Dear Rabbi Simon
I have a question which has being troubling me since I read an article on the split between Orthodoxy and Liberalism in the Jerusalem Report. The article makes mention that during temple times, musical instruments were permitted on the Shabbat. I have the following questions:
- Is this correct?
- If correct, then why cannot we use musical instruments today?
- I know there are rabbinic rulings that have placed boundaries, which assist us in not transgressing boundaries, however these rulings seem to fuel the fire, that once you change one rule, then who is to say you cannot change more rules?
Thanks so much
P.S. I have no intention of bringing a musical instrument to shul.
TY for your interesting question.
In general, using a musical instrument does not involve the performance of any of the 39 melakhot of Shabbat. Ie, it is not forbidden by Torah Law. (Some modern electronic instruments, however, possibly would involve such transgressions.) Nevertheless, already in ancient times the Sages legislated against playing musical instruments on Shabbos because of the possibility of the instrument breaking and the musician, in his great devotion to his music, forgetting that it is Shabbat and repairing it on the spot. (This could well happen in the case of a string instrument, for example. Tying a knot on Shabbat can involve a Torah prohibition)
There is, however, a principle of ein shevut be-mikdash, that is, the rabbis did not extend their restrictions (intended to prevent accidental transgressions of Torah Law) to the Beit ha-Mikdash. Moreover, musical instruments were part of the Levitical accompaniment to the Divine service of the Kohanim, and as such played an important role in the proceedings day by day. Therefor it is not exactly true to say the musical instruments were allowed in Temple times, but rather that they were allowed in the Temple itself.
Fast-forward 1700 or 1800 years: Jews, particularly in Western Europe, are living among Christians for whom the church organ is a central and prestigious part of the service. As the walls of the ghetto teeter, and the winds of Enlightenment and Emancipation begin to blow, Jews increasingly come into contact with Christians, and yearn for acceptance and credibility in their eyes. No longer anticipating, or even wanting, to return to the Promised Land, they viewed their synagogues (now called, as in America to this day, “temples”), as replacing the Bet HaMikdash itself. Reaching for the Talmudic formula “no rabbinic prohibitions in the Temple”, they justified the use of an organ on Shabbat. However in reality this was more about aping Lutheran and Protestant church customs than reviving the ancient Jewish usage of musical instruments to accompany the Avodah of the Kohanim.
This also sheds light on why the rabbis of the last 200 years have been vigilant in rejecting innovations in the synagogue service, out of a fear of lending credence to various and nefarious types of religious reform.
I hope this is helpful.
Rabbi Rashi Simon