8th December 1977
Disapproving of chess
From Mr Ian K. Maconochie
Sir, I read with surprise Bernard Levin’s statement in his article on chess (November 21) [sic – JB] that "it has never incurred ecclesiastical displeasure", as not long before the end of the sixteenth century Muslims, Roman Catholics, Jewish and Anglican religions had at one time or another forbidden the playing of the game.
Muslims have a reference to chess as being a form of idol worship in the Koran, though after the prophet Mohammed’s death the decision was altered on condition that no exchange of money or improper language took place. Think of the situation of chess today if this were generally implemented!
Various ecclesiastical decrees, for example those by the Worcester Synod in 1240, and in France by the Provincial Council of Beziers in 1255 were made after an argument between the Bishop of Octia and the Bishop of Florence ended, with the result that the Bishop of Florence did penance for transgressing the Canon Law.
Knights Tempar up until the fifteenth century were forbidden to play chess, and from the rules of Apostolic Canon, at 1110 a monk in Eastern Church wrote that the penalty for playing was excommunication!
So if chess be the eighth deadliest sin, I stand condemned.
From Mr A. Hepner
Sir, I asked a rabbi (himself a keen player) whether it was sinful to play chess on the Sabbath. He said that the way I played it was a sin to play any day of the week!
(Hendon Chess Club)
38 years on now. Does anybody know if these two guys are still around?
In Judaism, there were three general issues with playing chess: (1) chess being a waste of time that should be used for useful pursuits, in particular studying the Torah. (2) chess can be used for gambling. (3) In particular, on the Shabbath (from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday) certain actions -- separating chess pieces into black and white armies, and in more modern times pressing a chess clock, driving to a tournament, handling prize or registration money -- are ritually considered "work" or "business" and therefore forbidden on that day.
Still, chess had a reputation for a game "full of wisdom", to quote the rabbinical language of the time, so it was given more leeway than most other games. For example, in Amsterdam (IIRC) when all games were banned for a decade as a sign of mourning over a large fire, this applied to all games *except* chess. On the whole, if frowned upon, chess (at least, when played on weekdays and not for money) was allowed. While some rabbis forbade it, I do not think it was ever generally banned.
Post a Comment