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Reading History and Novels

Hello, thank you for this wonderful service.
Is one permitted to read secular books – such as novels, stories, etc – not for school requirements, but purely for relaxing, enjoyment etc. I am asking this specifically regarding Shulchan Aruch – Hilchos Shabbos – siman Tes Zayin (16) where it mentions it being assur to read “sichos chullin” such as the history of kings, even during the week.
Would this apply to reading novels, sports, etc…It is understood that it would be so much better to read Jewish books instead, but from a halachic standpoint, is one permitted to read these items (are they deemed “sichos chullin”)?
Thank you very much.

Answer:

The Pasuk reads (Devarim 32:7): “Remember days long gone by. Ponder the years of each generation. Ask your father and let him tell you, and your grandfather, who will explain it.” Clearly, then, the study of history is permitted where there is a positive purpose involved, such as understanding the ways of Divine providence, comprehending our own place on the historical timeline, and understanding the Torah better by recognizing personal and historical context.

Moreover,the study of some secular subjects, including literature, is able to develop a person’s abilities to write and discuss matters in depth, to enhance our understanding of human interaction in many spheres, and to be part of a person’s self development.

It is possible that the “history” referred to by the Shulchan Aruch refers to trumped-up legends of kings and their glories, written by the victors – and not to the deeper (and often critical) modern study of history. The idea is that a person shouldn’t waste his time on nothing-ness and nonsense, and should pursue productive goals and activities.

The reading of novels and sport books will depend on the value of doing so. If this is an important part of a person’s recreation, and allows him to thrive in significant areas of his life, then its fine. If a person spends his whole day on sports and novels, then this is obviously harming his general function, and he should consider how to focus on the more productive.

Best wishes.

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