Sunday, August 06, 2006

Moshav Leitzim I: Halachos

Moshav Letzim includes all kinds of organized, en masses, non-Jewish entertainment. "Theaters" is actually the word used in the Gemora.

Spending much time hanging out in the street with your friends doing nothing is also in this category (Rabbeinu Yoah, Avos III,Meiri, Tehillim 1 it is).

Watching a movie by yourself in your home is not in this category.

The thing about Moshav Letzim is that it is not only bittul Torah for the present, but it is an organized activity, part of a culture maybe, such that it encourages you to repeat the behavior, as opposed to just being a one-time thing (Maharsha Shabbos 116b).

This has nothing to do with being encouraged to do what the people in the movies do. The movie's influence is another issue altogether. Though don't be too sure that you are not influenced. Studies show that such influence is not noticeable by the one being influenced. It is often subtle and less than totally conscious.


The halachah applies to everyone equally.

Television certainly is assur. It would fall under the category of al tashken b'ahalechah avlah, which would prohibit you having it in your home, and sifrei cheshek, which would prohibit you form watching. It's really quite simple.

As far as a new BT is concerned, the Halachah applies to him as much as anyone else. If, however, he cannot fulfill all the halachos at once, then he cannot. But he must try, as do we all, to fulfill all of them all the time. What we are willing to do, and sometimes even what we are capable of doing, is a different story.

That story is the issue of Nisayon, not Halachah. Nisayon means that what for me is perhaps an easy nisayon may for someone else be a very difficult one. And the level of righteousness and villainy that we are on depends on our efforts, not our successes. So if lets say for me eating in McDonalds is not a Nisayon, I am not a Tzadik for not eating there but I'd be a big avaryan if I did (since it was so easy for me not to), for someone else, for whom McDonalds is a major Nisayon, he would be a big Tzadik for not eating there and not nearly as big an avaryan as me if he would.

But for both of us, McDonalds is assur. 100%.

It's like let’s say mugging someone. If someone mugs someone for a nickel, for the fun of it, or if you’re a millionaire and you mug someone for a few dollars, you're a much bigger rasha than if you no money and a family to feed, and were brought up in a criminal environment. But mugging someone is a crime in both cases.

It's just that one is a more hideous crime and deserving of much greater punishment. Both people would be found guilty but the sentencing would be much different.

So too the halachah is equally binding on everyone --- guilty is guilty. But then there is the sentencing. How much do you get punished for your aveirah? And how much do you get rewarded for your mitzvah? How big a rasha are you for violating this halachah this time and in this place, and how big a tzadik are you for resisting?

The answer to that is, l'fum tzaarah agrah.


We cannot exempt women from the prohibition of moshav letzim even though they are not obligated to learn Torah. There are two ideas to the statement in the posuk:

(1) You may not be involved in organized unproductive activity (moshav letzim),

(2) but rather it would be better for you if you would be learning Torah, which is the most productive activity possible.

Even though, for women, Torah is not necessarily the most productive activity, that is only because they have other Mitzvos to do that are more obligatory for them than Torah.

The point of the prohibition is not to learn Torah, but rather to involve yourself in productive activity and not moshav letzim. The posuk gave what is generally the most productive activity possible, i.e. Torah learning. If someone is not obligated to learn, they still have what is to them productive activity (mitzvos) and therefore have no reason to exempt themselves from "unproductive activity" (moshav letzim).


The Shulchan Aruch Hilchos Shabbos 307:16 states that non-Jewish literature is prohibited under Moshav Letzim, or Al tifnu.

Yes, you could be doing a lot worse. But if behavior could be justified by virtue of the fact that you could be doing worse, we'd all be in trouble.


The heter to read non-torah books in the first place is to give you relaxation from your learning and Avodas Hashem. If by doing so you are, instead of refreshing yourself for Torah learning, rather attracting yourself to more bitul torah, that is prohibited as described above.


Tosfos in Shabbos (116b) quotes the Ri saying that secular literature (i.e. books about wars) should not be permitted even on the weekdays, because of Moshav Letzim. The Maharsha explains that since draws you to read more, it therefore will cause you to be mevatel Torah (even beyond what you need for relaxation). Any type of leisure activity that has an enticing, or habit forming effect, such as "books of wars" are included in Moshav Letzim, even though you are doing it privately.

It would seem that Moshav Letzim includes both group sessions of Bitul Torah, and also behavior which is characteristic of Letzim, even if done privately. Letzim are those who do not care about Torah, and therefore, someone who willingly engages in activity that not only involves not learning, but will enhance his Yezter Horah for bitul Torah in the future, is a Letz.

As for "al tifnu", there is a disagreement in the poskim whether this applies to items made for avodah zarah. Tosfos (Shabbos 149a), followed by the Shach (YD 142:32) rules that this applies only to art and the like made for avodah zarah. A different Tosfos (Avodah Zarah 50a) says that even images not made for Avodah Zarah are prohibited. The Meiri (Shabbos 149) explains that any images that have a habit forming effect are prohibited (similar to the Moshav Letzim, above).

Tosfos Rid (Shabbos ibid) writes that any "davar rik" would qualify as "elilim".

It is debatable whether the Shulchan Aruch meant that al tifnu applies to everything he listed including "books of wars" or merely the sifrei cheshek.


Sichos chulin and sifrei milchamos - empty writings (prose and parables and such) and stories of wars and the like - are prohibited as per Shulchan Aruch OH 307:16, as being Moshav leitzim. This is if there is nothing productive to learn from them. Science books and books of chachmah are prohibited to learn regularly, even by yourself (certainly in class) but permitted to read occasionally, as per Shulchan Aruch (Ramah) YD 246:4.


If a supposedly Jewish book does not teach any Torah values or mussar, then it is the same as any Goyishe (albeit clean) book. Taking a totally secular story and changing the names of the characters from Bob to Avrohom Yeshaya or from Felina to Fraida does not change the status of the book.

It can be argued that it even makes it worse, since its Jewish "identity" will mislead people into thinking that it is something more than just a waste of time piece of literature. That is true especially if they sell it in Seforim stores.

Jewish novels, assuming they do not teach any torah or mussar, are subject to the same laws of bitul torah and moshav letzim as any other novels. There is zero reason to call them Jewish. They are no better than the "sifrei milchmos" discussed on Frumteens and in Shulchan Aruch OH 307.


Movies (theaters) are Moshav Letzim, which is an "advanced" form of Bitul Torah, with different Halachos. Board games would be permitted for recreational purposes, each individual according to his needs, in accordance with the laws of Talmud Torah.

Moshav letzim, a collective, group activity, goes beyond the regular restriction of Talmud Torah and becomes a new prohibition which is not permitted even where plain recreational activities would be.

Since the reason theaters are prohibited is because of Moshav Letzim, which means a purposeless gathering of people and Bitul Torah, it would not make a difference if the show was live or video. Based on the Halachah, theaters are therefore prohibited, then and now.


As to why sitting in a theater is included in moshav letzim, you need to look at the rest of the posuk:

"Fortunate are those who do not sit in a Moshav letzim, but rather desire G-d's Torah."

The posuk is saying that the fortunate ones - the ones that we have to be - are those who, instead of sitting in Moshav Letzim, learn Torah. There is no in between in theis posuk. It is either Moshav Letzim, or learning Torah.

Thus, the Mishna in Avos (ch. 5) declares: "If two people are sitting together and they do not speak Torah, they constitute a Moshav Letzim."

The reason why simple wasting of time would be described as "Moshav Letzim," which means, as you put it "session of scorners" is discussed in the Meforshim. Basically, all explanations go in one direction. The Chosid Yaavetz explains it as follows:

If I showed you a pile of gold coins and gave you one hour to collect as much as you can - whatever you gather you can keep - you surely would not waste your time.

If you do waste even part of your time, it surely says something about how little you value the coins. In fact, it's kind of like slapping the coins in the face.

So too we have one lifetime to learn Torah. If we waste our time, it shows how little we value Torah. Someone who displays such blatant disregard for the value of Torah is a "scorner".


It seems to me that it would still be prohibited to go to a theater for business or dates. Theaters are listed explicitly in the Gemora as prohibited, and so we can’t decide on our own that with a certain measure of reduction of emotional involvement it would be permitted.

It’s the same with camp or school.


Although there is no prohibition per se against "watching a movie" (but rather it is the theater that is prohibited) that is only if the content of the movie is Kosher. Unfortunately, that is often not the case, especially with today's movies. Even if the standards of modesty are merely as bad as that on the street (usually they are worse), the movie is still worse because at least on the street you can try to ignore and not look at the immodesty as much as you can. Watching a movie while ignoring what's on the screen doesn't work.

At least at a ballgame, the players, the behavior, and the general theme are innocent.


TV is worse than non-jewish music. The reason is because it is visual besides audio and therefore makes a much greater impression than just the divrei nevalah of CD's.

Also, TV tells stories besides showing filth that affects your perception of reality. People's behaviors and perceptions are very affected by what they see on TV.

The Sefer HaIkarim writes that when Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu that the Jews were worshiping the egel, he was surely upset, but when he actually SAW it - when he had the visual impression as well - only then was he so upset that he actually smashed the luchos.

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Darash Moshe Yisro) also says this (even though in Igros Moshe it would seem otherwise, but that's not for now).

Chazal say, "Aino domeh shemiyah l'r'iyah" - hearing cannot be compared to seeing.


Playing sports is of course not prohibited, and if the school feels that organizing games with family and friends as spectators it’s good for the families and for the kids themselves, I see a legitimate argument that can be made for permitting it. It would be up to the individual discretion of the rabbi of the particular people involved, who knows of their needs and motives for doing this.

Ballgames and movies are no difference as far as Moshav letzim is concerned. But there are probably great differences when you consider the content of the movie itself.

For one place that has a lot of broad information on Moshav letzim, see Responsa Vayivorech Dovid by R. Yisroel Dovid Harfenes, II:170.

As far as sporting events go, that's the conversation I had a conversation with Rav Schwab about that. Sporting events should also be prohibited under "theaters", but that is something that most children - and perhaps even adults, but especially children - will have a very difficult time accepting. So his recommendation was that we should not force our children not to go to sporting events, we should rather focus on educating them, building up their madreigah so that they will be willing on their own not to be involved in these events.

I guess it's kind of similar to loshon horah that is so widespread, we have to build ourselves up to where we can refrain from it. Not everyone can handle everything cold turkey.


The prohibition of going to circuses would be Moshav Letzim, which prohibits theaters, as per Gemora Avodah Zarah 18b

Amusement parks are not Moshav Letzim - it must be a group of people involved with each other, such as a theater.


#1 - Much non-Jewish music today is prohibited under the category of "divrei cheshek"

#2 - Music is worse than poetry. Music has a much greater impact.

#3 - Goyish poetry may be prohibited under the "sifrei milchamos" category. Depends. See Shulchan Aruch OH 307:16.




Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoa. OK. We're allowed to ask questions here, right?

How can it be that reading NJ books is asur unless it's for the purposes of refreshing yourself to learn Torah?! I know so many choshuva people (my teachers, my rebbetzin, etc. etc. etc.) who read and let their kids read NJ books! OBVIOUSLY, not inappropriate ones, OBVIOUSLY, they check them out very carefully, but they definitely let for the clean ones!

Mod- is this REALLY halacha l'maaseh???

11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dont think the Mderator has been here for a while. hmm... my guess is that books are better than other forms of entertainment, i could be wrong though. if someone wont learn, it's better for him to read than watch tv i guess. I'll see if i can ask R' Moderator next time he comes here.

2:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, but wouldn't the whole bittul Torah thing only be regarding guys? Why should it be "if I won't learn, it's better than watching TV"? Why do I HAVE to learn?

6:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wan't that discussed in this or another section?

3:07 PM  

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