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Is it appropriate to discuss politics at the Shabbos table?

 

Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier
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A few years back, this might have been an interesting question – whether topics outside of divrei Torah are appropriate at a Shabbos table. But now the nature of the question has changed dramatically. It seems that the vast majority of people are either on the “blue team” or the “red team” and Color War is out in full blaze.

And it seems that rare is a discussion about politics that’s actually an exchange of ideas with the approach being “Let me better understand something that I didn’t understand.” Rather it’s a Color War with each team just shouting its anthem, and very little is accomplished other than people getting angry and speaking a lot of malicious lashon hara.

So I would say that until things calm down considerably, it’s far better not to discuss politics at the Shabbos table.

— Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier, founder of The Shmuz

 

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Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet

Distressing speech and excessive mundane speech are both forbidden on Shabbos as per the words of the navi: “mimtzo cheftzecha vedaber davar” (Yeshaya 58:13). Politics arguably falls under both these categories.

According to the Talmud Yerushalmi, when we’re careful with what we say on Shabbos, we’re emulating the Ribbono Shel Olam who rested from speaking on Shabbos Bereishis after He finished creating the world.

The Ketzos Hashulchan relates a story about a king who once allowed his subjects to request anything they desired. One particular vagabond with a skin disorder, who normally picked through garbage cans for food, approached the king with an unusual request. “Today I cannot seem to locate any garbage cans. I ask that you provide me with garbage cans so I can rummage through them for food.”

Several other people present laughed out loud when they heard this ridiculous request. “Fool!” they said. “You could have asked the king for the best doctors in the world to heal your skin disease or you could have requested a home in which to live or all the food you would ever need. Instead you chose the same garbage cans from which you eat every day?”

On Shabbos, the King of Kings gives us an opportunity to spend the day on a higher plane with divrei Torah etc., which can provide unique physical and spiritual healing. What a shame if we were to treat it as just another day and squander it on mundane talk.

Sometimes, with guests, especially in a kiruv context, refraining from mundane talk entirely can be tricky, so a balance should be sought, but one should set an example so that the real significance of the day and the atmosphere required is evident.

— Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, popular Lubavitch
lecturer, rabbi of London’s Mill Hill Synagogue

 

* * * * *

Rabbi Zev Leff

It depends. If the political issues being discussed affect Torah living or relate to Torah issues and ideals, then it befits a Shabbos table. Concerning such kind of politics, I heard from my rebbe, HaRav Gifter, zt”l, in the name of the Chofetz Chaim, that Hashem Yisborach also has His politics.

However if politics is being discussed in a secular framework, better to save it for a different setting – if it’s at all worth wasting time on.

— Rabbi Zev Leff, rav of Moshav Matisyahu,
popular lecturer and educator

 

* * * * *

Rabbi Marc D. Angel

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 307:1) codifies the Talmudic teaching that one’s speech on Shabbat should not be like one’s speech on weekdays. We ought to avoid conversations about mundane matters, but rather should speak about ideas and ideals of Torah value.

In principle, then, discussions/arguments about politics are not in the proper spirit of Shabbat. If those at the Shabbat table have strong opposing opinions, the conversation could become heated and unpleasant.

Yet, political discussions sometimes relate to moral issues that affect us, our society, and the wellbeing of the State of Israel. Those around the Shabbat table may be deeply concerned about these issues and feel the need to discuss them with others. As long as such conversations are “leshem Shamayim” and genuinely seek moral clarity, I believe they are within permitted limits for Shabbat conversation. But if they entail lashon hara or antagonistic comments, they should certainly be avoided – even on weekdays!

Shabbat offers us an opportunity to rise above our mundane lives at least one day a week. This does not mean that we become oblivious to our everyday concerns, only that we try to set those concerns aside to the extent possible.

The goal of our Shabbat conversations should be to elevate our thoughts and our words – and to set a standard for our thoughts and words during the weekdays as well.

— Rabbi Marc D. Angel, director of the
Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals

 

* * * * *

Rabbi Yosef Blau

The meals on Shabbos are an integral part of the day’s atmosphere. Optimally, Torah topics should be the topic of conversation.

Of course, one must ensure that one’s children have positive associations of the family eating together on Shabbos. Furthermore, if one has guests, one must make them comfortable by showing an interest in their lives and background.

But politics should not be the topic of conversation. In fact, politics is probably the least appropriate topic to discuss at a Shabbos table. It’s often a source of disagreement and the cause of heated arguments.

Usually, people don’t discuss politics because they’re curious what the other person thinks. Rather, they have strong opinions and can’t understand why others fail to see what, in their mind, is obviously true.  The Shabbos table is not the place for heated debates.

— Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani at
YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary

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