Attending a March for Women’s Rights on Shabbat


Paris, France

There is an important march for women’s rights in Paris on Shabbat. Several members of my shul (all women) are asking whether they may go if they are not carrying anything (there is no eiruv). I am wondering whether this is really the spirit of Shabbat. Do Jews usually march on Shabbat?


Shabbat 150a states,

וא”ר שמואל בר נחמני א”ר יוחנן הולכין לטרטיאות ולקרקסאות ולבסילקאות לפקח על עסקי רבים בשבת.
And Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: One may go to theaters [tarteiot], and circus performances [kirkesaot], and courthouses [basilkaot] to attend to communal affairs on Shabbat.

From this gemara we see:
(1) There is generally a Shabbat problem with going to theaters and circuses on Shabbat and
(2) While normally prohibited, it’s allowed to help save lives.

In this case, I don’t think the life saving is as direct and immediate, but I also don’t think that the uvda di’chol (weekday activity) and compromise on kedushat Shabbat (sanctity of Shabbat) is as great (although it definitely is there to a serious degree).

Here are the issues to consider:
1. “מצוא חפציך” – pursuing your interests. This is not a problem if it is chaftzei shamayim (religious matter) , which – for the person asking – this definitely is. Same goes for vi’daber davar (speaking of forbidden matters on Shabbat)- although be careful not to have conversations that are of a weekday nature and not germane to the cause. (SA OH 306:6)
2. “אם תשיב משבת רגליך” – as Rambam (Mishneh Torah Hilkhot Shabbat 24:4) writes –

ואסור לרוץ ולדלג בשבת שנאמר מעשות דרכיך שלא יהא הלוכך של שבת כהלוכך של חול.

It is forbidden to run and jump on the Sabbath, as [Isaiah, loc. cit.] states, “[Refraining] from following your [ordinary] ways” – i.e., the manner in which you walk on the Sabbath should not resemble the manner in which you walk during the week.

However, here too, tzorech mitzvah (for mitzvah purposes) is a factor to permit. As the Rambam writes in the next Halakha (Mishneh Torah Hilkhot Shabbat 24:5):

מותר לרוץ בשבת לדבר מצוה כגון שירוץ לבית הכנסת או לבית המדרש

It is permitted to run on the Sabbath for matters involved with a mitzvah – e.g., to run to the synagogue or the house of study.

3. Loudness and busy-ness of it all. This is a “larger” phenomenon than 1 and 2, but I imagine that tzorech mitzvah should logically be a reason to permit here as well.

The real problem is –
4. Losing the conscious awareness that it is Shabbat. The biggest problem with large, loud energetic events like this is that you get swept away by the energy and the crowd, and you lose your immediate awareness that it is Shabbat. Even if no transgression results, this in my mind is a serious issue of uvda di’chol and kedushat ha’yom (sanctity of the day).

So, I would say it is permissible if issue #4 (losing the conscious awareness of Shababt) can be addressed. I would advise you to wear your Shabbat clothes to the event, hum zemirot as your are walking, etc. If she thinks she can do things like this that will keep her aware of Shabbat, and if she considers the her participation will help the cause and the cause is a mitzvah, then it would be fine.

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