Can one clap one’s hands and dance on shabbos? What classifies as “bemakom mitzvah“? And when can one apply the rule of not telling people about a halachah so they remain shogeg (inadvertant) rather than meizid (intentional)?
Some are careful not to clap to a tune (in the normal manner) on Shabbos, and not to dance to a song, permitting these actions only on Simchas Torah (and not for other mitzvos). Others are lenient even for the regular “joy of Shabbos,” and they have upon whom to rely.
The principle of not informing somebody about a prohibition so that he will remain a shogeg applies to rabbinic enactments, and sometimes applies to Torah laws provided they are not explicit in the Torah (see Shulahcn Aruch, Orach Chaim 608:2; see Mitzvas Hatochecha chap. 9 at length). However, it only applies after the practice is well entrenched, and the person doing will certainly not heed the warning to desist. We will please G-d discuss the issue at greater length on a future occasion.
The Mishna (Beitzah 36b) rules that it is forbidden to clap one’s hands, bang on one’s thighs or dance [on Yom Tov]. Tosefos explains (Shabbos 148b) that since these actions were generally done to the accompaniment of musical instruments, the Sages were concerned that if one of the instruments would break one might come to fix it on Yom Tov or Shabbos, which is a violation of Shabbos and Yom Tov.
Tosafos (Beitzah 30a) writes that since we are not experts in repairing instruments, the prohibition is no longer relevant. Poskim struggle with this ruling, for as a rule, even when the reason given no longer applies, we cannot simply void a decree enacted by the Sages (see Beis Mayer 339:1; Iggros Moshe, Orach Chaim, vol. 2, no. 100). In addition, based on the rationale given by Tosefos, it should also be permitted to acutally play a music instument, for there is no concern that one will come to fix it.
The consensus among authorities is that even according to Tosafos, only clapping and dancing would be permitted, which is a more distant enactment, and not the actual playing of instruments (See Shaar Ephraim 36; Eliyah Rabba, Orach Chaim 339:1; Biur Halachah ibid. s.v. ulisspek).
Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 339:3) rules that it is forbidden to clap one’s hands, bang on one’s thigh or dance on Shabbos. Rema, quoting from Tosafos, rules that some say the enactment is no longer relevant, but Mishnah Berurah (8) only permits clapping and dancing on Simchas Torah, where doing so is a mitzvah in honor of the Torah. For any other reason, including even the mitzvah of a sheva berachos, it would not be permissible.
Some, however, especially in Chassidic circles, are more lenient, based on the ruling of Minchas Elozer (vol. 1, no. 29), who permits dancing and singing for those who are caught up in the joy of Shabbos, for it is considered a mitzvah.
A further reason for leniency is the ruling of Aruch Hashulchan (339:9), who writes that the entire manner in which we drum (and clap, and dance) today is different from the way in which people used to drum and dance to music in the past. Their dancing and clapping was rythmic (he mentions women’s dancing), whereas ours is sporadic, and the decree does not apply to it.
We should also note that Toras Shabbos (Orach Chaim 339:2) explains that dancing is defined as the action of picking up one’s first foot, then before it fully returns to the ground, beginning to raise the other. Any form of moving around in a circle that would not include this would be permitted.