Torah Study in the
Based on a shiur by
In the Mishna and the
Gemara there is extended treatment of the nature of the mitzva of dwelling in
the sukka and the types of activities done in the sukka, as well
as of the exceptional situations in which a person is exempt from dwelling in
the sukka. The Mishna states
that during the festival of Sukkot a person must make his sukka “keva” –
that is, he must make the sukka his fixed, and, so to speak, “permanent”
dwelling, relegating his usual home to the status of “ara’i,” that is, a
provisional dwelling. In the wake
of this comment, the Gemara cites a baraita that specifies what a person must do
in order to render his sukka “keva”:
How so? If he has nice utensils - he must bring
them into the sukka; nice beds, or beddings - he must bring them into the
sukka. He must eat, drink,
and take his leisure time in the sukka.
And he must study (“meshanen”) in the sukka. (Sukka 28b)
The Mishna specifies
in various places the activities a person must perform only in a
sukka. With reference to
eating and drinking, the Mishna even spells out specific details of the mitzva,
such as how many meals must a person eat in the sukka. But with regard to the study of Torah,
certainly one of the most important activities that one can perform in the
sukka, the Mishna’s treatment is limited to just two words: “U-meshanen ba-sukka” (“And he
must study in the sukka”).
Regarding study, the
Gemara immediately questions, “Is this so?
Did not Rava state, ‘Mikra and mitna in the sukka,
while tanoi outside of the sukka?!” Rava distinguishes between different
types of study, and Rashi explains that, while “mikra” refers to studying
the Written Torah, and “mitna” to studying the Mishna, the term
“tanoi” refers to studying “the Shas, which includes analysis by
means of logical deduction, and towards which one must devote great effort in
order to study.”
The Gemara squares
the comment of Rava with the rule stated by the baraita by making a further
distinction, “One is referring to migres, and one to iyunei.” Rashi (s.v. Ha le-migres)
Shinun [as in the baraita’s
short reference to the type of study that must be done in the sukka:
“u-meshanen ba-sukka”] refers to the study of Gemara whose
understanding is already clear to him; the study of such a Talmudic discussion
must be done in the sukka, and this is what is referred to by the term
Rashi does not
explain what is referred to by the term iyunei, stating only that it is
the type of study that may be done outside of the sukka.
The Ran, in his comments on the Rif, (13a, s.v. Ha le-migres)
cites the opinion of Rashi and explains it further,
Iyunei, which entails
taking some pains, may be done outside of the sukka, due to the fact that
he is mitzta’er (i.e., he feels some degree of suffering), and one who is
mitzta’er is exempt from the mitzva of sukka; and the air [in the
house] is good for him, to expand his capacity for thought [since in the sukka
it may be too hot or too cold for analytic study].
Thus, it seems that,
according to Rashi, the definitions of migres and iyunei are
similar, respectively, to our familiar categories of beki’ut and
study is in its essence a surface study of the text, whose primary (though not
exclusive) goals are memorization and the covering of extensive ground. Study performed be-iyun, by
contrast, is a deeper study, whose purpose is the clarification of a topic and
the unveiling of the deeper conceptual roots that form the foundation of the
many minute details of the topic.
It is therefore dependent on intellectual struggle and on the exertion of
a good deal of effort.
According to the
explanation of the Ran, the reason for exempting some one who is studying
be-iyun from studying in the sukka is that the study itself
constitutes a challenge and a struggle for him. This mental effort defines him as a
mitzta’er and therefore exempts him from the mitzva of sukka.
(This is in line with the familiar dictum that one who is suffering, or
mitzta’er, is exempt from the mitzva of sukka.)
Further on, the Ran cites an opinion which differs from that of Rashi:
But there are those
who state the opposite; namely, that iyunei refers to a type of study
which is keva, and which therefore requires a sukka.
According to this
opinion, iyun is the type of study which must be done in the sukka,
due to the fact that it is considered keva; as we are already aware
from the Mishna, activities defined as keva must be done exclusively in
the sukka. The Meiri (s.v.
Zehu beiur ha-Mishna) quotes this opinion at length, stating:
There are those who
explain in the opposite manner, that study of the Written Torah, the Mishna, and
the Talmud be-iyun, with logical analysis, requires keva, and must
be done only in the sukka.
It appears that the
original source for this opinion is the Ritz Giat, who states, in his halakhic
work Me’a She’arim:
Studying the Written
Torah, the Mishna, and ayinei sevara [see below for explanation of this
term], which require keva, must be done in the sukka, but mere
recitation of the text of the Gemara may be done outside of the sukka.
Yitzchak Ra’anen (s.v. Ve-ayinei sevara) clarifies the
rendering of the text of the Ritz Giat:
[The text reading
“ayinei” is incorrect;] rather, the text should read, “ve-iyunei
bi-sevara” [i.e., logical analysis], which requires keva, must be
done in the sukka; and this is the opinion cited by the
Thus, we find in this opinion a new definition of the concept of
keva: something which requires depth of thought and serious
examination. Studying beki’ut, by
contrast, would be defined as ara’i, a temporary or provisional activity,
and as such would not require being done in the
It would appear that
the foundational element of the debate between the opinion of Rashi and of the
Ritz Giat is in locating the central concern of our Gemara. According to the Ritz Giat, the Gemara
is dealing with the obligation of dwelling in the sukka, and it
articulates therefore the activities that define dwelling be-keva, and
which are therefore included in the scope of the mitzva’s obligation - namely,
eating, drinking, and study. Rashi,
on the other hand, thinks that the Gemara is most centrally concerned here with
exemptions from the mitzva of sukka – and is concerned with further
elaborating the rule it taught a few pages earlier, that one who is
mitzta’er is exempt from the mitzva of sukka.
Both Rashi and the Ritz Giat agree, however, that the Gemara is
distinguishing between two modes of study – beki’ut and iyun – and
not between two types of texts.
We have seen that
according to the Ran’s interpretation of Rashi, the reason for the exemption of
studying be-iyun in the sukka is the fact that one who is studying
in this way is mitzta’er. We
may suggest two understandings of the exemption of mitzta’er.
First, while the obligation of dwelling in the sukka is, in essence,
all-inclusive in its scope, the Torah nevertheless specifies that there are
specific individuals who receive an exemption from the mitzva; namely, those who
may be characterized as mitzta’er.
Elsewhere in Halakha we have found that individuals in exceptional
circumstances receive an exemption from a Biblical commandment, such as the law
that those who are travelling in places distant from the Temple are exempt from
bringing the Passover sacrifice at its appointed time.
Similarly, we find
the inquiry Ravina made of Rava (Shevu’ot 26b), “One who has accepted by
obligation of an oath not to eat a specific loaf of bread, but then finds
himself in case of danger would he not eat the loaf - what is the law?” Rava responds, “If he is in danger, then
[what is the question? Obviously]
you should permit him to eat it!” (This follows the rule that one whose life
would be placed in danger by observing a mitzva is exempt from that
mitzva.) To this, Ravina clarifies
his inquiry, “[I do not mean that he would truly be in danger if he would forego
eating the loaf, but rather that it would cause him to be] mitzta’er.”
Thus, Ravina inquires
if the mitzva of following through on an oath that one has uttered applies in
the extenuating circumstance of mitzta’er - though in its inception the
oath he uttered made no exceptional provision for the case of
mitzta’er. So too, we may
suggest that the mitzva of sukka, though inclusive in its fundamental
scope, concedes an exception for one who is defined as mitzta’er.
We may, however,
suggest a very different approach to understanding the exemption of a
mitzta’er from the mitzva of sukka. Namely, according to its fundamental and
internal logic, the mitzva of sukka does not place an obligation to dwell
in the sukka upon one who is defined as mitzta’er.
Along these lines,
Tosafot (Sukka 26b, s.v. Holekhei derakhim) explain:
And also the law of
one who is mitzta’er, whom the Gemara earlier exempted from the mitzva of
sukka, is because of the rule defining the character of the dwelling that
is included in the mitzva of sukka: “Teshvu ke’ein taduru” [i.e.,
the manner in which one dwells in the sukka must correspond to the manner
in which he dwells in his home during the rest of the year]. And one would not dwell [in a home which
is situated] in a place where he would be mitzta’er.
According to Tosafot,
the fundamental nature of the mitzva of sukka is to treat the
sukka as one’s permanent dwelling space. According to this definition of the
mitzva, since one would not dwell during the rest of the year in a place which
would cause him discomfort or suffering, there would perforce be no obligation
whatsoever to remain in a sukka under circumstances which would cause him
tza’ar. The exemption,
according to this approach, stems from the very definition of the mitzva, not
from a subsidiary dispensation granted to one who suffers.
In a general sense, we can speak of two types of tza’ar: first, tza’ar in attempting to
reach a sukka, and second, tza’ar arising from remaining in a
sukka. In the event of the
first type of tza’ar, while a person is exempt from the mitzva of
dwelling in a sukka, if he nevertheless makes the extra effort to reach a
sukka and to dwell in it, he fulfills the mitzva. But in the event of the second type of
tza’ar, even if the person perseveres and remains in the sukka, he
does not fulfill a mitzva by so doing; the fact that dwelling in the
sukka under such conditions causes tza’ar excludes such dwelling,
by definition, from the parameters of the mitzva.
The tza’ar that Rashi presents as arising from engagement in
in-depth Torah study in a sukka clearly falls in the second
A Frontal Clash of
Until now, we have
presented Rashi as understanding that in-depth Torah study defines one as a
mitzta’er and therefore one is exempt from dwelling in the sukka while
engaging in such study. However, we may suggest an alternate understanding: the
exemption results not from an internal definition of the mitzva of sukka,
but from a clash between the demands of the mitzva of sukka and the
demands of the mitzva of studying Torah.
That is, the person would like to fulfill the mitzva of sukka, but
would also like to fulfill the mitzva of studying Torah be-iyun - with
depth and sophistication - which is not always possible to do in a
(Hilkhot Sukka 6:9) writes
All seven days, one
must read inside the sukka, but when he strives to understand and to
glean meticulously for insights from what he has read, he should pursue this
striving for understanding outside of the sukka, so that his mind should
be in a calm state.
Thus, the Rambam
understands that one may learn be-iyun outside the sukka since
one’s mind will be more at ease and ready for focus. Earlier, in discussing the Ran’s
interpretation of Rashi’s commentary, we noted a similar consideration - that
outside the sukka “the air is good for him, to expand his capacity for
According to this
approach, we may understand the exemption of one who wishes to study be-iyun
from the mitzva of sukka as stemming from the conflict posed between
the mitzva of dwelling in the sukka and the mitzva of studying Torah in
depth, for the quality of his iyun demands that he study under as easy
and as calm conditions as possible.
The ruling of the Shulchan Arukh (OC 639:4) follows, in a general
sense, that of the Rambam, but we have two versions of the exact formulation of
the Shulchan Arukh, and these versions differ in certain respects. The first version reads, “When he
strives to understand and to glean meticulously for insights from what he is
reading – he should learn outside of the sukka, so
that his mind should be settled,” while the second version concludes by ruling
that when he studies in this way, “he may learn outside of the
sukka, so that his mind should be settled.” Owing to the difference between the
textual variants, it is not clear whether the person studying be-iyun is
obligated to study outside of the sukka, in order to ensure the quality
of his study, or is given the right to choose to study where he wishes – in
the sukka or outside of it.
Avraham (OC 639:13) raises an additional difficulty which may be generated
by attempting to study Torah in the sukka:
It requires further
investigation to determine the law for a person who requires many books for his
study and for whom it is difficult to bring [so many books] into the
sukka. Ostensibly it appears
from the Gemara that he is not required to go to this difficulty ... as we see from the case of those who are
guarding orchards and gardens...
bringing books into the sukka, which requires a certain amount of
exertion. We are familiar with the
law that one guarding orchards or gardens is exempt from building, and sleeping
in, a sukka in the field he is watching, due to the difficulty this would
entail. Based on this ruling, it
would seem reasonable to exempt from studying in the sukka one who would,
in order to facilitate his study, have to go to the difficulty of transporting
many books to the sukka.
But the Magen Avraham immediately rejects this approach and
distinguishes between the two cases.
While in the case of those guarding orchards and gardens there is great
difficulty involved, and as such there is certainly an exemption from the
mitzva, in the case of bringing books to the sukka, the difficulty
entailed is not great enough to provide for a blanket exemption from the
mitzva. It is worthwhile to note,
however, that the distinction of the Magen Avraham, while appearing
logical to one who lives in a house with access to the ground floor, may not
appear so logical to one who lives in a tall apartment building whose sukka is
located at ground level.
In order to
understand more precisely the definition of “great difficulty” implied by the
term torach merubeh, let us examine a question that the Terumat
Ha-deshen cites in his responsa:
If on the night of
Shabbat, during the festival of Sukkot, his candles in the sukka become
extinguished, and he has another candle in his house, is it permissible for him
to leave the sukka to eat in his house? (Terumat Ha-deshen,
Ha-deshen’s answer breaks down into several steps. At first, he is inclined to say that
eating in one’s home in such a case is permitted, since eating in the dark,
without the light of a candle, may be considered tza’ar which exempts one
from the mitzva of sukka.
Later, however, he suggests that there may not be an exemption from the
mitzva in such a case, due to the possibility of going to eat in a friend’s
sukka. But he then rejects
this suggestion, deeming that having to go to another person’s sukka in
order to eat would itself constitute tza’ar.
In the end, the
Terumat Ha-deshen concludes that if going to a friend’s sukka in
order to eat would not in fact cause great difficulty, then indeed there is an
obligation to go to a friend’s sukka in order to finish the meal.
It is possible to
deduce from this response of the Terumat Ha-deshen an approach that we
may apply to the topic of our discussion.
If bringing the necessary books out to the sukka would entail a
degree of exertion comparable to that involved in moving one’s meal to a
friend’s sukka, then one would be exempt from bringing books to one’s
sukka in order to learn there. For the purpose of our discussion, we may
suggest that this would be the case for one who lives on a high floor of an
apartment building (without a sukka on the balcony). Such a person, it could be
argued based on the responsum of the Terumat Ha-deshen, would be exempted
from bringing his books to the sukka due to the difficulty that this
would involve, and may learn in his apartment.