Forgetting The Torah (Part 1)

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

Jewish law places a tremendous amount of importance on amassing Torah knowledge and not to G-d forbid forget one’s learning. Throughout the Gemara and Medrash our Sages tell us of numerous activities which one should avoid since they are “kasha l’shichcha,” cause one to forget his learning. In the next few blogs we will discuss some of the more common and more obscure actions which can cause one to forget his studies. For a full list of things that one should avoid please see Harav Chaim Kanievsky’s Sefer Hazikaron.

Section 1: The Prohibition-

1. The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (3:8) says that anyone who forgets what he has learned is considered to be deserving of death. The source for this is a verse in Parshas Va’eschanan, which says: “Only beware for yourself and greatly beware for your soul, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen and lest you remove them from your heart all the days of your life, and make them known to your children and your children’s children” (Devarim 4:9). Similarly the Gemara in Menachos 99b says in the name of Reish Lakish that someone who forgets what he has learned has transgressed the negative commandment of the aforementioned pasuk. The Gemara explains that since the verse uses the words “hi’shamer” (beware) and “pen” (lest), this verse constitutes a negative commandment. This prohibition is cited by the Smak (9, 105), Smag (Lo Saaseh 13) and Yireim (28).

2. The Shulchan Aruch Harav (Talmud Torah 2:4) likewise rules that one who abstains from reviewing his learning and therefore forgets it has transgressed a biblical prohibition. This is only true if he neglected to review his learning due to laziness, however, if he does not have time to review because of his work and the like he is considered an “ones” and has not transgressed. He also adds that the prohibition applies even today where the oral law is written down.

[While this seems like an obvious ruling, in fact the opinion of Harav Chaim Volozhiner was that the prohibition only applied when the oral Torah was just that “oral.” Once the oral Torah was written it is no longer possible to forget Torah.]

ראיתי דבר חדש מהגרי”זּ הלוי, שכתב הכתר ראש (אות ס”ז) בשם הגר”ח מוואלאזין, וז”ל: “בענין שוכח דבר אחר ממשנתו, זה קאי על הראשונים שלמדו בעל פה”, עכ”ל. וביאר בחדושי מרן רי”ז הלוי על התורה (פרשת ואתחנן, על הכתוב “והיו הדברים האלה”) שעיקר האיסור שלא לשכח דבר אחד מן התורה קאי דוקא על התורה שבעל פה הנמסרת מדור לדור, מרב לתלמיד פה אל פה, כדי שלא תשתכח. אבל אחר שכבר נכתב התלמוד, ונפסקה הקבלה של תורה שבעל פה איש מפי איש, שוב אין זה בכלל שוכח דבר אחד ממשנתו, ע”כ. אכן בשו”ע הרב מבואר דלא כדברי הגר”ח. ויש לבאר שנחלקו בגדר האיסור לשכוח דבר אחד מן התורה, האם הוא על הגברא- שלא ישכח, או על התורה גופה, שאנו נזהרים שלא לשכוח את התורה באופן שתפסק מסירת התורה. שמדברי הגרי”ז מבואר, דזהו איסור על הגברא, שלא ישכח דבר אחד מן התורה, ולכן איסור זה נוהג תיכף כששכח דבר אחד ממשנתו, אע”פ שיכול לחזור ללומדו פעם שניה. ולהכי פשיטא ליה, דלא ישתנה איסור זה בשינוי הדורות. אולם הגר”ח ס”ל, שכל האיסור הוא שלא לשכח את התורה באופן שתפסק מסירת התורה, ולפיכך פשיטא ליה דאיסור זה נאמר דוקא על הדורות הראשונים שלמדו בעל פה, שאם שוכח דבר אחד ממשנתו לא יוכל להעביר לתלמידו את כל מה שקיבל מרבו. אבל אחר שנכתבה תורה שבע”פ, אף אם ישכח דבר אחד ממשנתו אין התורה משתכחת, שהרי יכול הוא לעיין בספרים, לפיכך אין בזה איסור.

3. Interestingly, Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l uses this prohibition of forgetting Torah to prohibit double ring ceremonies. In the betrothal process, the giving of the ring is a means by which a kinyan is made. Here, the man is “acquiring” the woman. In a double-ring ceremony, where both the chosson and kallah give each other a ring (accompanied by commitments), it is unclear as to who is acquiring whom. This exchange of rings may lead to the erroneous conclusion that a woman can acquire a man for a husband. In addition this may lead to people forgetting the halachic kiddushin ceremony, which falls under the negative commandment of forgetting Torah. (Igros Moshe Even Haezer 3:18)

4. As stated above there are many activities that the Gemara warns against as it can lead to one forgetting his learning. The poskim debate whether performing these activities falls under the biblical prohibition stated above. Rav Chaim Palag’i, Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld zt”l and the Aruch Hashulchan all feel that performing theses acts are biblically forbidden. However, the Sefer Chassidim seems to indicate that there is no prohibition. (See Yabia Omer Y.D. 2:8 and Sefer Shemiras Haguf V’Nefesh Mavo chapter 18 for a full discussion.)

5. Harav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a explains the view of the Sefer Chassidim. He writes that these actions do not actively cause one to forget his learning, rather, they weaken the mind’s ability to remember, which in turn may lead to forgetfulness. The Torah only forbids actively forgetting learning by deliberately not reviewing Torah. Merely weakening one’s ability to remember is not forbidden. It should, however, be avoided (Sefer Hazikaron).

6. The poskim write that women may perform the activities which the Gemara warns against (Mishmeres Shalom 72:2, Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a who adds that a child should not perform these activities).

7. The Yad Yitzchak (vol. 2 84:17) writes that an “am haaretz” (ignoramus) may also perform these activities.

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Sleeping Alone In A House

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

1. The Gemara in Shabbos (151b) states, “Rav Chanina said: It is forbidden to sleep alone in a house, and whoever sleeps alone in a house will be seized by Lilith (Lilith or Lil’ is the mother of demons- Zohar, Pekudei 276b).” Interestingly, there is an earlier source for this prohibition. The great Tanna, Rav Eliezer Hagadol, writes in his last will and testament, “My son make sure not to sleep in any house alone at night since this can cause one to be seized by Lil’ and once Lil’ seizes a person or a child she removes them from this world.” (Orchos Chaim 59) This law is cited by the Shulchan Aruch Harav (Shemiras Haguf 6), Magen Avraham (239) and the Mishna Berurah (239).

2. The Rif and Rosh have a slightly different text of the Gemara. According to their version the Gemara is forbidding sleeping alone in a house at night. Sleeping during the day would be permissible. Virtually all of the later-day authorities rule in accordance with this view (Eishel Avraham 239, Shulchan Aruch Harav, Mishnah Berurah). The Machatzis Hashekel adds that even according to the standard edition of the Gemara (not that of the Rif and Rosh) the prohibition only exists at night.

3. The commentaries make note that the Zohar (Tazria 45a) seems to forbid sleeping in a house alone even during the day. The only distinction between the day and night, according to the Zohar, is that sleeping during the day is only a problem in a house that is distanced and secluded from other homes. While at night it is a problem even if the house is close to other homes. (see Sdei Chemed vol. 4 page 525, vol. 9 Divrei Chachamim 85) [A baby in a crib should not be left alone in the house during the day or night. (Orchos Chaim 48)]

4. The Gaon of Butchetch writes that the problem is sleeping alone, however, one may take a nap alone at night.

5. The Gaon of Butchetch continues that “perhaps this law does not apply to women and they may sleep alone at night.” However, the Kaf Hachaim (239:17) maintains that the prohibition applies to women as well.

6. The Magen Avraham writes that one may not sleep alone in a room even if there are others in the house and the adjacent rooms. This is also the view of the Mishnah Berurah.The Sdei Chemed proves that this is indeed the view of the Rif.

The Mishnah Berurah (Shaar Hatzion 239) writes that therefore if there are others in the house and not the room, one should leave the room door ajar at night. If a man is sleeping alone in a room and the only other person in the house is a women in which case it is forbidden to leave the door open because of yichud. Rather, one should lock the door and since he is performing the mitzvah of avoiding yichud he need not worry about any danger.

According to the Mishnah Berurah if one is sleeping alone in a room and there are other people in the house one should leave the door ajar to avoid any hallachic problems (assuming this will not lead to the prohibition of yichud). The Komarna Rebbe writes that in case of need one may rule leniently as long as he leaves the “door wide open.” (Shulchan Hatahor 241:10) The Chelkas Yaakov (O.C. 57) and Harav Neventzhal shlit”a (Biyitzchak Yikarei) maintain that one may rule leniently even if the door is closed as long as it is not locked.

Other poskim maintain that the entire prohibition exists if one sleeps alone in the house. However, if there are others in the house, even though there is no one else in the room, it is permissible. This is in complete disagreement with the Magen Avraham and Mishnah Berurah. The Sdei Chemed writes that this the view of Rav Moshe Ashkanazi. This view is also cited by the Aruch Hashulchan. Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l is also cited as ruling this way (see Shilhi Dkayta 53).

7. Many poskim, including the Sdei Chemed, Kaf Hachaim, Gaon of Butchetch and Rav Gershon Henoch of Radzin, maintain that if there is a light in the room (either electric or clear strong moonlight through the window) there is no prohibition. Similarly, someone asked the Debriciner Rav (Beer Moshe 3:45) what should he do during the summer when his family is away in the summer home and he is alone. He answered that if he keeps a light on his room (or there is light from the hallway) it is okay to sleep alone since the gemara in Brachos says (43b) that a fire is equivalent to another person. Furthermore the Yerushalmi (Shabbos 2:6) adds the word “dark” house. Therefore leaving on a light would resolve the issue. The Chazon Ish, however, feels that having a light on does not permit sleeping alone (Dinim VHanhagos Chazon Ish page 57).

8. The Gaon of Butchetch writes that perhaps one may rule leniently if there is a Mezuzah on the doorpost. The Mezuzah protects those inside of the room from demons. The Gemara which prohibits sleeping alone was discussing homes without a Mezuzah (that of a non-Jew). However, the Kaf Hachaim and Harav Binyamin Zilber zt”l (Birur Halacha 3:239) do not agree with this ruling.

9. According to the Gra (Maaseh Rav 221) and the Dovev Meisharim (79) one may sleep alone in a Sukah. Since sleeping in a Sukah is a mitzvah one need not concern about danger.

10. The Shu”t Binyan Olam (Y.D. 62) writes that just as one may not sleep alone in a house, one may not sleep alone outdoors in a slightly deserted area. He adds that there are more demons in a field than indoors, therefore sleeping in a field is even worse than sleeping alone indoors.

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