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Studying on yom tov?


Rabbi David Sperling

Nisan 16, 5777
Hello, I know that on shabbat you’re not allowed to study for school/college subjects unless its Torah or something about Judaism. But does it count also for Yom Tov? I’m asking cause I have exams after Passover and I’m extremely stressed and I need to study otherwise it’s probably a guarantee that I’ll fail. I know I’m not allowed to write or use Internet, but just reading my notes? Is that ok? For the purpose of studying? (it’s biology and chemistry if that matters).
Shalom, Thank you for your question. The laws for studying secular knowledge are the same on Yom Tov as on Shabbat. With that in mind, there are those that forbid one to spend their time on Shabbat or a festival studying secular subjects for an exam because it may be a form of preparation for the weekdays that is forbidden. However, this is not so clear (See Shmirat Shabbat KeHilchatah (new version) 28, 92 and the footnote there). If one enjoys the subject being studied in and of itself, then the general opinion is that one may study secular subjects on Shabbat (as this is not only preparation). However, even then, one must make certain that Shabbat stays a special day to focus on the holy and the sublime, and not a day just for the worldly and profane. None the less, a limited amount of reading about secular wisdom is permitted. Only you can tell if your study is purely for the exam (in which case it would seem to be more likely forbidden) or if you truly are interested in the subject matter, and gain some intellectual pleasure from the study itself (in which case, a certain amount of study would be allowed). If you are so stressed as to the point of not being able to enjoy the festival, and by spending a limited amount of time studying you will be able to focus on the festival itself, it seems to me that one should do the study. The reason those who forbid the studying for an exam is so that one doesn't spend their time “tuned out” of the Yom Tov. But if you're going to be sitting there just thinking about how you will fail the exam, and not enjoying the festival anyway, then we have gained nothing by forbidding the study. In summary – it is better to leave secular study for the weekdays. If one wants to learn (a limited amount of) secular studies on Shabbat or a festival, because they enjoy the subject, it is permitted. To study for an exam where the subject matter is of no interest is a point of doubt, with many opinions forbidding it. In my opinion, even in such a case, if one will spend more time worried about not studying than partaking in the holiness of the day, one should permit a limited amount of study for the exam in order to be able to enjoy the holiness of the day. Blessings – and every success in your studies.
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