Is Napping Allowed?
Man was born to toil, the book of Job (5:7) tells us. In our busy lives we grab the precious opportunities to rest when they arise because they are so rare. What does Judaism say about adults spending otherwise productive time during the day taking naps? I would like to address here the general attitude in Jewish law to naps and a few cases in which naps affect practice.
The Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 231:1), following the Talmud (Sukkah 26b), rules that napping for more than half an hour is forbidden and even that little sleep should only be undertaken if your intent is to gain strength so you can learn Torah and serve God better. This is quite a startling ruling. Is even an elderly or sick person really forbidden to take a long nap, absent an urgent health need?
The Mishnah Berurah (4:36) quotes the Machatzis Ha-Shekel who sensibly reframes the issue subjectively. It all depends on a person’s physical situation and intentions. Napping for pleasure is improper; the day is short and there is much work to do. Napping to regain strength so you can do that work is acceptable. Presumably, all would allow someone who has functioned for days on little sleep to take a nap in order to regain his abilities. The Arukh Ha-Shulchan (Orach Chaim 231:3) points out that the Talmud seems to conclude that napping is permitted and therefore suggests, albeit inconclusively, that this subjective approach was the Shulchan Arukh‘s view.
Napping as a Mitzvah
There are days on which taking a nap is a mitzvah. Physical pleasures are a special Shabbos mitzvah (oneg Shabbos). The Tur (Orach Chaim 290) allows for naps on Shabbos when they serve as a pleasure. The Mishnah Berurah (4:36) quotes the Magen Avraham (4:15) who similarly permits napping on Shabbos.
We are obligated to drink wine during our Purim meal, reaching the point of being unable to distinguish between the blessedness of Mordechai and the cursedness of Haman. Does this mean we have to get very drunk? While some say yes, the Rema (Orach Chaim 695:2) follows the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Megillah 2:15) who holds that the obligation is to drink wine, become sleepy and take a nap. The Mishnah Berurah (ad loc., no. 5) follows the Peri Megadim who endorses this view.
In high school, we had an option during gym class to spend unsupervised time in the weight room. I immediately seized this option, which led to the inevitable question of what to do after waking from my nap. Jewish tradition requires, on waking up in the morning, that you wash your hands — pouring water from a utensil, three times on each hand. Authorities debate the reason for this practice: Is it due to the new day or because you wake up from sleep? The practical difference is whether you must wash after a nap. The Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 4:15) is unsure and the Rema (ad loc.) advises to wash without reciting the accompanying blessing. Mishnah Berurah (ad loc. 34) quotes the consensus that you must only wash after a nap that lasts at least half an hour.
The blessings over food only last within that meal. After you stop eating, you must recite a new blessing before eating again. Passing sleep (sheinas arai) does not constitute a conscious digression from the meal and therefore is not an interruption. Lasting sleep (sheinas keva), however, requires a new blessing before continuing to eat (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 178:7). In this context, the definition of passing and permanent sleep hinges on intent to end the meal. Mishnah Berurah (ad loc., 48) defines sleep at the table, even for an hour, as passing and sleep in one’s bed as lasting.
Someone who falls asleep at the table may continue eating on awakening but someone who lies down in bed must start the meal anew. However, as the Mishnah Berurah points out from the Peri Megadim, when you sleep, even at the table, you cannot guard your hands so you must wash them again in order to eat bread, albeit without reciting a blessing.
Before studying Torah, you have to recite the appropriate blessings. In theory, someone who interrupts his Torah study must recite new blessings on continuing his study. However, since we always intend to return to our study or because our lives are infused with Torah, we need not repeat the blessings during breaks in the day. Rather, we recite them every morning and that suffices for the entire day.
The Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 47:10) writes that sleep is also not a sufficient interruption to require repetition of the Torah blessings. The Mishnah Berurah (ad loc., 23) explains that this only refers to what we have called passing sleep. Quoting the Tur, he states that someone who sleeps while sitting, resting his head on his arms, need not repeat the blessings. He implies that if you take a nap in a bed or a comfortable recliner, you must recite the blessings before learning Torah after waking. However, the Piskei Teshuvos (47:14), following the Eishel Avraham, states very strongly that the common custom follows the simple meaning of the Shulchan Arukh and you are not allowed to recite the blessings, even after a long nap on your bed.