Learning Tanach At Night (Part 1)

(This should not be relied upon for practical halacha. When a question arises a Rabbi should be consulted.)

The Source-

1. Harav Chaim Vital zt”l cites the Arizal that, based upon kabbalistic reasons, one should not read the written Torah (Tanach) at night. (Shaar Hamitzvos Veschanan page 35b)

This teaching is also cited by the Chida in numerous places (Birkei Yosef 1:13, 238:2, Chaim Shaul 2:25, Yosef Ometz 54). He writes that there is basis for this custom from the Medrash. The Medrash states that when Moshe Rabbeinu ascended to Heaven to receive the Torah, Hashem taught him the Written Torah during the day and the Oral Torah at night. Therefore, we do not learn the Written Torah at night just as Moshe Rabbeinu did not learn it at night.

Indeed, the Rikanti (a Rishon and Kabbalist) writes the following, “It should be known that one needs to learn the Written Torah during the day and the Oral Torah at night. Similarly, the Medrash states that during the forty days that Moshe Rabbeinu was in Heaven (receiving the Torah) he learned the Written Torah during the day and the Oral Torah at night (Yisro 45a).”

2. The Chida (cited by Ben Ish Chai Pekudei 7) maintains that this law was only stated for those that are capable of learning the oral law. However, people that are only able to learn Tanach may do so at night. Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (Yabia Omer 6:30:2) cites a similar ruling from the Sefer Chemdas Yamim who writes that one who is only able to learn Tanach may do so at night. This is obviously preferred from having him sit idle by all night.

3. Similarly, a child who is unable to learn the Oral law may learn Tanach at night (Shu”t Yayin Hatov 54).

4. The Mishna Berurah (Shaar Hatzion 238) writes that even the Arizal never intended to prohibit learning Tanach at night. Rather, it is preferable to learn other things at night.

5. The Chida (cited in Ikrei Had”t 22:57) writes that one should not rebuke those that learn the Written Torah at night. Harav Chaim Medini zt”l, the author of the Sefer Sdei Chemed, writes that there are numerous Gemaros which imply that one may learn Tanach at night. It is possible, he continues, that this is a case where there is a halachic dispute between the Gemara and Kabbalah and one follows the view of the Gemara. Therefore, although one should not rule leniently one should not rebuke or prohibit the masses (amei haaretz) from learning Tanach at night. (Shu”t Ohr Li 40) [Indeed, the Pri Megadim (cited by the Shaar Hatzion) seems to maintain that one may learn Tanach at night, not in accordance with the Arizal. Perhaps he feels, like Rav Chaim Medini zt”l, that the Gemara is in disagreement with the Arizal.]

When Does This Law Apply-

6. The Sefer Mei Yehuda (22) maintains that the issue of learning Tanach at night begins after nightfall (tzeis hakochavim). One may learn during bein hashmashos, the time between shkiyas hachama and tzeis hakochavim.

7. Rav Meir ben Judah Leib Poppers zt”l, a kabbalist who lived in the mid 1600’s, writes that one only needs to refrain from learning Tanach before chatzos. Following chatzos one may learn Tanach (Ohr Tzadikim Tefila 1:11). A similar view can be found in the Sefer Mishmeres Shalom (23). This is also the view of Harav Ovadia Hadaya zt”l (Yaskil Avdi 4 K”A 2). However, it is quite clear that virtually all the authorities, including the Chida, Ben Ish Chai and Rav Shalom Sharabi zt”l, make no distinction between before chatzos and after chatzos, both are problematic for learning Tanach. (See the next blog for a discussion as to reciting Tehillim before and after chatzos)

8. Harav Chaim Vital writes that on Thursday night one may learn Tanach. Due to the proximity to Shabbos there is added rachamim (mercy) which enables one to learn Tanach without concern of any danger. (see also Vayeishev Hayam 1:6)

9. The Malbim (Ortzos Hachaim 1:36) adds that if it is permissible to learn on Thursday night, all the more so on Friday night. He thereby explains a seemingly puzzling opinion of Rashi. Rashi (explaining a Gemara Kiddushin 30) explains that one divides the week into three sections – two days Chumash, two days Mishnah and two days Gemara. The question the Malbim asks is how can one spend two days learning Chumash if one cannot learn Chumash at night. He answers that one may learn Tanach on Thursday night and Friday night. Therefore, the two days that Rashi is referring to is from Thursday night through Shabbos. The Chida also permits learning Tanach on Friday night.

10. The Malbim continues to cite the Mishna in Yoma (18b) which states that if the Kohen Gadol is able to read Tanach he should spend the night of Yom Kippur reading Scripture. The Malbim questions how this was permissible. He therefore proves that on Yom Kippur one may learn Tanach. Indeed, the Ben Ish Chai writes that one may learn Tanach on the nights of Yom Tov (Pekudei 7).

11. The Ben Ish Chai writes that there is no leniency for the night of Rosh Chodesh (Rav Poalim vol. 2 Orach Chaim 2).

12. The Sefer Zechor L’Avraham (Vol. 3 Lamed) asks how we are able to recite the prayer “Veyitein L’Cha” on Motzei Shabbos as it is comprised of verses from Tanach. He writes that as long as one has not yet eaten the melava malka meal the holiness of Shabbos is still somewhat in existence and one may learn Tanach.

13. The Gaon of Butchetch (238) writes that “perhaps it is permissible for ten men to learn Tanach together at night.” Similarly, the Avnei Tzedek (Y.D. 102) writes that one may conduct a public shiur on Tanach at night. The zechus of public learning removes any kabbalistic concerns. However, most authorities maintain that there is no difference between an individual and a group regarding this halacha.

If you have a question, comment, or an idea for an article please email me at avizakutinsky@gmail.com.

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