Sunday, September 8, 2013

Over-Emphasizing The Truly Important

Can the importance of something that is really important be over-emphasized?

Yes, of course it can. As long as something is not the only matter of importance, it is possible to over-emphasize its importance. The engine is by far the most important component of a car; but it is possible to over-emphasize the importance of the engine.

Still, when something is really important, and is not taken at all seriously enough by many people, and especially if it is something that defines one's social group, then some people will naturally be hostile to the proposal that it is being over-emphasized. And so I expect that this post, and the series of posts that it launches, will receive a great deal of opposition.

Twenty years ago, the head of a well-known school in Jerusalem told me why he decided to reject Religious Zionism and join the Charedi world. He said that while yishuv ha'aretz is important, it seemed a perversion of Judaism to take one mitzvah and define one's entire religious life around it.

Without commenting on that directly, it seems to me that the Charedi world, which often refers to itself (in exclusion to the Religious-Zionist and Modern/Centrist Orthodox) as the community of "Torah Jews," does the exact same thing with regard to a different mitzvah. I am talking, of course, about the mitzvah of Talmud Torah.

Beginning about two centuries ago, and accelerating in the last few decades, the mitzvah of Torah study has been dramatically transformed in both the importance attached to it, and in the very nature and function of the act itself. With regard to the latter aspect, I introduced this topic a few months ago, in a post entitled Learning Torah: Rationalism Vs. Mysticism, when I discussed the difference between the rationalist and non-rationalist/ mystical approaches to Judaism with regard to avodas Hashem, the service of God. Rationalists understand the purpose of mitzvos, and religious life in general, as furthering intellectual and moral goals for the individual and society. Mystics agree that mitzvos provide intellectual and moral benefits, but see their primary function as performing mechanistic manipulations of spiritual or celestial forces. Examples of this difference are the mitzvos of mezuzah, netilas yadayim, and shiluach hakein.

Another example is the mitzvah of learning Torah. For the rationalist Rishonim (as well as for Chazal), learning Torah serves to increase one's knowledge, and to refine one's character, via moral lessons and learning the commandments. (See my post on The Rishonim on Torah Study.) With the rise of mysticism, on the other hand, came a new and primary function of Torah study. As expressed by R. Chaim of Volozhin in Nefesh HaChaim, the primary function of Torah study was now seen as being to metaphysically sustain the universe, via the creation of spiritual "worlds." Another aspect of this transformation is that learning Torah became an end unto itself. (See my post on The Goal of Torah Study.)

A few months ago, I met a successful Torah educator who said to me, "The charedi world has made learning Torah into an avodah zarah." I wouldn't have phrased it that way myself. But the ramifications of the difference between the rationalist and mystical views of Torah study, which relate to the increase in importance that has recently been given to Torah study, are vast and often catastrophic. In future posts (not necessarily consecutive), I will be discussing examples of this phenomenon.

67 comments:

  1. I couldn't agree more. Torah learning (which today basically means learning sugyos that have zero relevance to life) has become so overvalued, it's ridiculous.

    A generation ago, your average baal habas barely learned but strived to be a good member of the community and a good family man. Today, all of that is secondary. "Kovea itim" and learning Daf Yomi are now the most important.

    I would say the increased popularity of Daf Yomi is a symptom of the problem you mentioned. In a more normal world, a "yomi" program for a baal habas would be halacha, Tanach, or general hashkfa. It wouldn't be how much a person pays when his ox gores a cow.

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  2. I moved to RBS A almost two years ago. We enrolled 12 year old in local "moderate" Chareidi cheder.

    After a few weeks my son sighed and said, "Ta, they've made Torah into HaShem."

    The Yerushalmi says that its better for a person to be stillborn than to be one who "learns lo' l'man l'asot".

    Interestingly, the Bavli states its better for a person to be stillborn that to be one who "learns lo' lishma".

    IMHO, now that we have the gift of living in our land, its time for the transition from lishma to l'asot.

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  3. been complaining about this too, but our Chazal caused this by way too many ma'amarim that can easily be read to say that all that matters is learning torah.
    If they had true "Ruach Hakodesh" they would have tempered down things like talmud torah k'neged kulam, or explictly said when learned for use in the world/character development (in parenthesis). I think this is one of today's biggest tests, going to the daf or watching your kids for an hour so your wife can rest and u can have some real time growing with them.

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  4. I have always thought that the statement "Eretz Israel is only one mitzvah of the Torah" shows a complete misunderstanding of the whole concept of "Eretz Israel". It is not simply living in Eretz Israel. It involves BUILDING A STATE, brining in millions of Jews from the Exile, providing housing and employment for them, providing defense for the population and making an infrastructure for them (water, power, transportation, health system, communications, RELIGIOUS SERVICES, TORAH EDUCATION etc). This is not merely "just one more mitzvah", it is an all-encompassing endeavor. Some Jews simply turn their back on the whole project, thinking it is too difficult, but, fortunately, enough Jews did take this seriously enough, even to the point of sacrificing their lives for this "single mitzvah" that all of us, INCLUDING THE TORAH-OBSERVANT COMMUNITY are benefitting from it today, INCLUDING JEWS WHO ARE STILL LIVING IN THE EXILE.

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  5. Talmud torah keneged kulum

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  6. Yishuv ha'aretz keneged kulam.

    (That's also a Chazal, by the way.)

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  7. RS - I submit that perhaps it's BOTH - maybe Torah is important because it "serves to increase one's knowledge, and to refine one's character, via moral lessons and learning the commandments" AND because it "metaphysically sustains the universe." I get the feeling, from many of your writings, that you see it as one or the other.

    Personally I agree with the head of the well-known school in Jerusalem AND with the successful Torah educator. No one mitzvah can replace all the mitzvos. And you don't have to go very far back to find sources, even in the chareidi world, that say as much. How about this one that I came across just this past shabbos, by the Alter of Slabodka? "Menucha brings us to oneg Shabbos . . . even by sleeping one can fulfill the mitzva of menucha . . . Learning Torah on shabbos is not only pushed aside for oneg shabbos, if it causes annulment of pleasures it is also chilul shabbos! And not only that, but even sleeping on shabbos pushes aside the mitzvah of learning Torah . . . " Nice.

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  8. Mystics see it as both. Rationalists see it as only the former.

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  9. Whoops. Guess I'm a mystic then.

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  10. "He said that while yishuv ha'aretz is important, it seemed a perversion of Judaism to take one mitzvah and define one's entire religious life around it."

    That's kind of a funny statement because when a person lives in Israel, yishuv ha'aretz does define his entire life (and therefore religious life) whether he likes it or not, and whether he sees it that way or not. That is simply a practical reality as a result of living there.

    Unfortunately, the attempt to somehow disconnect that fact and experience from reality produces a disjointed misunderstanding of life and produces a confusion and uncertainty about what exactly we are supposed to do or accomplish as a nation. A type of cognitive dissonance. This happens also in the religious zionist world, but obviously happens to a greater extent in the haredi world where they have tried to excise nationalism from Judaism due to galut mentality and political rivalry with the "mizrahi."

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  11. Learning Torah vs. being taught Torah.

    Using driving your car as an allegory if I may.
    One driver will log on to MapQuest download directions and simply follow them.
    Another driver not having access to a computer will by his own wits navigate through the streets to find his destination.

    One student is being taught Torah. He is told 'this is what that Rabbi said' and 'that is what this Rabbi said' etc. Just simply being told what to believe, what is Torah, and what is not according to the will of another, i.e. simply following directions. Call this mysticism, call it what you want.

    Then there are those who's Rabbis guide their students to navigate through the Torah using their own wit and developing their minds when searching and probing through the vast storage of worldly knowledge. Together reaching higher and higher levels in Torah learning. I call this rationalism.

    The former will never develop to the level of the latter.

    What does the Rabbi answer when asked in the morning "where are you going?" Does he answer "I am going to teach Torah to my students" or "I am going to learn Torah with my students".

    Whether valid to our times or not, there is a meaning and purpose for everything we do as Jews. The problem with most if not all Torah learning institutions is they do not teach the purpose nor give meaning to most of our traditions and Torah learnings, and therefore are being lost and forgotten. Yes, you will hear a lot of mumbo jumbo and the word choke often being used. But when scrutinized it takes on the sound of pure ignorance.

    Simply said, without meaning and understanding there is no rationalism nor so called mysticism learning methods.

    This is what I believe the 'successful' Torah educator who said to you meant with, "The charedi world has made learning Torah into an avodah zarah."
    o

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  12. I forgot to mention one other thing about the last generation of baal habatim: the value of work.

    A TIDE Jew (which most Jews were by default until 30 years ago)views his work in the world as part of his mission as a Jew and a human being and feels fulfilled by working.

    A modern-day yeshivish Jew sees working as a means to an end. He does it to "earn a buck." The only thing that makes his day meaningful is when he comes home and gets to learn Bava Kamma for an hour with his chavrusa.

    To me, the essential difference between a yeshivish Jew and a TIDE Jew is what he would do if he won the lottery. A TIDE Jew would continue working while a yeshivish Jew would quit and learn Bava Kamma all day.

    I yearn for the good old days when being a good Jew had almost nothing to do with how much non-relevant Gemara you learned at night or on the subway.

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  13. Chassidim HarishonimSeptember 9, 2013 at 1:10 AM

    Similarly to some of the other commenters, I've heard it said that in B'nei Brak they serve the Torah ("zay deenen dee tayreh") instead of serving Hashem. Seems like this thought has been making the rounds.

    Some of the early Chassidic writers make similar points about Torah learning having been over-emphasized at the expense of avoda, at the expense of pnimiyut hanefesh, and at the expense of truly serving G-d.

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  14. I would just like to point out that, if we want to differentiate ourselves from the Haredi world and sound more educated and knowledgable, we should try to avoid Yiddishisms in our English. I’m referring specifically to the use of ‘learn’ in place of ‘study’. Each word has a specific usage, but people often use ‘learn’ the way it’s used in Yiddish, rather than in English. When you’re engaged in the act of acquiring Torah knowledge, you’re studying it, not learning it. See, for example this explanation.

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  15. Let's recall that nine hours of Torah study a day (a la Rambam) is not considered "overemphasizing" it.

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  16. > Beginning about two centuries ago, and accelerating in the last few decades, the mitzvah of Torah study has been dramatically transformed in both the importance attached to it, and in the very nature and function of the act itself.

    Wouldn’t that also be true of the split between the Perushim and the Tzedukim? While the Mishna claims that “Talmud torah k’neged kulam,” that was written by an heir to the populist movement which elevated things like learning torah, which is in theory available to everyone, over the rituals of the Beis HaMikdash, which were only available to kohanim.

    While I agree that the kollel movement and learning as the central focus of Judaism for the masses is a new interpretation of the religion, if you take the long view, everything was a new interpretation new at some point. You can complain that kollel is less than ideal for various practical reasons, you can’t complain that kollel is bad because it’s new without also granting that the entire notion of a populist religion is bad because it’s “new.”

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  17. I really enjoyed this post and look forward to more on the same topic.

    However, I think it's a mistake to overemphasize the change that has taken place over the last 200 years.

    The biggest and most fundamental change took place a long time ago. There is absolutely no indication in the תורה שבכתב that there is value in learning Torah for the sake of learning. The psukim of ושננתם לבניך clearly refer to very specific items handed down to Bnei Yisrael via Moshe Rabeinu on that day. והגית בו יומן ולילה (another oft-quoted pasuk) is in Yehoshua and clearly states that the goal is to know how to observe Mitzvot.

    Yet somehow, Chazal turned all of this into a Mitzva to learn for learning's sake. I would argue that the first evidence of this is in Tehillim. Later, we find statements like תלמוד תורה כנגד כולם - but where in the Torah does it say that it's a mitzva in the first place?!

    I have no idea how or why this intellectual leap was made, but it happened long ago. I assume there are papers analyzing the evolution of this Mitzva, such as Rabbi Dr. Twersky's, that go back to the תורה שבכתב.

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  18. Thanks for this. It's liberating. Another fallout of this "obsession" is the pressure on Baal Habatim.

    There is such community and peer pressure in orthodox communities, to spend every free minute learning. Commuting on the train, you have to learn daf yomi, in the car, an endless series of Torah tapes. When you get home from a long day at work, you have to run to a shiur. Forget that you don't have time to help the kids with their homework or your exhausted wife with some housework. You have to learn, learn, learn.

    I know guys in the US who would get home at 9 at night and run straight to a Shiur, not even seeing their younger kids before they went to bed. And of course the wives are pressured to accept and encourage this, no matter how difficult it is on them.

    I'm not saying people shouldn't set aside *some* time for learning. But that time should be appropriate and productive. (I can't tell you how many shiurim I "slept" through.)

    In general, we should be living the life the Torah proscribes, which can't really be done if all we're doing is learning about it.

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  19. I cannot overemphasize the importance of good grammar.

    What a crock. I could easily overemphasize the importance of good
    grammar. For example, I could say: "Bad grammar is the leading cause
    of slow, painful death in North America," or "Without good grammar, the
    United States would have lost World War II."
    -- Dave Barry, "An Utterly Absurd Look at Grammar"

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  20. וכמו שאמרו, אם רואה אדם שיסורים באים עליו יפשפש במעשיו. פשפש ולא מצא יתלה בביטול תורה (ברכות ה). והדקדוש מפורסם באם יש בו ביטול תורה איך קאמר פשפש ולא מצא? אלא, יתלה בביטול תורה, הכוונה, שלא רצה לעסוק במצות ה׳, ובצרכי הציבור מפני שהתירא מביטול תורה, וזה עוון פלילי, כי כל התורה לא באה אלא ללמד לבני אדם להועיל ולהיטב לאחרים ולא להתיראות ולחוש לעצמו בלבד
    הרבי מקאצק-

    (Cited by אברהם פרייס in אמרי אברהם, פרשת חיי שרה, דרשה ב, אות יא)

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  21. The problem with the Hareidi world is not simply its overemphasis of limud Torah, but rather the fact that their limud Torah is so narrow in scope.

    Ask a person who has learnt for 20 years in the Hariedi system a question in Tanach, Mishna, Aggada, and, yes, Halacha - beyond "what to do", they are limited in their knowledge of the background and context of the original sources, especially in cases of mahloket - they do not learn the sources for each side of an issue. (Rav Henkin's book "Understanding Tzniut" explains this limitation in one context).

    In the Hareidi school system, we did do not learn the historical context of Tanach, Mishna, Gemara and Halacha. We did not learn Rambam, and we did not learn that there is such a thing as hilchot shecheinim and hilchot melachim (which affect how we should look at taxes and government ).

    I will admit that part of the reason I moved to Bet Shemesh instead of a yishuv was that I also felt that the Dati-Leumi world was treating the political issue of Eretz Yisrael haSheleima as if it were the only issue. But in the dati-leumi world, as in the Hareidi world, there are many other projects going on.

    Additionally, in the Dati- Leumi world, there is sherut leumi, army, absorbing olim from Ethiopia and Russia into the schools, volunteering for MDA and the fire department while in high school, not just as things to do, but as principles and issues with which to grapple and to learn relevant Torah perspectives in order to do these thigns correctly. Yes, we are very involved politically, and we try to teach our children to Never Stand By Silently - whether abotu Eretz Yisrael HaSheleima, demanding Pollard's release or, at the other end, decrying the release of terrorists.

    But most importantly, the Dati-leumi world admits that we all encounter challenges, that there is more than one issue in life, that Torah priorities are not always clear-cut and balck-and-white - that Torah-looking Jews might do things incorrectly; and we have to be open about the challenges in order to make Medinat Yisrael so much more than simply a refuge for persecuted Jews. The Dati Leumi world includes leaders who want to make medinat Yisrael a Torah State in terms of tax laws, accessibility for the handicapped, etc. The Torah our children learn raises questions of Shabbat vs security (may one go to a non-jewish doctor?), kashrut vs respect for parents, kol isha vs halbanat panim, emunat hachamim vs giving in to molestation, lashon hara vs the legal obligation to report suspected abuse. True Torah is complex. Hareidi Torah is simpler, because it doesn't cover all the bases.

    Among the organizations which are unmatched in the Hareidi world, because they talk about the real issues that face real Torah Jews, are Tzohar and the staff at Olam Katan (weekly newsletter and monthly magazine for youth and their parents and teachers).
    That we as a community are willing to take on all the topics that these two groups bring to our attention every week, ensures that we do emphasize MANY facets and aspects of Torah.

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  22. Personally, I love learning and wish that I had more time to do so. However, I work full time and only have a few hours at most each day. I can't fathom how people can feel uncomfortably pressured to learn "too much". How can people feel pressured to do something so enjoyable and rewarding? Are they also performing other mitzvos largely due to social pressure and not belief? I barely see my kids because of my job. Not seeing your family because you're going to a shiur is no worse, at least.

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  23. Benzion, this may come as a shock, but not everyone enjoys learning. It's wonderful for you that you do. Think of something you don't enjoy doing then imagine peer, communal, and societal pressure coercing you to spend hours doing it, and taking you away from other things you do enjoy to boot!

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  24. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik explained the concept of “Talmud Torah k’Neged Kulam” as meaning
    that it brings the person
    to do all the other mitzvot. (The Rav Thinking Aloud, p. 69)

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  25. I went to Haredi BT yeshivot where you'd think they'd introduce us to the religion in general. Rather, we did nothing but Gemara study of a few pages without agadah. We learned no halcaha and very little about religious principles other than the greatness of learning. We didn't even learn much about God. We learned about gadolim.

    The stress on learning today is avodah zara. The Satan always finds a way to trick us.

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  26. Almoini said...
    Yishuv ha'aretz keneged kulam.

    (That's also a Chazal, by the way.)
    ------

    Where is this located?

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  27. The basic meaning of lo lishma is learning for ego or fame.

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  28. How can you do the mitzvah of "veshinantam levanecha" if you don't see your kids? You think sending them to school is sufficient? Perhaps for "velimadtem otam" it is, but not "veshinantam".

    As for the E. Yisrael issue: there were about 20 years where it was the single mitzvah that all DL efforts were focused on. B"H that is no longer the case. (The hitnatkut was a major blow, but the change happened even before that)

    To the English purist: I disagree. This linguistic community accepts the usage of "learn Torah" for the very specific intellectual/emotional experience of involvement in Torah, which is quite different from the word "study".

    R' Natan, good luck in this latest quest. R' Copperman (shli"ta), the founder of Michlala, used to like to shock his students by saying that all "isms" are potentially Avoda Zara - socialism, communism, ... Zionism. I suppose this would be true for "Torah-ism".

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  29. Benzion, I’m currently in the middle of a 400-page book on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg. I think it’s fascinating, but I’m well aware that most people would find the detailed descriptions of strategy meetings and troop movements incredibly boring. In the same way that I find most gemaros boring. Different people have different interests.

    The attitude you display is a pernicious thing about learning in the Chareidi community. Not only is learning THE most important thing, not only are yeshiva bochurim required to spend most of their day learning gemara, but you have to enjoy it, too. And if you don’t there must be something wrong with you!

    > I barely see my kids because of my job. Not seeing your family because you're going to a shiur is no worse, at least.

    Yes it is. Going to your job directly benefits your kids – you’re earning money to feed and clothe them and buy them treats. Going to a shiur only benefits you.

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  30. In the 1920's, my uncle Nathan Isaacs wrote a well known essay, "Study as a Mode of Worship," in which he proudly pointed out that Judaism was the only religion that attached religious significance to the study of law. How shocked and saddened he would be to find that in some circles, Torah study has morphed into avodah zarah.

    One symptom of the problem is seen in shuls where some men sit with an open gemara during davening, and I don't mean only during chazarat ha-shatz. I try to give them a kaf zechut and imagine that they have already davened somewhere else, but this still does not excuse the disrespect that they are showing to others and to the tefillah itself. A gemara is not a siddur, people!

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  31. I'm surprised it's taken you so long to get around to addressing this. It's the foundation of the problem upon which so many other problems are based. I'm sure you will give some examples, but just to give a few:

    1. Tuition. This has only become a problem (I mean a REAL problem) because so many students are children of kollel yungermen, and everyone else is subsidizing them. Likewise, community resources - ie, gvirim - are diverted to kollels, rather than more primary needs.

    2. At risk youth. This problem has many roots, but undoubtedly one chief one is the imposition of unrealistic "learning" expectations at earlier and ever-earlier ages. A lot of kids are simply saying "enough."

    Even the burka ladies problem has its roots in the fetishization of "learning." An entire community is being supported largely by their wives, in direct opposition to traditional standards of tznius. Is it any wonder that normal notions of tznius has broken down?

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  32. "I met a successful Torah educator who said to me, "The charedi world has made learning Torah into an avodah zarah." I wouldn't have phrased it that way myself."

    I would. I would, and if I had this blog, I would use it to say that exact same point, over and over and over.

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  33. I am glad we are seeing a frank discussion of these matters.
    I am currently attending Daf Yomi, and have in the past attended it for several years, and, honestly, the more time that goes by, the less I understand why ba'alei batim are so attracted by Talmud. I have heard that expecting all young men to spend a considerable part of their education studying Talmud would be like expecting all college students to get a law degree in addition to their real subject of interest.
    I heard Rav Pinhas Heyman, the orignator of the controversial Revadim Talmud study system that the Talmud was NEVER intended to be studied linearly, as is done in Daf Yomi, yet this is considered a praiseworthy use of one's study time. Honestly, I prefer an interesting shiur in halacha. I know a brillian Rav who gives interesting shiurim on how the halacha is developed from the basic sources. He doesn't "learn the gemara", he pulls out the relevant sections and then shows the development down through the Rishonim and to the Acharonim. I find this approach much more interesting and satisfying. It doesn't necessarily have to be "halacha l'ma'aseh", it can be other things such as the Laws of the Beit HaMikdash or Hilchot Melachim, but I think it is a better use of a ba'al habayit's study time.

    PS. I have really been invogorated by discovering the "New Tanach Studies" of Rav Yaakov Meidan, Rav Yoel Bin-Nun and Rav Mordechai Breuer. They really make the Torah come alive for me. Going back to the pshat of the basic Mikra (TANACH) really sheds a lot of light on what original Torah perspectives were on many matters, on which much extraneous things were attached over the generations, a good example being the current discussion of what studying Torah is supposed to accomplish, or what a true Jewish leader is really like.

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  34. In scientific studies, there is often a distinction between what are called "Theoretical" studies and "Applied Studies". For example, in most universities today you can find Theoretical Physics and Applied Physics. My issue with study as the "only" mitzvah is that it is almost without fail, theoretical in scope...it only resides within the ivory tower of the yeshiva. What we need to remember is that Judaism is meant to be applied in the real world.

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  35. PMEM, I believe he is referring to this Sifrei (and variants in various midrashim):


    וירשתם אותה וישבתם בה ושמרתם לעשות את כל החקים האלה אמרו ישיבת ארץ ישראל שקולה כנגד כל המצות שבתורה

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  36. "Almoini said...
    Yishuv ha'aretz keneged kulam.

    (That's also a Chazal, by the way.)
    ------

    Where is this located?"


    PMEM,
    I haven't seen that literal phrase, but I have seen something similar. See Rashi, Ramban and R' Bachya on ושמתם את דברי on how only in ארץ ישראל is there a real fulfillment of מצות. They're talking about all מצות, not just those dependent on the Land. This very much dovetails with your citation of RYBS.

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  37. G*3. what's the name of the book?

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  38. It's clear from the Gemara itself in countless places that it was not meant to be studied by everyone. But this is obvious.

    Along with the negative side-effects I mentioned briefly above, you might mention also the decline in respect for the rabbinate. When less people were learning, people had more respect for the learned. Nowadays, when everyone is learning, the gap between the rabbinate and the laity is minuscule, and in many cases non-existent.

    This too, contributes to the phenomenon of kids from religious backgrounds leaving religion. Its because they know too much. That's complicated philosophically, but there you go.

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  39. I believe that the reason there is such an emphasis on learning is because people are still trying to recover from the loss of great torah scholars. I just wish there was more emphasis on quality than quantity. Also, some of you have addresses mentioned the over emphasis on gemara. The best response is to try to give our children a well rounded Jewish education. Teach them about midos, the importance of chesed and lead by example

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  40. 1) The Rambam clearly did not think it was important for most people to study Gemara, which is why he wrote the Mishneh Torah -- so that you could skip the Gemara. He writes that explicitly.

    2) Rabbi Marc Angel compares people who recluse themselves and study Torah their whole lives to people who study a swimming manual without ever bothering to enter a pool.

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  41. "Gettysburg, Day Three"

    http://www.amazon.com/Gettysburg-Day-Three-Jeffry-Wert/dp/0684859157/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1378767816&sr=8-1&keywords=gettysburg+day+three

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  42. Yehudah, you completely misrepresent the rambams attitude toward gemera, please read rambam hilchos talmud torah perek Aleph halacha yud beis, as well as the number of iggros he wrote explaining his claim in his intro to the yad (the exact names of the iggeros allude me as of now, but I will get back to you with the specific titles)

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  43. The centrality of Torah in the Chareidi world reflects the centrality of Torah in Torah.

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  44. Yehudah said, "The Rambam clearly did not think it was important for most people to study Gemara, which is why he wrote the Mishneh Torah -- so that you could skip the Gemara. He writes that explicitly."

    Rambam in Hilchos Talmud Torah (1:15) says that after a person has divided his time between Tanach, Mishneh, and Talmud, and covered them, he should spend his time almost exclusively on Talmud.
    וייפנה כל ימיו לתלמוד בלבד, לפי רוחב ליבו ויישוב דעתו.

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  45. The centrality of Torah in the Chareidi world reflects the centrality of Torah in Torah.

    Eh? No it doesn't.

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  46. "I believe that the reason there is such an emphasis on learning is because people are still trying to recover from the loss of great torah scholars."

    With due respect to the commenter, there is no truth to this assertion. Both before and after the Holocaust (but espeically after) there was never any time in which there were not many great scholars in America. There are way, way more Torah scholars per capita than there ever were in Europe, and that's been true for many years already.

    This type of defense - "we have to make up for the Holocaust" - is an ex post rationale created to try to justify the growth of Lakewood (etc.) from a tiny grouping, to the behemoth, resource-sucking phenomenon it has metastasized into. But that it is NOT why the roshei yeshivas who came over founded yeshivas. They founded yeshivas because of two reasons: 1) that is all they knew, and 2) that is what they believed in. They would have started yeshivas even if there were already hundreds in existence. That's why the chidlren, and grandchildren of these men are still today involved in kollels and yeshivas. Because they beleive in it, and it's all they know how to do.

    I feel this is the most important issue of our time, because so many problems have resulted from idolizing and over-idealizing Torah learning. The Midrash teaches that the Satan who fought with Yaakov appeared to him in the guise of a Torah scholar. Fighting the excesses of Reform was easy, because the religious Jews were fighting "the other" (in philosophical terms.) Fighting the excesses of fellow orthodox Jews is that much harder, but just as necessary.

    (The "yahoo.com" comment was mine. Sorry, that's the generic website I usally put in the box, put it in the wrong one.)

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  47. Yehudah P and FSG:
    In Rambam's day, a significant portion of the community did not know how to read, yet less learn anything inside. A step up from there were the Jews who knew how to read a siddur and chumash. Most of them would never have the time to get through Tanach in their lifetime to reach the point where they could focus on Talmud. Only the elite would reach the point that they have mastered Tanach and Mishneh and could then focus on Talmud.

    In the introduction to Mishneh Torah he states that he wrote it so that someone who wants to know how to live their life can learn what they need to know without having to comprehend the corpus of Talmud and subsequent writings and learn to derive the halacha l'maaseh. (I don't have Rambam at work to offer an exact quote.) It was apparently written for the average Jew, from the middle group, that was not expected to reach the point where they would master Talmud.

    So, while it's true Rambam valued the study of Talmud as others have said, it also was not regarded as being of primary importance for everyone.

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  48. Y. Ben-David

    If you are looking for English sources for the 'New School' I suggest the Tanach Podcast classes by Rabbi Moshe Shulman (a talmid of Rabbis Medan and Bin-Nun) in St. Louis
    http://www.youngisrael-stl.org/learning.php

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  49. Benjamin Brown in his interesting book on the Chazon Ish explains the current yeshivish view coherently and with some insight.

    http://www.amazon.com/Halakhist-Believer-Leader-Revolution-Edition/dp/9654935287/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1378830556&sr=1-1-fkmr0&keywords=chazon+ish


    Other deeper variations can be found in the Nefesh Hachaim and in the kabbalistic works of Reb Shlomo Eliyashiv. ej

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  50. Chazal say that Torah learning is equal to all the other mitvzot.

    But of course Chazal also said that about various other things -- including settling the land of Israel!

    For this reason, these statements (saying X is the equivalent of all the other mitzvot) cannot be taken literally, as an excuse to focus on that one mitzvah while neglecting others.

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  51. Ahg, I agree with you a hundred percent that the rambam believed that not everyone should be learning gemera. However I think that de-emphasizing the importance of gemera and believing it to be equal to other areas of jewish study is not at all what the rambam intended, as seen in his comments in talmud torah and his iggeres to rav pinchas hadayan. Also look at rav sheilat's footnotes to the iggeres to rav yosef.
    Also rav slifkin, what do you think of the rav's understanding of torah as the ultimate expression of gods wisdom thereby giving its student an unprecedented opportunity to comprehend god's thought. Would you reject this metaphysical value of torah as well?

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  52. Most learning is learning human thought - Chazal, Rishonim, and Acharonim - not God's thought.

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  53. So you would view learning Chumash as having metaphysical value? Also, presumably you would agree (per Rambam) that torah shebaal peh was also god given, so at the very least derashos chazal would also have this metaphysical quality.

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  54. Not sure what you mean by "metaphysical." I was addressing your claim that learning Torah is learning God's mind.

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  55. metaphysical as in having value above and beyond mere utilitarian purposes.

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  56. "And so I expect that this post, and the series of posts that it launches, will receive a great deal of opposition."
    I think that will be the case only (well, maybe just for the most part) if you forget to remind your readers how very, very important Torah study is, and to be encouraging of such study. You might not be pushing for nine hours a day, but still...

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  57. > That's why the chidlren, and grandchildren of these men are still today involved in kollels and yeshivas.

    That, to me, is one of the strangest things about the kollel system. I would think that an intuition devoted to scholarship would want the greatest scholar it could find at its head. Yet the Rosh Yeshiva is often not necessarily the greatest scholar the yeshiva produced, but is instead the son of the last Rosh Yeshiva.

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  58. Someone posted that he loves learning Torah. I suspect that part of the reason that kollelim continue to exist is that , for many people, it is more pleasurable to "learn" (with no tests, no practical application" than to deal with REAL WORK.

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  59. ahg said, "It was apparently written for the average Jew, from the middle group, that was not expected to reach the point where they would master Talmud."

    I remember a letter from the Rambam where he advises someone who doesn't understand some of the halachot in the Mishneh Torah, to look up the source in the Rif--again, probably meaning that the person the letter was addressed to wasn't proficient at learning Gemara. So it's true that for the general populace then, the Gemara must have been a closed book.

    But that doesn't mean that Talmud study had in any way become "unimportant" after the writing of the Mishneh Torah.

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  60. Chana, can we do better than "I suspect"?

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  61. Yishai, wrote:

    "For this reason, these statements (saying X is the equivalent of all the other mitzvot) cannot be taken literally, as an excuse to focus on that one mitzvah while neglecting others."

    Yishai, one can make an argument that the charedi world is in fact neglecting other mitzvot in its obsession with theoretical style learning, I grant you. We've seen that from many comments here. But the argument I hear from people about the Mizrahnikim supposedly neglecting other mitzvot is usually just a way of saying "I don't agree that settling the land is as important as such and such" or "We should do land for peace." Because what mitzvot are they truly neglecting in their prioritizing of Jewish nationalism and settlement of EY? They are actually pretty well-rounded people in general, no? In my opinion, the detractors of the settlement emphasis of the RZ world are just people who don't want to deal with the consequences of the conclusion that the RZ world draws about settling the land. People don't want to face the reality of Jewish nationhood. (forget all the footsteps of geula stuff because I'm not even referring to that pointless theoretical argument).

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  62. Rabbi Slifkin -
    I think it would be hard for an Orthodox Jew to deny any metaphysical value to mitzvot including limud torah. You can say there is no metaphysical purpose (ie learning torah's purpose is simply so that we can keep the rules of the torah, mezuzah is to remind us to keep the mitzvot, etc), but if you believe in reward for our actions from G-d, in this world and certainly in the next world, doesn't that assume metaphysical value? Isn't G-d (and the next world for that matter) about as metaphysical as you can get?

    As for Benzion's comment "I barely see my kids because of my job. Not seeing your family because you're going to a shiur is no worse, at least." I just don't get it. If you are working long hours for that big plasma TV, then I agree, it is no worse. If you are working like a dog to put food on your table, to send your kids to a good school, to keep yourself self-sufficient, etc, then yes, being an absentee father and husband so you can go to a shiur is way worse!

    OTH - G*3 says "Going to a shiur only benefits you." That is not fair either. One of the reasons I go to a shiur (besides the fact that the Rav of my shul gives a great shiur) is so that I can be a better father and teach my kids when they are ready. Of course, if you are an absentee father because you go to shiurim all the time, that would not really apply. I should also note*, issues at home always trump going to shiur. If my wife or kids need me, I have to pass on the shiur.

    *in case my wife reads this :)

    Aryeh Baer

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  63. You can say there is no metaphysical purpose (ie learning torah's purpose is simply so that we can keep the rules of the torah, mezuzah is to remind us to keep the mitzvot, etc), but if you believe in reward for our actions from G-d, in this world and certainly in the next world, doesn't that assume metaphysical value? Isn't G-d (and the next world for that matter) about as metaphysical as you can get?

    You're mixing things up. We're not talking about the reward for mitzvos (which itself is not necessarily metaphysical in a mystical sense) - we are talking about the function of the mitzvah itself.

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  64. Thank you for replying Rabbi. I do understand and appreciate the distinction you are making. I agree with you in the most practical sense - mitzvot serve a function and that is to civilize us. When I do a mitzvah, that is what I have in mind - nothing mystical about it. My point was, that if we believe that G-d rewards us - and the world at large - for being civilized human beings, can it not be said on some level, as Raffi pointed out earlier, that doing mitzvot sustain the world on a metaphysical level. I realize that is not what mystics have in mind when they view mitzvot as having a "metaphysical" value. But if we as religious individuals acknowledge G-d as extending beyond our existence and believe that He rewards us for the very physical actions we perform here in this world, that is recognizing a metaphysical "value" to the mitzvot. Not sure we are really disagreeing in the end though - though you might disagree with that statement:).

    Gmar chatima tova,
    Aryeh

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  65. It is important to understand the core values of the Torah. This paper might be of interest:

    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1951522

    --Ben Zion

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