The Jewish Laws of Television
by Eli D. Clark
Author's Preface: This book must not be used as a guide to practical Halochoh.
I am not a qualified posek. I failed my CPA exam. I do not even have a
driver's license. The sole purpose of this work is to provide a basic
understanding of the halochic issues relating to owning and using the
television, and to convince my father-in-law that it was worth supporting me
in kollel for the last 23 years. All halochic questions should be brought to
a reader's local, qualified machmir. I want to acknowledge my gratitude to
Hashem Yisborach, to my wife Chashie, to my children Bini, Pini, Minnie,
Mashie, Bashie, Rashie, Ushi, Chushi and Harold. And to the one who instilled
in me the love of television, Captain Kangaroo.
I. Definition of Television
A. The Halochoh defines television as any instrument which receives an
audio and video signal, with a screen to display the video
transmission and a speaker to amplify the sound. According to
Rav Hai Gaon, an electrical supply is part of the definition of
television (a so-called Hai-Definition television).
B. The Urim V'Tumim is believed to have resembled a television, though
it appears to have lacked a remote.
C. The Medrash says that Odom Harishon knew everything, obviously
including how to invent a television.
D. In the days of Moshiach, everyone who wants a television will own
one, there will be no commercials, and all weather forecasts will
II. Owning a Television
A. It is an Issur D'Oraisa to own a television according to most
authorities. Some say it is an Issur D'Rabbonon. All agree that
owning a television involves almost as many Issurim as speaking
B. Owning a television that is broken is permitted, provided the insides
have been removed, replaced with potting soil, and the television is
used as a planter. A Ba'al Nefesh will refrain from this practice.
C. One who borrows a television for more than thirty days is considered as
one who owns it, even if it is later returned. Any loan of a
television is canceled at the Yovel, along with magical objects,
under the principle of Shemitos Keshafim. This principle will not
apply on New Years' Day to a television tuned to the Pros Bowl.
III. Getting Benefit (Hano'oh) from Television
A. It is prohibited to derive benefit from television. Don't even think
IV. The Laws of B'rochos
A. It is required to recite a Shehechiyonu on a new television, some say at
the time of purchase, some say at the time of watching it for the
first time, some say at the first time of watching an entertaining
and popular program that is not interrupted every five minutes by
annoying commercials featuring furry animals, cute children or a
talking carton of milk.
B. When hearing a B'rocho recited on television, one should respond
"Omen," although this does not fulfill an obligation. When the
B'rocho is recited by a Goyische actor with a lousy Hebrew accent,
one should snicker derisively.
V. The Laws of Kashrus
A. One should not eat meat while dairy products are being advertised on
television, lest one come to mix the two. It is preferable to wait
six hours before watching a dairy advertisement. However, if the
advertisement appears in between two non-dairy advertisements, it is
considered Bottel B'Rov, unless the ad includes Tommy Lasorda or
Tommy Lee Jones (in which case it is Nosen Tom).
B. After eating meat, a pregnant woman with a craving for ice cream may
watch an advertisement for Hagen-Dazs, but only if the reception is
C. One should not eat dairy while meat products are being advertised on
television, unless one has just brushed one's teeth. An intervening
toothpaste or mouthwash ad is also acceptable.
D. It is forbidden to derive Hano'oh from an advertisement for Bosor B'Cholov,
such as a ch-seburger. When such an advertisement begins, one
should immediately cover one's face, turn off the television and
recite some Tehillim.
VI. The Laws of Tefiloh
A. It is forbidden to postpone prayer in order to watch a program on
television. However, if one is already engaged in watching a
program, in Eretz Yisroel you may delay prayer until the program is
finished, while in Chutz Lo'Oretz you may delay until the first
B. It is permitted to Daven B'Yechidus in order to catch one's favorite
sitcom, but only on Thursday nights.
C. When one's television is broken, one should pray for its speedy repair.
It is permissible to engage in Hishtadlus and call a repairman.
In the event the repairman actually shows up, it is proper to recite
the B'rocho of She'Osoh Nissim.
VII. Talking During Television Watching
A. It is forbidden to engage in idle talk during a television program,
because it would be a Hefsaik (interruption). If the speech is
related to the watching (e.g. "Please pass the remote," or "Doesn't
Kathie Lee Gifford make you nauseous?"), no Hefsaik occurs.
Nevertheless, it is preferable to refrain from any speech, especially
if the person sitting next to you threatens to "punch your lights
out" if you say another word.
B. During commercials, conversation is not considered a Hefsaik.
Nevertheless, one who is able to refrain from talking during
commercials should do so. The story is told about the mother of a
famous Gadol who was asked why she merited to give birth to a Torah
giant. She said, "I never disturbed my husband during commercials,
and I never paid retail."
VIII. The Laws of Shabbos
A. Before Shabbos one should unplug the television and cover it with a
velvet Challoh cover, Li'Kovod Shabbos. There is a dispute whether
it is required that the Challoh cover be encased in plastic.
B. If a young child accidentally turns on a television during Shabbos
(Rochmonoh Lotzlon), it is vital to respond without causing
additional Chilul Shabbos. The following things should be done (in
order of preferability.
1. If there is an Eruv, move yourself and your family into a
neighbor's house for the duration of Shabbos.
2. If there is no Eruv, one must avoid looking at the television, even
unintentionally. Men should tip their hat brim over their eyes.
Women should tip their sheitel forward over their eyes. Children
should wrap long strips of cloth over their eyes.
3. If this is not possible, one should seek out a Gentile and
indirectly ask him if there is anything good to watch on Friday nights.
IX. The Laws of Pesach
A. It is very difficult to clean a television for Pesach because of all
the little holes in the back of the set. Therefore, many authorities
require that one throw out one's televisions before Pesach and buy
new ones for Pesach.
B. According to R. Blumenkrantz, a television should be cleaned for Pesach
as follows. First, remove the back of the television by unscrewing
the screws under the sticker that warns against removing the back of
the television. Then clean each instrument with an ammonia-based
cleaner. Finally, to eliminate the Chometz absorbed when the
television gets hot, the entire television set should be immersed
in boiling hot water (Hagoloh). R. Blumenkrantz recommends
unplugging the television first.