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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Learning Torah at Night Part 2

By Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber

We had previously discussed the specialness of nocturnal Torah study. I would like to qualify that with an interesting limitation on night-time Torah study.

The Medrash reports that when Moshe Rabeinu ascended Mt. Sinai, the way he was able to differentiate between night and day was that Hashem would teach him the Written Torah (the 24 books of Tanach) during the day, and at night-time He would teach him the Oral Torah (Mishna, Talmud etc.).

Based on this, the Mekubalim say that one should refrain from studying ‘Mikrah’ at night. The Mishna Berura explains that at most it is a matter of preference, not forbidden. The Yesod V’Shoresh HaAvodah and other more Kabalistic works write that there is a spiritual danger to studying Torah Shebechsav at night.

There are however many notable exceptions which would make this preference very easy to fulfill.

1) One may learn Tanach with Rashi or another commentary. An English translation would fit the bill as well.
2) Sofrim may write and verbalize the words they are writing. This is because they are writing in accordance to the Mesorah which is Torah Shbal Peh.
3) This concept is not applicable on Thursday Friday or Saturday night, on Yom Tov or on Chol Hamoed.
4) Tehillim said for a sick person or for shmirah may be said.
5) Some say that the whole prohibition is only until Chatzos (halachic midnight).

Based on the above, there is almost no practical application of this chumrah, and were it to be applicable, we could always rely on the Mishna Berura’s opinion that it is merely a scheduling preference but if that is when one has time to study Tanach they should definitely do so without hesitation.

You may also be interested in Rabbi Ari Enkin’s excellent article on what not to learn on Shabbos.

As Elul begins and we draw nearer to Rosh Hashanah some of you may be feeling the urge to learn how to blow Shofar properly. There is an excellent how-to book on the subject, written by Rabbi Avrohom Reit, an expert in the practical applications of Jewish Law. Check out his illustrated guide here.

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