Five Towns Jewish Times by Rabbi Yair Hoffman
They can be found in virtually every neighborhood in the Five Towns and Far Rockaway. Walk from Lawrence to Woodmere and you will find many dozens of them. And, even on Shabbos, they are being utilized. They are portable, movable, basketball hoops.
The question is - what is the Halachic status of this pastime - when done on Shabbos? Should parents discourage their children from playing ball on Shabbos? Is there a difference between very young children, children who have reached the age of Chinuch, and children above the age of Bar Mitzvah?
Certainly, we can all understand the sentiment that children need to be given some space and time to let off steam or energy. Every child is different and "chanoch lanoaral pi darcho." If the underlying aspects of this activity are not forbidden, should wereally be making an issue out of it?
The Talmud Yerushalmi (Taanis 4:5) tells us of a great city named Tur Shimon with its very own Tomchei Shabbos that delivered 300 barrels of material to the poor each Friday. The Talmud, however, goes on to explain that this city was ultimately destroyed. Why was it destroyed? One opinion says that it was because of untoward activity. Another opinion says that it was on account of, yes, ball playing. Gulp.
Ostensibly, it was ball playing on Shabbos as most of the commentators explain. Indeed, Rav Huna in Midrash Aicha Rabasi explicitly states that the ball playing was on Shabbos. This Yerushalmi is cited by the Bais Yoseph (OC 308). Finally, there is a third opinion (See Rokeach Hilchos Shabbos 55) that they played ball on Shabbos and did not learn Torah.
What is remarkable is that nowhere in these sources (other than in the words of the Rokeach) is the exact problem with ball-playing on Shabbos fully or even partially explained. What was the exact violation? There is, of course, an entire litany of halachic possibilities as to the exact nature of the problem (which, as the reader may have surmised, will be explored), but perhaps the very silence of the sources is instructive in and of itself.
Perhaps, the reason Tur Shimon was destroyed was that this remarkable town - with such remarkable chessed going on in its midst should have utilized the Shabbos as a means to further their Dveikus Bashem - their cleaving to Hashem. Excessive ball- playing, or any other mundane activity can sometimes be indicative of a lack of such a relationship with Hashem - and that lost opportunity may very well have been the reason for Hashem not having saved this town from destruction. [For rest of article click Five Towns Jewish Times]