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Is it permitted to clap my hands to a song or applaud someone on Shabbat?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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The Mishnah expressly says that it is forbidden to clap on Shabbat or Yom Tov because it might bring someone to make a musical instrument, which is a forbidden act. However, it is common practice by all Chassidim to clap hands when singing on Shabbat or Yom Tov.

There are two explanations given for this custom:

1. This prohibition applied in Talmudic times, when many people were proficient in making musical instruments. Today, however, there are very few people who know how to assemble an instrument, so there is no reason to prohibit clapping.

The Mishnah says it is forbidden to clap on Shabbat or Yom Tov because it may lead to fashioning a musical instrument... however, amongst chassidim it is common to clap hands when singing on Shabbat or Yom Tov.
2. This prohibition does not apply when the clapping is done for the purpose of a Mitzvah. In Talmudic times there wasn't a great emphasis placed on being happy. However, with the advent of Chassidus, people started realizing the pivotal role joy plays in one's service of G-d. Therefore, today it is permitted to clap on Shabbat, thus serving G-d with even greater joy.

According to the first explanation there would not be any problem with applauding. However, in deference to the second reasoning, people refrain from clapping if it is not associated with a mitzvah.1

Footnotes

  • 1. Sources: Sha'alos Uteshuvos Minchas Elazar, Orach Chayim, vol. 1, Responsa 29.

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Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Chassidim
(Pl.: Chassidim; Adj.: Chassidic) Following the teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), the founder of "Chassidut." Chassidut emphasizes serving G-d with sincerity and joy, and the importance of connecting to a Rebbe (saintly mentor).
Yom Tov
Jewish Holiday.
Mishnah
First written rendition of the Oral Law which G-d spoke to Moses. Rabbi Judah the Prince compiled the Mishna in the 2nd century lest the Oral law be forgotten due to the hardships of the Jewish exiles.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.