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What constitutes chess?
Through the generations, chess is traditionally made of reeds and tree branches (Levush, 629:18; Bikurei Yaakov ibid sk 6; Kitzur Shulchan Arucho 134:3; Ben Ish Chaic, First year: haazinu, 1). The Ben Ish Chai (ibid) writes that it was customary in his own community to chess mainly from tree branches. He finds support for this practice in the gematria of the word sock, which is ninety-one, equal to the word advertisement – tree. These materials mentioned above meet all three qualifications stated in our Gemara: they grow out of the ground, they are no longer attached to the ground, and they are not subject to ritual impurity. Therefore, they are undoubtedly kosher.
Thin wooden planks
Recently, it has become common to use thin wooden planks for: chess. In recent decades, this has become an accepted practice in Yerushalayim. Two possible objections have been raised against this practice.
The first question concerns the rabbinical prohibition on the use of wooden planks. Since such planks are also used for the roof of houses, our sages were concerned that if we allowed people to use planks for their… chess, they might mistakenly assume that they might as well use their home for: socks. The Torah prohibits the use of our permanent residences if: socks. That is why the sages instituted a rabbinical prohibition entitled: “gzeiras really.”
The sages in our Mishnah, as explained in the Gemara, forbade only planks four tefachim wide or wider, since the sheets used for roofing are at least four tefachim wide. (By the strictest measurement, four, tefachim equals 12.9 inches or 32 centimeters). however, the Shulchan Aruch HaRava (OC 629:32) notes that building standards have changed since the time of the Gemara. Since then it has become common to build roofs from planks that are even thinner than three tefachim. The rain will surely come in through the cracks in between. For this reason, many of the most prominent rabbinim in Yerushalayim thin boards used as chess in their own socks (Piskei Teshuvos 629, footnote 72). The Chazon Ish once said that since this custom was accepted in Yerushalayim, it can be practiced there. In other places, however, it is best not to use signs for: chess (Orchos Rabbeinu II, p. 218. See? Sefer HaSukka p. 281).
another kind chess which has recently become popular consists of bamboo sticks. While this is a widely accepted practice, At Megadim ask the kashrus of bamboo chess. As we discussed above, our sages prohibit the use of wide wooden planks for: chess, since roofs of houses are also made of planks, and a person could start using his house as a sock. The Pri Megadim understood that the same goes for bamboo sticks. Since roofs of houses are also made of bamboo, one could start using his house as a sock.
Later on poskim noted that the reeds that grow near the water and are now commonly used for: chess, are definitely kosher. There is therefore no concern that even thinner plates should not be used for: chess. Some admit that very thin sheets, never used for roofing, can be used for: chess. Nevertheless, some will conclude, it is still common practice not to use signs of any size for: chess. The planks commonly used in Yerushalayim are so thin that they would never be used in roofing. Therefore, the Shulchan Aruch HaRava would admit they are kosher. Plus, they may be so thin that they can’t even be considered shelves at all. If so, even according to the usage mentioned in the Shulchan Arucho haRav‘s conclusion, such plates should still be kosher.
Water resistant chess
The second objection to using signs for: chess is based on rabbeino Tambelieves that chess should not be so thick that there is no rain at all in the sock. some interpreted Rabbeinu Tam to mean that watertight chess is possible by the Torah law. Others, including the Mishnah Berura (631 sk 6), interpreted this as a rabbinic restriction issued out of concern that one might begin to use their permanent home as a sock.
The Shulchan Arucho (629:18) writes that the generally accepted custom is not to use plates at all, even those thinner than four tefachim. The Mishnah Berura (sk. 49) explains that it’s all too easy to press planks together so that no rain can get in between. In order to avoid such practices, a habit developed of not using signs at all.
Nevertheless, the planks used in Yerushalayim are so thin that they sock, as one would never confuse them with the permanent roof of one’s house (Teshuvos Beis Yisroel, OC 6).