The Mishna lists a number of seemingly innocent activities which are forbidden on Shabbat by rabbinic decree lest one come to violate Shabbat by means of a related activity. Clapping and dancing are among these forbidden activities due to their frequent association with musical instruments. Though once part of the formal Shabbat service, musical instruments were later banned due to the concern that one may be tempted to repair a musical instrument in the event it breaks â€“ a severe violation of the laws of Shabbat. In order to properly distance the community from the prohibition of repairing instruments, the rabbis forbade clapping, dancing and all forms of music making as well.
Click here to read moreAlthough there are authorities who continue to rule stringently and prohibit dancing and clapping on Shabbat even in our day, there are those who advocate a more progressive approach to the issue as well. Indeed, even the earliest of the Talmudic commentators argued that clapping and dancing should be permitted given that the concern which led to the decree was no longer relevant. These sages felt that since nowadays very few people are skilled in instrument repair there was little reason to fear that someone would come to repair an instrument which had broken.
Additionally, there are those who are of the opinion that it was only clapping and dancing to instrumental music which was prohibited, not dancing to the tunes of vocal song. It also seems that the dancing of the Talmudic era was a different, more professional form of dancing than we have today. The spontaneous recreational dancing as is common at religious events would pose no problem according to this view. Indeed, it is unanimously permitted to clap in the normal fashion in order to get someone’s attention or when otherwise clearly not in the context of music.
Some suggest that clapping and dancing really should be avoided on Shabbat, though they acknowledge there are grounds for leniency for more distinctive occasions, such as Simchat Torah. According to all authorities clapping in a backhanded fashion is always permitted, as that alone serves as an adequate reminder not to get carried away with musical instruments. The Chassidic authorities are exceptionally lenient regarding dancing and clapping on Shabbat, even claiming that it is a component of the mitzvah to be joyful on Shabbat.
Although many individuals and communities have legitimately chosen to follow the lenient approach and allow clapping and dancing on Shabbat, nevertheless the original enactment to avoid musical instruments is very much in place. As such, the use of door knockers on Shabbat is prohibited as is using a rattle to calm a child. One should not use forks, knives, or other tableware in order to make a beat or rhythm while singing.
The tuning forks that are often used by Chazzanim are permitted by some authorities but forbidden by others. Those who are lenient regarding the use of tuning forks argue that since it is only heard by the person using it and can only play a single note allows for leniency. So too, the bells that are often attached to the crowns placed upon the Torah scrolls pose no halachic problem since there is no intention for them to serve as music but rather to announce the arrival of the Torah. Whistling is permitted on Shabbat.
 Beitza 36b
 Beitza 36b, Aruch Hashulchan O.C. 339:7
 O.C. 339:3, Igrot Moshe O.C. 2:100, Yechave Daat 2:58
 Rama O.C. 339:3, Aruch Hashulchan 339:9
 Tosfot Beitza 30a, Rama 339:3
 Aruch Hashulchan O.C. 339:9
 Mishna Berura 338:2,4, Aruch Hashulchan 338:5
 Magen Avraham O.C. 33:91, Mishna Berura 339:8, Kaf Hachaim 339:10,13
 O.C. 339:3, Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchata 16:43, 28:36
 Minchat Elazar O.C. 1:29, cited in Halacha Encounters, Clapping and Dancing on Shabbos, by Rabbi Avi Weinrib at: http://www.cckollel.org/html/parsha/vayikra/tzav5763.html
 Kaf Hachaim 339:14
 O.C. 338:1, Aruch Hashulchan 338:1
 Rama O.C. 338:1
 O.C. 339:3
 Bnei Banim 1:12 where it is suggested that doing so may be an issur d’oraita
 Yabia Omer 3:22
 Mishna Berura 338:4, Aruch Hashulchan 338:8
 Aruch Hashulchan 338:3
 Aruch Hashulchan O.C. 338:7