Mishnah Ketubot 5:5:

רַבָּן שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן גַּמְלִיאֵל אוֹמֵר, אַף הַמַּדִּיר אֶת אִשְׁתּוֹ מִלַּעֲשׂוֹת מְלָאכָה,
יוֹצִיא וְיִתֵּן כְּתֻבָּתָהּ, שֶׁהַבַּטָּלָה מְבִיאָה לִידֵי שִׁעֲמוּם:

... R. Shimon b. Gamliel says: Also, one who, by vow, forbids his wife from working, must send her away and give her her kethubah, for idleness leads to Shiamum

Sefaria.org (Rabbi Shraga Silverstein) translates שעמום as disorientation, while in the book "Jewish Wisdom" by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin he translates it as insanity.

Which translation is correct? Does idleness lead to insanity, boredom, or both? Does that apply to all situations, or is it only in the case he describes with a wife? Or does it apply to anyone?

  • 1
    Where does the option "boredom" in the last paragraph come from?
    – WAF
    Feb 11, 2019 at 10:47
  • 1
    @WAF That is at least what it means in Modern Hebrew
    – b a
    Feb 11, 2019 at 11:01
  • 1
    Right, but in the context, is there reason to believe it meant that to R. Shim'on ben Gamli'el (or R. Y'huda Hanasi, etc.)? I'm just asking if it is a candidate for the meaning of the word here, given that the translations presented don't understand it that way. It looks like it took the place on the list of "disorientation". @ba
    – WAF
    Feb 11, 2019 at 12:35
  • @WAF Taken from the dialogue in an Israeli T.V. show: Ani met mi-shiamum – I am dying of boredom – אני מת משעמום. (Modern Hebrew)
    – Prism
    Feb 11, 2019 at 18:19

2 Answers 2

  1. The Even Shoshan dictionary says both are true. (In other words, because the use of the word is very scarce and there's no Targum on it, it's hard to know its real meaning what R"G intended to say).:

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Translation: 1. boredom, sadness, and apathy (Mishnaic, a feeling) 2. depression, melancholy (Mishnaic, a mental state). I don't really see insanity here.

  1. In times when there were no entertainment whatsoever, no TV, no theatre, even no Internet (imagine!), a person could go insane of boredom and depression pretty quickly. I think nobody will argue that.
  • I don't think the dictionary is saying both are true in this case. It quotes this saying explicitly under the second definition, implying that is the correct meaning in this case
    – b a
    Feb 11, 2019 at 14:27
  • it seems that Even Shoshan translated it as depression
    – wfb
    Feb 11, 2019 at 19:45
  • @wfb I clarified the two definitions - one is a feeling (bored) the second is a mental state (depression).
    – Al Berko
    Feb 11, 2019 at 19:53


שעמום - בהלה. תרגום ובתמהון לבב (דברים כח) ובשעמימות לבא. ופלוגתייהו דר' אליעזר ורבן שמעון בן גמליאל הוי באשה שאינה בטלה אלא משחקת במיני הצחוק דלידי זמה איכא, לידי שעמום ליכא, שאין שעמום אלא ביושב ותוהה ובטל לגמרי. והלכה כר' אליעזר: ‏

Shiamum is precipitation, a kind of sudden fear, as the Onkelos transtates תמהון לבב by שעממות ליבא. And Rashi translates it in old French by a word similar to the French word "étourdissement", that describes a state after a Physical Trauma called stun in English. I understand that is a loss of a loss of sense acuity. It is approximately what you quoted in name of Rabbi Shraga Silverstein "disorientation". In a trauma, there are often dissociative states that alter orientation. But the comparison with the result of idleness is from the point of view of awareness, watchfulness. Someone who does nothing loses a part of his vivacity. He loses his means when there is a simple task or an unexpected event.

The Sefer Haaruch adds a verse with מהומות, and Targum Yehonatan שיעממותא. I think that there the notion of confusion is appropriate, it's close to disorientation.

  • I am having trouble understanding how the nuance you add to "disorientation" fits the words of the Mishnah. How does idleness lead to a sudden fear? This is not fear caused by trauma
    – b a
    Feb 11, 2019 at 14:34
  • I explained this, this is an other cause of loss of awareness. And someone who does nothing is in a panic like state when he needs to react promptly to an event
    – kouty
    Feb 11, 2019 at 14:44

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