A Minimum of Six Hours

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learningby R. Eliezer Melamed

Q: Rabbi, you have written extensively about the obligation to study Torah on Shabbat. How can it be that this mitzvah is unknown to the public, and does not appear in any books on halakha? Not only that, rabbi – you have devised a ‘chiddush‘ (a novelty) – that one must learn at least six hours on Shabbat. Shouldn’t such a ‘chiddush‘ require firm sources?

The Obligation of Torah Study on Shabbat

It is not ‘chiddush‘ that one must study Torah on Shabbat, as our Sages said in the Jerusalem Talmud (Shabbat 15:3): “The Sabbaths and Holidays were given to Israel in order that they might study Torah.” Our Sages further said:

“The nature of man being what it is, the Holy One said to Israel: My children! Have I not written for you in My Torah, ‘This book of Torah shall not depart from your mouth (Joshua 1:8)? Although you must labor all six days of the week, the Sabbath is to be given over completely to Torah. Accordingly, it is said that a man should rise early on the Sabbath to recite Mishna, and then go to the synagogue and academy where he is to read in the Five Books and recite a portion in the Prophets. Afterwards, he is to go home and eat and drink, thereby fulfilling the verse ‘Eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart’ (Ecclesiastes 9:7)…” (Tana d’Bei Eliyahu Rabbah 1)

There are numerous other sources in the words of ChazalRishonim andAchronim, which deserve to be collected into a separate book in order to strengthen this sacred matter.

Dividing the Shabbat: Half for Torah, Half for Meals

According to the Talmud, time on Shabbat should be divided up – half for the sake of God through Torah study in the Beit Midrash (learning hall), and half foroneg Shabbat through eating, drinking and sleeping (Tractate Pesachim 68b).

In the work Ohr Zaru’ah it is written: “Half of Shabbat or Yom Tov is for eating and drinking, and half for the Beit Midrash. An appropriate custom is that upon leaving the Beit Knesset after Shabbat morning services one goes home to eat, and after eating, takes a pleasurable Shabbat nap, and after sleeping, learns Torah.” This is also written in the following books: Sefer Mitzvot Gadol (הלכות יו”ט כז, ע”ג), Rabbeinu Yerucham (נתיב יב, דף סה ע”ג), Sefer Ha’Itim (קצח), Hamanhig (נה), and Maharshal (יש”ש ביצה ב, ד).

And according to the Bach (רמב, א), on Yom Tov one should divide the day into two equal halves, but on Shabbat, one should dedicate most of the day to Torah study, as implied by the Gemara and Rambam (שבת ל, י). And this was also agreed upon by the author of Havot Yair in his book Makor Chaim (או”ח סוף סימן רצ).

Distinction between Torah Scholars Working People

Some poskim (Jewish law arbiters) believe that beyond the general dividing of Shabbat – half for spiritual delight, and half for physical pleasure – there is an additional directive: that Torah scholars who are accustomed to self-sacrifice during the week as a result of diligent Torah study, should add a little extra physical pleasure on Shabbat, while working people who are not able to study Torah properly during the week, should add a little extra Torah study (ירושלמי שבת טו, ג, פסיקתא רבתי סו”פ כג).

Some Rishonim also concluded similarly, among them: Shibolei Haleket, צו Tanya Rabatiיח ; Meiri, שבת קיח, ב; and thus wrote R’ema (שו”ע רצ, ב): “Ba’alei batim(working people), who do not engage in Torah study every day during the week should learn more Torah on Shabbat than Torah scholars who do learn the entire week. Torah scholars should slightly increase their eating and drinking pleasures, for they indeed take delight in their learning throughout the week.” So concluded the Beit Yosef(רפח, א), Maharikash (ערך לחם סימן רצ), ShelaShulchan HaRav, and many more.

Must the Division of Time Be Precise?

A question remains: since the poskim did not set a precise number of hours of Torah study one must learn on Shabbat, perhaps we can learn from this that time devoted to Torah study on Shabbat need not be divided exactly in half, rather, the intention is to devote a significant amount of time for Torah, and for the meals as well. This, indeed, is the opinion of Pri Megadim (או”ח א”א רמב ס”ק א) and Sefat Emet (ביצה טו, ב).

On the other hand, we find that some of the eminent poskim of later generations wrote that the division of time should be accurate, among them: Bach (או”ח ר”ס רמב) P’nai Yehoshuaביצהטו, ב) ), Sha’agat Aryeh (סי’ סט). The same emerges fromMaharshalיש”ש חולין) א, נ), who wrote that the time spent by cantor’s singing melodies during prayers should not be considered part of ‘half for God’.

And Rabbi Chaim ben Attar determinedly wrote: “One should not over-extend the morning meal, for if so, he steals time from the half belonging to God, blessed be He” (ראשון לציון ביצה טו, ב). He also wrote in his book Kaf HaChaim (תקכט, ב) regarding the time of the sermon and meals, “Every place should act according to their custom, provided they do not deduct from ‘half the day to the Beit Midrash’… especially trades and craftsmen, who do not have time to learn during the week …”

How a Minimum of Six Hours was Decided

If half the time of Shabbat should be devoted to Torah, one should seemingly learn about twelve and a half hours, given that the duration of Shabbat including ‘tosefet Shabbat’ (additional time added onto the start and end of Shabbat) is approximately twenty-five hours. Apparently however, it is possible to be lenient and not take into account the seven hours of sleep a person needs each day; this leaves eighteen hours, of which about nine hours should be devoted to Torah, and nine hours to eating, drinking and an additional oneg (pleasure) rest.

And although the primary spiritual idea of Shabbat is intended for the study of Torah, it appears that in the opinion of some poskim it is possible to be lenient and include prayer times within the nine hours of Torah as well, provided the prayer services are not over-extended.

As a result, it ends up that in practice, a minimum of six hours on Shabbat should be devoted to Torah, so that together with three hours of prayer time, it adds up to nine hours.

How Come in the Past the Rabbis Did Not Stipulate How Many Hours to Learn?

Apparently, the temptation to sit idle and not study Torah on Shabbat in the past was far smaller. First of all, a person today has numerous reading materials, such as newspapers and secular books, which did not exist in the past – particularly before the invention of the printing-press. Secondly, the meals were much shorter because people did not have as much money to purchase so many various dishes. Third, since nowadays people eat a lot, they become more tired, and need to devote more hours to sleeping. Fourth, in recent times a culture has arisen where many people devote their Shabbat to friendly get-togethers and conversations, something which apparently was less popular in the past.

The primary temptation rabbis had to deal with was that people preferred to read the words of wisdom in the Holy Writings, such as the’ Book of Proverbs’ and the like, instead of coming to the Beit Midrash to hear the words of halakha, and consequently the rabbis decreed not to read from the Holy Writings during time dedicated to study in the Beit Midrash “because of neglect of the Beit Midrash” (Shabbat 115a), and this was codified by Rambam (Shabbat 23:19). Today, since a prescribed time for the Beit Midrash no longer exists, the prohibition of reading the Holy Writings at the same time has been canceled (ר”ן בשם רז”ה, ב”י שז, יז).

A Parable

Should one ask: ‘Do you really think the rabbis intended for us to be stressed-out all Shabbat, splitting hairs and counting the hours of study?’

I will respond with a parable about a man who wished to buy food at a grocery store owned by his friend. Since they had been good friends from early childhood, the owner said to his friend: ‘Listen. After all is said and done, we’re like brothers, and it’s not fitting for us to settle up on each and every item as I do with my other customers. Let’s act like friends: you take anything you want from the store, and from time-to-time when you want to pay – we’ll reckon the prices of all the items you took, and you’ll pay. The friend thought it was a good idea, but subsequently, he noticed that the store owner always mistakenly over-charged him. He probably did so in good faith, without any bad intentions. Yet, in practice, it turned out that the shopkeeper had always thought that his friend had taken more products than what he actually took, to the point where his monthly food costs doubled, and on account of their great friendship, he suffered losses. Upon seeing this, he turned to his friend the grocer, and requested that henceforth, they register everything he took, and stick to a precise accounting.

The same is true with regard to Torah study on Shabbat. If the general situation was that sometimes one learns more than half of the Shabbat, and other times, when special occasions arise he learns less than half – but overall, half our Shabbat’s are devoted to Torah – there would be no need to be precise in calculating the hours. But when we see that the time devoted for Torah always comes up on the short side – calculating the hours precisely is necessary, until the notion that half of Shabbat should be devoted to Torah becomes the norm.

A Gradual ‘Tikun

Indeed, for many people switching the order of Shabbat is very hard, but we must not be discouraged by this difficulty in view of the extraordinary task of Shabbat. Everyone must try to add Torah study according to his ability, until our Shabbat’s become ‘may’ain olam ha’ba‘, (a resemblance to the World to Come) – a synthesis of soul and body, spiritual pleasure of Torah and prayer, together with the delight of meals and sleep.

The ‘Melava Malka’ Meal

About a month ago I received a copy of a speech given by a Bat-Mitzvah girl that contained some nice thoughts regarding to the mitzvah of the ‘Melava Malka’ meal:

“… In the past year, I learned with my father “Peninei Halakha: Laws of Shabbat.” True, we weren’t able to finish the two volumes before the bat-mitzvah, but maybe it’s better that way, so we can continue our ‘chevruta‘ (learning pair) afterwards.

“I want to mention some of the halachot we learned, which I particularly enjoyed.

“One of the halakha’s I really liked was the ‘Melava Malka’ meal. As Rabbi Melamed explains, there is an important idea of accompanying the Shabbat in its departure, because we do not want to depart from the Queen so fast. Therefore, those who are meticulous in mitzvoth prepare a special dish in honor of the meal on Motzei Shabbat.

“And here, I would like to relate what happened in our house. After learning the laws of ‘Melava Malka’, I requested we eat the fourth meal every Motzei Shabbat together as a family, and that I would even make a special dish for this purpose. This happened for only a short time, because my parents wanted me to go to bed at a certain hour. Now that I am bat-mitzvah, and Motzei Shabbat is longer, I would like to start preparing food on Motzei Shabbat, in order to continue honoring the Queen, and nourish the Luz bone…”

About Eliezer Melamed

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law. His works include the Peninei Halacha series on Jewish law and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper. Some of Rabbi Melamed's books are currently being translated into English. These articles are excerpts from the authorized translations, with occasional brief introductions by the editor.

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