Is there a Halachic problem to read and or learn the topic of History on Shabbos for enjoyment purposes? and why?

  • 1
    It should bed noted that history and it's validity as a subject of study, or the acceptance of certain books and forms have changed over the centuries. We have learned about criticial analysis of history and primary vs secondary sources over the many centuries, and so just because a source talks about "history" does not mean its referring to the same thing which we today call "history"
    – avi
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 7:35
  • related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/16981/1059 Commented Jun 11, 2012 at 0:32
  • Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/28910
    – msh210
    Commented May 22, 2013 at 17:47

5 Answers 5


One is not allowed to read "Shtarei Hedyotos" (business writings) because:

  1. One isn't allowed to about speak weekday things.
  2. Even if one doesn't say the contents aloud, one may come to erase the contents.

There is also a decree not to read any writings (even meal invitations, etc.) because one may come to read "Shatrei Hedyotos".

The Beis Yosef adds that one is prohibited from reading secular parables (fiction) or history on Shabbos (as well as on a weekday because of Moshav Leitzim and Bittul Torah).

However, the Rama says one can read History on Shabbos if it's written in Hebrew. The Aruch Hashulchan explains that the decree against Shtarei Hedyotos doesn't apply to Hebrew books because (in his day) classical Shtarei Hedyotos weren't written in Hebrew.

The Shulchan Harav writes though that one is forbidden from reading history books on Shabbos even if written in Hebrew.

However, the Eliya Rabba (quoted by both Aruch Hashulchan and Shulchan Aruch Harav) says that Yossipun (Josephus) is allowed to be read on Shabbos because it contains "Mussar and Yiras Shamayin".


Aruch Hashulchan

Shulchan Aruch Harav

  • 2
    The Aruch haShulchan says straight out in 307:11 that it is not assur, but it is a middas chasidus to not speak on shabbos except words of Torah. You also failed to quote the Magen Avraham 301:4 who interprets the mechaber as allowing (for example) captioned pictures (mentioned in 307:16) if one derives pleasure.
    – YDK
    Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 14:01
  • Terumas Hadeshen permits discussing “malochim v’milchamos” Commented Nov 14, 2011 at 6:08
  • 1
    judaism.stackexchange.com/a/13761/1095 Shmuel, are you saying that there are no publications targeted at the observant Jewish community being read in your community on shabbos?
    – user1095
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 13:49
  • Yossipun is probably not Josephus, but a hebrew compilation made much later: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/16403/…
    – Menachem
    Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 7:35

Shulhan Aruch 307:16 (I'm bringing the words of the Yalkut Yosef 307:29)

> אין ללמוד בשבת אלא בדברי תורה, שלא ניתנו שבתות וימים טובים לישראל אלא לעסוק בתורה

Then Yalkut Yosef 307:27

מליצות ומשלים של דברי חולין והבל, או ספר שיש בו דברי חשק [רומן] ומלחמות, אסור לקרות בהם בשבת. ואף בחול אסור לקוראם, ועובר משום אל תפנו אל האלילים, לא תפנו אל מדעתכם.

In the first quote it is clear to him that you may not learn anything other than Torah. In the second quote he says "or wars" which is most of history. So either way you look at it, it would be asur.

  • 1
    I should note that history and war books during the time of the shulchan aruch was not the same thing as history today. Books on wars were known to be over-inflated and in general, false and so not worthy of reading.
    – avi
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 7:34

Another problem when reading older sources on this is "history", a thousand years ago, was made up by kings about how glorious they were (to which the Rambam writes, who cares?!; it wasn't the more-scientific, comprehensive study that it is today, which is of far more valuable.

  • 4
    Shouldn't this be a comment? Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 14:04
  • @ShmuelBrill, I think it could go either way. This answer points to a reason why contemporary history books may not be forbidden. Perhaps Shalom ought to beef it up into a fuller answer or replace it with a comment.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Jan 31, 2012 at 15:51

I believe it is permitted, based on Deuteronomy 32:7, which says to Remember the Days of Yore. From here, it seems like not only would it be permitted to reflect on history, but a mitzvah to do so.

  • 2
    Adam, I'm not sure how that relates to the issur of reading books on shabbat. Maybe it's a mitzva for the rest of the week.
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 6:29
  • 1
    @DoubleAA So why wouldn't it be a mitzvah on shabbos as well? Who said that there is an issur of reading books on shabbos? Obviously, since they didn't read out of books in the midbar, so books are assur on shabbos. Chadash assur min hatorah. Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 6:31
  • 1
    And I didn't mean the mitzva doesn't apply on shabbat, just that now with this derabanan, you can't fulfill the mitzva through reading books on shabbat. I think you knew all this already.
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 6:37
  • 1
    And Chadash is assur min hatorah :)
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 7:04
  • 1
    @AdamMosheh You will have to read all 108 comments :) torahmusings.com/2011/11/is-history-mutar
    – avi
    Commented Jun 11, 2012 at 5:46

See here for an in depth analysis by R. Eitam Henkin (the son of R. Yehudah Henkin) of the various reasons why people are generally not careful about the issur of reading 'shtarei hedyotos' nowadays.

  • 1
    Joseph, I did not downvote you, but I'd be willing to bet that whoever did thought your answer would be far more valuable if it summarized at least the main points contained in the 15 page (all Hebrew) article you provided.
    – Seth J
    Commented Jan 31, 2012 at 16:44
  • this should be a comment to the other answer Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 6:20
  • @SethJ I'm willing to be that whomever downvoted Joseph did so because they disagree with the ruling, and not the answer. I've been noticing a certain trend regarding uncommented downvotes.
    – avi
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 12:50
  • +1 it is important to let people know what the normative practice is today. Many publications are produced for the observant Jewish population They are published on Wednesday, hit the stores Thursday, and sell out on Friday - all so that observant Jews will have new reading material for shabbos. Not every article in these publications are divrei torah either. They include articles on all sorts of topics, suitable for the entire 'Mishpacha'.
    – user1095
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 13:47
  • @avi, I didn't downvote until just now, but, now that I did, it was the reason Seth J mentioned.
    – msh210
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 16:43

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