May one play the lottery [i.e. purchase a lottery ticket]?

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May one play the lottery [i.e. purchase a lottery ticket]?

Background: The act of gambling is subject to debate and discussion in the Poskim[1] as to its level of prohibition. Practically, in conclusion we rule that it is forbidden to gamble even on occasion, and even with a gentile, and even according to the Ashkenazim.[2] For Ashkenazim, however, who follow the Rama, this is a less severe of a prohibition than for the Sefaradim who follow the rulings of the Michaber.[3] A question that rises in result of this prohibition is regarding playing the lottery. Is playing the lottery considered gambling and hence is forbidden to be done?  

The law:[4] Playing the lottery does not share the same prohibited aspects found in regular gambling and is hence permitted to be done.[5] It is thus permitted for one to purchase a lottery ticket. This applies whether the game is played by a majority Jewish or gentile population. This applies for both Sefaradim and Ashkenazim.


[1] See Admur Gzeila Ugineiva 31; Areas in Talmud and Shulchan Aruch that the Issur of gambling is discussed:  Mishneh Rosh Hashanah 22a and Sanhedrin 24b; Orach Chaim 322:6; Choshen Mishpat 34:16 [laws of testimony]; Rama Choshen Mishpat 207:13 [laws of Asmachta]; 370:2-3 [laws of stealing]

Background: The Mishneh states that one who gambles is invalid for testimony. [Mishneh Rosh Hashanah 22a and Sanhedrin 24b] The Gemara in Sanhedrin records a dispute as to the reason behind this invalidation. Rami Bar Chama says the reason is because it is similar to stealing, being that the loser never fully agreed to give him the money, being that he was planning on winning. The fact that he said he would give the money if he loses is a mere Asmachta, which is a not legally binding promise of words, being that he did not intend to truly relinquish his money but rather to use it to win. [Nonetheless, even according to this opinion, the winner is not considered a Biblical Gazlan/robber, being that he did not forcefully take the money from the loser. He is, however, considered a Rabbinical Gazlan. Rashi on Mishneh R.H. ibid; Machatzis Hashekel on M”A 422:8] Rav Sheishes, however, rules that the money is not considered stolen at all, being that it was not given as an Asmechta, but as an actual acquisition to the winner. Nevertheless, he is invalidated as a witness being that he is not involved in settling the world. The practical ramification between these opinions is regarding a gambler who has an occupation, in which case according to Rami Bar Chama he is still invalid, while according to Rav Sheshes he is valid. [Sanhedrin ibid] Practically, we rule like Rav Sheshes [Michaber 34:16; 370:3; Smeh 370:3; Machatzis Hashekel ibid; Rif; Rosh on Sanhedrin ibid] Nonetheless, even according to Rav Sheishes, it is disputed as to whether there is a Rabbinical stealing prohibition involved in gambling, with some ruling that it contains an actual Rabbinical prohibition due to Avak Gezel and others ruling that there is no Rabbinical prohibition involved. Admur, and other Achronim, novelize that according to all opinions there is some level of stealing involved in gambling and the dispute is only as to what level. The following is a summary of the opinions:

1) Actual Rabbinical Gezeila. [Rami Bar Chama]

2) Not actual Rabbinical Gzeila but Rabbinically prohibited due to Avak Gezel [Rav Sheshes as rules first opinion in Admur ibid; Michaber Orach Chaim 322:6; Choshen Mishpat 34:16 [laws of testimony]; 370:2 [laws of stealing]; Rambam Gzeila 6:10; Rashi Rosh Hashanah 22a; Regarding opinion of Rambam: See Hilchos Gzeila 6; Eidus 10:4; Kesef Mishneh ibid]

3) No stealing at all even Rabbinically [2nd opinion in Admur ibid; Rama Choshen Mishpat 207:13 [laws of Asmachta] and 370:3 [regarding laws of stealing] “The custom is to gamble”; Tur Choshen Mishpat 34, 207, 370, brought in M”A 322:8; Rosh Sanhedrin 3:7; Tosafos Sanhedrin 25a] although it is slightly forbidden. [Rav Sheshes as rules Admur and M”A in their understanding of Rama]

4) No stealing at all on any level. [Simple understanding of Rama ibid] 

[2] Admur ibid in parentheses; M”A 322:8 “a slight prohibition”; Teshuvos Harivash 432; Machatzis Hashekel on M”A ibid;  P”M 322 A”A 8; Rav Poalim Y.D. 2:30  

Background: Admur ibid writes in parentheses that even according to the lenient opinion who rules it does not involve the stealing prohibition, it is nevertheless forbidden to do so; So also rules M”A 322:8 [see Machatzis Hashekel on ibid] that possibly one can learn this way from Michaber 322:6 that although there may not be a stealing prohibition involved there is still “a slight prohibition”; The P”M 322 A”A 8 interprets this to mean a Rabbinical “Avak Gezel”, and so writes Machatzis Hashekel on M”A ibid; However, from Admur one can possibly learn that according to the lenient opinion there is no prohibition of even Avak Gezel, and the prohibition is simply due to “Yishuvo Shel Olam,” as he writes regarding gambling with a gentile. Another reason for this prohibition can be learned from the Teshuvos Harivash ibid who writes “Even according to Rav Sheishes who states there is no stealing prohibition involved in gambling, nevertheless, this is a repulsive, revolting and immoral act. It has caused the lives of many people to be destroyed.” Thus, in total we have three possible reasons for why there is a prohibition to gamble even according to the Rama 1) Avak Gezel 2) Yishuvo Shel Olam 3) putrid act.

Opinion of Rama: The Rama in 207:13 and 370:3 writes that the custom is to gamble. This implies that there is no prohibition involved at all, unlike Admur and the Poskim ibid. However, see Rav Poalim ibid, that even according to the Rama there is a prohibition involved.

[3] See Background in previous footnotes!

[4] Rav Poalim Y.D. 2:30; Chavos Yair 61; Mishpitei Hatorah 1:28; Yaskil Avdi 8:5; Techumin 5:302-310

Other opinions: Some Poskim rule it is forbidden to purchase lottery tickets according to the opinion of the Rambam and Michaber. [Yabia Omer 7:106] The students of Harav Ovadia testify that practically, in his later years, he retracted from his ruling and permitted for one to purchase lottery tickets.

[5] The reason: a) As the company that holds the money it received from all the ticket buyers, is truly interested in giving it to the winner [unlike when one is playing versus another, in which case he owns the money until he loses]. B) As the tickets have a market value, and one hence purchased an actual item with the money, and is not like stealing at all. [Rav Poalim ibid]

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