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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ben Ish Hai re: Gambling Issues

Continuing with some interesting passages from the Ben Ish Hai's instruction guide to women (translated from Arabic to English). Full disclosure: my children enjoy basic card games, checkers, and backgammon.

In the past, on this blog, I have put out my own theory that certain types of fundraisers, in the name of tzedakah mind you, could possibly tempt people to "give" more than is prudent because they have a proclivity towards gambling. It is nice to see I'm not barking up my own tree on this issue. For whatever reason, the Ben Ish Hai only seems to address mothers keeping their daughters from such games, yet addresses what such games do to "him", although the conclusion is that none are to play such games. Issues of tzniut are only addressed secondly.

Ben Ish Hai on "Innocent Games"

A mother should prohibit her daughter from participating in card games, checkers, backgammon, and other such games. These games cause people to become compulsive players. This obsessive attraction for the game eventually takes its toll on the person 0 he becomes increasingly disinterested in other aspects of his life, such as his means of earning a living and his relationships with people. In order to support his habit, the compulsive player resorts to theft and fraud, as well as other illegitimate means of earning a living. Thus, a mother would do well to keep her daughter away from such games.

Furthermore, these games usually evoke an atmosphere of lewdness and frivolity. When men and women play these games together, the Evil Inclination dances between them and arouses their desires. Many men have lost their money in such games, and, unfortunately, many women their repute. In Bagdad, there have been reports of many wealthy people losing their entire fortunes as a result of their obsession to these games. For this reason, there is a decree prohibiting anyone, both men and women, from playing them.

[Passage continues with resisting the temptation to play even once]


JS said...

I think it bears noting that the card games, checkers, and backgammon he's referring to aren't the same innocent games your children are playing. He's referring to those who play those games for money. I suppose it's more obvious for card games such as poker, but backgammon has a "betting die" (the die with 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64 on it) and the game used to be played for money (people even used to place side bets as spectators on a roll's outcome). I admit to being clueless as to how one bets on checkers and I've never heard of this being done. Maybe the translation is off or it's referring to another, similar, game?

conservative scifi said...

Perhaps, but in my conservative synagogue, our Rabbi will not permit any sort of "casino night" nor will he allow poker or other games of chance because these are prohibited. This is even where no money will change hands. (In fact, while I know that none of you care, there is a teshuva at JTS prohibiting these events).

conservative scifi said...

Perhaps, but in my conservative synagogue, our Rabbi will not permit any sort of "casino night" nor will he allow poker or other games of chance because these are prohibited. This is even where no money will change hands. (In fact, while I know that none of you care, there is a teshuva at JTS prohibiting these events).

Orthonomics said...

conservative scifi-Very commendable. Our shul's Rav also will not permit such events and does not want the achrayut if someone where taken to gambling by a shul event.

JS-Thanks for a reference point. I wouldn't want my kids playing poker for the reasons stated.

Dave said...

I thought that the reason that games of chance were Ossur was that "no one expects to lose".

How does that apply if there is no money involved?

Pomegrafted said...

Warning to Pomegranate and Everfresh kosher supermarket shoppers!

conservative scifi said...


As I understand it (and someone with greater knowledge may weigh in), the Talmud in Sanhedrin 24b states that a gambler may not be qualified to be a witness because gambling is wicked.

Rashi and the Rambam found gambling is rabbinically prohibited form of robbery (see, e.g., edut 10).

According to the (Conservative) committee on Jewish Law and Standards regarding Bingo in shul, they urge "all members of the Rabbinical Assembly to be alert to the evils of gambling in general, and to oppose not only the more obvious problems of involvement with individuals or groups making a profession of gamblin, but even more so the subtle and decidely unwholesome consequences of gambling as a mainstay of synagogue fiscal management."

I think the point of even "non money" gambling is that it takes time away not only from Torah study (bitul torah), not only that it is a hillul hashem, but that the time is taken away from productive uses of time, whether charitable or personal. I realize that some may find gambling relaxing, but I just heard an older congregant tell me about how scarred she was by a father (who was orthodox) who gambled the family money leaving little for daily necessities.

Dave said...

Sure, but as I understand it, the reason it was classed as robbery was that since no one really expects to lose, the money is being taken from them without their consent.

As a counter-example, something I have participated in in years past was a poker tournament for charity. All table fees went into the pot, and the prize for the winner was getting to decide which charity received the money.

conservative scifi said...


No doubt to me, the charity tournament is less problematic than simply playing in a texas holdem tournament for cash. My local (conservative) rabbi is still opposed to these sorts of events, even where the money goes solely for charity.

While the rationale of robbery doesn't really apply, (and I don't know his actual reasoning), I suspect it is the negative reputation of gambling that is a problem. I don't think he wants our synagogue to be associated with gambling, the way some churches are associated with bingo.

Paying Parent said...

I think that gambling is a bigger problem in our community as well as the Yeshivish community than people acknowledge. Let's leave alone the fact that Yeshivas had to ban playing cards from recess due to 12 year olds playing Texas Hold Em.
Many people in our community look to "get rich quick" so they can keep up with the Cohens. They play the stock market, invest in schemes and questionably legal insurance scams. There is more than one marriage I know that has been broken up due to online gambling accounts. I feel that sometimes the Yeshivas fill boys with the overconfidence that they are smarter than the rest of the world. This leads people to think taht they can play the stockmarket or gamble online with 0 knowledge or prior skill and outsmart everybody.

sethg-prime said...

Back when my wife was in charge of programming at our shul, another board member suggested that we do a Las Vegas Night as a fund-raiser. She talked to the rabbi and got a list of rules regarding what kinds of gambling-like activities are assur. Then she talked to someone who specializes in running these kinds of games for charities, and he told her how they need to be structured in order to actually raise money. We never had our Las Vegas Night.

Orthonomics said...

Paying Parent-Certainly gambling is an issue when you include "investing." I think the problem is wider than we care to admit. Thanks for the comment.

JS said...

Purely anecdotal, but in the community we lived in before buying a house it was a weekly ritual for the young married guys to get together for poker tournaments in someone's house or apartment. The regular players would try to "recruit" new people as they moved to the community to try to bring in fresh blood/money. The buy in wasn't huge - maybe $20-$40, but the entire idea of it was a huge turn off to me. I just don't get the thrill of taking money from your friends. I get that it's consensual and it's all in good fun, but I don't see why you'd want to add that element and all the negativity associated with it to a friendship.

Making trips down to Atlantic City was fairly common as well. Many guys tried to go at least once a month. What I found interesting is that many would go with their wives and bill it as a romantic vacation of sorts. Maybe it was a way to get their wives off their backs about the gambling.

Either way, many of these couples had low paying jobs or had no income at all since they were in school. So, I don't think losing $100 or so a month was meaningless. I always thought it was interesting that I was more worried about losing $20 at a poker night (even beside my earlier concern about friendship) than these other people even though our income was far greater.

online mahjong said...

I think the game is a major problem in our society and the community Yeshivish that people recognize.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the Ben Ish Hai had gambling in mind, maybe not. He doesn't say so explicitly.* But he does explicitly mention obsession with the game to the neglect of other things, atmosphere of lewdness etc. So I would not interpret this to say non-gambling gaming is fine.

We've all seen kids come to tears and feelings of hatred over a "meaningless" board game disputes. But where his comments would seem to really apply today is computer games. They are terribly addictive, can be played by some with clinical obsession, and many are filthy.

* Conversely, it is not universally agreed that gambling is prohibited under all circumstances. There's a mesorah from Europe of allowing lotteries.