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I used to be a secular Jew. As with any secular person, I watched tv, went to the movies, hung out with friends, went to bars, etc.

After becoming observant, most of these activities had to go. While I do believe that Jews are meant for a higher purpose than to waste their time on meaningless hobbies, I still sometimes feel bored and emotionally deprived if all I do is ruchnius.

Are there any kosher outlets for a frum person to ease the evil inclination and subside the American urge to "have fun"?

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For me, spirituality and having fun are one and the same. The commandments (mitzvos) are ladders upwards and transcendence is super; its the same when I watch movies, play tennis, cook, write etc., although doing commandments has certain unique qualities. My suggestion is to have fun and let the fun enrich your spirituality. While the 'expert Jews' who you may see around you may give the appearance of all fun and no play that's just appearances. I vividly recall Rav Aharon Lichtenstein a"h playing basketball with great zest and joy. Good luck!

  • Welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks very much for this answer! I know many people can attest to R' Aharon Lichtenstein's basketball playing, as well as the positive character traits and derech eretz he demonstrated in the process (such as mentioned in Rabbi Genack's recollection here). – Fred May 10 '15 at 21:11
  • Josh, thank you for this useful answer! +1. We hope you'll like the place and decide to stay. We encourage you to choose a username and password and to register an account. This way, if your "Internet cookies" are lost, or if you sell your computer and buy a new one, you won't lose all your reputation points, badges, and power-user Mi Yodeya privileges. – unforgettableid May 10 '15 at 23:00
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    Do you mean "all work and no play"? – Scimonster May 11 '15 at 7:07
  • @Scimonster I don't think so. In the first sentence he says ruchniyos = fun, so I take this as "all ruchniyos and no play", with a substitution. I smiled when I read it. – Monica Cellio May 11 '15 at 12:48
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    "Rav Aharon Lichtenstein a'h playing basketball with great zest and joy" - no proof from there. probably he was trying to connect with his students like a father playing blocks with his kids – ray May 12 '15 at 4:48
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Personally, I've gotten many hours of enjoyment out of music, both before and after becoming a ba'al teshuvah. Playing piano, going to practices of a Jewish choir, trying to learn guitar, et cetera. Maybe one day I'll join my city's Jewish barbershop chorus.

I also might sometimes enjoy cycling, hanging out with friends, or doing the occasional crossword or jigsaw puzzle.

Wait. Why can't you hang out with friends now that you're frum? Maybe not at a bar, but somewhere else.

Also: Other than consuming media on TV and alcohol in non-Jewish bars (which are two extremely popular secular pastimes in America), did you have any hobbies or interests before becoming frum? If you've never had any as an adult, then how about when you were a kid?

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R. David Stav wrote an entire book on this subject, called בין הזמנים - תרבות בילוי ופנאי בהלכה ובמחשבה (Between Times: Culture, Leisure, and Recreation in Halacha and Thought) in 2012. The book analyzes the talmudic discussions of wasting time that is meant for Torah, and then considers contemporary forms of cultural entertainment. He breaks down these forms according to what he rules as being permitted, forbidden, and preferable. Some of the "fun" things that he declares halachically permissible include:

  • Watching sports
  • Watching movies (and shutting your eyes during graphic scenes)
  • Playing sports like swimming, basketball, and even non-idolatrous yoga
  • Reading literature and newspapers
  • Listening to most music (including women singers if they are not seen)
  • Creating art

It should be noted that the book was critically received by some rabbinic authorities, including R. Ovadia Yosef, particularly for R. Stav's stance on seeing movies with lewd content on it (in contrast to R. Stav's more conservative rulings of not seeing a female singer on television or separating the sexes during a funeral procession). Nevertheless, the book provides a great introduction to the halachic issues of recreation and is groundbreaking for its focus on it (and is delivered by an authority of Religious Zionism and head of the rabbinic outreach organization, Tzohar).

  • Shutting your eyes?? נקרא רשע mean anything? – Shoel U'Meishiv May 11 '15 at 13:57
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    The modesty levels on television has gone through a drastic change over the years - you'll end up sitting with your eyes closed the entire time... – Ani Yodea May 11 '15 at 14:13
  • @Mefaresh: As I mentioned, many have criticized that particular position. The answer, however, was more broadly meant to show a source that dealt with the question and offered various solutions. – Aryeh May 11 '15 at 20:23
  • When you used the phrase "critically received" i came away with a completely different idea than the one i think you meant. lol – Aaron Jun 30 '15 at 19:44
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Try to find outlets which in some way lead to spiritual growth. For example, the shaar bechina recommends studying nature to see the marks of divine wisdom.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller used to take a daily stroll and reflect on nature.

Try to find ways to help people.

One has to be careful though that perhaps his activity will lead him astray, so it is best to consult with your local Rav as what is good for one person may be bad for another.

Sometimes it is impossible to tell. I heard from Rabbi Nissan Kaplan that there is a simple test to see if your activity is good or bad. in pirkey avot it says "a mitzva brings a mitzva and sin brings sin." He says to look at the consequences of your activity. If it leads to weakening in your spiritual level (torah study, halacha observance, etc.) then it is a bad thing.

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in the morning blessings, we read a section from Peah, which translates as , "these are things we do without limit..." It's like a manual on how to go about life. It enumerates actions that one can do: Giving Charity, Deeds of Kindness, Escorting the Dead, dowering the bride, studying Torah. There is always community service that can be done and it is quite rewarding to help a fellow Jew. Check with your L.O.R. or nearest Chabad House, There might be someone who needs a Mezuzah put up, a Challah for Shabbat, a sick person may need a visit, sometimes you may be needed as a 10th for a Minyan at a Shivah house or a cemetery. I don't watch TV anymore however I have a large screen, netflix/ROKU has some legitimate Torah such as Universal Torah Network and if you can, connect your laptop to your TV to watch from the internet, Torah Cafe, Gutman Locks, Chabad.org multimedia, Aish and other Torah videos.

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    Torahanytime.com and divineinformation.com also have plenty of free shiurim to stream – Ani Yodea May 15 '15 at 4:04
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Reading Kosher books/newspapers, watching (obviously Kosher) movie/TV shows, listening to music, going for strolls, social networking, cooking, shopping, playing musical instruments, "schmoozing" with mates, eating out, the sudoku/crossword/candy crush are all ways in which one can relax and 'switch off' in their leisure time. Entertaining oneself in their free time by doing exercise or playing sports is an excellent outlet for observant Jews, whether its joining a gym, a weekly soccer game or an occasional tennis match. Furthermore, if one supports a sports team there is nothing intrinsically wrong in following your favourite team & watching them play at the stadium or on TV. Obviously if one works or is married their free time will be much less and a need for a past-time decreases and the need for sleep shoots up.

But it is important to understand that whether one enjoys oneself watching the odd movie or reading the occasional book ultimately there is nothing more pleasing than learning, listening to shiurim and entertaining ones 'neshama' (ruchniyus craving). It is hooking and once you "get into it" you're into it. You will find nothing as pleasurable as spiritual growth. Working through the Talmud (or any Sefer) with a Chavrusa is fascinating and immensely satisfying. Having a side hobby is encouraged but one must remain focused on the priority in life and eventually one will find nothing else more enjoyable. The knowledge that you are doing what is right and you are being rewarded for every letter of Torah learnt is non-comparable and hugely gratifying. Work on "shteiging" as much as possible and your problems will be sorted.

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Well, let's think about what rabbis do for leisure and entertainment; perhaps we can learn from their actions.

Many played musical instruments.

Rav Wosner z"l went swimming often. He also kept his weight always the same. The story goes that he ate one biscuit, asked if it was sufficiently large enough to recite an after-blessing, and was offered a second which he refused.

Many rabbis in Europe played football in their youth. The story of the Vilna Gaon is that he gave a shiur (Torah lecture) when he was six years old, and then afterwards played with nuts or marbles with children of his age. When asked why, he explained that if one doesn't 'play' out his youthfulness then he will never grow up. It is a vital part of growing up to 'play' that cannot be rectified later.

The Tiferes Yisroel on the mishnah in Avos about children's chatter says one cannot learn all the time and one must have a bit of leisure — but too much leisure takes you out of this world. I don't have the Tiferes Yisroel in front of me at the moment.

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