June 13, 2024
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לעילוי נשמת

יואל אפרים בן אברהם עוזיאל זלצמן ז”ל

Question: May one read advertisements on Shabbat? If not, is it permitted to read divrei Torah on the same page as an ad?

Answer: One may not read shitrei hedyotot (business documents) on Shabbat (Shabbat 116b). Another Gemara may extend this prohibition. The mishna (Shabbat 148b) forbids reading a guest list on Shabbat. The Gemara (ibid. 149a) cites two opinions on the reason for this: the reader might erase some of it; reading it might bring one to read shitrei hedyotot.

What are shitrei hedyotot, and why are they forbidden? The Rosh (Shabbat 23:1) says that “shitrei hedyotot” are documents connected to commerce, and they are forbidden due to the navi’s warnings not to be involved in one’s mundane pursuits on Shabbat (“mimtzo cheftzecha”—Yeshayahu 58:13). The Rambam in the commentary on mishna (Shabbat 23:2) says that it is forbidden to read anything that is not Torah. In Mishneh Torah (Shabbat 23:19), he views “shitrei hedyotot” as weekday-like things, which can bring one to erase. How far to take this is a complicated topic, and the broad common practice is extremely lenient. However, the full consensus of poskim (see Dirshu 307:70) is that “shitrei hedyotot” include not only commercial documents but also commercial advertisements, which are produced to encourage people to buy, rent, take a job, etc. in a for-profit setting.

The reading’s intensity makes a difference. While there is an opinion that the prohibition is only for reading with one’s mouth (see Beit Yosef, Orach Chayim 307), we pasken that reading with the eyes is also generally forbidden (Shulchan Aruch and Rama, Orach Chayim 307:12-13). However, glancing at something—without intent to pick up content—is permitted (Neot Mordechai XVIII, page 70; Dirshu 307:58). Consider that in order to avoid reading something, one first needs to see (read superficially) what it is.

It has been debated for centuries whether one may read newspapers on Shabbat (beyond our present scope). In this context, the She’eilat Ya’avetz’s (I:162) reason not to do so raises your critical question. He says a newspaper should have been permitted, but one should not read one because he is liable to read the ads within it. The Mishna Berura (307:63) seems to prefer this opinion, but many view this as a chumra (stringency), good advice and/or for people who are drawn to the paper’s commercial parts (see Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchata 29:46; Da’at Torah 307:16).

In Torah-oriented or based publications, other leniencies apply. First, even those who would forbid or discourage reading newspapers because of the commercial parts, permit reading divrei Torah even if they are in the proximity of advertisements (Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchata ibid.; Avnei Yashfeh I, Orach Chayim 76).

More fundamentally, the mitzvah element is its own heter regarding would-be Shabbat violations of what one should be occupied with on Shabbat (see Shabbat 113a). This permits reading an advertisement of mitzvah, e.g., notification of a shiur, tzedaka appeal (Orchot Shabbat 22:132, based on Magen Avraham 307:16). It is somewhat less clear if it is permitted to read a commercial ad (i.e., for profit), when the sales item is used for a mitzvah, e.g., sefarim, four minim (see ibid. 129; Neot Mordechai XVIII, page 230).

If we accept the latter leniency, then we must analyze many commercial ads in parsha sheets to determine whether they count as mitzvah matters in this regard. In many types of ads, it can depend on the specifics and/or the reader, as we can see (in brief) in the following examples:

  1. Real estate in Israel can be a mitzvah if needed to strengthen our hold on the land or enable aliyah; 2. Most travel offers are about enjoyment, but, for a few, the Torah or mitzvah element could be major; 3. Some health services are just nice, and some are life-saving.

We recommend that publications whose content is Shabbat appropriate can be read on Shabbat, but it is best to not read any commercial ads (it is too complicated to figure out each time and people may lack the discipline to look and then look away). However, there is room for limud zechut for quite a few ads.


This column is written by Rabbi Daniel Mann on behalf of the Eretz Hemdah Institute in Jerusalem, which trains dayanim and has many projects on behalf of klal Yisrael, including its “Ask the Rabbi” service in conjunction with the OU. Rabbi Mann is a dayan at Eretz Hemdah, a senior member of the “Ask the Rabbi” project, and author of its “Living the Halachic Process” series. He is also a Ram at Yeshiva University’s Gruss Kollel in Israel.

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