A mourner within the first seven days is forbidden to learn Torah (see e.g., here on MY). But can such a mourner (passively) attend a Torah lesson (shiur) on Shabbat?

I saw this happening when a mourner came into synagogue before Shabbat morning prayers and walked in the middle of a Torah class.

  • Can he sit down to wait for prayers to start and listen passively?
  • Should he walk out again until the shiur ends?
  • Is the answer different on weekdays if for some reason there is no minyan in the shiva house? (since on Shabbat public displays of mourning are forbidden)
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    Why the downvote? – Avrohom Yitzchok Dec 30 '17 at 21:18
  • Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/a/57293/8775 – mevaqesh Dec 31 '17 at 14:18
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    @AvrohomYitzchok Probably because the question does not justify itself. If there is a prohibition to learn, why would listening to a Torah lecture be different? Is the assumption that there is no mitsva to listen to Torah? Why assume that? Does the OP know that there is some question about whether listening to Torah being a mitsvah? Is so, he should edit that into the post to clarify what he knows and what he doesn't. – mevaqesh Dec 31 '17 at 15:01
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    @mevaqesh I saw it more as a question of passive vs. active learning, with the question whether passive listening was more permitted. With a second thought that maybe walking out on Shabbat was a sign of mourning – mbloch Dec 31 '17 at 15:32

The Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chaim 47:4):

הַמְהַרְהֵר בְּדִבְרֵי תּוֹרָה, אֵין צָרִיךְ לְבָרֵךְ: הַגָּה: וְה''ה דְּיָכוֹל לִפְסֹק דִּין בְּלֹא נְתִינַת טַעַם לִדְבָרָיו (רַ''ן פ''ק דְּשַׁבָּת וּפֶרֶק כָּל הַצְלָמִים כָּתַב דְּהָוֵי כְּהִרְהוּר).

‎One who considers words of Torah does not need to bless. (Gloss: and this is the law of one who can rule on the law without giving a reason for one's words [Ran: Chapter 1 of Shabbat and Chapter "All images" - he wrote that it is like considering])

The implications of this ruling being that if one is thinking of Torah concepts but is not speaking it out does not constitute as one who is engaged in the mitzvah of Torah - thus one does not make a blessing on such thoughts. Instead one must actively verbalize the words of torah to qualify as limmud Hatorah.

The Shulchan Aruch HaRav (Hilchos Talmud Torah 2:12) says this explicitly:

״וכל מה שלומד בהרהור לבד ואפשר ולהוציא בשפתיו ואינו מוציא אינו יוציא בלימוד זה ידי חובת מצות ולמדתם אותם וכמ״ש לא ימוש ספר התורה וכו׳ והגית בו יומם ולילה, וכמו בכל המצוות התליות בדיבור שאינו יוצא ידי חובתן בהרהור אא״כ שומע מפי המדבר שהשומע כעונה בפיו וכו׳ ‏ולכן כל אדם צריך להיזהר להוציא בשפתיו להשמיע לאוזניו כל מה שלומד בין במקרא משנה ותלמוד אא״כ בשעת עיון להבין דבר מתוך דבר.

When one is contemplating his learning, and has the ability to verbalize, yet does not, does not fulfill his obligatory mitzvah of “and you shall teach them to you children... and recite them day and night...and this is so just as other mitzvos that are dependent on speech that it is not sufficient just to contemplate, rather one must verbalize them...therefore one must be careful to actively verbalize his learning loud enough to hear himself, whether it is Chumash, Mishna or Gemara. However the above does not apply if one is deeply contemplating his learning to understand the subject better.

The Mishna Brerurah (5) goes so far as to require someone who is learning a from a Sefer quietly to make sure to verbalize some of the words he is learning.

The Piskei Tshuvos (note 51) actually suggests that one who is listening to a shiur on the phone or a recording device is not fulfilling the mitzvah of Talmud Torah - thus one should actively verbalize the words.

Seemingly according to the above, it would technically be permitted for a mourner to attend a shiur, but as long as the mourner does not verbalize any of the Torah he is hearing.

However, there is a reason to forbid it nonetheless, as one could suggest that since the whole prohibition of learning Torah during mourning is because it brings joy - perhaps even listening to Torah would bring joy. Thus it would be forbidden.

On top of that one could also add the opinion of the Vilna Gaon that contemplation of Torah is a mitzvah, and thus would for sure be forbidden for a mourner to attend a shiur.

The ideas above may not be relied upon without consulting a Rabbinical Authority

  • @mbloch The implication that the Shulhan Arukh holds that there is no mitsvah to hear Torah, is just wrong. He may or may not hold that, but the above inference is just wrong. The fact that there is no blessing on it is hardly evidence that there is no blessing. The Tur (OH 436) writes that we do not make blessings on thoughts, and the R. Yosef Karo himself mentions this idea in the Beit Yosef (OH 432). Accordingly, the ruling in the ShA that there is no blessing on thinking words of Torah would be true whether or not there was a mitsva, and is hence irrelevant. – mevaqesh Dec 31 '17 at 14:48
  • If someone wants to bring a proof from how some aharonim understood the ShA that is fine, but to state (or clearly imply) on the basis of this that the ShA holds that there is no mitsvah, is not correct. While pointing to these Aharonim would not be wrong, it would still be very misleading (or at best incomplete) given the many Aharonim who correctly note that there is no indiation that the ShA holds it isnt a mitsva. – mevaqesh Dec 31 '17 at 14:48

Regarding a passive act that indicates mourning, The Tur (YD 400) writes that Rabbenu Tam would regularly get a particular aliya to the Torah. When he was a mourner, they didn't call him, but he went up anyway, since his absence would be considered "public" mourning which is generally forbidden on Shabbat. It seems from this, that even not engaging in Torah study can be considered public mourning. Thus, if one's absence will be noted, it seem likely that one should attend the shiur on Shabbat. Otherwise, it seems likely that one ought to refrain from showing up for the shiur (or even walk out if it wouldn't be noticed).

Additional views are cited in the Beit Yosef there. To summarise: according to R. Isaac of Dampierre, there is no prohibition of studying Torah on Shabbat, since Torah gladdens and one must be happy on Shabbat. According to Rabbenu Tam and Hagahot Maimoniyot, there is a general prohibition to study on Shabbat, but it is permissible in public. According to Rabbenu Tam, passively not learning is considered public mourning if it will be noticed, and thus, although Torah study is prohibited, if one's absence will be noted, he should study. According to the Hagahot Maimoniyot, however, it would be better to leave rather than engage in Torah study even if one's absence will be noted.

Thus, according to R. Isaac one should certainly attend the lecture, according to Rabbeu Tam, one should attend if his absence would be noticed, and according to the Hagahot Maimoniyot, one should not attend the lecture even if his absence will be noticed. The Beit Yosef notes that R. Isaac is a minority view whom halakha does not follow. Although he doesn't take a stand on the dispute between Rabbenu Tam and the HM, in the Shulhan Arukh he only mentions the view of RT, and neither he, nor Rema mention the HM's suggestion of having someone leave rather than participate in Torah study. Instead, the more popular view seems to be that if a lack of Torah activity will be perceived as mourning, then it should not be avoided.

Regarding the question of whether listening to a lecture would be the same as learning actively, it should be noted that according to many many Rishonim, including Yereim, Ritva, and Rambam (as understood by R. Rabinovitch), the mitsva of Torah study applies to non-verbal study. This is the opinion of numerous Aharonim such as the Yeshuot Yaakov, R. Yaakov Emden, R. Kook, and R. Soloveitchik, to just mention a few (see here).

Accordingly, it is not clear why there would be any distinction between looking at something yourself, reading it, or listening to someone else reading it.

Furthermore, even according to the apparently minority view who holds there is no mitsva in non-verbal study, it is not at all clear that that would have any bearing on the question at hand, as the prohibition is likely due to the fact that Torah gladdens a person, as is the reason for the prohibition on the 9th of Av (see Ta'anit 30a) in which case Torah study that doesn't happen to fulfill a mitsvah would likely be equally banned.

Regarding whether or not the prohibition relates to Torah gladdening a person, see Tosafot Moed Kattan (21a s.v. V'assur) which discusses the view of R. Isaac of Dampierre, regarding the opposite question; learning Torah that saddens a person. Originally he suggested that one should be strict, since unlike the prohibition on the 9th of Av, the prohibition of a mourner isn't explicitly stated to be due to happiness. However, later he ruled that is is based on happiness, and that one may learn depressing things. Tosafot notes that this is similarly the implication of the Yerushalmi.

Similarly, many Aharonim assume that the prohibition is due to joy. These include K'li Y'kar to Genesis (27:41), Kitsur Shulhan Arukh (210:1), and Yalkut Yosef (YD 22:6).

Accordingly, there would be even less reason to suspect that this would be any different from any other Torah study, and would presumably be forbidden.

Alternatively one could suggest what amounts to a new derasha. The prohibition for a mourner to study Torah is based on Ezekiel's instruction to be silent (Ezekiel 24:17), as stated by Rambam in Hilkhot Evel (5:15) based on Moed Kattan (15a). Accordingly, Torah study that is silent is permitted. In my opinion this line of reasoning is not compelling.

In light of the above, I see no reason why "passive" study would be any less forbidden. Indeed, R. Yitshak Yosef has a related discussion in Yalkut Yosef (YD 22:11). He writes that a mourner may not think Torah thoughts. He suggests that there might be room for leniency on Shabbat (as noted above, according to some there is no prohibition of Torah on Shabbat at all), but nevertheless writes that one should refrain from this.

Importantly, he writes (22:10) that one could be lenient to learn Torah on Yom Tov.

Edit: I now see that some of these points (but few of these sources) are mentioned in this post.

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