one snap or click their fingers on Shabbat? Behind this question is the rabbinic prohibition of playing instruments on Shabbat. Since musical instruments are likely to break or require fixing, the Chachamim were concerned that one might fix an instrument that breaks in the course of its playing. Such an act constitutes the melacha of makeh bepatish.Encompassed in this prohibition was dancing and clapping in tune.1 Is clicking one’s fingers also included?
The Rambam writes (Shabbat 23:4) that clicking one finger against the other, like in the manner of singers, is indeed prohibited. In contrast, the Trumat HaDeshen uses a Mishnah learnt this week as proof that snapping with one’s middle finger and thumb is permitted. We learnt that the kohen gadol would stay up the entire night of Yom Kippur. The Mishnah (1:7) taught that if the kohen gadol started to fall asleep, the kohanim would snap their fingers (etzbah tzarada) to wake him. It is therefore permitted.
He pre-empts the following argument against his proof. The prohibition is rabbinic (shevut) and we know that such prohibitions were allowed in the Beit HaMikdash. Consequently no proof can be brought from our Mishnah when determining the law outside the Beit HaMikdash. The Trumat Hadeshen answers that when the Gemara (34b) discusses the Mishnah (3:5) that details how they would heat the mikveh for a frail kohen gadol, it bring this explanation that shevut is permitted in the Beit Mikdash. The Gemara’s silence on our Mishnah seems to prove that snapping fingers is not even prohibited on a rabbinic level.
The Beit Yosef feels that the Trumat Hadeshen’s proof is inadequate to contend with the Rambam. The Tosefet Shabbat notes that the Beit Yosef did not address the Trumat Hadeshen’s proof. The Tosefet Shabbat therefore explains that the Mishnah in Chullin (1:7) teaches that on erev Shabbat they would blow trumpets in the Beit HaMikdash as a warning to stop performing melacha– even when erev Shabbat was Yom Tov.This was allowed based on the principle that shevut was permitted in the Beit HaMikdash. Yet this reason is not stated in the Gemara for the simple reason that the principle is when known. Consequently, it is possible that snapping fingers is not permitted on a rabbinic level and the Gemara did not explain why it was permitted in the Beit HaMikdash because the reason was well known. The Gemara only mentioned the reason in connection with the later Mishnah as it flowed with the discussion there.
The Tosefet Shabbat nevertheless proposes a defence for the Trumat HaDeshen based on another debate. The Kesef Mishnah understands that shevut was only permitted in the Beit HaMikdash where a permissible alternative was not available, while the Lechem Mishnah disagrees. The Tosefet Shabbat therefore explains that the Trumat HaDeshen agrees that shevut being permitted in the Beit Hamikdash is well know. However, he understands that one might make the mistake in thinking like the Kesef Mishnah that it is not allowed if there is an alternative. Alternatives are available for both keeping the kohen awake and heating the mikveh on Yom Kippur. The fact that the Gemara only addresses this concern in that later Mishnah and not ours must mean that clicking one’s fingers is permitted.
Till now we assumed that snapping fingers was performed in the regular manner – using one’s fingers and thumb (Tosfot). Rashi however understands our Mishnah referred to snapping with the index finger and thumb – in an irregular manner. Why? The Tosefet Shabbat explains that firstly Rashi must hold like the Rambam that snapping is prohibited rabbinically. Second, he must understand, like the Kesef Mishnah, that when there is a permissible alternative, a shevut in the Beit Mikdash was not permitted. That being the case regular snapping would not be allowed. Rashi therefore explained the young kohanim would keep the kohen gadol awake by snapping with a shinui, which would be permissible.2
One final difficulty is that the Rambam maintains that our Mishnah refers to regular snapping and that regular snapping is prohibited. The Tosefet Shabbat explains that one could explain, like the Magen Avraham that there is a difference between snapping to music (which is prohibited) and snapping to get attention (which is permitted)3 – the situation is our Mishnah. Alternatively he may hold any shevut in the Beit HaMikdash is permitted even if there is an alternative available and it was unnecessary for the Gemara to state this reason.
1 There is a discussion whether the prohibition against clapping and dancing still existing nowadays. See the Rama (OC 339:3), Aruch HaShulcahn (399:9), Igrot Moshe (OC II:100)
2 See Mishnah Berura (339:9).
3 And it is not done with an instrument. See Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchata (28:36,39)
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