Torah Study on Tisha B'Av

  • Rav Moshe Taragin

Special Holiday Shiur


The Prohibition of Torah Study on Tish'a Be-av

By Rav Moshe Taragin

The gemara in Ta'anit (30a) asserts that the same laws and prohibitions which apply during a person's period of mourning for a deceased relative pertain also to Tish'a Be-Av. On this day, we are all mourners over the Temple and Jerusalem and, hence, must practice the laws of personal mourning (aveilut). Among the prohibitions, the gemara lists studying Torah. Just as a mourner may not engage in Torah study, on Tish'a Be-av this experience is similarly prohibited. This article will explore the nature of the prohibition.

As always, we begin our analysis by examining the source of the prohibition. In order to prove that the experience of Torah study causes joy, the gemara in Ta'anit (30a) cites the following verse (Tehillim 19:9): "Pekudei Hashem yesharim mesamchei lev," "The edicts of God are just, and gladden the heart." As Tish'a Be-Av (akin to aveilut) dictates that we deprive ourselves of experiences which cause delight, we are forbidden from engaging in Torah study.

By contrast, the gemara in Mo'ed Katan (15a) cites an alternate source for the prohibition of Torah study during aveilut. The gemara cites the passage where God asks Yechezkel (chapter 24) to mimic certain forms of aveilut behavior in order to presage the impending destruction of the Temple. One of the instructions to Yechezkel is "ha'anek dom" - to remain silent. The gemara infers from this verse that a mourner should be silent - if not entirely, at least from significant forms of speech and communication. From this verse the gemara infers a prohibition for a mourner to greet someone as well as to study Torah.

Obviously, these two sources point to two very different understandings of the prohibition of Torah study. The verse in Tehillim prohibits the joy which will arise from study, while the verse in Yechezkel addresses the very act of study itself. What might be the differences between the two models?

The gemara in Ta'anit (30a) cites the position of the Tanna Kama that although Torah study is forbidden on Tish'a Be-av, one may study new sections with which he is not familiar. Since the initial analysis is strenuous, no delight will be yielded. The Tanna Kama clearly understands this prohibition as stemming entirely from the resulting joy. Torah study stripped of this joy is thus permitted.

R. Yehuda, however, rejects this position and claims that a person cannot study even unfamiliar sections. Does he in fact base the prohibition upon the verse in Yechezkel which prohibits Torah study as a form of speech and hence broadly extends the scope of the prohibition? Or does he agree in principle that Torah study is forbidden for the happiness it will cause, yet maintains that no part of Torah may be studied since even unfamiliar terrain conveys a sort of spiritual satisfaction which is forbidden to a mourner?

We might decide this question by analyzing a case in which even R. Yehuda allows Torah study. The gemara in Ta'anit, after citing the dispute between R. Yehuda and the Tanna Kama about learning unfamiliar sections, asserts that on Tish'a Be-av we may study Iyov, Eikha, and the depressing sections of Yirmiyahu (in which the destruction of the Temple is forecast). Apparently, even R. Yehuda accepts these exceptions. Instinctively, it seems that even R. Yehuda bases the prohibition of Torah study upon the joy it causes and permits it in instances in which no joy is experienced. He merely disputes the Tanna Kama's claim that studying unfamiliar sections causes no excitement.

We might detect a second example of permitted Torah recitation in contexts which do not arouse joy. The Tur (OC 554) cites the Ramban's claims that on Tish'a Be-Av we are permitted to recite "Korbanot" and the "Beraita de-Rabbi Yishma'el," sections preceding Pesukei De-zimra which contain excerpts from the Torah she-be'al peh. Since these sections are being recited in the framework of prayer, they are permissible. Might this position as well be based upon the premise that Torah study is forbidden solely due to the joy it will cause? When Torah is recited as part of prayer, the same experience of joy is not anticipated and such 'Torah' is permitted. Had Torah recitation per se been prohibited, we might have taken a stronger stance against the repetition of these sections.

Interestingly enough, the Rema extends this concept to a very troubling extreme. He rules (ibid. 554:4) that one may be "ma'avir sidra" (recite the weekly Torah portion twice with a Targum commentary) on Tish'a Be-av. This controversial position is hotly debated amongst the later commentaries. Though reciting Torah within prayer may be permissible, this particular practice should be forbidden because it is a genuine Torah study experience. The IMPETUS for this mitzva, known as "Shenayim Mikra ve-echad Targum," might be the desire to prepare as a community for that week's Torah reading, but ultimately it represents an authentic Torah study experience (unlike sections recited during prayer). Evidently, the Rema felt that ANY Torah study experience performed in a alternate framework is permissible on Tish'a Be-Av.

Even within the Rema's lenient position, we might set certain limits. The Tur (YD 384) cites the position that if the only Cohen in shul is a mourner, he should defer and not receive the first aliya during Torah reading (since taking an aliya and reading along with the Ba'al Keri'a is a form of Torah study). Why not apply the Rema's leniency that Torah study in alternate frameworks are permitted? Obviously, some distinction must be drawn between receiving an aliya and reviewing the week's Torah section.

SUMMARY:

We have examined cases in which Torah study might be permitted because the joy is suppressed or at least it is not the dominant feature of the experience.

We will now inspect the reverse case: instances in which the Torah study might still cause joy but does not entail formal speech. The Shulchan Arukh (OC 554) cites a position which prohibits thinking about Torah during Tish'a Be-Av. The Magen Avraham explains that even though normally we do not recognize thoughts as equivalent to speech (e.g. we cannot "think" Keri'at Shema), in this case we might not insist upon formal speech since the prohibition centers around the joy of the experience. A similar conclusion stems necessarily from the Chatam Sofer (Responsa, OC 156), who explains that the custom of not studying Torah on Erev Tish'a Be-Av after noon is based on the consideration that "since the material he learnt will still be fresh in his mind during Tish'a Be-Av, he will inevitably ponder his Torah DURING Tish'a Be-Av". Evidently, he too prohibits thinking of Torah even when not formally reciting it.

An intriguing discussion is cited by the Taz (YD 384:1) as to whether a mourner can participate in various public services surrounding a sefer Torah (hagbaha and gelila). These might be additional instances in which no speech is involved but the possible joy stemming from Torah might dictate a prohibition.

Having established two different paradigms for the prohibition of Torah study during aveilut, let us explore whether each competing system might be relevant, but in entirely different contexts. The Taz (ibid.) cites a position which allows a Rebbi to teach his students after the first three days of aveilut but not before. How might we justify this position? Either it should be permitted during the entire aveilut period (in light of the value of this service) or should be forbidden throughout!

We might distinguish between the two phases of aveilut as follows. Halakha recognizes two components of aveilut:

1) prohibitions;

2) behavior which actively demonstrates the aveilut status.

Wearing leather shoes, bathing, and sexual engagement are all examples of physical luxuries which are forbidden because they will cause enjoyment. Not wearing tefillin, turnina bed upside down, not leaving the house (even to attend a funeral) and not greeting another person, are not NECESSARILY geared to preventing enjoyment. Instead, they announce to the community the person's status as a mourner, and identify him in an obvious manner as such. Clearly, after the third day of aveilut (at which point the intensity of aveilut somewhat diminishes), many forms of conduct belonging to the latter category are suspended or at least reduced. For example, many positions which prohibit tefillin and leaving the house during the first three days, permit it afterwards. However, the prohibitions and the refraining from pleasure are maintained after the first three days.

By extending this distinction, we might arrive at the following conclusion: Torah study as a pleasure-inducing experience is forbidden throughout the entire seven-day period. However, Torah as "significant speech" is prohibited only during the first three days, for only during this phase must the mourner openly declare his status by remaining "silent." After three days, his public demonstration ceases but the prohibition of deriving pleasure does not. Thus, during the first three days, ALL Torah study is forbidden, even that which will not cause enjoyment. Furthermore, during these three days, the mourner is enjoined to remain silent as a public display of his status; he may not even teach his students. After this first phase, however, he need no longer announce or openly display his status, but he must not derive pleasure from his Torah study. Hence, at THIS stage he may engage in Torah study which is not primarily geared toward receiving pleasure.

If we are correct, we might envision a two-pronged prohibition of Torah study for a mourner. During the first phase (the first three days), he must display his status through his silence and inactivity - and may not study any Torah. During the latter phase, the only prohibition against Torah study is based upon the satisfaction it will cause.

A second strategy for acknowledging both elements of the prohibition but distinguishing between them might present itself in the comparison between Tish'a Be-av and personal aveilut. Until this point I have assumed that the two are similar and have established facile comparisons between the them. Yet the gemara itself hints as some form of disparity. The gemara in Ta'anit which discusses Tish'a Be-av permits the study of Iyov, Eikha and Yirmiyahu, while the gemara in Mo'ed Katan describing personal aveilut does not (15a; see also 21a). Tosafot in Mo'ed Katan (21a s.v. Ve-assur Likrot) cite several opinions as to whether this same permission applies to personal aveilut. We might justify this distinction along similar lines. Personal aveilut requires two categories of behavior - prohibitions (no bathing, leather shoes, etc.) and public displays of mourning. Tish'a Be-av aveilut obligates only prohibitions. No public displays are practiced (in part because everyone is a mourner and all are in the same boat; the displays of personal aveilut are meant to distinguish the mourner from the rest of society - a distinction which is unnecessary or inapplicable on Tish'a Be-av). No mention is made of turning over beds on Tish'a Be-Av, even though this applies to a personal mourner. Hence, Torah for a mourner is forbidden for two reasons - it causes joy AND the mourner must remain silent. Even sad sections of Torah are forbidden to this mourner. By contrast, although a "mourner" is not required to remain silent on Tish'a Be-av, he cannot study Torah or derive its resultant joy. By studying sad sections, he is avoiding the prohibition.

Interestingly enough, several additional differences now seem to be consistent with this theory. Though reciting "Korbanot" and even reviewing the weekly parsha are permitted on Tish'a Be-av, no such dispensations are provided to a personal mourner. (See the Pitchei Teshuva, YD 384:2, who prohibits a mourner from reciting these sections.) Similarly, the prohibition for a Cohen to receive an aliya is stated only in the case of personal aveilut and not (obviously!) on Tish'a Be-av. These rulings corroborate the fact that although Torah study is prohibited to a mourner for two reasons (remaining silent as well as refraining from pleasure), they do not both apply on Tish'a Be-Av. As opposed to personal aveilut, in which both of these elements apply, on Tish'a Be-av Torah study is forbidden only because of the joy it provides. This discrepancy accounts for the various leniencies which apply to Torah study on Tish'a Be-av and not to a personal mourner.

METHODOLOGICAL POINTS:

1. Very often, the sources for a particular halakha reflect its essence. By exploring the sources (if available), we are able to ascertain the nature of the halakha. Often we are faced with multiple sources which might reflect alternate models for a particular halakha. Sometimes these models are not mutually exclusive but may both apply.

2. To prove whether a halakha is based upon x or y, locate examples of x without y or y without x. To amply prove whether the prohibition is based upon the pleasure of the experience or the need to remain "silent," try to find cases where pleasure doesn't apply (though the silence is broken) and cases where no silence is broken but pleasure applies.

AFTERWORD:

In this article we addressed the question of the status of Torah when performed or recited in alternate contexts (prayer, reviewing the Sidra, receiving an aliya, etc.). This question, containing broad ramifications, is partially dependent upon understanding each of these particular frameworks in its own rights. For example, when certain sections of "Korbanot" were inserted into daily prayer, were they incorporated as part of prayer proper or did they remain merely "foreign" Torah implants within the overall framework of prayer? The same question might be raised about the nature of the halakha known as "shenayim Mikra ve-echad Targum:" what exactly is the nature of the halakha? Is it merely a communal form of talmud Torah or something which transcends mere Torah study?

In general, though, it is important to determine the status even of "pure" Torah when placed in different frameworks. For example, a written verse requires "sirtut" (scratching out part of the parchment to form the equivalent of lines). Does a verse of Torah cited in a personal letter require this same sirtut? How do we define this verse: as Torah or as part of the letter?


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