The Almighty rested on the seventh day, and so we must — no work, no light switching, no riding neither car nor elevator. Reading is encouraged, and also discussion, words of Torah and Talmud, of course. But as the day wears on, the young Shabbat observers grow restless. The nap is too sedentary. The walk in the park has limitations. Mincha and havdalah seem unattainable.
The strain is eased with a device not quite in the spirit of Shabbat perhaps, but halachically unassailable. It’s the Monopoly game, which has absorbed young and old for some 80 years.
The players span three generations. Grandpa is the banker and chooses the top hat as his token. Abba picks the hand iron to insure a freshly pressed shirt. It’s the car, of course, for Devorah, who just got her driver’s license, and a shoe for 13-year-old Yehuda, who has become a runner. There are no more official tokens, but 10-year-old Eli found a miniature horse, which, after some dispute, the other players agree to allow in the game.
The fake money is distributed. The dice are rolled. The game begins and so do the arguments. Devorah lands in jail and claims there was no due process. She demands a writ of habeas corpus. Yehuda wants to put all his houses on the same street, but the Zoning Board says he must divide them. Abba lands on Income Tax, and says, he’ll just pay 10 per cent of his cash, but the revenue agents say, “No, you must count your property also.” These are profound legal issues and there’s no higher authority to resolve them. The official printed rules of the game have long been lost, and Shabbat does not allow the use of the computer for reference or the telephone for consultation.
The game continues under protest. Eli has acquired St. James Place and Tennessee Avenue, and wants to buy New York Avenue from Grandpa to gain a monopoly. Grandpa won’t sell. “You have to sell!” Eli insists with a Godfather-like menace in his voice, but Grandpa holds firm.
Grandpa draws a Community Chest card that says he won second prize in a beauty contest. Amidst howls of derision, he collects $10.
Yehuda lands on Park Place, but doesn’t have enough money to buy it. Devorah will loan him the money, then buy it from him. “No!” is the ensuing uproar, but Yehuda manages to buy it by mortgaging everything he owns.
Meanwhile Eli, like a Harriman or Vanderbilt, has been collecting railroads. The cognoscenti ridicule such a foolish tactic until Abba draws a card that instructs him to ride the nearest railroad and pay the owner double. It almost puts him out of the game. That’s not how one honors one’s father, but Monopoly, like life, observes no such courtesies.
Eli finally gets a monopoly other than railroads — Baltic and Mediterranean Avenues, the cheapest property on the board. He quickly builds houses, and is accused of being a notorious slumlord, providing no heat or hot water. Devorah lands there, and threatens to organize a rent strike because of deplorable conditions, but there’s no Housing Court to adjudicate the issue.
The game goes on. The players keep circling the board. Play is adjourned so Shabbat can be concluded properly, then play resumes. A strategic moment comes when Devorah’s Chance card tells her to “Take a walk on the Boardwalk.” She buys it, one of the two most valuable properties on the board. The other, Park Place, is in Yehuda’s portfolio, but, alas, is mortgaged.
The dice keep rolling. Grandma, a reluctant spectator, and 18-year-old Naftali, just back from an evening of learning at the kollel, offer suggestions to end the game, but the dogged competitors will have none of it. All the property has been purchased. Abba owns a pristine strip of yellow and red stretching from Kentucky Avenue to Marvin Gardens. He wants to build houses, but there is an outcry that he’s ruining the landscape and must submit to an environmental impact study. Grandpa, who owns both Water Works and the Electric Company, is accused of violating the anti-trust laws with an illegal monopoly. “But isn’t that the name of the game?” is his bewildered reply.
Play is stalled while Devorah and Yehuda, owners of Boardwalk and Park Place, each try to buy the other’s property with unrealistic offers. Grandpa finally sells New York Avenue to Eli, who now has no money to build, while Grandpa has money but no property to build on. And Abba, under protest, is about to take up residence in Devorah’s luxury hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue.
All the players are refueled with $200 payments for passing Go except for the hapless jail inmates. This infusion of money, like an anti-recession ploy, prevents failure of even the most reckless junk bond entrepreneur. The game continues with no end in sight.
Finally Grandma has a scheme for closure — a melavah malkah fortified with fresh pizza that no real estate colossus could reject. The assets of each player are totaled. The game may be over but not the arguments.
Ed Silberfarb was a reporter for the Bergen Record in New Jersey, then the New York Herald Tribune where he was City Hall bureau chief. Later, he was a public information officer for the New York City Transit Authority and editor of one of its employee publications.