Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Torah Study on Shabbat...A Forbidden Activity?

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

While it goes without saying that one should allocate time for Torah study on Shabbat,[1] it is interesting to note that a number of halachic authorities are of the opinion that one should not engage in intricate or in-depth Torah study on Shabbat. This is especially true with regards to Talmud study which is known to be one of the more difficult areas of Torah study. Indeed, some authorities have argued that one who delves deeply into Torah on Shabbat is considered to have desecrated Shabbat through excessive exertion, mental agony, and even transgressing the prohibition of "borer" when reflecting on different theories and arguments.[2] One may also want to consider avoiding learning completely new material on Shabbat.[3]

Click here for moreOne explanation for this unusual and intriguing prohibition is that one who studies Torah in-depth on Shabbat burdens himself in a way that detracts from the requirement to spend Shabbat engaged in pleasurable activities (oneg shabbat). We are told that Rav Zeira would interrupt those who spent too much time studying on Shabbat, insisting that they engage in more pleasurable pursuits.[4] Furthermore, it is suggested that one who generally studies in-depth during the week may be in violation of the prohibition of engaging in weekday activities (uvdin d'chol) by doing so on Shabbat![5] According to this approach, one should preferably study Midrash, Aggada,[6] or Mussar[7] on Shabbat. According to the Rebbes of Chabad one should spend "two-thirds" of one's Shabbat study time focused on chassidut. The Chafetz Chaim was said to have studied Chumash with commentaries on Shabbat.[8]

Although this position is not subscribed to by the vast majority of halachic authorities – it is authentic and interesting nonetheless and many individuals embrace it to varying degrees in accordance with their personal study needs and goals. Some suggest that the source for this practice is based on the Meiri who writes that a Torah scholar should focus on sleep, rather than study, on Shabbat.[9] Some authorities go so far as to suggest that even one who feels that intensive Torah study is pleasurable should avoid it on Shabbat as during the course of such study one is likely to encounter some intellectual frustrations which could detract from one's Shabbat experience.[10]

Nevertheless, normative halacha is not like this view and one is permitted to engage in any area of Torah study that one desires on Shabbat.[11] In fact, one is to endeavor to come up with new insights in the course of one's Torah study. Indeed, we are taught that when one's additional soul (neshama yeteira) departs each week at the conclusion of Shabbat and returns to its Heavenly repository, it is asked to present any new insights or thoughts that one came up with over the course of Shabbat.[12] It is even written that Shabbat was given specifically for engaging in Torah study.[13]


[1] Tur O.C. 290, O.C. 290:2
[2] Siddur Yaavetz;Beit Hayayin 8. See Yabia Omer 2:18 for an in-depth treatment of this issue.
[3] Nedarim 37b
[4] Rashi;Shabbat 119b
[5] Minhag Yisrael Torah O.C. 290:2
[6] Temura 14b
[7] Iggeret Hagra
[8] Kol Kitvei Hachafetz Chaim Hashalem p.31
[9] Tzipichat B'dvash 23, Meiri;Shabbat 118a
[10] Petach Hadvir 290
[11] Minchat Elazar 4:45
[12] Sharei Teshuva O.C. 290
[13] Yerushalmi Shabbat 15:3

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