For almost two millennia no Jew would marry in the days between Pesach and Shavuot (Passover and Pentecost). Without the Holy Temple “alive” and functioning, we are in a state of perpetual mourning, of minimal functionality.
Obviously, “life must go on”, and without each generation of children marrying and starting their own families, life on earth, and certainly any continuity of the Jewish People ends. But, with one step already long ago taken, when we find yet another cause of mourning, such as wholesale slaughter of the Jewish People in the Bar Kochba revolt, we return to full mourning mode with a complete ban, for that period of time, on celebrations like weddings.
Whether a correct step or not, most poskim, halachic deciders, accepted this idea of a ban on music and ran with it, extending the enforced silence for instrumental music to encompass all Shabbat, as well as Chaggim, Festivals, the entire year. If you look a little deeper, you’ll find “reasons” for this ban, often including the concern that if the instrument breaks you might for the holiness of the day and start to fix it. Translated to the guitar, you never know when you might break a string, and so involved with the music you might just quit playing suddenly, get out a new string and some tools, replace the string, stretch the new string so it stays in tune, and return to your playing. Except, of course, that whoever you had been playing with would have gone on without you, would have given up and gone home or you would have just lost the thread of what you were musically thinking…. In other words, fixing your instrument would probably never happen. (But that’s ok, halachic discussions often extend to situations which “never occurred and never will occur….)
And, of course, when (as we pray for at least three times daily (and over two thousand years by how many millions of Jew who have lived, how many billions prayers and pleas have there been!) Bayit Sh’lishi, the Third Temple is (re)built, may it be soon, in our days, all these sorts of prohibitions will be cancelled as no longer necessary. We will have reached the point where Jewish Survival is a reality and we’re no longer existentially threatened by, say assimilation and mass intermarriage. Rather than protecting our turf, we can finally build, upon this very turf, a world of eternal perfection.
Nonetheless, even though the reasoning behind it sounds very forced and artificial, I, as well as the rest of my halachically observant guitar friends would never think to play on Shabbat or Chag.
Except once in a while, living outside of a community, perhaps on the second day (in the diaspora) of a chag, the temptation or just the curiosity overcame me. I went over every weakness of the prohibition one more time and turned to the wall where my guitar was hanging. The first thing my eye focused on was a broken G-string, the silver wind around the plastic core completely frayed.
Unplayable, and for that very textbook reason that a string broke. I might have been able to defy the prohibition itself, but this was too much, too personal a message to me….
And I have yet to play my guitar on a Shabbat or on a Chag, even on a “Second Day”–which don’t celebrate living in Israel, but only in the diaspora, seemingly of less Kedusha, Holy-ness. Even known that mathematically, the “demographic flip” the day when the majority of the world’s Jews do, finally, once again live in Eretz Yisrael, can be pretty closely precisely estimated by now (although that isn’t the same, of course, as the Temple being rebuilt….)
That was living in Seattle, archetypal Galut (literally, Exile), diaspora. Quite a few years, by now, ago. Now I live in Jerusalem.
Just like playing a musical instrument on Shabbat, which will surely be permitted, mandated, in fact (as part of the Temple Service), there is a vast bulk, if not an overwhelming majority, of almost blindly accepted halacha which operates in today’s still-diaspora-oriented observant Jewish world which will no longer hold sway once the Temple is rebuilt and functioning. In fact, there are strong opinions that once the criteria for Bayit Shlishi are met, even before it is, in actuality, rebuilt, these halachot will become obsolete and no longer fulfilled.
No longer needing to protect ourselves in our isolation from each other and under the power of often-hostile surrounding spiritual and cultural systems, we should, perhaps, with the urgency of two long-separated lovers finally reunited, prepare ourselves to renew our compelling and intimate relationship with God as it can exist in it’s ideal form, when performing His Will, Torah u-Mitzvot as a proactive relationship with the Creator rather than a reactive relationship with our enemies, will allow us fully vulnerable intimacy as we become and ignite ourselves as the Or l’Goyim, Light Unto The Nations.
So, I won’t be playing my guitar this Shabbat….. , but, perhaps next week? B’mheyra B’Yamenu.