The Prohibition of Torah Study for an Avel and on Tish'a Be-Av

  • Rav Moshe Taragin

The gemara in Ta'anit (daf 30a) asserts that the same laws and prohibitions which apply to an avel whose relative has passed away, pertain to Tish'a Be-Av. On this day we are all mourners over the Beit Hamikdash and Yerushalayim and, hence must practice the laws of personal mourning. Among the prohibitions, the gemara cites the issur of studying Torah. Just as an avel 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. The gemara in Ta'anit (30a) cites the pasuk in Tehillim (19:9): 'Pikudei Hashem yesharim me-samchei leiv' (the edicts of God are just, and gladden the heart)' to prove that the experience of Torah study causes joy. As Tish'a Be-Av (akin to aveilut) dictates that we deprive ourselves from experiences which cause delight, we are forbidden from engaging in this 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 in Yechezkeil in which Hashem asks Yechezkeil (chapter 24) to mimic certain forms of aveilut behavior to presage the impending destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. One of the instructions to Yechezkeil is 'ha'anek dom' - to remain silent . The gemara infers from this pasuk that an avel should be silent - if not entirely at least from significant forms of speech and communication. From this pasuk the gemara infers a prohibition for an avel 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 pasuk in Tehillim prohibits the joy which will arise from this study while the pasuk in Yechezkeil addresses the very act of study as being forbidden. What might the differences between the two models be?


            The gemara in Ta'anit (30a) cites the position of the Tanah Kamah 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 'pass' or analysis is strenuous or difficult, no delight will be yielded. The Tanah Kamah 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 pasuk in Yechezkeil which prohibits Torah study as a form of speech and hence extend the scope of the issur broadly? Or does he agree in principle that Torah study is forbidden for the happiness it will cause and yet maintains that no part Torah may be studied since even unfamiliar terrain conveys a sort of spiritual satisfaction which is forbidden to an avel? 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 Tana Kama about learning unfamiliar sections asserts that on Tish'a Be-Av we may study Iyov, Lamentations, and the depressing sections of Yirmiyahu (in which the destruction of the Temple is forecasted). Apparently, even R. Yehuda accepts this exception. Instinctively, it seems that even R. Yehuda bases the prohibition of Torah study upon the joy it causes and permitted it in instances in which no joy is experienced. He merely disputes the Tana Kama's claim that studying unfamiliar sections causes no excitement.


            We might detect a second example of permitted Torah recitation in contexts which don't cause joy. The Tur (Orach Chayim 554) cites the Ramban who claims that on Tish'a Be-Av we are permitted to recited korbanot and the Beraita de-Rebbi Yishma'el (sections recited at the end of 'korbanot' which are in essence excerpts from Torah proper). Since these sections are being recited in the framework of tefilla they are permitted. Might this position as well be based upon the premise that Torah study is forbidden solely due to the simcha it will cause . When Torah is recited as part of tefilla 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 Rama 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 davening might 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' 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 Tefilla). Evidently the Rama felt that ANY Torah study experience performed in a alternate framework is permissible on Tish'a Be-Av.


            Even within the Rama's lenient position we might set certain limits. The Tur (Yoreh De'ah 384) cites the position that if the only Cohen in shul is an avel, he should defer and not receive the first aliya during Kri'at Ha-Torah (since taking an aliya and reading along with the Ba'al Kri'a is a form of Torah study). Why not apply the Rama'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.




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


            We might inspect the reverse case: instances in which the Torah study might still cause joy but does not entail formal speech. The Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chayim 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 (one cannot think  Kri'at Shema) in this case as the prohibition centers around the joy of the experience we might not insist upon formal speech. A similar conclusion stems necessarily from the Chatam Sofer (responsa Orach Chayim 156) who explains the minhag of not studying Torah on Erev Tish'a Be-Av after noon "since the material he learnt will still be fresh in his mind during Tish'a Be-Av and 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 (Yoreh De'ah 384:1) as to whether an avel can participate in various public services surrounding a sefer Torah (hagba and gelila). These might be additional instances in which no speech is involved but possible joy stemming from Torah might dictate a prohibition.


            Having established two different paradigms for the prohibition of Torah study during aveilut, we might 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 public 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.


Refraining from wearing leather shoes, bathing, and sexual engagement are all examples of physical luxuries which are forbidden because they will cause enjoyment. Not wearing tefillin, turning a 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 an avel, and identify him in 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. The prohibitions however and the resisting from pleasure are maintained.


            By extending this distinction, we might arrive at the following conclusion regarding Torah study: Torah study as a pleasure-inducing experience is forbidden throughout the entire seven day period. However Torah as 'significant speech' is only prohibited during the first three days, for only during this phase must the avel openly declare his status by remaining 'silent'. After the three days his public demonstration ceases but the prohibition of deriving pleasure does not. During the first three days, ALL Torah study is forbidden even that which will not cause enjoyment; during these three days the avel is enjoined to remain silent as a public display of his status; he may not even teach his students. After this first phase, he need no longer announce or openly display his status but 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 an avel. During the first phase (the first three days) the avel 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 is will cause.


            A second strategy for recognizing the two 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 two. 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, lamentations and Yirmiyahu while the gemara in Mo'ed Katan describing personal aveilut (15a see also Mo'ed Katan 21a) does not. Tosafot in Mo'ed Katan (21a s.v. ve-Assur Likrot) cite several opinions as to whether this same permit 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 only obligates prohibitions. No public displays are practiced (in part because everyone is an avel and all are in the same boat; the displays of personal aveilut are meant to distinguish the avel from the rest of society - a distinction which is unnecessary/ non-applicable 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 avel. Hence Torah for an avel is forbidden for two reasons - it causes joy AND the avel must remain silent. Even grievous sections of Torah are forbidden to this avel. By contrast , on Tish'a Be-av though not required to remain silent, the avel 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 Korbanot and even reviewing the weekly parsha are permitted on Tish'a Be-Av no such dispensations are provided to a personal avel (see in fact the Pitchei Teshuvah Yoreh De'ah 384;2 who prohibits an avel from reciting these sections). Similarly the prohibition for a Cohen to receive an aliya is only stated in the case of personal aveilut and not (obviously !!) on Tish'a Be-av). These corroborate that though Torah study is prohibited 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 each of these elements apply, on Tish'a Be-av Torah study is only forbidden 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 avel.




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. Very 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 issur 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.





            In this article we addressed the question of the status of Torah when performed or recited in alternate contexts (davening, reviewing the Sidra, receiving an aliya etc.). This question containing global ramifications is in part dependent upon understanding each of these particular frameworks on their own rights. For example, when certain sections of korbanot were inserted into davening, were they incorporated as part of tefilla proper or merely 'foreign' Torah implants within the overall framework of davening (see last week's shiur on dividing one's time for Torah study). The same question might be raised about the nature of the halakha known as "shenayim mikrah 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 (as discussed in an earlier article) 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?