This past yom tov a guy in my shul brought a bunch of English Jewish books to shul to keep himself busy during the delays and what not. When he was not around I noticed a bunch of guys picking up the books and reading it for a few minutes. Is this sort of behavior permitted?

Do we say that the owner would benefit from the sechar (reward) of someone else reading from his sefarim that he wouldn't mind. Or does 5 minutes of curiosity not provide any substantial sechar for the owner? I am not entirely sure if the books were even "sefarim", they looked like biographies of chassidic rebbes and another book on the holocaust...

  • I think that the main parameter here may be the fact that he left the books in a public area. Perhaps, that implies relinquishing ownership? Of course, the question may be if the shul lobby is considered "public".
    – DanF
    Sep 17 '15 at 17:14
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    What kinds of books are "sefarim"?
    – Daniel
    Sep 17 '15 at 18:28

Aruch Hashulchan Orach Chaim 14:13 quotes the rama that it is forbidden to read someone else's books without permission. However he goes on to say that just to look at it shortly is something which we permit.

לעיין בעלמא נוהגים היתר


For the sake of simplicity, I'll assume that the books in question are considered some form of 'Learning Torah'. Biographies of Rabbis are very likely a form of learning Torah (granted, definitely a 'lighter learning' than say, a Daf Gemara), and depending on how the history of the Holocaust is written, it could also be considered learning as well.

For the record, the entire discussion below pertains exclusively to an item which is a 'Dvar Mitzvah'. If the item itself isn't a Mitzvah item, 'implied permission' becomes a whole lot more restrictive.

There is a general rule that a person by default wants his Mitzvah objects to be used. Therefore, you're allowed to borrow a person's Tallis or Tefillin without their permission (terms and conditions apply, like not removing it from the room, returning it how you found it, etc.). However, this 'implied permission' only applies if a) you're unable to ask the person easily ('easily' is a very subjective word), b) it's actually 'default' permission, i.e. if you knew the person wouldn't want others to use it, you can't use it, and c) the item isn't getting ruined.

With regards to Seforim, the Mishna Berura writes that given the likelihood of books to rip during use, you can't use it without permission. However, it seems like the overwhelming majority of contemporary authorities disagree (for example, Rav Elyashiv as per The Daily Halacha Discussion) and are of the opinion that books do have 'implied permission' nowadays.

To the best of my knowledge, there is no 'minimum time' set aside for 'implied permission' (and every moment of learning Torah is a great Mitzvah). There is an upper limit, however, i.e. you can't borrow a Sefer for weeks on end.

Therefore, in your case, presumably the owner of the books is easily accessible (he's also in Shul with you, right?), and must be asked. As per the comment, if the person is praying in a different room, that could very well be considered 'difficult to ask', and 'implied permission' is given.

This answer was based off a series of lectures sponsored by the Business Halacha Institute.

  • I'm uncertain if this answers the OP's question. His last sentence implies that these are most likely NOT sefarim. " biographies of chassidic rebbes and another book on the holocaust" don't seem to qualify as "sefarim".
    – DanF
    Sep 17 '15 at 18:51
  • The owner of the books was praying elsewhere during this incident.
    – Ani Yodea
    Sep 17 '15 at 19:14
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    @DanF Regarding biographies of Rabbis, one could (quite easily) argue that it's considered Talmud Torah (granted, a much 'lighter' learning than a Daf Gemara, but learning nonetheless). Histories on the Holocaust might be a harder case to argue, but depending on how it's written, could also be Talmud Torah. Also, maybe I'm a bit too optimistic, but I'd like to believe that if someone brings a book to read in the synagogue between services on the High Holy Days, it would at the very least be a religiously significant text ;) Sep 17 '15 at 20:20
  • @Salmononius2 Last sentence - in my shul, you might be a bit too optimistic. Would the Jewish Press be considered like a sefer? OK ... I see the jokes on this are about to come... I'm asking a serious question, though.
    – DanF
    Sep 18 '15 at 13:57
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    @DanF While the Jewish Press likely isn't considered a full fledged Sefer, it definitely is 'holier' and more appropriate for a Shul than the Wall Street Journal. It does have many Torah articles in it. While I wouldn't recommend it, I also wouldn't say it's forbidden to read The Jewish Press in a Shul. However, I would say it almost definitely doesn't have 'implied permission' to be used, as a) it probably isn't considered a Sefer (Jewish != Dvar Mitzvah) b) newspapers are easily damaged and c) I feel like people are generally particular about others borrowing a paper without permission. Sep 18 '15 at 14:30

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