I was recently referred to the Even HaEzel on the Rambam in the 3rd chapter of Hilchos Melachim. Reb Isser Zalman Meltzer (the author) writes there that there is no sin of Bittul Torah for a regular individual (i.e. not a king) if he is doing something to enjoy himself. This would imply that reading a novel, shmoozing, or anything one does for his enjoyment (as long as it's not a sin, obviously) is not considered Bittul Torah.

Are there any Rishonim or Achronim which disagree with this and hold that every minute you can learn and don't is considered Bittul Torah? I would also appreciate any other sources which hold like the Even HaEzel.


5 Answers 5


The Rambam writes:

‏"כי דבר ה׳ בזה" (במדבר טו,לא)--זה שלא השגיח על דברי תורה, כל עיקר. וכן כל שאפשר לו לעסוק בתורה, ואינו עוסק, או שקרא ושנה, ופירש להבלי עולם והניח תלמודו וזנחו--הרי זה בכלל בוזה דבר ה׳.‏

... or who has studied both the Written and Oral Law and turned away to the vanities of the world, leaving behind his study and ignoring it, is included in the category of those who have disdained the word of God

  • I dont see how that answers the question. He provides no parameter, and if anything implies that "dvar hashem baza" is more of a parameter-less lifestyle than a particular act or lack of act. Is this then meant to be a support for the even haazel?
    – mevaqesh
    Feb 5, 2015 at 5:35

The Ba'al HaTanya writes in his Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:5:

אם מלאכתו נעשית על ידי אחרים וכן המתפרנס מהצדקה של קהל או יחידים חייב לעסוק בתורה יומם ולילה ממש בכל ענין ואינו יוצא ידי חובתו כלל מן התורה בקביעות עתים גם אם דעתו קצרה ללמוד טעמי ההלכות שהרי נאמר בתורה סתם על כל אדם מישראל ודברת בם בשבתך בביתך ובלכתך בדרך וגו' ופירשו חכמים לעשותם קבע ועיקר ומלאכתו עראי כשצריך למעשה ידיו אבל דברים בטלים כלל כלל לא ואם שח עובר בעשה שנאמר ודברת בם ולא בדברים בטלים וזה שקובע עתים לתורה דרשו עליו חכמים שהוא מיפר תורה כמ"ש עת לעשות לה' הפרו תורתיך.‏

If his work is done through others, and similarly someone who is supported by communial or individual charity, he is obligated to learn Torah day and night literally in any event. He does not fulfill his obligation at all - as a biblical matter - by establishing fixed times for learning ... but Devarim Beteilim completely and totally not, and if he [so much as] talks he violates a positive commandment ... and someone who establishes fixed times for Torah [when he could learn more often] the Chachamim darshen about him that he is voiding the Torah ... [Rashi brings this on Tehillim 119:126]

This paskens like Rabbi Yishmoel at the end of Munachos 99b (and not like R. Shmuel Bar Nachmaini).

  • BTW the name is Nachmani as per Nechemiah (7:7)
    – mevaqesh
    Feb 5, 2015 at 5:45

Rav Aviner's SMS Q & A:

Learning Torah Every Moment

Q: Is there an opinion to learn Torah every free moment?

A: This is the opinion of Rabbenu Yonah in Igeret Ha-Teshuvah, Derush 1:13. The Mishnah Berurah 155:4 also leans in this direction.


The Gemara in Megillah 3a:

מכאן סמכו של בית רבי שמבטלין תלמוד תורה ובאין לשמוע מקרא מגילה

The house of Rebbi was mevatel Torah to come and hear the Megillah

Much has been written about why the reading of the Megillah is considered bittul Torah, as the Megillah itself is seemingly a part of Torah.

The Yam Shel Shlomo explains that it is a qualitatively lower level of learning, and there is such a thing as ביטול תורה באיכות - qualitative bittul Torah. Others explain that the Mitzvah of reading the Megillah is meant to be an act of listening, not an act of learning.

Either way, even a mitzvah is called bittul Torah and requires justification (See the gemara there, which learns from a kal v'chomer that this particular Bittul Torah is acceptable). It seems that any act of not learning needs justification (I am making the assumption that the threshold of justification is more than "I was having fun;" otherwise the Gemara wouldn't very much need to tell us about reading Megillah being enough of a justification, nor to learn that it is a justification from a kal v'chomer).

The Chayei Adam Klal Aleph:

וכן בשכיבה אצ"ל שבזמן שיוכל לעסוק בתורה ובמצות לא יתגרה בשינה לענג עצמו

And regarding lying down, it goes without saying that when one is capable of learning Torah or doing mitzvos (i.e. not too tired) he should not sleep for enjoyment

It is hard to capture the tone with one quote, but the context is that everything you do has to be for the purpose of Hashem and not because you happen to enjoy it.

  • Source for Yam Shel Shelomo? AFAIK it doesn't exist...
    – mevaqesh
    Jun 13, 2017 at 18:11

In the Shaar Yichud introduction:

And the purpose of all of this is to exhort on what He said previously: "And these words, which I command you this day, shall be on your heart", which means that habitually having them (divrei torah) on one's tongue always, brings to remembrance of the heart, and to never turn one's heart away from remembering G-d always, and this is similar to what King David, peace be unto him, said: "I have set the L-ord always before me" (Tehilim 16:8). And scripture says: "But the word is very near unto you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that you may do it" (Devarim 30:14).

(Tov Halevanon commentary: The reason the torah exhorted on doing this (learning torah) always even though it is not an obligation to do this always, on this the author answered that the intent of the verse is on habituating the tongue on them always...[brings to remembrance of the heart, and to never turn one's heart away from remembering G-d always...])

I think you have to use common sense. Not everyone is capable of learning all the time. A person has to maintain his mental and physical well being. I know a certain famous Rosh Yeshiva who would go swimming regularly. I once heard from Rabbi Nissan Kaplan that the test of whether or not you did was a mitzva or the opposite is by looking at the consequences since "a mitzva brings another mitzva and a sin brings another sin". So if your "enjoyment" strengthens your mitzva observance overall then this is evidence that it is good, but if it leads to the opposite then it's evidence of the opposite.

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