Books and Newspapers on Shabbos

 Courtesy of Ohr Olam Mishnah Berurah

Question: Is it halachically permitted to read newspapers published by and for the religious community on Shabbos and Yom Tov?

Discussion: It depends which section of the paper one wishes to read:

  • Business and classified advertisements, business news that has bearing on the reader’s finances or shopping needs or plans, consumer columns, gardening and housekeeping advice, recipes which come with cooking instructions are all strictly forbidden to be read on Shabbos.135
  • Stories of personal or public tragedies, death notices or eulogies that could bring a person to tears, and Holocaust stories that sadden a person and detract from his oneg Shabbos may also not be read on Shabbos.136
  • Divrei Torah — including all articles pertaining to Torah learning, essays on the weekly parashah, halachah, mussar, hashkafah, stories and pictures of gedolei Yisrael, and stories of chizuk ha-Torah, middos tovos and yiras Shamayim all are permitted to be read on Shabbos, provided that one makes a conscious effort not to read the forbidden parts of the newspaper.137

Question: Is it permitted to read the general news section of the newspaper on Shabbos and Yom Tov?

Discussion: Reading the general news section of the newspaper — including news, politics or stories of general interest, and advertisement or business news that have no bearing on the finances or shopping needs or plans of the reader — is a subject of dispute among the poskim. There are three basic opinions:

  • Many rule that reading this type of material is included in the rabbinic edict against reading non-business documents, and it is therefore forbidden to be read.138
  • Others maintain that if one enjoys reading this type of article then it is permitted to do so. These poskim maintain that the rabbinic edict against reading non-business documents does not include enjoyable reading material.139 Mishnah Berurah, however, does not support this position.140
  • Some poskim maintain that while it may be halachically permitted to read certain parts of the newspaper, reading a newspaper should be strongly discouraged since it is extremely difficult to avoid the advertisements or other parts of the paper that are forbidden to be read.141 Other poskim, however, tend to permit reading a newspaper as long as one makes a conscious effort to avoid the advertisements or other forbidden sections.142

The following is a free translation of guidelines given by Harav N. Karelitz143 on this subject: “While a ben Torah and his family should avoid reading a newspaper on Shabbos altogether, we do not object to those who are lenient and read the permissible parts of the newspaper. This is especially true with regard to women, children and those who do not engage in the study of Torah (who require a kosher alternative so that they will not come to engage in idle or forbidden talk or worse); we definitely should not object to their reading the permissible parts of the newspaper.”

Every individual should consult his halachic authority for guidance as to how he should conduct himself in this matter.

Reading Secular Books on Shabbos

Question: Is it permitted to read secular books on Shabbos (and Yom Tov)?

Discussion: It depends on the type of book one wishes to read:144

  • Biographies of gedolei Yisrael or Orthodox community leaders, Jewish storybooks that serve to strengthen one’s yiras Shamayim, emunas chachamim or middos tovos are permitted, including works of fiction (novels and mysteries) authored by God-fearing Jews and written for these purposes.
  • Books (or encyclopedias) on science, math, medicine, geography, astronomy and architecture are permitted,145 except if one is reading them for one’s business or profession,146 or because one needs to study for a test.147
  • Cookbooks should be avoided.148
  • Secular books that do not contain halachically objectionable material, but were not written by God-fearing Jews for the purpose of strengthening one’s yiras Shamayim, emunas chachamim or middos tovos, should not be read on Shabbos.149 We do not, however, object to women, children or those who are not engaged in the study of Torah reading books of this nature on Shabbos.150
  • Books about personal or public tragedies, or Holocaust stories that sadden a person and detract from his oneg Shabbos, may not be read on Shabbos.151
  • Any written work that may have bearing on the reader’s finances is forbidden to be read on Shabbos.

135. Mishnah Berurah 307:63.

136. Mishnah Berurah 307:3; Ketzos ha-Shulchan 107:43.

137. See Avnei Yashfei 1:76-3, quoting Rav S.Z. Auerbach; Az Nidberu 9:7.

138. Many poskim, based on O.C. 307:16. See Minchas Shabbos 90:22.

139. See Magen Avraham 301:4 and Peri Megadim; Ya’avatz 1:162; Kalkeles Shabbos 33; Tehillah l’David 301:1; Da’as Torah 307:15.

140. Sha’ar Hatziyun 301:7.

141. Mishnah Berurah 307:63.

142. See Da’as Torah 307:16; Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 29:48. See also Igros Moshe, O.C. 5:22-3, who writes that business newspapers should not be read.

143. Quoted in Ayal Meshulash on Shitrei Hedyotos, pgs. 79, 83 and 210, and in Menuchah Sheleimah 2.

144. Although this discussion follows the same basic principles quoted earlier concerning newspapers, there are several reasons for the greater leniency regarding reading of books, among them: 1) Books do not contain advertisements or financial news. 2) The rabbinic ban on reading non-business related items, which became necessary due to the confusion between different types of documents, may not apply to books since there is a clear distinction between unbound business documents and bound books; see Pischei She’arim on Sha’arei Efrayim 10:33.

145. Mishnah Berurah 307:65, 308:164.

146. Shulchan Shlomo 307:25.

147. See Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 28, note 220, where Rav S.Z. Auerbach remains undecided on this issue.

148. Rav M. Feinstein and Rav N. Karelitz quoted in Ayal Meshulash, pg. 41. Others are more lenient; see Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 29, note 124 and Avnei Yashfei 1:76.

149. O.C. 307:16.

150. Ruling of Rav N. Karelitz (quoted in Ayal Meshulash on Shitrei Hedyotos, pg. 209, and in Menuchah Sheleimah, 2).

151. Mishnah Berurah 307:3; Ketzos ha-Shulchan 107:43.