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Is a magnetic version of scrabble permitted to be played on shabbos? Generally, Scrabble is not considered writing (although there may be other problems if you usually write while playing) but Shemiras Shabbas Kehilchasa (beginning of perek 15 as well as other modern day sefarim) mentions that the deluxe versions that are framed are a problem of Koseiv, so I'm wondering if the magnetic version is a problem? The comparison would be that both of these editions makes it morre permanent. If so, please specify if mi'dioraysa, mi'drabanan, or just as a chumra. Also if there is a problem of tofeir please adress that as well, although generally these type of games aren't permanent at all.

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  • The magnet itself is not problematic, see here May 25 '20 at 7:42
  • '(although there may be other problems if you usually write while playing)' - refer to the Chaye Adam 38:11 and also the Sefer Tiltulei Shabbos p.24 adds for this reason it is a Kli Shemelachto l'issur - something whose primary use (in this case writing) is forbidden on Shabbos.
    – Dov
    May 25 '20 at 13:31
  • @Dov does that depend on the indivual person if he usually writes while playing or not?
    – Asher
    May 25 '20 at 13:43
  • @Asher I am not certain but I think it would seem not. כלי שמאלכתו לאיסור implies that since the usual usage requires writing as a way of scoring and that is the norm, regardless of whether one does or doesn't normally write, it would be not allowed. However, as you pointed out there are poskim that still allow the use of the regular scrabble (i.e. flat board as opposed to deluxe version with grooves) so that would seem to circumvent this point?
    – Dov
    May 25 '20 at 14:33
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“Shulchan Shlomo” (Shabbos, Vol. III, Siman 340, note 35) records an oral ruling by Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, that one may take plain letters and put them together to form words. This is not considered “writing”, as they have no “basis”, and they maintain their status of “individual” letters. However, taking plain letters and putting them in a “basis” would be prohibited, as this would be the equivalent of attaching letters to a sheet of parchment, which is the melacha of “writing”.

Rav Shlomo Zalman added; that for this reason, it is prohibited to attach magnetic letters to a metallic tray on Shabbos. While intrinsically magnets may be used on Shabbos (for example, a magnetic chess game, see ibid. 314:1), and the temporary connection “chibur arai” need not concern us vis a vis the prohibitions of ”boneh” and “soser”, nevertheless, affixing magnetic letters is prohibited as a form of “writing”.

He rules there, that this applies to “chelkei tzurah” (magnetic puzzles of pictures), and “kal vachomer” (all the more so) in the case of “osiyos” (letters) “chelkei osiyos” (partial letters).

[”Shulchan Shlomo” does not elaborate if this action would be included in the “di’oraysa” Torah based prohibition, or prohibited by rabbinical ordinance, “mi’derabbanan”. However, see the extensive discussion in Shu”t Maaseh Choshev (vol. 2:11) by Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Halpern regarding the issue of combining letters into words].

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Playing scrabble on Shabbos is a point of contention, and when magnetic, it makes it additionally troublesome. The full breakdown is as follows:

It is worth noting, building on your point mentioned in parentheses, based off the Chayei Odom klal 38, se'if 11) that it would be forbidden to play Scrabble as it normally entails writing down the score, even if one is definitive that they won't do any writing. The Sefer Tiltulei Shabbos p.24 adds for this reason it is a Kli Shemelachto l'issur - something whose primary use (in this case writing) is forbidden on Shabbos.

However, if we ignore this first point, we still need to know whether or not putting tiles of letters to form words is deemed a derivative of writing? The Levush 340:4 speaks about a book that has writing along the pages so that when one opens and closes the book he both erases and reconstitutes the letters (i.e. the melachos of mechika and koseiv). This is transferable to Scrabble in that one is both bringing letters together and disassembling to create words.

However, according to the Taz this can be disregarded as the whole purpose of a book is to be opened and closed much like a door - (See Taz). Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank in his responsa Har Tzvi notes that even the Levush would agree that bringing together two complete letters is not a case of Koseiv, as his whole argument is predicated on joining and separating letter fragments. The letters on the side of a book are destroyed when opened each time and then reformed when closed. As such, separating two letters is not considered erasing, nor is returning letters adjacent to each other viewed as writing.

Perhaps this is why the OU writes - "Accordingly, those who play such games as Scrabble on Shabbos should be careful to maintain a small space between the letters...."

However, it then adds...

Games that hold the letters locked in place (such as Deluxe Scrabble and Boggle) are not permitted because of koseiv." - (This is also highlighted in Sefer Tiltulei Shabbos p.24)

It would seem that the regular flat boards of Scrabble are okay as the tiles are largely disparate and aren't fixed in place. Indeed, Rav Moshe (Igros Moshe OC 135) writes "אבל הכא שלא מחובר כלל אינו ענין כתיבה כלל" - "But here where there's no connection/attachment at all it is not considered writing at all." The Deluxe version has grooves which keeps the tiles fixed in place much like the magnetic version. As such, the magnetic version ensures that the tiles adhere to the board much more strongly and there is a sense of 'chibur' - connection which is thus regarded as a stronger form of Koseiv and not allowed on Shabbos.

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  • thanks. can you please specify if mi'dioraysa or mi'drabanan
    – Asher
    May 25 '20 at 13:33
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This article by Rabbi Yoav Sternberg concludes it's allowed.

The main part of the article says:

כשלוקחים אותיות בעלמא וקובעים אותן בבסיס, הרי זה כמחבר אותיות לקלף… ...ומהאי טעמא הוסיף מרן זללה"ה, דאסור לקבוע אותיות מגנטיות במגש מגנטי בשבת…

אלא שיש לומר, שכל האמור בדברי הגרש"ז הוא רק כאשר לוקח אות שאין לה רקע, ומחבר אותה לרקע. במקרה כזה יש לומר...[שאסור] אבל כשיש אות שלמה, שאינה יכולה להתקלקל, כגון שהיא כבר כתובה על גבי רקע.... [נראה שמותר]

When you take letters by themselves and set them in a frame, it's like attaching letters to a parchment... and that is why our Rabbi ZT"L [Hagrasha"Z] you can't set magnetic letters on Shabbat.

But we should say that the Hagrasha"Z said when the letter has no background and the latter is attached to a background, that is when we say [it's forbidden].... but when the letter is whole, so the letter cannot be broken, like when there is background [it's allowed].

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  • The source quoted in the link, misquotes the שולחן שלמה, and selectively left out the line, where RSZA clearly stated, that both complete letters or partial letters, are both prohibited אותיות או חלקי אותיות אסור. May 25 '20 at 16:56
  • @IsraelReader It's clearly says so, but the RSZA does not talk about letters with background, right? May 26 '20 at 5:40

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