Peninei Halakha

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01. Studying Torah on Shabbat

It is a mitzva to study a great deal of Torah on Shabbat. The Sages stated: “Shabbat and Yom Tov were given solely to study Torah on them” (y. Shabbat 15c). The Sages also stated:

The Torah said to God: “Master of the Universe, when the Jews enter the land, this one will run to his vineyard and that one to his field; what will become of me?” God responded “I have a partner with whom I will pair you. Its name is Shabbat, on which they do not work, and thus can engross themselves in you.” (Tur §290)

The Sages also stated:

God said to Israel: “My children, did I not write to you in My Torah ‘Let not this book of the Torah cease from your mouths, but recite it day and night’ (Yehoshua 1:8)? Even though you labor for six days, you shall dedicate Shabbat to Torah alone.” Based on this, the Sages advise people to always rise early and study on Shabbat, go to the synagogue and to the beit midrash, read the Torah and haftara, and then go home to eat and drink, thus fulfilling the verse: “Go, eat your bread in gladness, and drink your wine in joy” (Kohelet 9:7). (Tanna De-vei Eliyahu Rabba 1)

The Sages tell us that we must divide our time on Shabbat. Half of it should be spent studying Torah in the beit midrash, and half should be spent enjoying Shabbat through food, drink, and sleep (Pesaĥim 68b). Some maintain that it is only on Yom Tov that the division is meant to be even, but that on Shabbat, which is designated for Torah study, one must dedicate more than half of one’s time to Torah study (Baĥ, based on Rambam). However, most poskim maintain that on Shabbat too one should divide the time evenly, with half one’s time spent on Torah and half on physical pleasures. It would seem then that the obligation is to dedicate about 12.5 hours to Torah study, since Shabbat with its tosefet lasts approximately 25 hours. However, in practice, it would seem that we can be lenient and leave out of the calculation the seven hours one needs to sleep each night. There are then 18 hours remaining. Of these, one should dedicate nine hours to Torah and nine hours to enjoying Shabbat with food, drink, and the pleasure of extra sleep. Although Torah study is the primary spiritual component of Shabbat, according to a number of poskim one may be lenient and include in these nine hours of Torah the time spent in prayer, on condition that the prayer service is not too drawn out. We see then that in practice one must dedicate at least six hours to Torah study every Shabbat. Adding this to three hours of prayer, we reach a total of nine hours.

While an even split between spiritual and physical pleasures is the general rule, the specifics of one’s situation can alter the balance somewhat. Torah scholars, who tend toward the ascetic during the week while they diligently study should add a bit more physical pleasure, whereas working men who are not able to study properly during the week should add a bit more Torah study (y. Shabbat 15c; Pesikta Rabbati, end of ch. 23; Beit Yosef 288:1). Similarly, Rema writes:

Working men who do not study Torah all week should study more Torah on Shabbat than scholars, who study Torah all week. Torah scholars should indulge themselves a bit with the pleasure of eating and drinking, since they take pleasure in their learning all week. (290:2)

The logic behind this is that Shabbat is meant to help people reach absolute perfection both spiritually and physically. People who work all week need to perfect themselves through more Torah study, while Torah scholars who weaken their bodies all week while they diligently study Torah need to perfect themselves in the physical realm. In any case, both groups must seriously endeavor to enjoy Shabbat spiritually and physically, as the combination of the two makes each more productive. Thus man reaches perfection, and merits a deep and true oneg Shabbat.[1]

[1]. “It was taught: R. Eliezer says: ‘On a holiday one has only two options. He can either eat and drink, or sit and study.’ R. Yehoshua says: ‘Split it up, half for eating and drinking, and half for the beit midrash…. Split it up, half for God and half for you.’ Rabba says: ‘All agree that on Shabbat there must be a “for you” component. Why? Because the verse states that one should call Shabbat a delight’” (Pesaĥim 68b). We see they disagree about Yom Tov, with R. Eliezer maintaining that it may be dedicated entirely to God. However, when it comes to Shabbat, R. Eliezer concedes to R. Yehoshua that one must also eat and drink. Most poskim maintain that one should split up Shabbat, half for God and half for oneself (Or Zaru’a; Smag; Rabbeinu Yeruĥam; Ha-itim; Ha-manhig; Yam Shel Shlomo). However, it would seem that Rambam maintains that on Shabbat one should dedicate more than half one’s time to Torah and prayer (MT 30:10). This is also the opinion of Baĥ 242:1, which states that the Gemara’s statement, “We also require ‘for you,’” implies that the “for you” requirement is almost an afterthought, with the primary requirement being “for God.”

The Yerushalmi quotes one opinion that Shabbat was given for eating and drinking and another opinion that it was given for studying Torah. The final analysis: “How is this possible? Set aside part of the time for studying Torah and part for eating and drinking” (y. Shabbat 15:3). According to Pesikta, however, there was never a disagreement. Rather, “the ones who maintain that Shabbat was given for physical pleasure refer to Torah scholars who study Torah intensively all week long, and who indulge themselves on Shabbat. The ones who maintain that Shabbat was given for Torah study refer to the workers who work all week and are able to learn on Shabbat.” This Pesikta is cited as law by Shibolei Ha-leket, Tanya Rabbati, Me’iri, and Beit Yosef 288:1. The poskim imply that this does not mean that on Shabbat, Torah scholars should only eat and drink, nor that working men should only study Torah. Rather, when one is splitting his time, a scholar should tend a little more heavily toward material pleasures, while working men should tend a little more heavily toward Torah study. Thus state Rema 290:2, Maharikash, Shlah, SAH 290:5, and many others. This approach allows us to resolve the seeming contradiction between those quoting the Pesikta and those quoting the Bavli and Yerushalmi, which seem to maintain that the division should be half and half.

The poskim disagree regarding the status of prayer. Olat Shabbat 242:1 states that time spent in prayer is considered “for you” time, while R. Yaakov Weil, as quoted in Darkhei Moshe 529:2; Yam Shel Shlomo, Beitza 2:4; and MA 527:22 classify it as “for God” time. It would also seem that Torah scholars who do not exhaust and deprive themselves in study all week must make sure that at least half their time is “for God.”

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

The Laws of Shabbat (1+2) - Yocheved Cohen
The Laws of Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Women’s Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Pesach - Joshua Wertheimer
The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

Editor: Nechama Unterman