Monday, May 17, 2010

Books on Torah Study

Before listing the sources from the Rishonim concerning the goal of Torah study, I would like to note the two wonderful books that present these sources: Torah Study by R. Dr. Yehudah Levi, and Torah LiShmah: Torah for Torah's sake in the works of Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin and his Contemporaries, by R. Dr. Norman Lamm.

R. Dr. Levy's Torah Study was reportedly put in cherem by Rav Schach for its sections about the importance of pursuing a livelihood. It also has an especially interesting haskamah from the Gerrer Rebbe. You can look at a sample of the book and purchase it here.

R. Dr. Lamm's Torah LiShmah has a different focus and is a more scholarly and detailed work. It is not just a study of R. Chaim of Volozhin's approach on its own, but rather discusses it in light of the approaches that preceded and surrounded it. You can look at a sample of the book here, but unfortunately it is out of print.

(Note: I would suggest buying the books from the publishers - Feldheim, Ktav - rather than from Amazon. Amazon forces the publisher to let them take a huge cut.)


  1. Fascinating comment by the Gerrer Rebbe. And fascinating that he was willing to write a haskama given the opinion he expressed.

    Regarding your final comment, my understanding is that Amazon pays the same wholesale price as other bookstores, to the same distributors that other stores buy from (most often Ingram). Certainly buying straight from the publisher means more money for the publisher, and buying straight from an author means more money for the author, but Amazon is not doing anything other than buying and selling within the same bookstore model that has been around for decades. Am I missing something?

  2. As far as I know, Amazon pays the publisher/distributor about half what other bookstores pay. Which means that the publisher/author make much less. Publishers still sell to Amazon because it's such an important market.

  3. IIRC, in his introduction to Yabiah Omer, R. Ovadiah Yosef presents a lengthy defence of la'asukei b'shais'sa aliba dehilchasa, as against the "Ashkenazi", yeshivish approach. I have not seen this for many years, but it is no doubt a goldmine of sources.

  4. That's fascinating, I did not know that there were any British darda'im! (defence/defense)

  5. The real question is are there any British Dardasim ;-)

    More seriously, take a look at RamBaM's Sefer HaMada, Hilchot Talmud Torah Perek Gimel 3rd paragraph:

    Anyone care to comment?

  6. 1. He wasn't the rebbe of Gur yet when he wrote that haskamah. the letterhead states RY of Sefath Emeth
    2. There are also haskamos written by R Yakov Kamenetzky, R Avraham Farbstein (RY Chevron) and R Ovadia Yossef.
    3. R Shimon Schwab gave it a favorable review, and his review is dated after R Schach's and R Yaakov Kanievsky's cherem. Apparently he wasn't that worried.
    Another note about the cherem. R Schach also put the book Dodi Hanetziv, written by the author of Torah Temima. There seems to be a common thread between the books - the legitimacy of studying secular studies. I suppose, that they weren't wiling to legitimize that even though historically, it is legitimate.
    R Y Kamenetzky specifically stated that he liked the book for citing all the relevant sources without deciding the proper way (maskanah).

    4. Rabbi, as for your last comment. I checked on Amazon, there are only third party sellers selling this book. Amazon does not sell this book.

  7. For another source, see Shaar ha-Torah in Orchos Tzaddikim (anonymous 14th century).

    This lovely and usually innocuous little sefer makes some controversial points in Shaar ha-Torah. Besides his critique of pilpul and strident disagreement with the accepted curriculum of his day (which were later echoed by the Maharal and would be equally dismissive of the system in today's yeshivos), there is also his interpretation of lishmah: "Lishmah" means studying Torah in order to keep it, and *that* is the purpose of its study.

    A good version of the text may be found here:

  8. I didn't know there is such a thing as 'Dodi hanetziv'. I thought 'My Uncle The Netziv' was just excerpted from Makor Baruch.


    Question for Rabbi Slifkin and other learned folks on this site:

    Is there anything written (with halachic sources) in English about the cruelty of using the mitzvah of shilu'ach hakan solely as a segulah? Or anything about the cruelty of the shitah which advocates that it is a mitzvah to chase away a mother bird, and pick up it's eggs, if one has no intention of using the eggs (other than to "get" the mitzvah of shilu'ach hakan)?

    If there is nothing in English, is there anything in Hebrew?


  10. Yes. I just wrote a very comprehensive essay on this exact topic. I'm trying to figure out which journal to publish it in (and it will eventually be in my book "Rationalist Judaism").

  11. By the way, Michapeset, if you come to my house, I can give you a copy.

  12. Continuing the off-topic question briefly: In the book about the Bostoner Rebbe "And the Angels Laughed," p.331, there is a story about the Rebbe and shiluach hakan. The eggs were too small to make an omelet out of, so, knowing that the eggs must be used, he bought a silver container and put the eggs on display in his breakfront.

    I'm curious if R' Slifkin heard of this story.

    I hope the above story doesn't count as cruelty, since I consider the Bostoner Rebbe, along with his ROFEH organization, to be one of the kindest people out there.

  13. Lawrence kaplan

    Both in Rav Shach's complete letters and in the letters of the Steipler there is letter signed by both conndemning Prof. Levi's book, but it was not put in cherem.

  14. Actually, I'm not English; I'm Australian, now Israeli. I made aliyah with the mission to spread rationalism and proper English spelling to the natives. I am failing in both. My Dardaism is of the moderate variety. Kol hakavod on your blog and books.

  15. Just a thought about the purpose of Torah study-if the Rambam could suggest that our ultimate purpose is acquiring metaphysical and philosophical knowlege, is it so unreasonable to suppose that perhaps one's very intellectual engagement in matters of Law (halacha) has an inherent value both in terms of where it takes one's intellect and soul, and in terms of the practical benefits of knowing how to behave as a good Jew.

  16. Darda"i

    Are you associated with the Ohel Moshe people in Beit Shemesh?

  17. You can look at a sample of the book here, but unfortunately it is out of print.

    Just wanted to let you & your readers know that Torah Lishmah is available from Ktav in hardcover; it appears only the paperback version is currently out of print. Here's the link:

  18. A complete English translation of the Neffesh Ha-chayyim is now available:


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