Home / Legacy /

Newspapers on Shabbos

 

I. Orthodox Newspapers

The powerful industry of print media is crumbling under the weight of the internet but no one seems to have informed the Orthodox Jewish community. Newsweek collapsed but Mishpacha Magazine is flourishing. The New York Times is deep in the red while two new free Orthodox newspapers–the Flatbush Jewish Journal and Yeshiva World News–are regularly delivered to my home and the Five Towns Jewish Times recently expanded circulation into Brooklyn.

The reason is two-fold. General newspapers do not conform to the same standards as Orthodox Jews and often promote views or discuss subjects we find objectionable and nearly always publish pictures we deem immodest. Orthodox Jewish newspapers often present general news so their readers need not expose themselve to outside media.

Perhaps more importantly, we observe Shabbos. One day a week, we turn off computers and gadgets to pray, study Torah, spend time with family and relax. Only the printed medium can satisfy a Sabbath observer’s religious requirements. Or can it? There is reason to say that we are forbidden to read any of these newspapers and magazines on Shabbos.

II. Forbidden Reading

The Gemara (Shabbos 149a) prohibits reading “shtarei hedyotos,” which Soncino translates as “secular document.” Rashi defines shtarei hedyotos as business writings and Tosafos as personal mail. In practice, we follow both opinions and refrain from reading business material and personal mail (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 307:13). The exceptions to the latter, and whether they still apply today, deserve specific attention but here we will only focus on the former.

There are two possible reasons to forbid reading business material. The first is the that you might write or erase, make a note or correct an error. Additionally, we are not allowed to discuss business on Shabbos because of the prophetic (i.e. rabbinic) admonition of “ve-daber davar” (Isa. 58:13). For these reasons, non-mitzvah reading is generally forbidden on Shabbos (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 307:13-16). However, the Magen Avraham (301:4, 307:16) permits reading for pleasure because of mitzvah to enjoy Shabbos. On this basis, R. Ya’akov Emden (She’eilas Ya’avetz 1:162) permits those who enjoy it to read newspapers on Shabbos. While others disagree (see Mishnah Berurah 307:63 for both opinions), common practice follows this lenient view.

However, the permission includes an important caveat which led even R. Emden to advise against reading newspapers on Shabbos. You may not read business news or relevant advertisements because doing so violates “ve-daber davar.” In R. Emden’s time, the advertisements were printed in the back and this still invoked his concern that people may read them. Today, when they are interspersed within the pages so that even a casual reader cannot fail to see them, the concern seems even greater.

III. Contemporary Authorities

The mainstream approach of halakhic authorities is to advise against–but not forbid–reading newspapers (to those who enjoy it) and to caution against reading advertisements and news related to your occupation. Additionally, they offer blanket permission, even for those who are generally strict, to read Torah- and mitzvah-related news items (e.g. Shemiras Shabbos Ke-Hilkhasah 29:46; The Shabbos Home, p. 62).

R. Eliezer Melamed (Harchavos Peninei Halakhah, Shabbos 22:12:11) points out that advertising underwent significant changes in recent times. Advertisements are no longer the primary venue for identifying commerce opportunities (or, I add, for following stock markets). Additionally, many advertisements attempt to create brand awareness rather than sell directly to readers. You are allowed to read such ads if you enjoy them and do not intend to make a purchase based on them.

IV. Local Jewish Newspapers

I add that many advertisements in Jewish newspapers relate to mitzvah matters, such as institutional dinners, local lectures and charity causes. They are, presumably, permissible to read. However, this past Sunday I flipped through such a local Jewish newspaper with the advertisements in mind and saw that many involve specific and immediate sales. Indeed, local targeted newspapers are an opportune venue for merchants to reach out to specific markets.

Based on all of the above, it seems that most authorities would permit reading Torah essays in newspapers on Shabbos. But because these papers contain many relevant advertisements, you should (but not must) avoid non-Torah articles. Which raises serious questions about the new print media targeting Orthodox Jews with general and local news and targeted advertising.

Bottom line: learn Torah on Shabbos.

 

Share this Post

 

Related Posts

About the author

Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.

 
The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.
 

58 Responses

  1. Shlomo says:

    Bottom line: learn Torah on Shabbos.

    What about women?

  2. Shlomo says:

    Whenever I visit my charedi cousins for shabbat I make sure to read through the latest copy of Mishpacha. Of course I skip “how to bake a better kugel” and the digest of recent news. But the core of what they write about seems to be social/religious/psychological issues in the charedi community (“off the derech”, abuse, etc.) as well as “light” Torah study (rabbinic biographies, etc.). The former is both surprising and encouraging to see, and usually quite interesting. I can’t imagine what is the objection to reading either on Shabbat.

  3. “The reason is two-fold”

    three-fold. the women-folk read them for the advertisements.

  4. Ari Enkin says:

    Of interest: The Netziv used to read secular newspapers on Shabbat. See: Nishmat Chaim 24, Bikkurei Shlomo 1:2,
    Mi’Volozhin L’Yerushalayim 1:138.

    Ari Enkin

  5. joel rich says:

    and all those ads on the parsha sheets?
    KT

  6. Moshe Shoshan says:

    This series on practical hilchos shabbos is very good.

  7. yitznewton says:

    I would love to see a post on fiction on Shabbos. Thank you for this series!

  8. JPR says:

    Jewish Periodical Reminiscing.

  9. Sass says:

    Ari Enkin,
    I looked through your sources – in MiVolozhin it says that the Netziv liked newspapers,and that he was matir reading them on Shabbos but it doesn’t say that he personally did so. Same for Bikurei Shlomo – the Netziv writes that he was meyashev the minhag haolam that people read them on Shabbos, but he didn’t say that he did so personally.

    I was unable to locate the Nishmas Chaim that you referred to, who is the author? Does it say there that the Netziv himself read newspapers on Shabbos?

  10. Alan says:

    I believe there’s something in the She’elas Yaavetz about newspapers on Shabbos.

  11. SASS:

    in mekor baruch it says that the all the hebrew newspapers regularly sent the netziv their papers gratis in the hope of soliciting contributions from him. in particular he read hamagid and helevanon regularly. hamagaid came every erev shabbat. he didn’t read it friday night, which he dedicated to mishnayos, but in the morning, after kiddush and some cookies, he read hamagid. those weeks that hamagid came late, the netziv felt deprived and shabbos wasn’t the same for him, similar to someone who doesn’t go the mikveh erev shabbos chazon. is that enough of an imprimatur for you? on the other hand . . .

  12. R. Enkin:

    what do you mean by “secular papers”? it is clear from mekor baruch that he wasn’t reading the russian version of the NYT/WSJ. one paper that he read regularly, halevanon, was published by r. yechiel brill of the old yishuv. the other, hamagid, was a moderate haskala journal.

  13. Sass says:

    Abba’s Rantings:

    Sure that’s enough, I just wanted to clarify because the sources cited did not seem to support the claim that the Netziv himself did it.

    I’m also still curious as to what the Nishmas Chaim is, if anyone happens to know…

  14. Hirhurim says:

    Shlomo: What about women?

    They can also learn Torah!

    Whenever I visit my charedi cousins for shabbat I make sure to read through the latest copy of Mishpacha

    The front pages of Hamodia and Yated are secular news!

    Abba’s Rantings: the women-folk read them for the advertisements

    That has been my experience but I don’t want to generalize.

    R’ Ari Enkin: Of interest: The Netziv used to read secular newspapers on Shabbat

    My understanding is that he read Jewish newspapers.

    Joel Rich: and all those ads on the parsha sheets?

    Just read the divrei Torah on Shabbos

    Moshe Shoshan: Thank you!

    yitznewton: I would love to see a post on fiction on Shabbos

    Good idea

    Sass: I believe Nishmas Chaim is the responsa of R. Chaim Berlin.

    Alan: Read this post!

  15. joel rich says:

    R’gil,
    Truth is I don’t read newspapers on shabbat but not because I think its assur but because it ruins my shabbat. Otoh I think the parsha sheet ads are misayeah for those who hold ads assur.
    On the general subject of news I try to read a balanced diet, I find only reading those periodicals designed for you is as dangerous as surrounding yourself with yes men.
    Kt

  16. GIL:

    “That has been my experience but I don’t want to generalize.”

    are you afraid of being accused by some of your own women-folk of stereotyping :)

    “My understanding is that he read Jewish newspapers”

    i asked r. enkin to define what he means by “secular” newspapers and i will ask you to define what you mean by “jewish” newspapers. do you mean newspapers with jewish-related content (current events, hebrew poetry, history, polemics, editorials, etc.) or torah-only newspapers (and does dikduk and bible studies belong in jewish-related or torah?). it’s clear that the “newspapers” (really journals with some news content) that the netziv read were of the former category; moreover, in addition to the jewish-related (rather than torah-only) content, there was also purely secular material, albeit in hebrew (general current events, science, feuilletons, etc.)

  17. “I would love to see a post on fiction on Shabbos”

    is the issue specifically with fiction, or anything not jewish (general or torah)? what about science, etc.?

  18. GIL:

    “My understanding is that he read Jewish newspapers”

    so to return to your post, did you mean to imply with your hesitant heter (” you should (but not must) avoid non-Torah articles”) that non-jewish newspapers are asur to begin with because there is no torah content?

  19. Ari Enkin says:

    Sass-

    My understanding, which I saw explicitly written somewhere,(as Abba recounts) was that the Netziv read secular newspapers on Shabbat. My understading of secular papers is “The New York Times” vechulu….

    Even according to your account, it is likely that he read them on Shabbos too. Let’s face it — many poskim come up with heterim for all kinds of things that they enjoy engaging in or otherwise need a heter for.

    Nishmat Chaim = R’ Chaim Berlin.

    Ari Enkin

  20. R. ENKIN:

    “My understanding, which I saw explicitly written somewhere,(as Abba recounts) was that the Netziv read secular newspapers on Shabbat. My understading of secular papers is “The New York Times””

    but i said he didn’t read the russian version of the NYT?! just to clarify, it appears (at least according to mekor baruch) that what he read were the hebrew “newspapers” (really periodical magazines/journals). you might still argue that these were “secular” publications, but they were not merely a hebrew version of the NYT. the JNUL website has many of these “newspapers” online and you can go there to get a taste of them

    “Let’s face it — many poskim come up with heterim for all kinds of things that they enjoy engaging in or otherwise need a heter for.”

    is this is an intentional polemic?

  21. Kovner says:

    Every educated Orthodox blog reader knows that the Mekor Baruch can not be trusted for its stories. The famous researcher Rav Yehoshua Mondshein wrote an article about this.

  22. Ari Enkin says:

    Abba-

    It’s the reality.

    Ari Enkin

  23. Hirhurim says:

    I didn’t know that the Jewish journals had articles on general news. Even so, poskim only advise against because of the temptation to read ads and business-related news. If the Netziv didn’t have such a temptation, then there is no problem.

  24. S. says:

    The ads in these journals are pretty pareve. Taleisim and wine and the like for the most part (and agunos, but that’s another story).

  25. S. says:

    By the way, not only did they have general news, one of the major attractions of these journals was the general news. (Not unlike the general news in Hamodia and the like today, only multiply that because of the lack of access many of the readers had to any other media back then.)

  26. GIL:

    the masthead of hammagid, which iirc had the most news of the hebrew papers (?), read something like “hadashot ve-korot zemanenu.” in ha-melitz there were 2 separate sections for “hadashot be-gevul yisrael” and “divre ha-yamim” (later renamed “halikhot olam”), as well as a section of “yedi’a telegraphit”–this was a cutting edge journal!.

    also note that the interest in current events wasn’t necessarily because of an general interest in current events per se, but rather because of the effect of these current events on business.

  27. Dovid says:

    “Let’s face it — many poskim come up with heterim for all kinds of things that they enjoy engaging in or otherwise need a heter for.”

    Ari- does that include you?

  28. Sass says:

    Also worth noting – the Netziv (in Bikurei Shlomo cited above) only allowed silent reading, but held that to read out loud from the newspaper is in fact prohibited on Shabbos.

  29. Mr. Cohen says:

    I protest against Jews who CLAIM to be Orthodox, but frequently purchase and read Orthodox-bashing newspapers that constantly strive to present Orthodox Jews and Orthodox Judaism in the most negative way possible.

    I protest against Jews who CLAIM to be pro-Israel, but frequently purchase and read Israel-bashing newspapers that constantly strive to present Israel in the most negative way possible.

    When I ask them why they do this, the reasons they give me are totally stupid and false.

    G_d will punish them for them for buying and reading:
    The New York Times, Time Magazine, The Jewish Week, etc, etc.

  30. Sass says:

    Ok then…

    Back to the topic at hand, looking in the Nishmas Chaim 24 cited above, Rav Chaim Berlin actually says that the Netziv’s heter was only a limud zchus on the minhag haolam, but the Netziv never actually permitted reading newspapers (even silently) l’halacha lemaase.

    Clearly, this does not square too well with the account in Mekor Baruch…

  31. Hirhurim says:

    G_d will punish them for them for buying and reading:
    The New York Times, Time Magazine, The Jewish Week, etc, etc.

    What is the issur?

  32. S. says:

    >Clearly, this does not square too well with the account in Mekor Baruch…

    Hamaggid began publication in 1857; basically the first Hebrew newspaper. R. Chaim Berlin was already 25 years old and presumably married. By contrast, Mekor Baruch is writing about what he says he witnessed in the 1870s. It is at least theoretically possible that R. Chaim Berlin was explaining what he believed his father’s position was, while R. Baruch Epstein was explaining what he saw and heard the Netziv do.

  33. Sass says:

    S,

    That’s a possibility, although R Chaim Berlin wrote that tshuva in 5653 (around 1892-1893) and I would presume that he was aware of his father’s hanhagos since he had been living in Volozhin the previous few years (since 1889 according to wikipedia, probably based on Stampfer)

    Mekor Baruch seems to be the only source for this account that the Netziv read newspapers on Shabbos, and this seems to be contradicted by R Chaim Berlin. Might be worth taking Kovner’s above comment more seriously…

  34. Sass says:

    I’m also curious as to the basis for Ari Enkin’s assertion that “many poskim come up with heterim for all kinds of things that they enjoy engaging in or otherwise need a heter for.”

    And just saying “It’s the reality” does not make it so.

    I feel like this is a very flippant attitude towards our poskim, and psak halacha in general. I think it’s also rather dangerous as well, essentially a reformulation of “when there’s a will there’s a halachic way.”

  35. m says:

    Seeing how news in alot of jewish publications is outdated by the end of the week wouldnt their be an argument to be able to look at the business news since it is not really relevent business news by todays standerd?

  36. Joseph Kaplan says:

    “G_d will punish them for them for buying and reading:
    The New York Times, Time Magazine, The Jewish Week, etc, etc.”

    I protest against people who CLAIM to speak for God.

  37. Fozziebear says:

    also, the Flatbush Jewish Journal’s inherent anti-goy racism keeps the locals feeling good about themselves.

    That might explain some of the paper’s popularity.

  38. i get about 15 copies of the FJJ because all my non-jewish neighbors think i want their copies (i don’t even read the one on my doorstep).

  39. dovid says:

    R ari
    we await your response to Sass

  40. S. says:

    >That’s a possibility, although R Chaim Berlin wrote that tshuva in 5653 (around 1892-1893) and I would presume that he was aware of his father’s hanhagos since he had been living in Volozhin the previous few years (since 1889 according to wikipedia, probably based on Stampfer)

    Of course you’d assume he was, but it’s at least possible that he happened to have never seen this. I don’t know if the 60 year old son visited his father shabbos morning or not; also we are really talking about the period when Epstein was frequently there.

    >Mekor Baruch seems to be the only source for this account that the Netziv read newspapers on Shabbos, and this seems to be contradicted by R Chaim Berlin. Might be worth taking Kovner’s above comment more seriously…

    Kovner’s comment is to the effect that Mondschein disputes Epstein’s coverage of the Tzemach Tzedek on dogmatic grounds, actually. I am not sure this is enough to invalidate every anecdote in the book.

    Will say though that the Netziv obviously did read such newspapers, he even wrote to Hamaggid occasionally, commenting on something printed in it. While I might be inclined to believe that Epstein fabricated the “Shabbos is not the same without it” quote, it’s a little different to say he imagined him reading it on shabbos altogether. Maybe yes, but maybe not.

  41. S. says:

    Forgot to add – haven’t seen the Nishmas Chaim inside yet, but if he indeed wrote what the Netziv “meant” (limmud zchus) then that really raises the question why we need him to tell us what his father “meant.” Seems to me that the Netziv knew how to express what he meant, and probably would not write a heter for something he did not mean lemaaseh. Explaing what poskim “mean” – as opposed to what they say – occurs frequently. So it is also possible that here we are seeing what R. Chaim Berlin held rather than what his father held. It’s at least a possibility.

  42. SO says:

    Of course, reading newspapers that were delivered on Shabbat may raise different issues. I have seen lenient and strict opinions on this issue.

  43. Mr. Cohen says:

    Hirhurim said:

    “What is the issur?”

    ANSWER:

    Excellent question! Thank you for asking!

    The issur is betraying the Jewish people and the Jewish faith by helping newspapers that propagandize against:
    the Jewish people, the Jewish faith, the Jewish land
    and the Jewish G_d.

    Every time you buy one of those so-called “newspapers,” you help them financially.

    Orthodox-bashing newspapers like The Jewish Week totally disregard the laws of Shemirat HaLashon, in addition to their disgraceful pro-gay and pro-Reform-Judaism editorial policies.

    Why should a good Jew purchase such a newspaper?

  44. Mr. Cohen says:

    And I still hope this blog will publish an article about nivul peh.

  45. Jr says:

    .” Rashi defines shtarei hedyotos as business writings and Tosafos as personal mail”

    Where does Tosafos say this? In Shabbos 116b Tosafos says the opposite, that it does not mean personal mail. Maybe you meant Rambam in peirush hamishnayos.

    Rashi also mentions both possibilities in different places. See Tosafos 149a and shiltei giborim.

  46. MiMedinat HaYam says:

    MOAG — RAKotler read the (russian version of NYT) in volozhin. when a fellow student ratted on him to the RY, the RY confiscated the paper. he complained that a 5cent (equivalent) fine was the proper penalty, but the paper belonged to him,the RY had to admit he was right, and returned to him the paper. of course, he read fiction like uncle toms cabin too.

    the NYT, etc is losing money, but the papers you cite are masters at PR for their clients, including numerous advertorials you wouldnt even know are advertorials. one you cite is even published by a PR agent. also, radio is officially not kosher for their clientele, so print is the only option that is (somewhat) tolerated. (of course, they wont admit they read the internet, which has now gone print, too.)

  47. Scott says:

    There’s an early teshuvah (# 23) in the Shevut Yaakov (by R. Yaakov Reischer, 1661-1733) that permits reading newspapers on Shabbat:

    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=1519&st=&pgnum=211&hilite=

  48. MiMedinat HaYam says:

    correction — slabodka. volozhin was closed by then. why didnt they publish the reasons in their litvish jewish times?

    2. halevanon and hamagid are torah (and news of jewish communities) journals, as opposed to newspapers.

  49. Machshavos says:

    If I’m remembering correctly (am I?), The Rav Thinking Aloud quotes the Rav as saying that he read the paper on Yom Kippur. I may be remembering wrong, but I think it had something that might relate to this discussion.

  50. Avinoam says:

    Somewhat OT:

    I read/heard that the Seridei Esh would read the newspaper before Shacharit so he would know what he was davening for.

    I don’t know if this included Shabbat.

  51. aenkin says:

    Sass/Dovid-

    This is not the forum to go into detail. But yes, there are tons of examples of modern-day poskim, from the left to the far right, who paskin according to their ideological agenda or personal preferences — and even change that pesak when social pressure demands it. Im kind of shocked that you dont think the phenomenon exists or ever existed!

    Has anyone ever looked at the Teshuvas written by Rav Moshe Shternbuch while he was a rav in South Africa, and the Teshuvot he wrote while a member of the Eida Chareidit?? Lots of back-tracking there.

    So too, even if Tzahal would have conquered the entire planet after the 6 day war, Rav Yoel of Satmar would still have to create some kind of ideology that it was really an illusion or Satanic influence that caused it.

    There are more examples closer to home, but I dont want to name the poskim and upset them, their students, or others.

    But please, please, dont fool yourself into thinking for a moment that there arent agenda generated teshuvas amongst gedolim throughout the generations.

    Ari Enkin

  52. Shlomo says:

    according to their ideological agenda or personal preferences

    There’s a huge difference between the two. It’s the difference between being selfless and selfish. I would prefer to think that my poskim are not selfish.

  53. joel rich says:

    r’ shlomo,
    imho human beings are not capable of being 100% self-aware/objective. I know r’hs is a big proponent of the theory that r’ybs and r’yt disagreed on pure halachic grounds but i wonder how many agree with him. Perhaps we could add knowingly to the statement?
    KT

  54. dovid says:

    I am making a public mechaa against Ari Enkin’s comments. You can say whatever you want on the blogs but I want to see you say it to any real posek and see what their response is. R’ Gil I have tremendous respect for you but I fail to see how you can allow such comments to continue, let alone allow someone who makes such comment to post “halachik” articles weekly.

  55. Sass says:

    I would like to echo Shlomo’s comment – there’s a big difference between a posek paskening based on the backdrop of a particular worldview/ taking into account the needs of a community, as opposed to what Ari Enkin suggested earlier, that poskim come up with heterim for particular activities simply because the poskim themselves like to do them. I think such an outlook really cheapens the halachic system, and to espouse such a position is quite dangerous for the long run. I therefore second Dovid’s machaa.

  56. m says:

    i think some of rabbis selfish decisions cheapens the halachic system in the long run so what do you say about that.

 
 

Submit a Response

 

You must be logged in to submit a response.