Halacha for Thursday 3 Kislev 5781 November 19 2020

Moving Books and Newspapers on Shabbat

Question: Is one permitted to move or read medical books or phonebooks on Shabbat? What is the law regarding reading newspapers on Shabbat?

The Opinion of Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch Regarding Reading Books on Mundane and Forbidden Topics

Answer: Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Chapter 307, Section 16) writes as follows: “Books written about mundane witticisms and axioms and romance novels, such as the book, “Emmanuel”, may not be read on Shabbat. It is forbidden to read them on weekdays as well for that matter because of the prohibition of taking part of ‘a jester’s circle’ and one who does so transgresses the prohibition of ‘Do not turn to other gods’ which includes not following one’s own desires. Regarding romance novels, there is another prohibition of instigating the evil inclination against one’s self. The authors, copiers, and certainly publishers of such books cause the public to sin.”

Explanation: The book, “Emmanuel” is completely comprised of rhymes and witticisms about immorality and foolishness and may therefore not even be read on weekdays, for there are several prohibitions involved in doing so. Therefore, one may not read such books on Shabbat either and they will thus retain a Muktzeh status and may not be moved on Shabbat, similar to wood and stones. Included in this are all romance novels and fortune telling books which are forbidden to be read under any circumstances. Thus, on Shabbat they are like any other “innate Muktzeh” object, such as wood and stones, and they may not be moved even for a purpose.

We can infer from his words that anything that is forbidden to be read on weekdays is likewise prohibited to be read on Shabbat. It would seem that even books containing wisdom (such as science and history books) may not be read on Shabbat. Based on this, one would not be permitted to read medical books on Shabbat. However, the Aruch Ha’Shulchan writes that the letter of the law does not forbid reading books containing wisdom; nevertheless, it is a pious custom to dedicate the holy day of Shabbat to toil in words of Torah alone.

The Rashba writes in one of his responses that medical books may be moved on Shabbat, in accordance with the ruling of the Ramban. Similarly, Maran zt”l rules leniently regarding reading medical books, especially since reading medical books is a Mitzvah since this can aid in saving another’s life. (However, regarding other books of wisdom, such as history books and the like, it seems that one may not read them on Shabbat for they are similar to “mundane documents” which our Sages forbade reading on Shabbat.)

Regarding reading newspapers on Shabbat, if it is a religious newspaper which upholds the standards of Torah Judaism and may be read on weekdays, it is also permitted to be read on Shabbat, provided that one does not read about business topics and the like which may not be read on Shabbat. However, if it is a non-religious or non-Jewish newspaper, which may certainly not be read during the week for it is filled with all sorts of immodest pictures and articles that are filled with immorality, slander, and mockery of Torah scholars, it may not be moved on Shabbat similar to the law regarding dirt, rocks, and other objects which are “innate Muktzeh”. However, if one is using this newspaper to wrap something and there is no reason to think that anything bad might result from this, it may be moved on Shabbat to be used as a wrapper and the like.

A telephone book may be moved on Shabbat since it contains the addresses of those living in the city and sometimes there is a need for this information on Shabbat. Therefore, although it does contain things that may not be read on Shabbat, nevertheless, one may read the things that are permissible to be read on Shabbat and it may thus be moved on Shabbat.

All this, however, is only according to the letter of the law. However, it is worthy and fitting to only read words of Torah on Shabbat, for the reason why Shabbat was given to the Jewish nation is for them to have an opportunity to learn Torah.

Summary: The letter of the law dictates that one may read a religious Jewish newspaper or medical book on Shabbat. However, a non-religious newspaper is Muktzeh on Shabbat and may not even be read on weekdays.

Ask the Rabbi


8 Halachot Most Popular

Megillah Reading- Coronavirus

Every member of the Jewish nation is obligated to read the Megillah on the day of Purim. One must read it during the night and once again the next day, as the verse states, “My G-d, I call out to you during the day and you do not answer; during the night I have no rest.” This verse is wr......

Read Halacha

The Laws of Hearing Parashat Zachor- Coronavirus

“Remember What Amalek Has Done to You” On the Shabbat preceding Purim, which is this coming Shabbat, after the opening of the Ark immediately following Shacharit prayers, two Sifrei Torah are removed; in the first one, we read the weekly Parasha (which is Parashat Vayikra this year, 577......

Read Halacha

Caution Regarding Chametz Issues

Our Sages (Tosefta Pesachim, Chapter 3) taught: “We inquire about and expound the laws of Pesach from thirty days before Pesach.” Based on this, great rabbis throughout the generations have taken the opportunity to teach the laws of Pesach to the public between Purim and Pesach since eve......

Read Halacha

The Laws of Koshering Vessels for Pesach

One may not use Chametz vessels on Pesach since vessels which have been used to cook in or have had hot Chametz placed in them have Chametz flavor absorbed in them. Thus, just as we separate between meat and dairy utensils all year long, we must likewise separate between the utensils we use all year......

Read Halacha


Matanot La’Evyonim- Coronavirus

In the previous Halacha we briefly discussed the Mitzvah of “Matanot La’Evyonim” on Purim day which is the distribution of two monetary gifts, one to each pauper. What Must One Give? In order to fulfill this Mitzvah, one need not give actual gifts; rather, it is permissible to ......

Read Halacha

Silver Vessels

Question: May one continue to use silver vessels or utensils, such as a Kiddush goblet, on Pesach after they have been used throughout the rest of the year? Answer: All vessels used all year round with cold foods or beverages may be used on Pesach after having been thoroughly washed beforehand, f......

Read Halacha

The Days of Purim and the Laws of Mishloach Manot- 5781

The Days of Purim Purim will be celebrated in approximately two weeks from today. This year, we must discuss several unique laws, first of all, because Purim day (the 14th of Adar) falls out on a Friday. Second of all, in Jerusalem, a “three-day Purim” will be celebrated since the 15th ......

Read Halacha

The Mitzvah of the Purim Feast This Year (5781)

Holding the Purim Feast at Night The holiday of Purim is different than all other holidays we celebrate in that whereas regarding other holidays the Mitzvah of partaking of a joyous holiday meal applies during the day and night, regarding the holiday of Purim, there is only a Mitzvah to hold a feas......

Read Halacha