- Question: [Motzei Shabbos, 19th Teves 5781]
I have a big midterm coming up this Sunday on the subject of the history of World War II. It mainly focuses on the history of Hitler and the rise of Hitler YIM”Sh to power and the anti-Semitic laws passed in Germany prior to the start of the war. My question is whether I’m allowed to study this material on Shabbos or not.
You may not read this material on Shabbos whether to study for a test or for mere personal knowledge.
Explanation: There are three halachic issues that come into play in this question: 1) Does reading history books transgress the Shabbos reading restrictions? 2) Does reading subjects associated with tragedies of the Jewish people transgress a prohibition against being sad and possibly crying unnecessarily on Shabbos. 3) Does preparing for a test on Shabbos transgress the prohibition against preparing on Shabbos for the weekday. Practically, while this last issue can find halachic leniency, the former two issues seem to be a real problem in this case and therefore we concluded that it may not be done. The following is an analysis on the subjects: The sages prohibited one from reading materials on Shabbos that are not Torah related and that do not relate to wisdom. Practically, it is explicitly ruled that history is not a field of wisdom and that therefore it is forbidden to read history books dealing with the wars of the Gentiles on Shabbos and only history books dealing with Jewish history that contain a moral and ethical lesson, such as the book of Josephus or Shevet Yehuda, may be read on Shabbos. The Achronim further stipulate that even by these books one may only read the joyful subjects, such as the miracles that G-d did for us, and not read the chapters dealing with tragedies as one is not allowed to be sad on Shabbos. Accordingly, there is no room to allow studying World War II history on Shabbos as if it does not include the aspects of Jewish history then it is forbidden under the prohibition of history books of the wars of the Gentiles. Furthermore, even if it does contain sections of history of the Jewish people, it remains forbidden either due to a dealing with tragedies and sad content, or due to it not containing any moral and ethical lesson, or due to both reasons. However, there is seemingly no prohibition against reading permitted material on Shabbos in preparation for a test and hence it is prohibited simply because it is prohibited material and may not be read whether for a test or for individual knowledge.
Sources: See regarding the reading prohibition: Admur 307:30; Michaber 307:16; Mur Uketzia 307; M”B 307:58; Piskeiy Teshuvos 307:24; see regarding reading in preparation for a test: Piskeiy Teshuvos 290:5; SSH”K 28:92 footnote 220 in name of Rav SZ”A