One is required to study Torah every day and every night.1 Nighttime is considered to be an especially auspicious time to engage in Torah study, and doing so is said to be a segula for longevity.2 This is especially true regarding Torah study after midnight for those who are able to do so.3 The Talmud says that one who studies Torah at night is blessed with a “thread of grace” that ensures that one will find favor with others.4 The Rambam teaches that most of a person’s wisdom is acquired from the Torah that he studies at night.5 It is even taught that the reason G-d created the night was for people to engage in Torah study.6
According to some authorities, one should avoid studying Scripture (Written Torah) at night. This is based on the Kabbalistic teaching that the Written Torah was specifically designated for study during the day and that the Oral Torah (Talmud) was specifically designated for study at night.7 It is explained that according to Kabbalah, the Written Torah represents “judgment” while the Oral Torah represents “kindness.”8 Since nighttime is also symbolic of judgment in Kabbalistic literature, it is believed that by studying Oral Torah (“kindness”) at night, one is able to sweeten harsh judgments and negative decrees.9 There is also a Midrashic teaching that when Moshe was on Mount Sinai for forty days, he was able to distinguish between night and day by the subject matter that G-d would teach him. During the day G-d would teach him the Written Torah while at night He would teach him the Oral Torah.10
The Arizal was very careful to only study Written Torah during the day and Oral Torah at night. It is even said that studying Written Torah at night can be “dangerous.”11 Nevertheless, even according to this approach, one may recite Scripture, such as Tehillim, in the course of prayer.12 Indeed, from its inception, the ban on studying Scripture at night was never intended to include Scripture that is “studied” in the course of prayer.13 There is no restriction on what may be studied on Thursday nights or on Shabbat and Yom Tov.14
Nevertheless, the halacha is not in accordance with this view, and one is permitted to study any area of Torah that one enjoys at any time of the day or night.15 This is especially true when Scripture is studied at night along with the traditional commentaries, in which case the entire study has the status of “Oral Torah.”16 Similarly, one will notice that most yeshivot engage in the study of the Talmud day and night without reservation. Indeed, it seems that prior to the Arizal, there was never any discussion or concern regarding this issue at all.17
- OC 238:1; Mishna Berura 238:1.
- Ta’anit 31a.
- Mishna Berura 1:9.
- Avoda Zara 3b.
- Rambam, Hilchot Talmud Torah 3:13.
- Eruvin 65b.
- Be’er Heitev 238:2; Ben Ish Chai, Pekudei 1:7; Kaf Hachaim, OC 237:9; Tanna D’vei Eliyahu 22.
- Ben Ish Chai, Pekudei 1:7; B’tzel Hachachma 4:44.
- Avnei Tzedek, YD 102.
- Midrash Tanchuma, Ki Tissa; Recanati, Yitro, p. 45; Tanna D’vei Eliyahu 2:16; Sefer Kushiot 37.
- Birkei Yosef, OC 238:2; Kaf Hachaim, OC 237:9.
- Eishel Avraham, OC 238; Tzitz Eliezer 8:2; B’tzel Hachachma 4:45; Be’er Moshe 4:22. See Piskei Teshuvot 238, n. 26, for more on this.
- Yosef Ometz 54; Chaim Sha’al 2:25; Vayechi Yaakov, OC 9.
- Kaf Hachaim, OC 238:9; Ben Ish Chai, Pekudei 1:7; Levushei Mordechai, OC 2:186; B’tzel Hachachma 4:44; Be’er Moshe 4:22; Tzitz Eliezer 8:2, Yabia Omer, OC 6:30. See also Piskei Teshuvot 238:3.
- Sha’ar Hatziun 238:1; Maharsham 1:158; B’tzel Hachachma 4:44; Devar Chevron 2:225.
- Da’at Torah, OC 238:2; Birkei Yosef, OC 238:2; Yabia Omer, OC 6:30; Levushei Mordechai 196; Be’er Moshe 4:22.
- Cf. Berachot 4b.