Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Goal of Torah Study

I recently heard a shiur, from an outstanding, brilliant and widely-learned Rav in the Charedi world whom I greatly respect, about the importance of Torah study. He spoke about how it is a given in Jewish thought that the main purpose of Torah study is not so that we should know halachah - in fact, he said, knowing halachah is so much not the main purpose of Torah study that it's almost as though this is not a purpose at all. Instead, he explained, the main purpose of Torah study is to metaphysically sustain the universe and for our minds to tap into the Divine. He quoted Maharal about how Torah is the energy source of existence, and compared it to how science describes the universe itself as being fundamentally made of energy.

This was consistent with everything that I was taught in yeshivah. In fact, in yeshivah, I was taught that this goal should primarily be specifically accomplished via learning Gemara; more specifically, via the Bavli; more specifically, via certain sections of Nashim and Nezikin; more specifically, by learning b'iyun rather than bekiyus; and more specifically, via a specific derech halimmud.

But, as my studies have increased, it now appears to me that this is similar to so many other topics - it is an approach which began around the time of Maharal, gradually became more and more popular, and eventually became so entrenched in people's minds that they began to read it back into earlier sources and believe that nobody ever thought differently. In this case, the full-fledged treatment given to this idea by Rav Chaim of Volozhin was especially influential; popular belief is that he was simply describing what everyone always thought rather than originating anything.

R. Dr. Yitzchak Twersky, in describing the other extreme - Ibn Kaspi's "putting down" of learning Gemara vis-a-vis studying philosophy and metaphysics - refers to this pattern:

“...This confrontation continues when we find the Maharal of Prague vehemently denouncing those who ridicule the study of Nezikin while revering the study of physics; he repeatedly exposes the fallacy of such argumentation. If we were to look ahead, we could see the Maharal's position as a historical fulcrum: on one hand reacting against the position established by Kaspi and on the other setting the stage for that position usually attributed to the two great contemporaries and antagonists of the beginning of the nineteenth century: R. Hayyim of Volohzin and R. Shneur Zalman of Ladi, the two great ideologues of pure Talmud study which is, in the final analysis, to be perceived as study of God's essence. All Talmud study is useful and perennially relevant; expending time and energy in order to understand even the discarded opinion in a debate or the wrong view in a controversy is unquestionably meritorious, for it is study of the word of God, it is thinking God's thoughts. Study per se is practical and need not seek to anchor itself in an external, self-transcending relevance. All Talmud study is self-validating and its universality should be the ideal for all. This, of course, is the absolute antithesis of Kaspi's restrictive attitude which would make Talmudic knowledge a purely professional concern nurtured by pragmatic or utilitarian criteria...
Chapter 11 of Tiferet Yisrael goes one step further in the reaction against the Kaspi-type position and the vindication of pure Talmud study... In the history of ideas, this may be seen as setting the stage for R. Hayyim of Volozhin, Nefesh Ha-Hayyim, sha’ar IV chaps. 6, 10.” (R. Isadore Twersky, “Joseph ibn Kaspi: Portrait of a Medieval Jewish Intellectual,” pp. 246, 257)

Over the next few days, I will post various sources from the Rishonim which speak about the goal of Torah study - and please feel free to contribute more sources.


  1. Rabbi Noach Weinberg--"Torah is a guide to living, to getting the most enjoyment out of life"(slight paraphrasing here but only very slight)

  2. I'm glad you pointed out the relative novelty of this idea and how its not "an eternal part of our mesora" because I am not a fan.

    How does learning Gemara tap into the mind of the divine??? I was told all these things in yeshiva but at the end of the day learning about the minutiae of ox goring and tallit grabbing just doesn't help you connect to any spirituality in any meaningful way. Of course the Rabbi will always say "You just didn't learn it the right way" but in all seriousness i believe that this tapping "into the mind of the divine" through learning Gemara is a fairly ridiculous concept. It can only be explained through some sort of "magical" approach and is not part of rational Judaism. Its definitely not something the Rambam would have said!

  3. The idea is that you are studying the way that God's mind works.

    The problem is that you are really studying the Brisker interpretation of the Rishonim's interpretation of the Babylonian Sages' understanding of the ramifications and details surrounding God's words, which is a little more remote. If you really want to study the way that God's mind works, you would learn Tenach.

  4. Maharal himself was against those who limited their Torah study to a very small portion of the Talmud, instead of becoming baki in the entire Shas.

  5. There is a letter from the Rambam (in R. Shelat's igrot harambam) where he encourages, I believe, Babylonian students to study Rif and Mishne Tora, and only when they argue to look back at the Gemara to see the source of the machloket. He says something to the effect of delving into the havayot of abaye and rava being a waste of time.

    There is also something in the chovot halevavot, I think in the hakdama, where he says not to spend a lot of time trying to determine halacha in theoretical cases. Better spend the time learning about duties of the heart.

  6. I am under the impression that the Vilna Ga’on held that a major purpose of Torah study was to know the halakhah.

  7. ראב"צ אומר עשה דברים לשם פעלם [ראש: לשמו של הקב"ה שפעל הכל למענהו], ודבר בהם לשמם [רא"ש: כל דבורך ומשאך בדברי תורה יהיה לשם התורה כגון לידע ולהבין ולהוסיף לקח ופלפול, ולא לקנטר ולהתגאות]
    R Chaim Volozhyner makes a lot out of this perush of the Rosh. It's interesting that the source of this approach would be the Maharal - I am not sure that the Vilna Gaon's 'circle' was so influenced by the Maharal. Were the Maharal's seforim even in print in Vilna at this time?
    The fact that the Rishonim didn't express the importance of Torah lishma in Maharalian terms doesn't necessarily mean that they attached any less imporance to it than the Nefesh HaChaim did. According to the Ran (Nedarim 8a) one is obligated to learn non-stop (there are others who diagree with this) - if the obligation is so great surely there must be some larger theological purpose. It will certainly be interesting to see more sources from the Rishonim on this.

  8. Thank you so much for bringing up this topic! I very much need sources on this topic.

    I have no problem with the "tapping into the Divine" argument, but I also have always felt an affinity for the "anti-frum" argument that it's silly to spend hours upon hours -- and tremendous energy -- studying the details of how much one pays when one's ox gores another ox (especially when one can learn much more interesting and relevant topics like Tanach and Jewish philosophy).

    Over the last few years I have started discovering people who downplay gemara's importantce. Rav Kook is one example; Rambam is another. Someone told me that one of the baalei mussar (perhaps Novardik?) also downplayed gemara's importance.

    I have always liked people like Ibn Ezra, Abarbanel, Hirsch(?) and others who apparently liked Tanach and Jewish thought in general far more than gemara.

    (By the way, Rabbi Slifkin, I think you would like some of the works of the maskilim -- many of whom were quite frum despite the popular perception. I don't think quoting maskilim will get you brownie points, but, for your own private pleasure, I think you will enjoy reading them. You might want to start with the famous Divrei Shalom V'Emet by Naphtali Wessely, who was liked by Hirsch.)

    (Last thing: I was wondering recently how it took someone like you so long to realize the faults of the right-wing system and culture. Was it because you moved to Eretz Yisrael where haredim are probably far more extreme than mellow England? You may want to consider writing about this in a future post -- after discussing gemara learning!)

  9. In Horeb, RSR Hirsch classes limud ha-Torah amongst the "Mitzvos," commandments of love. From Ch. 75, Dayan Grunfeld translation:

    Do you wish to be a blessing? Then first prepare yourself for this noble task. Behold, here is the Torah that God gave you: from it alone can you draw the law of life ...
    You must study for practical life--that is the fundamental principle of the law. With attentive mind and with receptive heart you must study in order to practice. You must aim at learning from the law a way of life, which is its true teaching; only then can you learn it properly, only then will it disclose to you its inmost meaning. ...

  10. "who ridicule the study of Nezikin while revering the study of physics"
    The traditional focus was on Nezikin and Nashim which teach us and our sons how to behave properly towards others in general and towards women.
    Physics without Nezikin (or some other ethical education) will teach you how to destroy the world.
    If we teach our sons Berachos (active ritual observance) without Nezikin / Nashim, they will get on the bus for the earliest possible morning service, but beat up the 50 year old lady sitting in the front of the bus.

    Dallas Jew

  11. If you want to know the goal of studying any area of Torah, look at the divrei aggada that Maimonides concludes that section with.
    For example,
    End of Temurah:
    Maimonides states:

    יז וכל אלו הדברים--כדי לכוף יצרו, ולתקן דעותיו. ורוב דיני תורה אינן אלא עצות מרחוק מגדול העצה, לתקן הדעות וליישר כל המעשים; וכן הוא אומר "הלוא כתבתי לך, שלישים--במועצות ודעת. להודיעך--קושט, אמרי אמת; להשיב אמרים אמת, לשולחיך" (משלי כב,כ-כא).

    End of Taharos:

    טו [יב] דבר ברור וגלוי שהטומאות והטהרות גזירת הכתוב הן, ואינן מדברים שדעתו של אדם מכרעת אותן, והרי הן מכלל החוקים; וכן הטבילה מן הטומאות, מכלל החוקים היא: שאין הטומאה טיט או צואה שתעבור במים, אלא גזירת הכתוב היא, והדבר תלוי בכוונת הלב; ולפיכך אמרו חכמים טבל ולא הוחזק, כאילו לא טבל. ואף על פי כן, רמז יש בדבר: כשם שהמכוון ליבו ליטהר--כיון שטבל--טהר, ואף על פי שלא נתחדש בגופו דבר; כך המכוון ליבו לטהר נפשו מטומאת הנפשות, שהן מחשבות האוון ודעות הרעות--כיון שהסכים בליבו לפרוש מאותן העצות, והביא נפשו במי הדעות--טהר. הרי הוא אומר "וזרקתי עליכם מים טהורים, וטהרתם: מכול טומאותיכם ומכל גילוליכם, אטהר אתכם" (יחזקאל לו,כה).

    What is this מי הדעות --טהר?
    I would assume it is the Torah.

  12. >If we teach our sons Berachos (active ritual observance) without Nezikin / Nashim, they will get on the bus for the earliest possible morning service, but beat up the 50 year old lady sitting in the front of the bus.

    Ay, the people who beat up women on the bus learn Nashim and Nezikin and not Moed?

  13. We need not rely simply on the views of various Rishonim that study in order to know halacha and to understand its sources is of great importance. The message is already clear in the torah and talmud. For example, there was an ancient debate among Tana'im as to which was more important doing mitzvot or studying. They concluded that studying which leads to action was the more important. Studying torah as some academic pursuit, whether or not you attribute mystical significance to it, didn't make the cut. Judaism didn't start from the Maharal or R' Chaim of Volozhin. Of course, being immersed in talmud study also serves to focus the mind on relgious matters which can be of great benefit to proper action, but certainly doesn't insure it.

  14. Anonymous,
    >The traditional focus was on Nezikin and Nashim which teach us and our sons how to behave properly towards others in general and towards women.

    Have you learned nezikin and nashim? Its all legal discussions. There is almost no discussion of morality or how to behave. What you're thinking of is mussar.

  15. The gemorah on 17A in babba kamma and 40B of kiddushin say that one should learn Torah because it leads one to do mitzvos. That sounds like the reason to learn is to know how to do mitzvos. Sounds like halacha is the main point to me.

    Also, when learning the Gemorah and mishna they make a big deal about who the halacha is like. Sounds like halacha is the main focus of the gemorah.

    If the main point was just to metaphysically connect to G-D why is the main focus halacha?

  16. 1 - In the tefillah “Eilu D’varim” in the brachos of Shacharis it says “V’Talmud Torah k’neged kulam”. Does anyone know where the source for this is?

    This is often quoted to me when I challenge the concept of “sitting and learning” vs working and earning a living.

    2 - Also, it seems to me that “Limud HaTorah” is always something that is emphasized as being ONLY Gemara. So when they bring quotes like “Talmud Torah k’neged kulam” they mean Gemara. While I would interpret it to mean the ethical and socially just teachings of Chumash, Neviim and Kesuvim.

    I would REALLY appreciate a list of sources showing that the ethical, moral and social teachings of Torah Sheb’chsav is of utmost importance, and that learning THOSE parts of Torah is an age-old interpretation of “Talmud Torah” or “Limud HaTorah”.

    3 - When I speak to yeshiva boys/men, they even LOOK DOWN on learning Neviim and Kesuvim, as though that were inferior to Gemara! I don’t know about you, but I never heard the “laiyning” in shul on Shabbos or Yom Tov of any Gemara.

    Aside from laiyning Chumash in shul on Shabbos and Yom Tov (an activity on which we make multiple brachos and give aliyos for), we laiyn Neviim and Kesuvim. Shouldn’t it be something of meaningful worth to delve into the deeper understandings and meanings, or even bekiyos (basic, factual and surface) knowledge of Chumash, Neviim and Kesuvim?

    4 – Can anyone tell me what the source of “Bitul Z’man Torah” is?

    I’ve been told time and time again that this is the reason that yeshiva boys can not take time out to have sports (physical healthy exercise) in their day. Which is basically saying that the Torah statement of “U’shemartem Me’od Es Nafshoseichem” (“Guard your physical health very well”), a directive from Chumash (D’Oraiysa) seems to take a backseat to “B’tul zman Torah”. What gives? How is this possible? What is the source of this? Are there any legitimate sources that advocate this or is it just a new cultural phenomenon?

    6 - It seems to me that the same people who are SO medakdek b’halacha are the same people who will opt to spend more time teaching boys Gemara, rather than halacha l’maiysa.

    This is almost ridiculous in the whole cultural wave of being SO stringent about the halachos. It’s also a convenient way to pick and choose which halachos are being emphasized. Am I naïve in thinking that if significant amounts of time were dedicated to the learning of the halachos l’maaseh of bein adam l’chaveiro and it’s application in our day and age, then it would produce a better quality of yeshiva bochur; namely one who cares about the greater good of society and how to treat our fellow humans? (And I emphasize yeshiva bochur because the women are taught about the value of “chesed,” but the men are not. But I would also emphasize this kind of learning for girls, but that is not the main hurdle.)

    7 – In reference to Yehuda’s last paragraph in his post above (May 16, 2010 7:16 PM), Yehuda is not alone in his interest in some sort of mini-autobiographical-memoir by you, Rabbi Slifkin, including how you came to where you are today both in Torah thought, hashkafa, hadracha, the personal level of your journey, etc. Of course this is very personal, and perhaps now is not the right time.

    Rabbi Slifkin, I think the point is historical though. You would do history a favor if you kept a personal diary of some sort. It would serve frum history well to learn of, about, and from the journey of someone as intelligent, articulate and learned as you. Although many of us have been on a journey similar to you in some ways, none of us have been attacked in a vast public arena, nor been condemned by international establishments. And although in a way your journey has been a public one, on a more personal level, there is much we can gain (and relate to) from your more personal experiences, thoughts and insights on your journeys through it all.

  17. Maybe I have too much physics background but I find the misuse of the word "energy" more annoying than anything else. Various New Age groups are also fond of using the word in this vague way. Energy is a well-defined thing. It comes in units. If someone thinks that studying Gemara adds energy to the world, then ask them how much? How many joules? Where is this new energy appear? How does this fit in with the laws of thermodynamics.

    I don't know what term the Maharal and Rav Chaim used but whatever he used I'm pretty sure it wasn't energy since that concept wasn't even well-defined until after both were dead. In the case of the Maharal, he's centuries too early.

  18. Michapeset: "Eilu d'varim" is taken from Masechet Pe'ah, the first mishna and the first tosefta.

  19. I actually have a source sheet in front of me from my halacha class's pre-Shavuot shiur, so I can supply something (otherwise I am not on the level to find these sources).

    The Beit Halevi (yes, clearly not a Rishon, but OTOH one would expect him to be in the stereotypical camp of R' Hayyim Volozhiner) in Mishpatim talks about "na`aseh v'nishma`." Specifically, how na`aseh is first, and B'nei Yisra'el are rewarded for making it first. He says that there are two aspects to learning Torah: preparing to do mitzvot (na`aseh), and also as an end in itself and an obligation of a mitzvat `aseh (nishma`).

    In the Shulchan Aruch (YD 246:4; I'm paraphrasing) where he discusses dividing one's learning into three, he defines "talmud" as understanding sources and derivations and comparisons of things, "until he knows what are the essential mitzvot, and how the prohibited and permitted comes out," which seems to indicate the primacy of halacha.

    The Shach (5) and the Taz (2) there say that balabatim are not yotzei talmud torah (!) by learning gemara only; rather, they have to learn the sforim of the poskim.

    The Shulchan Aruch HaRav (Talmud Torah 2:9) expands on this and says that not only balabatim, but even people who can learn all of Torah sheb`al peh should learn and review halacha l'ma`aseh first. He also says that learning aggadot is also l'ma`aseh since one learns moral lessons from them.

    It seems that Rav Shneiur Zalman has a more complex view of this issue than the quotation from Rav Twersky suggests.

  20. Rav Slifkin-Thank you so much for introducing this subject.
    I have a weekly hevruta with a neighbor (mostly out of a sense of duty) and we are learning the first perek of Baba Metziah. While it starts out in an interesting manner with the two people holding a tallit, we eventually got bogged in a very prolonged discussion of how a borrower of money from someone is supposed to compensate someone who bought land with a lien (shiabud) from the borrower and then has the land taken away by the creditor because the borrower failed to pay back the loan. Frankly, this drove me crazy! The whole discussion uses fragments of braitot which the Chazal was trying to decipher, and in addition, they were groping around trying to figure out how the customs of land purchasing were done. The period they were dealing with was one of upheavals with the Jews living under autonomy, then having the two wars with the Romans, then Roman law imposed.
    While I recognize the importance of knowing these things for a dayan (judge) I fail to see the religious significance of spending endless hours trying to decipher these things.
    Meanwhile, I have started studying TANACH with the Abarbanel and even more importantly, I have discovered the "Shitat HaBehinot" of Rav Mordechai Breuer and the so-called "New School" of TANACH studies being developed by people like Rav Yoel Bin-Nun at Michlelet Herzog in Gush Etzion. This has given me new enthusiasm for learning Torah!
    Please continue developing this thread and I would be very interested in seeing how the Hachamim viewed Torah study over the generations.

  21. Just read the end of the Rambam's introduction to the Mishna Torah:

    this work might collect the entire Oral Law, including the positive legislations, the customs, and the negative legislations enacted from the time of Moshe Our Teacher until the writing of the Talmud, as the Geonim interpreted it for us in all of the works of commentary they wrote after the Talmud. Thus, I have called this work the [Complete] Restatement of the [Oral] Law (Mishneh Torah), for a person reads the Written Law first and then reads this work, and knows from it the entire Oral Law, without needing to read any other book between them.

    The Rambam writes that all a person needs to do is learn Chumash and his sefer (Mishna Torah), clearly against the the current Hashkafa

  22. Regarding your Derech Limmud of Nezikin and Nashim:

    חכמת תורת הנגלה לבושה בלבושים חיצונים גשמיים, דהיינו גניבה גזילה ונזיקין וכדומה, אשר משום זה קשה וכבד מאד לכל אדם, לכוין דעתו ולבו להשי”ת בעת העסק, כדי להמשיך המאור שבתורה, ומכל שכן לאיש כזה, שהוא כבד וקשה בעיון התלמוד עצמו, ואיך יוכל לזכור עוד בשעת הלימוד בהשי”ת, כי להיות העיון הוא בנושאים גשמיים הם ח”ו אינם יכולים לבא אצלו עם הכוונה להשי”ת בבת אחת

    Read further at

  23. bluke,
    you did not cite the Ravvad's Kessef Mishneh's comments on that Rambam. It is unclear if the Kessef Mishneh is disagreeing with Rambam or if he is clarifying the broad statement of the Rambam.

  24. According to Rav Ashlag, the purpose of learning Torah is to receive Torah:

    This is along the lines of what the Ramchal wrote in a work that Rav Ashlag did not know - Tikkunim Chadashim. The following is an excerpt, from Tikkun 19:

    דמאן דשכינתא שריא בלבה אוריתא אתגליאת לה. בגין כך תורה שבכתב אתיהיבת למכתב. אבל תורב שבעל פה בלבא אתמסרת ואתגלאה על ידה תורה שבכתב

    Who [merits that] the Shechina dwells in his heart, the Torah is revealed to him. Because of this, the written Torah had to be written, but the oral Torah is transmitted in the heart, and through it the written Torah is revealed.

  25. Please see:
    R' Shubert Spero, Aspects of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveichick's Philosophy of Judaism, An Analytic Approach, (Ktav, Jersey City, N.J.:2009), Chapter 4, The Philosphy of Halakha, p. 116:

    It appears, therefore, that the effort to endow creative sudy of the theorectical Halakha, as such, with the ability to provide cognitive insight into the cosmos or mystical commnion with the Revealer of the Halakha is open to serious objections. Moreover, it does not appear necessary for a minimal philosophy of Halakha which can otherwise meet reasonable conditions of adequacy.

    The Halakha was given by God to His people to be developed creatively, so that it can be applied humanely and observed diligently to being about ends that are for the ultimate edification of man and society: as a medium for the implementation of imitatio Dei. Thus the real signficance of the Halakha, as such, is instrumental rather than intrinsic, "To bring down the Divine Presence into the concrete world," to inject holiness into all aspects of life. Holiness is created by man through actualizaing the Halakha in the empirical world. [citing R'Y.B. Soloveichik, Halachic Man, p. 29]


  26. koillel nick,

    Neither the Raavad nor the Kesef Mishna change the Rambam's opinion. The Rambam clearly held that for the overwhelming majority of people learning his sefer was all that they needed to do. The fact that the Raavad argued on the Rambam is irrelevant. It is certainly not clear that the Raavad argued on teh Rambam conceptually but rather the Raavad was making a practical argument, who said the Rambam was right in all his psakim.

  27. in my yeshiva days, it was thoroughly inculcated in me that studying torah full time was The overriding goal in life.

    the irony of this is that nowhere in chumash do we find that the torah mandates a mitzvah of studying Torah for its own sake.

  28. Just read the end of the Rambam's introduction to the Mishna Torah:

    "Thus, I have called this work the [Complete] Restatement of the [Oral] Law (Mishneh Torah), for a person reads the Written Law first and then reads this work, and knows from it the entire Oral Law, without needing to read any other book between them."

    Thank you for posting this, as this immediately came to my mind. I would only qualify that in his hilchos talmud torah he advocates dividing one's learning into 1/3 written torah/1/3 mishnah and 1/3 gemara, suggesting that the learning of gemara (and I think he provides an expansive definition of what is included in this) is of value. In his hakdama he acklowledges, however, that many Jews are not able to "go to the depths" of the Talmud, necessitating a mishneh torah.

    I seem to recall the Maharal being against the use of legal codes, however, primarily because he felt people should accustom themselves to trying to pasken from the gemara itself. But clearly they are here to stay.

    Regarding the Alter Rebbe, relating to another posting above, he certainly advocated learning what he himself called "mussar" albeit derived from the Zohar; his writings are shot through with the concept that delving into certain areas of pnimyus hatorah would bring one to greater degrees of love/fear of Hashem. So even the heavily mystical/abstract concepts he brings in his writings still seem to have a practical purpose--namely to enhance one's service of Hashem.

    My fear about the whole culture of denigrating any practical purpose to learning Torah, is that it can potentially lead to a disregard of any attempt to improve the world around you. I know the retort is that there is somehow a ripple effect from the learning itself, which I don't doubt, but it would be nice to see a greater emphasis placed on visible, tangible efforts to improve the world, human relations, and foster the betterment of society.

    Wouldn't that be nice?

  29. "Meanwhile, I have started studying TANACH with the Abarbanel and even more importantly, I have discovered the "Shitat HaBehinot" of Rav Mordechai Breuer and the so-called "New School" of TANACH studies being developed by people like Rav Yoel Bin-Nun at Michlelet Herzog in Gush Etzion. This has given me new enthusiasm for learning Torah!"

    The Talmud emphasizes the extreme importance of "learning those portions of Torah that one's heart desires," (don't have the reference on hand, however). So I heartily wish you hazlachah on your endeavors!

    Re: Gemara. My sense is that as people get filtered through the yeshivah system they lose sight of the importance of finding areas of Torah that they gravitate towards. I don't think this is always necessarily because of any miseducation that the yeshivah itself is guilty of, but rather because it requires considerable amount of time for people to get proficient in learning gemara. As such much (excessive?) time is spent doing just that. There are rewards to this approach: it often happens that once one has become quite proficient at something, they start to enjoy it much more than when they were a beginner. So there could be a happy ending for a person that starts of struggling with Gemara, but ends up developing a taste, and desire for continuing to learn it.

    My problem, however, is the choice of topics. The gemara contains many facets, from abstract discussions of halachah no one observes in modern times, to esoteric ancient practices, to ethical/inspirational teachings. It seems that many yeshivos (I'm guessing, since I only spent one year in yeshiva) focus on "lomdus" to the exclusion of some of the ethical areas. I know there is such as thing as a "mussar shmuz" but this tends to be given in a format where bochrim are spoon fed hashkafos, rather than approaching these areas with the degree of intellectual rigor reserved for some of the other "dryer" areas of Talmud study.

    Then of course, there is the problem of ignoring Tanach/other rabbinic/philosophic writings/chassidus/comparitive study of mussar texts. And add to that (in my opinion) a need for a secular curriculum to facilitate earning a livelihood! On some level people have to learn many of these things independently, as even Rabbi Slifkin is finding himself doing. The question is--what tools do our children need to best facilitate a zeal/capacity for lifelong Torah study, in their areas of interest?

  30. Why are you afraid to post the original work by Ibn Capsi? Why should we blindly follow Twersky's explanation?

  31. Michael-
    What you said about the "mussar schmuz" reminds me of my days in a Conservative Hebrew School around the time of the 6-Day War, long before I became a "hozer b'teshuva". We had a book, written for kids our age, put out by the Reform movement, that had stories about people with ethical dilemmas (one example was about a college basketball player who was promised a reward by professional gamblers if his team won, but not by more than by a certain number of points, and he has the ball with 3 seconds left and he can put them over the winning margin-the point being that he was NOT being asked to throw the game, so what would it hurt to miss the last shot?) These stories made a major impression on me to this day (and, again it was put out by non-Orthodox people). I have never seen yeshiva people deal with these kind of questions. I was particularly reminded of this when the problem of "seruv pekudah" (refusal of soldiers to carry out orders) during the destruction of Gush Katif came up. Instead of teaching religious young people the importance of one's concience and situational ethics, the religious soldiers simply argued about which Rav one should listen to (one for seruv, or one against). This is really missing the mark in religious education, as I see it. It has been pointed out by people like Dr Meir Tamari, a religious person who was former Chief Economist for the Bank of Israel and Rav Eliezer Berkowitz that gemara study emphasizes "patur and hayav" and misses the ethical aspects of halacha. Food for thought.

  32. "Have you learned nezikin and nashim?"
    Yes, twice.
    "Its all legal discussions. There is almost no discussion of morality or how to behave."
    The strongest message one should get out of Baba Kama is not to be a Mazik or Ganav;
    from Baba Metzia, active duties towards your fellow;
    and so on.

    Dallas Jew

  33. Why are you afraid to post the original work by Ibn Capsi? Why should we blindly follow Twersky's explanation?

    What on earth are you talking about?! Many of his various works are available at, you are welcome to look at them. If you want to copy out and translate all the various sections that deal with this, which would be quite time-consuming, that would be very helpful, and I would gladly put it up as a post!

  34. "patur and hayav" and misses the ethical aspects of halacha.

    Chas V'Shalom, one may come to equate ethics with the "patur and chayav." That is, one may come to think that there is no ethics beyond the formalities. One may come to think that ethics can be codified, and that one is fine if one follows the rules. It is a corruption that I fear has spread widely. As I quoted above, when Torah study does not bring one closer to HaShem, it becomes Sam Mavet. It disconnects one from reality, from the truth. From ethical truth, from historical truth, from Chochmot HaOlam truth. This is behind the banning, the rejection of secular studies, the learning-only culture, and the associated isolation from general society. The isolation is in essence isolation from the truth and serves to protect a system that cannot survive confrontation with the truth.

  35. I forgot to mention that Dr Meir Tamari is an acknowledged extpert in the realm of business ethics and halacha. He has written books on the subject and set up an organization to increase the religious public's awareness of the matter.

  36. JXG - THANK YOU!! :)

  37. Moshe Refael -
    (name written in Hebrew) -

    Your post on May 18, 2010 7:16 AM is EXCELLENT!! I could not agree more!

    So, now what do we do to change things?

    Yes we CAN!
    (Hey, some slogans are worth borrowing...)

  38. So, now what do we do to change things?

    Fearlessly stick with the truth, which will prevail, as is known. B'Ezrat HaShem. Chag Sameach.

  39. Isaac, the quote from Rambam end of Temurah is about the ‘laws of Torah' which seems to refer to observance, not study.

    Bluke, you write: The Rambam writes that all a person needs to do is learn Chumash and his sefer (Mishna Torah), clearly against the the current Hashkafa.

    It’s against the Hashkafa being excercized for a veeery long time, not just the ‘current’ Hashkafa. Seems like Rambam’s advice was for the most part rejected in the historic circles with which we are most familiar.

    As to Rambam’s statement in in his hilchos talmud torah about dividing one's learning into 1/3 written torah/1/3 mishnah and 1/3 gemara, Rambam continues that this is only at the beginning of one’s learning. Later one should minimize written torah and mishnah and concentrate on gemara. IIRC Shulchan Aruch quotes the Rambam in full. This makes one wonder what would he recommend if starting one’s learning in thirds as recommended would make student drive peter out. Would he advocate a Horaat Shaah for an educational system something like that which is currently (and perhaps during other epochs in Jewish history) in vogue?

  40. Great topic. Please treat it exhaustively.

  41. Nefesh HaChaim explains that the study of Talmud in the course of time became to much Pilpul-oriented, which became detrimental to the caring for fellow man (Sha'ar 4, Perek 1). Then he analyses that it is hard to learn Talmuld with full D'vekut as the Talmud is discussing many mundane things (4:2). Then he goes on to explain how (to put it simple) one maintains the world while studying Torah, with new understanding and Pilpul, even when studying the mundane things. What bothers me is that it is hard to see how this approach does not exacerbate the problem created by the emphasis on Pilpul.

  42. I think the following relates to the idea of sustaining the world with learning.


    Our sages said (Yoma 72b): "What is meant by 'Why does the fool possess the wealth to acquire wisdom, seeing he has no understanding' (Prov. 17:16)? Woe to the enemies of Torah scholars, for they study Torah but possess no fear of G-d."

    The message is clear. Does G-d desire mere wisdom and brilliance in Torah? Does he need vain argumentation and polished, sophisticated explanations? Is not all wisdom His? Just as He has no need of candle light, so has He no need of the Torah scholar's wisdom. As our sages said (Shemot Rabbah 36:2), "It is not that I need you. Rather, shower light upon Me the way I showered light upon you." In just the same way, G-d does not need the Torah, yet He gave it to mortal men for their own good so they would subdue their egos and cling to Him. Hence if their is no fear of G-d, the Torah becomes mere wisdom, and better that man should not study it.

    (Rabbi Meir Kahane, Or HaRa'ayon - English translation - chapter 2)

  43. I've always found the most convincing argument for the position presented here as that of the Maharal and Rav Chaim Volozhiner to be the very form of the Gemara itself.

    Chazal could have chosen to 'publish' a comprehensive code of laws or a textbook sort of summary of concepts, but instead they gave us the Talmud, which is full of discussions, imaginary and far-out cases, analysis of opinions which are not accepted as halacha, etc. etc. (To me, the idea that this just "happened" by historical circumstance is very unconvincing.)

    I agree that there is much extremism in today's yeshiva world, but many here seem to be very ready to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

  44. My fear about the whole culture of denigrating any practical purpose to learning Torah, is that it can potentially lead to a disregard of any attempt to improve the world around you. I know the retort is that there is somehow a ripple effect from the learning itself, which I don't doubt, but it would be nice to see a greater emphasis placed on visible, tangible efforts to improve the world, human relations, and foster the betterment of society.

    At the risk of starting a political fight, I will add that often people make what they see as "efforts to improve the world, human relations, and foster the betterment of society" which end up being the most destructive acts imaginable. Think about Marxism, for example, a movement which unfortunately is far from dead even today.

    I personally heard Rav Soloveitchik say more than once that the Jewish way of improving the world is always with small, often unknown acts of self-sacrifice rather than with the big, dramatic movements for so-called "social justice", and that the detailed study of Halacha as opposed to abstract concepts of "mussar" is the cause of this Jewish attitude. This is also the major theme of the Chazon Ish's little booklet on Emunah.

  45. Besides the Gemara itself, the Rishonim who take the approach to learning of 'pilpul' (in its best sense), i.e., the Tosafos and various Chiddushei HaRishonim (Ramban, Rashba, Ritva, etc.) also speak to us by example and thereby disagree with the approach attributed to Ibn Kaspi of looking at Limud Torah as merely a practical necessity. This trend is, of course continued and magnified in the Acharonim. Does anyone really think that R. Akiva Eger only learned the way he did because of what the Maharal and R. Chaim Volozhiner said?

  46. I'm surprised no one quoted the Ramchal on Torah learning. He wrote an entire book, Derech Chochmah explaining in detail and inclusively what to learn, in what order and what it does for us. Bottom line is that learning what we would call nowadays nigleh is in order to know what to do. Once we know what to do we should spend most of our time learning what we call nowadays nistar and what he calls Elohiyus which he explains has two positive results. One is that it's a mitzvah in and of itself (as opposed to other types of chochma which while necessary, there is no mitzvah that is integral to learning them.) The second is that it brings one to shleimus. He makes a sharp distinction between this learning and learning Torah in order to know what to do, where there is only one positive thing about it - that it's a mitzvah of learning Torah. In other words, he says clearly that learning nigleh does not bring one to shleimus. This is quite a radical diversion from what you were taught in Yeshiva and is probably a pretty good answer to all those who were taught that learning nigleh is tapping the mind of the Divine etc.

    By the way, the Rambam also writes that after getting a firm foundation in Torah, one should spend the rest of his days studying Talmud which he defines inclusively as well to include Pardes or what we would call Kabbala, nistar, etc. (Yad Talmud Torah 1:12 and also Yesodei HaTorah 4:13 and in Pirush HaMishnayos he talks about it at length) It's a shame this stuff is not studied in Yeshivos. Most of the confusion would be cleared up.

    By the way, your experience in Yeshiva is very very recent. Until WWII, Yeshivos in Europe even Lithuanian Yeshivos learned much much more than nowadays. For example, in Baranovich, they would learn the entire maseches Kesubos beiyun in one year. This was not atypical.


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