• Rabbi Anthony Knopf

From the Desk - Reading Newspapers on Shabbat

Shalom Friends, I hope this email finds you well, wherever you are! I received a report that there were at least 75 people at the Beth Ora reunion in Florida this week! Let’s see if we can get that many to Beth Ora for synagogue this Shabbat! This week, the world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The importance of remembering the Holocaust is something we speak about often at Beth Ora and which we particularly emphasize during our two annual Holocaust Memorial events. On this particular week, it was apt that the Beth Ora Bat Mitzvah group visited the Montreal Holocaust Museum, the day before International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

As we emerge from the heart of the Winter (though pundits continue to warn that the worst is yet to come) and move toward Purim, we look forward to a series of exciting Beth Ora events. Please watch this space for more details. Wishing you all Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Anthony and Carly Knopf Dovid, Rachelli, Yehuda and Avrami

What’s the Deal with… Reading Newspapers on Shabbat? The Talmud prohibits reading “Shtarei hedyotot” or “secular documents” on Shabbat. This is understood to include both business writings and personal mail. There are two possible reasons why we don’t read business material on Shabbat. The first is that you might make a note or correct an error. The second possible reason is that we are not allowed to discuss business on Shabbat. For these reasons, reading of things which are not associated with a mitzvah is generally forbidden on Shabbat. Shelley Sherman asked me where this leaves us with regard to reading newspapers. What’s the deal? (Please note that there is a separate question, beyond the purview of this response, as to whether one can have a newspaper delivered to one’s home on Shabbat). The first thing to note is that reading of Torah ideas and ideas related to the practice of Judaism is certainly allowed on Shabbat. According to one major authority in Jewish law, reading is permitted on Shabbat if you enjoy it. On this basis, Rabbi Yaakov Emden (18th century, Germany) permitted those who enjoy reading newspapers to do so on Shabbat. While others disagree, common practice follows this lenient view. Accordingly, one should not read on Shabbat stories of personal or public tragedies, death notices or eulogies that could bring a person to tears or any stories that would sadden a person and detract from his or her enjoyment of Shabbat. Otherwise, one can be lenient to read the newspaper on Shabbat. However, this permission includes an important caveat which led even Rabbi Emden to advise against reading newspapers on Shabbat. One needs to be careful when reading the newspaper, not to read any business news or advertisements. Nevertheless, Rabbi Gil Student (whose article on this topic I found very helpful) writes that any advertisement relating to a mitzvah such as institutional dinners, local lectures and charity causes would be permissible to read. Moreover, the contemporary authority Rabbi Eliezer Melamed makes an important observation regarding advertisements. Newspaper advertisements are no longer the primary venue for identifying commerce opportunities or for following stock markets. Additionally, Rabbi Melamed notes, many advertisements attempt to create brand awareness rather than sell directly to readers. Accordingly, Rabbi Melamed rules that you are allowed to read such ads if you enjoy them and if you do not intend to make a purchase based on them. Perhaps this explains or justifies the common custom to read pamphlets and magazines containing advertisements, on Shabbat.

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