Gambling was known to the ancient world. Games of chance were an appreciated pastime, often turning into addiction, among the Greeks – Herodotus relates that the Lydians supposedly invented some games (History 1:94); among the Romans, who are known to have bet heavily on chariot races; and among the Teutons, of whose gambling habits Tacitus states that in their less sober moments they even gambled themselves into slavery (Germany, 24). While the Hebrews were also acquainted with gambling (Judg. 14), it was only from mishnaic days onward that the rabbis took a definitive attitude toward gambling.
Professional and Compulsive Gambling
Professional gambling in any shape or form, whether among Jews or non-Jews, was severely frowned upon. The professional gambler was considered a parasite who was engaged in a useless endeavor and contributed nothing to better the world. Some rabbis went so far as to declare the professional gambler a robber whom the Mishnah (Sanh. 3:3) disqualified from giving testimony; he was looked upon as a spineless wastrel who, instead of engaging in the study of Torah or in the pursuit of an honest livelihood (Maim., Comm. to Mishnah, Sanh. 3:3), frittered his time and efforts away on a demeaning occupation and unseemly conduct (Rabban (ed. 1920), 224d; Mordekhai, Sanh. nos. 690, 695).
The rabbis recognized the inability of the compulsive gambler to control his passion for the game (Shiltei ha-Gibborim, Sheb. 756), considered him a moral weakling, and consequently dealt with him severely. One medieval rabbi advised: "Do not show pity to the gambler who pleads 'pity me in order that I may not be shamed and disgraced by him who has won a gulden.' Better he be disgraced…" (Judah he-Ḥasid, Sefer Ḥasidim, ed. by R. Margaliot (1957), no. 1026; cf. no. 400). So vehement was his opposition to the gambler that if the latter were to lose his money and require assistance from charity, it was to be denied to him.
Public calamities that befell the Jewish community were often considered the consequence of, and the punishment for, excessive gambling. In 1576, in Cremona, three scholars proposed a ban on gambling after a pestilence had abated. They maintained that the popular passion to gamble was the main source of all calamities that had befallen the community. A similar view had been expressed earlier by Judah Katzenellenbogen (Isaac Lampronti, Paḥad Yiẓḥak, 3 (Venice, 1798), 54a).
Effects of Gambling
Community leaders, keenly aware of the painful and destructive effects of gambling upon an individual's character, meted out severe punishment. Gambling debts could not be collected through the Jewish courts (Resp. Rashba, vol. 7, no. 445). The gambler was often placed under ban, dismissed from the burial society (ibid., nos. 244, 270; Resp. Rosh 13:12), at times prohibited from holding his wedding in the synagogue courtyard (Loewenstein, in JJLG, 8 (1910), 184f.), not called to the Torah (Finkelstein, Middle Ages, 282–95), etc. Family life was also disrupted by gambling habits, and there is much evidence readily available to show how difficult relationships were between gamblers and their wives (Resp. Rashba, vol. 2, nos. 35, 286; vol. 7, no. 501; Rosh, resp. 82:2, inter alia). Women refused to live with such husbands; wife-beating and drinking were common (Zikhron Yehudah no. 71; responsa Maharyu no. 135) and the education of children was jeopardized (Rosh, resp. 82:2). Repelled by the conditions under which they were forced to live, gamblers' wives often sought divorce. The gambler's desertion of his family was not an uncommon occurrence. One moralist even suggested that women should join their husbands in their acts of gambling in order to save their marriages (Moses of Jerusalem (Moses Henochs), Brant-Shpigel, ch. 10).
Gambling was denounced not only by Jewish law and by Jewish moralists, but its evils and terrible consequences were warned against by popular folk singers, in colloquial expressions, and in proverbs. "Gambling poems," describing the sorrow of a home where the man gambles, speak pitifully of the mental anguish of the gambler's "widow," the hidden tears, and the neglect of the children.
Curbs on Gambling
Jewish writings mention many gamblers who made conscious efforts to curb their passion and activities. A common practice among them was to take an oath not to indulge in games of chance, although this usually resulted in a double violation: gambling and breaking a vow. The vows varied: some gamblers set a time limit to their vows; others excluded specific days or special occasions; while still others only refrained from placing monetary stakes, but played, for example, for stakes of fruit (Resp. Rashba, vol. 3, no. 305; Maharshal, resp. no. 185). Rabbis discouraged hasty vows, realizing that these did not lessen the lure of games of chance.
Communal restrictions to suppress gambling were often enacted; the frequency of these enactments, however, shows how futile the prohibitions were and how popular the games. Taking into consideration the attraction of games and gambling, the enactments were flexible: on many festive occasions (e.g., Ḥanukkah, Purim, the intermediary days of Passover and Sukkot, and the New Moon) the restrictions were lifted (Israel Bruna, resp. no. 136). Special family occasions also received communal dispensation for gambling (Finkelstein, Middle Ages, 228–42, 284–91). In general, however, the prohibitions were enforced and accompanied by severe penalties: excommunication and flagellation were commonly meted out to transgressors (Resp. Rashba, vol. 7, nos. 244, 270); fines were imposed and honorary functions within the synagogue withheld.
Types of Games of Chance
The medieval gambler was enticed by all sorts of games. Dice were known from ancient times, and games such as "odds or evens" played with pebbles, knucklebones, and bowling were also quite old. Games with nuts, although often played by children, were also a pastime for the gambler (Haggahot Mordekhai, Sanh. nos. 722–3; Resp. Maharam of Rothenburg, ed. Prague, no. 94). Not until the 15th century did cards capture the fancy of the Jewish masses (I. Abrahams, Jewish Lifein the Middle Ages (19322), 415ff.). Tennis, popular among the Jews of Italy during the 16th century, was, just as chess, not merely played as a pastime but enormous stakes were wagered upon the outcome of such matches (Henderson, in JQR, 26 (1935/36), 5; for cards and chess see *Games). By the 18th century, lotteries were very popular. The different types of gambling were not universal; each country had its own fads and favorite games.
Many authorities felt that it was permissible to indulge in games of chance on occasions (Mordekhai, Sanh. 690f.). Gambling, however, carried with it a stigma; but while public opinion looked down upon it, all the private and communal efforts to stem the tide of gambling did not stop Jews from indulging frequently. One scholar even urged the abolition of all decrees against gambling since men could not withstand such temptation (Mordekhai, Shev. 787).
Gaming in the synagogue was not uncommon; a sharp contrast was drawn, however, between the usual forms of gambling and cases where the primary motive was not personal gain. A multitude of responsa cite instances where the winnings at games of chance were not considered fruits of sin (e.g., Resp. Maharam of Rothenburg, ed. Prague, no. 493). One of the clearest statements was made by Benjamin *Slonik who differentiated between gambling for private gain and that in which the winnings, even if only in part, went to charity. He saw no violation in the latter case and demanded full payment of gambling debts to charity. There were many instances where the rabbis and communities joined in games of chance. One rabbi ruled that he who wins at a lottery should pronounce the blessing She-Heḥeyanu; should one win together with a
These findings might have bearing on the modern controversy over congregationally sponsored bingo and card games organized to raise funds to meet the tremendous budgets of the synagogues. Jewish history and rabbinic literature shows that such methods are not new. Synagogues and communities have indulged in similar games in the past, and the revenues have been used to meet their financial obligations. Rabbis not only did not frown upon such acts but frequently encouraged them. The *United Synagogue of America at successive conventions has, however, ruled that bingo is a form of fund-raising not to be permitted by their congregations, the opinion being that it is not in keeping with the spirit of Judaism.
In Jewish Law
It is said that people who play games of dice are the sinners "in whose hands is craftiness" (Ps. 26:10), calculating with their left hand and covering with their right, and defrauding and robbing each other (Mid. Ps. to 26:7). Dice are variously named in the Talmud as kubbiyyah (RH 1:8; Sanh. 3:3; et al.), pesipas (Sanh. 25b), or tipas (Tosef., Sanh. 5:2), apparently all words of Greek origin denoting small, wooden, mostly painted cubes. The player is sometimes called kubiustos, and it is said of him that he is afraid of daylight (Ḥul. 91b). Slaves are said to be notorious gamblers – which is the reason given for the rule that the sale of a slave could not be rescinded where it turned out that he was a kubiustos (BB 92b–93a and Rashbam ibid.).
However sinful and reprehensible gambling may be, it was not regarded as a criminal offense in talmudic law. A gambler who had no other trade but lived by gambling was disqualified as a judge and as a witness (RH 1:8; Sanh. 3:3), and in order to have his disqualification removed, had first to pay back (or to distribute to charities) all the money he had earned from his gambling (Sanh. 25b; Piskei ha-Rosh, Sanh. 3:10). For the purpose of such disqualification, moreover, the concept of gambling was expressly extended to include betting on animal races and the flights of pigeons and other birds (Sanh. 25a–b). Opinions differ as to the reason for such disqualification: some hold that taking money from another by way of game or sport, without giving valuable consideration in return, is like larceny; others hold that wasting time and money in gambling, instead of engaging in studies or in a trade or profession, amounts to ignoring the "general welfare of the world" (yishuvo shel olam); both schools conclude that gamblers cannot, therefore, be reliable (ibid.; and Yad, Gezelah Va-Avedah 6:10–11 and Edut 10:4). The rule did not apply to occasional gamblers who earned their livelihood by an honest trade (Sanh. 3:3; Rema, ḤM 370:3; Mordekhai, Sanh. 690; Kesef Mishneh, Edut 10:4; et al.). A vow not to earn money was understood to mean not to win money by gambling (TJ, Ned. 5, 4, 39b). As gambling easily grows into an irresistible obsession, vows and oaths to abstain from it in the future were frequently taken, and the question arose whether such vows were irrevocable: those who held that they were regarded gambling as offensive and prohibited anyway (cf., e.g., TJ, Ned. ibid. and Korban Edah and Penei Moshe ibid.; Resp. Rashba, vol. 1, no. 756; Resp. Radbaz 214; Resp. Maharashdam, YD 84; et al.); others also considered the psychological aspect and held such vows to be impossible to maintain (Resp. Ribash 281, 432; et al.). But so long as the vow had not been lawfully revoked, any gambling in contravention of it would be punished with *flogging and heavy *fines (Resp. Rosh 11:9).
In the Middle Ages, the playing of games of chance came to be recognized in many communities as a criminal offense: with the impoverishment of ghetto populations, the public danger of gambling and the necessity to suppress it called for drastic measures. The following is an example of a communal law (*takkanah) on gambling: "Nobody may play at cards or dice or any other games whatsoever that the mouth could speak or the heart think, even on Rosh-Ḥodesh, Ḥanukkah, Purim, ḥol ha-mo'ed, and other days on which no Taḥanun is said, and even at the bed of a woman confined in childbirth or at a sickbed – and everybody whoever it may be, including boys and girls, manservants and maidservants, shall be punished if they should (God forbid) contravene and play; if the offender is well-to-do, he shall pay for every occasion two silver coins, one for the talmud torah and one for the poor of Jerusalem; and if he is poor so that he cannot be punished by fine, he shall be punished by *imprisonment and tortured by iron chains as befits such offenders – always according to his blameworthiness and the exigencies of the day; and in any case shall his shame be made public, by announcing that this man has contravened this law" (Takkanot Medinat Mehrin, ed. I. Halpern, 92f.).
The modern distinction between games of skill (which are lawful) and games of chance (which are prohibited) was already made in Jewish medieval sources: some scholars held that games of skill were allowed and games of chance prohibited on a Sabbath (Shiltei ha-Gibborim, Er. 35b); some doubted the validity of the distinction and held that all games, even chess, were prohibited on Sabbath (several responsa on the subject are printed in full in Paḥad Yiẓḥak (by Isaac Lampronti) S.V. Shevu'ah she-Lo Lishok). Games of skill, such as chess, were never made a criminal offense, though disapproved of as a waste of time which should properly be devoted to study; and domestic gambling, even for money, became customary during the night of Christmas.
The Israel Penal Law Amendment (Prohibited Games; Lottery and Betting) Law, 5724 – 1964, provides for the punishment,
[Haim Hermann Cohn]
The Validity of an Agreement Dependent on Casting Lots
AN AGREEMENT DEPENDENT SOLELY ON CASTING LOTS
Casting lots is mentioned in tannaitic literature as an acceptable way of dividing property amongst heirs (BB 106b). The *amoraim discussed the nature of the legal mechanism of *acquisition (kinyan) after the results of the lots are obtained. The conclusion reached in the Babylonian Talmud is that the benefit derived by each of the siblings from the very fact of the mutual agreement to disband the partnership creates the wholehearted agreement required in order for the transaction to be valid (Rashbam, ibid.). Similarly, any agreement in which the sides undertake to make payment in accordance with the results of casting lots has binding force, albeit on condition that a formal kinyan was performed so long as there was no kinyan the sides can withdraw from the agreement (Me'irat Einayim on Sh. Ar., ḤM 207:33).
The conditions required to validate an agreement involving lots or gambling are that it be carried out fairly; and that each participant enjoy equal chances of winning. Rabbi Jair Hayyim Bacharach was asked about a case in which people had cast lots, the stakes being a golden goblet. In the particular case he adjudicated, the lots were cast in an unfair, unequal manner; hence, he ruled that the lottery was invalid. Had the lots been cast fairly, he ruled that they would carry binding validity for "we see from the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings that lots were relied upon when they were cast without human thought or intervention… Most likely, if the lots are cast fairly, an element of divine intervention obtains" (Responsa Havot Ya'ir §61).
AGREEMENTS DEPENDENT ON BOTH LUCK AND SKILL OF PARTICIPANTS
In the case of games involving a combination of both skill and luck, we find a controversy regarding whether the agreement among the sides is valid or not. As stated earlier, the amoraim argued in the Talmud (Sanh. 24b) as to why diceplayers are disqualified from serving as witnesses or judges. According to Rabbi Shesheth, it is because "they are not concerned with the general welfare." In his view, their disqualification is more societally oriented. Rami bar Hama, by contrast, argues that their disqualification stems from the invalidity of the agreement among them, which transforms the transfer of money among them into theft, thereby disqualifying them as witnesses or judges.
In this second view, games of dice "constitute an asmakhta [a transaction built upon a fallacious presumption], and an asmakhta is not binding" (BM 66b. See *Asmakhta). Each participant presumes that he has the skill and ability to beat his opponent and to win the money; hence, when he initially agrees with the other parties to abide by the results of the game, his consent is not sincere. Hence, the required act of acquisition does not take place among the sides, and the money that ultimately goes to the winner is in a sense stolen (Rashi, ibid.).
The law was decided in favor of Rabbi Shesheth, who said that the reason that dice-players are disqualified from serving as judges or witnesses is their "lack of concern with the general welfare." Some explain this in the sense that dice-players, being unfamiliar with the normal workings of the world, are thereby unfit to serve as judges. This approach would seem to imply that, from a monetary standpoint, the agreement among dice-players is valid (Rashi, ibid.). Yet according to Maimonides (Yad, Gezelah 6:11), even the rationale of "lack of concern with the general welfare" includes the issue of theft. In his view, winning money in a dice game still involves a "trace of theft" to it, thus making it rabbinically prohibited. No fullfledge acquisition takes place between the sides; what occurs is instead a farce (Me'irat Einayim on Sh. Ar., ḤM, 34:40. In the view of Alfasi [Teshuvot ha-Ge'onim (ed. Harkabi, 5647, §84)], or that of the Talmudic text he had before him, it follows that Rabbi Shesheth does not disagree with the principle that dice-games constitute an asmakhta.).
When the dice game is played for money that is not literally lying on the table before the players, but only exists as a debt, such that each participant undertakes to pay in the future if he loses, the winner is unable to claim the money from the loser through the rabbinic court. The reason for this is that such a case constitutes an outright asmakhta, or because such an act is devoid of any act of acquisition (Tosafot, Er. 82a; Tur, ḤM 207:17).
GAMES OF SKILL
We find a controversy among the halakhic authorities regarding games in which winning depends on skill rather than luck. The Talmud (Er. 104a) mentions such a game between women employing nuts and apples, and the game is deemed prohibited on the Sabbath. Or Zaru'a (Pt. II, Hilkhot Yom Tov, §357) rules that even on weekdays that game is prohibited, because it is like dice games.
By contrast, Shiltei ha-Gibborim rules that this game is exclusively one of skill, and as such cannot be likened to dice games. In wake of this controversy, later authorities disagreed regarding chess: should chess be considered not an asmakhta, as it requires skill and only people of good character play it, or should we not distinguish between different types of games, and instead consider even games of skill an asmakhta? (see, for example, Responsa Torat Emet §180).
PURCHASING LOTTERY TICKETS
Contemporary halakhic authorities deliberated the issue as to whether one is permitted to purchase lottery tickets. Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef ruled that, owing to the problem of asmakhta, it is forbidden to purchase such tickets. By contrast, Rabbi Avraham Shapira, when he served as chief rabbi of Israel (see Bibliography: Shapira), ruled that the purchase of lottery tickets differs from playing
The Law in the State of Israel
Articles 224–235 of the 1977 Penal Code deal with gambling. According to the law, a "forbidden game" is one in which "a person is supposed to win money, goods, or benefits based on the outcome of a game, and that outcome depends on luck more than on understanding or ability." The law imposes prison sentences on anyone participating in forbidden games, and larger punishments on those who organize such games. There is likewise a prohibition against operating or maintaining premises in which such games are played, and the police are authorized to close them down.
At the same time, when games are earmarked for a specific group of people, are not played in a place where forbidden games are played, and their purpose is entertainment alone and not profit, the law does not forbid them. The Finance Minister likewise has the authority to permit certain games, and the National Lottery is allowed to operate in accordance with a special license received from the minister.
The Supreme Court of the State of Israel relied on the stance of Jewish Law regarding games of chance in the "Ninety Balls Incident" (CA 4436/02 Ninety Balls v. the Haifa Municipality, PD 58 (3) 782), vis-à-vis the underlying reasoning for the negative approach to gambling. The Court (Justice Asher Grunis) quoted from R. Menahem Meiri (Bet ha-Behirah, Sanhedrin, ad loc.). Meiri explains that two reasons stand behind this negative relationship. The first involves the fact that, just as gamblers are accustomed to lying during their gambling, they will not consider lying a shameful act in their other activities. According to the second explanation, just as gamblers take a cavalier attitude to their own money where gambling is concerned, so are they liable to take a cavalier attitude to the money of others. Hence, they will not consider what it means for someone to lose money as a result of their own false testimony.
[Menachem Elon (2nd ed.)]
L. Loew, Die Lebensalter in der juedischen Literatur (1875), 323–37; V. Kurrein, in: MGWJ, 66 (1922), 203–11; I. Rivkind, in: Tarbiz, 4 (1932/33), 366–76; idem, in: Horeb, 1 (1934), 82–91; idem, Der Kamf kegen Azartshpilen bay Yidn (1946); I. Jakobovits, Jewish Law Faces Modern Problems (1965), 109–12; L. Landman, in: JQR, 57 (1966/67), 298–318; 58 (1967/68), 34–62; idem, in: Tradition, 10:1 (1968/69), 75–86; I. Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages (19322), 397–422; ET, 2 (1949), 113; 5 (1953), 520–2; J. Bazak, in: Ha-Peraklit, 16 (1960), 47–60; idem, in: Sinai, 48 (1961), 111–27. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Elon, Ha-Mishpat ha-Ivri (1988), 1:193f, 576, 658, 665; idem, Jewish Law (1994), 1:218f.; 2:710, 814, 822; M. Elon and B. Lifshitz, Mafte'ah ha-She'elot ve-ha-Teshuvot shel Ḥakhmei Sefarad u-Ẓefon Afrikah (legal digest), 1 (1986), 15; B. Lifshitz and E. Shohetman, Mafte'aḥ ha-She'elot ve-ha-Teshuvot shel Ḥakhmei Ashkenaz, Ẓarefat ve-Italyah (legal digest) (1997), 13; Sh. Warhaftig, Dinei Ḥozim be-Mishpat Ivri (5735 – 1975), 212–31; idem, "The Contract Involved in Lotteries and Gambling According to Jewish Law," in: Sinai, 71 (5732 – 1972), 229–40; B. Lipschitz, Asmakhta – Ḥiyyuv ve-Kinyan be-Mishpat ha-Ivri (1988), 81–83; A.C. Shapira, "Purchasing Lottery Tickets," in: Teḥumin, 5 (1984), 301–2; Y. Cohen, "A Married Woman's Winning the Lottery," in: Teḥumin, 5 (1984), 303–14.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.