Learning Tanach At Night (Part 2)

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

What Is Permissible To Learn-

1. There is a great debate amongst the authorities as to whether one may recite Tehillim at night. The Chida in Shu”t Chaim Shaul writes that the great mekubal Rav Shalom Sharabi noticed that many Israeli communities recited Tehillim in the early hours of the day (before sunrise). In an effort to explain the strange practice he explained that “perhaps Tehillim was not included in the Gezaira of the Arizal,” however, he was not definitive in this view. The Chida further noted that the kabbalists refrain from reciting Tehillim at night. Indeed, the Sefer Pesach Devir cites those that prohibit reciting Tehillim at night. (see Tzitz Eliezet 8:2)

2. The Chida in his Shu”t Yosef Ometz seems to offer a slightly more permissive view. He once again notes that many people customarily recite Tehillim at night. He writes that “I heard from one of the great kabbalists of the day [seemingly referring to Rav Shalom Sharabi] that Tehillim is not included in the what the great Arizal warned against and may be studied at night.” The Chida adds that a permissible view is supported from the Midrash (Bereshit Rabba, Chapter 68, Section 14) that Yaakov Avinu read Tehillim at night. Similarly, King David composed and authored most of Tehillim in the wee hours of the night. The Chida concludes that “if one asks me if one is permitted to read Tehillim at night, I will reply that he has on whom to rely. However, I myself am wary about reading Tehillim at night, besides for on the night of Shabbos.” The Ben Ish Chai, in his Shu”t Rav Poalim (2:2), cites the view of the Chida and concludes that although he would not rebuke those that are lenient, if the person would come and ask him, he would tell him to study portions of the Oral Torah, such as Mishnah, Gemara, or Zohar.

3. Rav Yaakov Niño writes in his Sefer Emet Le’Yaakov that in spite of the words of the Chida, the custom has become to read Tehillim at night after halachic midnight (chatzos). The Ben Ish Chai (Pekudei 7) also writes that one may recite Tehillim after chatzos (although in his Rav Poalim he rules stringently, as noted above). Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l also rules that there is room to allow reading Tehillim after halachic midnight, for the Chida certainly changed his mind regarding the doubt he raises in his Responsa Yosef Ometz. As the Chida writes in his personal diary from the year 5563 (1803): “Teves, Monday night. I was ill and I could not sleep during the night so I read the entire Tehillim and I then went to pray, with Hashem’s help.” It seems that the Chida also saw room for leniency since Tehillim is not included in the prohibition banning Tanach at night. Therefore, those who read Tehillim after halachic midnight certainly have on whom to rely (Yabia Omer vol. 10 page 125).

4. However, other authorities are even more lenient and allow one to recite Tehillim at night even before midnight. This is the view of the Gaon of Botchetch (Aishel Avraham 238), Rav Yisroel Chaim Friedman zt” (cited in Tzitz Eliezer 8:2) and Harav Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg zt”l. Harav Moshe Stern zt”l (Beer Moshe) writes that one may definitely recite Tehillim after chatzos for any reason. Before chatzos one may (and should) recite Tehillim if one is doing so for a sick person.

5. Rav Chaim Medini zt”l writes that if one committed a certain sin and the prescribed atonement is to recite certain chapters of Tehillim one may recite them at night according to all the authorities (Shu”t Ohr Li 40).

6. The Shu”t Vayechi Yaakov (9) asks how we recite many prayers at night that are filled with verses of Tanach. He responds that the Arizal was warning against learning Tanach. However, reciting verses of Tanach not in the context of learning, rather as a prayer is permissible. However, the poskim who prohibit reciting Tehillim at night (cited above) clearly do not agree with this view as Tehillim is recited as a prayer and not in the context of learning. Indeed, the Vayechi Yaakov allows one to recite Tehillim at night for a sick person.

7. Rav Yechiel Meir Lifschitz (Lipschutz) of Gustinin maintains that one may learn Chumash with Rashi at night. The issue is learning Tanach without commentaries, however, learning it with comentaries is permissible. Learning with Onkelas, however, is not permissible (as noted in the previous post- this law does not apply to Friday night, therefore Shenayim Mikra is permissible on Friday night).

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

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