- Question: [Tuesday, 17th Teves 5782]
Does the custom of not learning Torah on the night of Nittel apply also this year when the night of the 25th of December falls on Friday night? If it does, then what do we do by the Shabbos table and may a Devar Torah on the Parsha be recited? Also, may one play chess on Friday night as is usually done on the night of Nittel, or is playing chess not allowed because it is Shabbos. Bottom line, I would like to know if the learning restrictions apply this year on Friday night and if yes then what may and should we do to spend our time on Friday night?
The custom of not learning Torah on the night of Nittel customarily is followed likewise in years that it falls on Friday night. Thus, one should avoid learning both Nigleh and Nistar and Chassidus from sunset/nightfall [this matter of sunset versus nightfall is under debate]. Accordingly, a Devar Torah on the weekly Parsha should not be recited. Likewise in Shul, between Mincha and Maariv, one is not to study Torah. One may not even recite Shnayim Mikra or make up Chitas Rambam.
How to spend one’s time:
One may and should spend his time, especially by the Shabbos table, saying over stories of Tzadikim, and singing Chassidic Niggunim. Regarding the remainder of the night, it should be spent in a way that follows both the laws and spirit of Shabbos.
- Stories: There are thousands of storybooks of Tzadikim, Chassidim, Gedolei Yisrael, and Anshei Maaseh that one can spend his time reading.
- Magazines: Likewise, there are many Jewish magazines that contain articles without Torah content that are permitted to be read on Shabbos.
- Bonding: One can also spend his time to have a heart-to-heart conversation with his spouse and/or child and get to know them better.
- Novels: It is of course forbidden to use Nittel as an excuse to spend one’s time reading secular novels and the like which is forbidden even during the week and certainly on Shabbos itself.
- Chess and board games: Regarding playing chess, or other boardgames, while from the letter of the law it is permitted to play chess on Shabbos, I would not recommend it as being within the spirit of Shabbos, and therefore it is better to spend one’s time reading from the topics mentioned above. However, children may be lenient in this.
- Sleeping: One can always choose to go to sleep early and then wake up very early in the morning, past midnight, to make up for the lost Torah learning.
Explanation: The custom of not learning Torah on the night of Nittel even in years that it falls on Friday night dates back many generations, and is followed by many sects of Chassidic Jewry. This is likewise the traditional Chabad custom. We likewise find explicitly recorded that the Rebbe Rashab did not recite his usual Hasidic discourse on Friday night when it was the night of Nittel. Likewise, in a diary written by one of the students in 770, he writes that the Rebbe instructed the students not to learn on Friday night in that year that Nittel fell on Friday night. Many Hasidic Rebbe’s are recorded to not have said the usual tour words on the Shabbos table when it fell on Friday night. However, there are some Hasidic masters who state that Shabbos is an exception being that it chases away any of the impurities of the day, and they therefore were accustomed to study Torah when Nittel would fall on Shabbos.
Sources: See regarding applying the regulations of Nittel and not learning even when it falls on Friday night: Taamei Haminhagim p. 500 in name of Chidushei Harim; Kedushas Aaron of Sadigura 1:4; Divrei Yisrael 2:21; Kinyan Torah 5:92; Nitei Gavriel Chanukah-Nittel Chapter 6:1 footnote 1-2; See regarding the lenient opinion who permits learning Torah on Friday night: Shem Mishmuel Vayechi p. 335; Mishmeres Shalom 27:2; Hadras Kodesh 47a; Koveitz Tiferes Yisrael 40; Nitei Gavriel Chanukah-Nittel Chapter 6:1 footnote 4 that so is custom of Gur, Lelov, Buyan, Munkatch; See regarding the Chabad custom when Nittel falls on Friday night: Reshimos Hayoman p. 365; Hiskashrus 544; 857; Nitei Gavriel ibid footnote 1 that so is Minhag Chabad; See regarding playing chess on Shabbos: Admur 338:6; Chelkas Yaakov 1:71; Minchas Yitzchak 1:33; Igros Moshe Yoreh Deah 3:15; See regarding reading novels: Admur 307:30