OzTorah – Ask the Rabbi: “When will I die”


Question.   When will I die?

Answer.     As the prophet Ezekiel would have said, “Lord God, Thou knowest”. Even when the doctors give an indication of how long a patient has, they cannot be certain. When a person seems to be healthy, anything can lie around the corner. So don’t ask when you are going to die.

In any case, it is probably better that we should not know what lies ahead. Foreknowledge of a happy future could make us complacent; foreknowledge of unhappiness could rob life of meaning and value.

What then can we do?

Take notice of a discussion between Rabbi Eliezer and his pupils. Rabbi Eliezer said,

“Repent one day before your death” (Avot 2:10).

His pupils asked,

“But who knows when he will die?” “Then,” said the sage, “repent today, lest you die tomorrow” (Avot d’Rabbi Natan, chapter 15).

Too many people forget to think about such things. They say, “I will come to synagogue – when I retire… I will give charity – in my will… I will spend time with my family – when the business is less demanding…”.

What a fool’s paradise! If you have a mitzvah to do, do it now. You’ll find the time. The sages say, “mitzvah sheba’ah l’yad’cha al tachmitzenna”, “Don’t let the mitzvah become stale!” (M’chilta, Parashat Bo).


Question.   Is football allowed on Shabbat? May I go to a soccer match on Shabbat if I do not pay for or carry a ticket?

Answer.     Though the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayyim 301:2) says,

“Young men who derive pleasure from jumping and running are permitted to do so on the Sabbath”,

it takes a stricter view (Orach Chayyim 308:45) in relation to ball games:

“It is forbidden to play with a ball on Sabbaths or festivals”.

The R’ma (Moses Isserles) adds,

“Others permit it, and it is customary to be lenient”.

Other authorities reject Isserles’ view, and even one of his close friends, the Rashal (Solomon Luria, quoted by the Magen David) calls Sabbath sport a bad custom which he would have abolished.

Even the R’ma himself qualifies his permission in another note (Orach Chayyim 338:5) and restricts ball games on Shabbat to a hard surface, so that one does not make holes in the ground, and to private property, in order to avoid carrying the ball or anything else from place to place. All this applies to recreational sport. Professional sport is not allowed on Shabbat at all.

Hermann Adler, British Chief Rabbi from 1891-1911, was once asked whether children were allowed to swim on Shabbat. His answer was,

“I don’t mind if the children swim, so long as they have davened first!”

You ask about watching a match on Shabbat. The actual act of watching is technically speaking no problem, though there are more Sabbath-like things one could and should be doing. If the match involves one or more Jewish teams, one should definitely stay away and not appear to encourage them to transgress the Shabbat laws. Nor should one bet or gamble on Saturday games.


Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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