I live in a state where there are many white supremacists and even some neo-Nazis. They are planning to march in my town this coming Saturday, and I want to join the counterprotest, which will include representatives from many organizations, as well as concerned individuals.

Is it OK for me to attend the protest, even though it is slated for Shabbat afternoon?


Before addressing your question, it is important to note that Shabbat observance follows both the “letter of the law” and the “spirit of the law.” While an action may be halachically permitted, it may not be in keeping with the spirit of Shabbat and is therefore avoided. Let’s examine how this applies to protesting.

The Technical Stuff

Although it is permitted to violate Shabbat for the sake of saving a life, in your case, it does not seem as if anyone’s life depends directly on your attendance at the rally. However, it is clear that attending such a rally is commendable.

If you attend, you would obviously need to be careful not to do anything that may violate Shabbat, such as carrying signs in a place where there is no eruv or driving to the protest. In addition, you must not cause others to violate Shabbat on your behalf. Another issue to bear in mind is posing for photos or speaking to video cameras, which can be problematic.1

Provided that you can take care of the logistics, we can turn to the spirit of Shabbat.

Shabbat Comportment

The prophet Isaiah proclaims: “If you restrain your foot because of the Sabbath from performing your affairs on My holy day, and you call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the L‑rd honored, and you honor it by not doing your wonted ways, by not pursuing your affairs and speaking words, then you shall delight with the L‑rd . . .”2

From this verse, the sages understand that even if we aren’t technically doing an act prohibited on Shabbat, we must be sure our Shabbat activities are different from the weekday routine. So if something is considered a mundane activity (uvdin dechol), it should not be done on Shabbat.3

Regarding speech, it is permitted to converse on Shabbat as you do during the week, if that is what gives you pleasure.4 However, if something will cause anxiety “or even a trace of worry,” it is forbidden to even (intentionally5) think about it on Shabbat.6

Protesting often comes with critical speechmaking, chanting and shouting, which may be problematic.

Public Need

However, there are exceptions to the above rule. While mundane speech and activities are generally forbidden, they are permitted when there is a mitzvah at stake (provided that no actual Shabbat laws would be broken).

For example, while measuring is a mundane activity that is generally avoided on Shabbat, one may measure for the sake of a mitzvah, such as determining whether a mikvah contains the requisite amount of water to be kosher.7

Likewise, if a person loses an object, it is permitted to announce the loss on Shabbat, asking for anyone with knowledge of its whereabouts to step forward, because the return of a lost object is a mitzvah.8

Furthermore, in some instances, even if the action is not for the sake of a specific mitzvah, but for a pressing need for the community at large, it would be permitted.9

(Note that it is only permissible—both with regard to mitzvah-related speech as well as communal issues—if there is an actual pressing need for it to be done on Shabbat.10)

Based on the above, there are rabbis who permit joining a protest that takes place on Shabbat if it is related to a communal need or a pressing mitzvah.11

Now, what exactly falls under the category of mitzvah-related is not entirely clear, and some people may get more anxious than others, so it is important to discuss your specific situation with a local, qualified rabbi if you feel there are grounds for you to attend a protest.

May we merit the day when there will no longer be strife, and peace will descend upon the world!