Sunday, January 3, 2016

Torah Lishmah and Reformations of Tradition

In a thoughtful article entitled "Why The Mazer Yeshiva Program Can’t Afford to Be Lakewood," Netanel Paley argues for certain changes in the yeshivah section of YU, such that it should focus less on the sort of lomdus popular in charedi yeshivos, and more on learning that is halachically-oriented. In response, Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer, the new crusader against all things that he deems against the mesorah, argues that the ideal and traditional Torah study is precisely that which is not done in order to determine the halachah:
Torah learning in a normative sense must be lishmah – for the sake of the mitzvah to study the D’var Hashem, the Word of God. Whether this means study purely for the mitzvah of Talmud Torah (Torah Study) and nothing else, or whether it means study in order to come closer to the Divine by experiencing immersion in the waters of Torah, learning lishmah is what the yeshiva experience is all about... Such immersion in the Yam Ha-Talmud (Sea of Talmud) is at the heart of our tradition of Talmud Torah Lishmah and is the only way to truly become a meaningful link in the great Mesorah of Torah.
The problem with Rabbi Gordimer's argument is that in classical and traditional Judaism, Torah Lishmah meant no such thing!

The definitive work on this topic is Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm's comprehensive Torah Lishmah - Torah for Torah's Sake: In the Works of Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin and His Contemporaries. There one sees that the classical definition of Torah Lishmah, amongst Chazal and the Rishonim, was functional: that it referred to learning Torah in order to understand and perform the mitzvos correctly. To quote from the Gemara:
"The goal of wisdom is repentance and good deeds, so that a man should not study Torah and Mishnah and then rebel against his father and mother and teacher and his superior in wisdom and rank, as it says, 'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, a good understanding is gained by all those that do them.' It does not say, 'for all who study,' but 'for all who do,' which implies, those that do them lishmah and not shelo lishmah." (Berachos 17a, Munich MS)
And from a later source:
If a man wishes to study lishmah, what shall he intend when he studies? "Whatever I study I will practice." (Sefer Chassidim 944)
The notion that Torah Lishmah refers to "study purely for the mitzvah of Talmud Torah and nothing else" was the innovation of Rav Chaim of Volozhin, which itself was a reaction to the chassidic transfer of the focus of religious life towards spirituality. Rav Chaim's proposed source for his novel definition of Torah lishmah was a rather questionable inference from a certain statement of the Rosh, in turn based on a Talmudic passage which R. Lamm demonstrates to be an errant textual version (see note 20 on pp. 247-8, pictured at right). To quote R. Lamm: "In conclusion, then, R. Hayyim's reaction to the disturbance in the study-practice (and study-prayer) equilibrium by the hasidic initiative was to endow study with a value much greater than was attributed to it before." A fundamental component of this was to give a new definition of Torah lishmah.

Previously, I demonstrated an example, regarding rabbinic authority, of how in his efforts to preserve traditional Judaism against innovation, Rabbi Gordimer innovates an entirely new feature of Judaism. Here we have yet another example of Rabbi Gordimer, in the guise of preserving the great Mesorah of Torah and opposing reform, is in fact himself endorsing a stark reform that went against the great Mesorah of Torah.

88 comments:

  1. The haredi world is incredibly self-delusional. They rewrite history to make up any "mesorah" they want to. All the censorship, historical revision, and propaganda is just a huge cycle of lies which can't be broken in a face saving way. Better to just deal with the truth.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your comment may be correct, but Rabbi Gordimer is by no means chareidi.

      Delete
    2. He is American Charedi, ie, Lakewood. He constantly refers to his RCA membership and YU affiliation as though they established some sort of centrist bona fides, but that's like calling Louis Ginzberg a Telzer. What matters is what you believe, and Gordimers's hashkafa is basically Lakewood.

      Delete
  2. The notion that Torah Lishmah refers to "study purely for the mitzvah of Talmud Torah and nothing else" was the innovation of Rav Chaim of Volozhin, which itself was a reaction to the chassidic transfer of the focus of religious life towards spirituality.

    I wonder about this for a couple of reasons:

    1) While the Rambam was certainly a man of action, his notion of the highest level of perfection is attainment of a state of knowledge of God and his universe, not specific practical activities. He mentions that one should study how not regard lightly the knowledge of how to calculate the sighting of the new moon even though it is not practical in our day, because it comprises knowledge of important secrets. While he didn't think that the highest level of knowledge was Talmud study, he did seem to prefer knowledge over action as the ultimate goal. In fact, part of the motivation for morality was that only the moral could attain a high level of intellectual achievement.

    2) A great portion (majority?) of Torah study throughout the generations had little practical import. Certainly the study of Tanach, non-halachic Midrash, etc are not practical.

    3) A lot of the attraction of Talmud study, for those who are attracted, is not practical. I have a hard time believe that this is new.

    I'm not saying that this was always what words "Torah Lishmah" meant or that what we have now is desirable, but I think that a significant fraction of the motivation for Torah study has always been straightforward intellectual preoccupation of a religious sort.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rambam indeed believed that the ultimate goal is abstract study - but, as you indicate, this was of Greek metaphysics, not Gemara! So I don't think that he can be deemed to be presenting normative Jewish attitudes in this area.

      Delete
    2. "Rambam indeed believed that the ultimate goal is abstract study - but, as you indicate, this was of Greek metaphysics, not Gemara!"
      It was of metaphysics/philosophy AS WELL as torah.

      R Stefansky

      Delete
    3. RE your #2: As RaMBaN demonstrated, by inventing the concept of "naval birshut haTorah", the Torah as such is incomplete. Non-halachic Midrash can be taken as suggestions for filling in what is missing.

      Delete
    4. It always seemed a contradiction to me the it would be considered by the interpreters and to a certain extent by the Rambam that he equated Aristotelian metaphysics with `ma'aseh merkavah' and 'ma'seh bereshit' with Aristotelian physics.
      This would apparently be 'kefirah' as the Torah is from a prophetic source and Aristotle ostensibly believed the world is eternal and god plays no providential part in running the world and his works depended upon שכל אנושי.
      However it could be seen from the opening{s} of the Moreh that this could be a decoy for those who are not able to exercise a hermeneutic and thus the Moreh would be more of a אבן מכשל than a primer and 'goad' to learn Greek philosophy and for those who would think more of what he wrote the Aristotelian choice would fade into the background.

      Delete
    5. It always seemed a contradiction to me the it would be considered by the interpreters and to a certain extent by the Rambam that he equated Aristotelian metaphysics with `ma'aseh merkavah' and 'ma'seh bereshit' with Aristotelian physics.
      This would apparently be 'kefirah' as the Torah is from a prophetic source and Aristotle ostensibly believed the world is eternal and god plays no providential part in running the world and his works depended upon שכל אנושי.


      This is not really much of a question. The Rambam went into great detail to explain why he didn't find an Eternal universe to be compelling. In fact he anticipates more modern approaches by saying that you really can't figure out how old the world is by arguing: instead you need to actually look at it and see, which was not very possible at his time.

      Anyhow a better way to state it is that he though that "wisdom" all emanated from God and thus all wisdom was useful to come closer to Him. He happened to think that that his version of Aristotle combined with some Torah ideas were the true wisdom. If you look at the other Rishonim they likewise accepted much Greek "wisdom" such as the existence of 4 or 5 elements, form and substance, accidents and essences, spheres, humors, etc.

      Delete
    6. @Alan Rosenthal

      I think that you are probably right about that: a lot of non-practical learning can be chalked up to learning how to lead a moral life.

      Delete
    7. Rambam indeed believed that the ultimate goal is abstract study - but, as you indicate, this was of Greek metaphysics, not Gemara! So I don't think that he can be deemed to be presenting normative Jewish attitudes in this area.

      Agreed, but my point was simply that intellectual pursuit as end of its own is not a new idea. Others would latch onto Chovos Halevavos or Kabbalah or other mysteries instead.

      However, I agree that what appears to perhaps be more modern is the idea that studying halacha itself theoretically is superior to studying it for practice.

      Delete
    8. All of you who are talking about the rambam...This is what he actually says:
      Mishneh Torah, Torah Study 1:12:

      כֵּיצַד. הָיָה בַּעַל אֻמָּנוּת וְהָיָה עוֹסֵק בִּמְלַאכְתּוֹ שָׁלֹשׁ שָׁעוֹת בַּיּוֹם וּבַתּוֹרָה תֵּשַׁע. אוֹתָן הַתֵּשַׁע קוֹרֵא בְּשָׁלֹשׁ מֵהֶן בַּתּוֹרָה שֶׁבִּכְתָב וּבְשָׁלֹשׁ בַּתּוֹרָה שֶׁבְּעַל פֶּה וּבְשָׁלֹשׁ אֲחֵרוֹת מִתְבּוֹנֵן בְּדַעְתּוֹ לְהָבִין דָּבָר מִדָּבָר. וְדִבְרֵי קַבָּלָה בִּכְלַל תּוֹרָה שֶׁבִּכְתָב הֵן וּפֵרוּשָׁן בִּכְלַל תּוֹרָה שֶׁבְּעַל פֶּה. וְהָעִנְיָנִים הַנִּקְרָאִים פַּרְדֵּס בִּכְלַל הַגְּמָרָא הֵן. בַּמֶּה דְּבָרִים אֲמוּרִים בִּתְחִלַּת תַּלְמוּדוֹ שֶׁל אָדָם אֲבָל כְּשֶׁיַּגְדִּיל בְּחָכְמָה וְלֹא יְהֵא צָרִיךְ לֹא לִלְמֹד תּוֹרָה שֶׁבִּכְתָב וְלֹא לַעֲסֹק תָּמִיד בַּתּוֹרָה שֶׁבְּעַל פֶּה יִקְרָא בְּעִתִּים מְזֻמָּנִים תּוֹרָה שֶׁבִּכְתָב וְדִבְרֵי הַשְּׁמוּעָה כְּדֵי שֶׁלֹּא יִשְׁכַּח דָּבָר מִדִּבְרֵי דִּינֵי תּוֹרָה וְיִפְנֶה כָּל יָמָיו לַגְּמָרָא בִּלְבַד לְפִי רֹחַב שֶׁיֵּשׁ בְּלִבּוֹ וְיִשּׁוּב דַּעְתּוֹ:

      Delete
    9. "2) A great portion (majority?) of Torah study throughout the generations had little practical import. Certainly the study of Tanach, non-halachic Midrash, etc are not practical."

      Dude... Sorry, but if that's your take on the Tenach, then you're learning incorrectly.

      Delete
    10. "2) A great portion (majority?) of Torah study throughout the generations had little practical import. Certainly the study of Tanach, non-halachic Midrash, etc are not practical."

      Dude... Sorry, but if that's your take on the Tenach, then you're learning incorrectly.


      I can tell you that you are right because I have not learned enough Tanach. But what do you mean? Do you mean that you learn practical halachah by studying Tanach?

      Delete
    11. @Anon Charedi: How does that contradict the above? You need to study Torah so that you know all the Dinim. Once you you the dinim then you spend time in the Pardes. But the Pardes is not practical!

      Delete
    12. There is more to "practical" than halakhah. Otherwise, how does one define "qedoshim tihyu", "ve'asisa hayashar vehatov" or "vehalakhta bidrakhav"? The latter in particular Chazal derive from narrative portions of Tanakh -- Hashem clothing Adam and Chavah, etc...

      Delete
    13. "Halakhah is a floor, not a ceiling." -R' JB Soloveitchik

      I'm not "just" piping the Mussarist's (or Chassid's or neo-Chassid's) horn.

      Delete
    14. @Micha: I agree. My original statement was too focused on practical "halacha". Alan Rosenthal also pointed out that flaw in my statement.

      Delete
    15. @ David Ohsie the Rambam Says "וְיִפְנֶה כָּל יָמָיו לַגְּמָרָא בִּלְבַד" --where does he say "...Rambam indeed believed that the ultimate goal is abstract study - but, as you indicate, this was of Greek metaphysics, not Gemara!"?? He doesnt!!

      Delete
    16. He also writes: "הָעִנְיָנִים הַנִּקְרָאִים פַּרְדֵּס בִּכְלַל הַגְּמָרָא הֵן"

      Delete
  3. Careful reading of Rabbi Lamm's note does not support the statement "...R. Lamm demonstrates to be an errant textual version". What he is noting is that there is a variant girsa in the Munich manuscript etc. If one looks at the original Hebrew text of "Torah Lishmah" (p.162) he will find that Rav Chaim was using the standard girsa that conformed to that of the Vilna Gaon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the input, I did indeed overstate R. Lamm's point. However, he doesn't just note that there is a variant girsa. Rather, he shows that the variant girsa has much more support and that even our girsa is interpreted by some in line with the other, because the other girsa is more reasonable.

      Delete
    2. I'm sorry but I don't have R Lamm's sefer in front of me. What is the variant girsa? The Sifrei Ekev 48 has the same girsa, as does Midrash Tana'im Devarim 11:22, and the author of the Yalkut Shimoni also uses the same girsa.
      And, more importantly, how does it negate the understanding of Rosh?

      R Stefansky

      Delete
    3. Rabbi Lamm concludes with the following words” ועל ידי כך מזדהה היא בעיקרה עם הגירסא שלנו...ומסייעת לפרושם של הרא"ש ורבי חיים

      Delete
    4. Additional support for the girsa of לשמן: MS Vatican 110; Venice 1522; Mishnat R. Eliezer (an early source which was used by the Rambam) parsha 13, etc. In fact, this is irrelevant to the discussion. Even if the correct version is לשם שמים, as pseudo-Rashi has it, and even if we reject R. Chaim's interpretation of Rashi, that it means to exclude impure motives such as לקנטר but is not defining לשמה, it would mean that Torah study should be done for the sake of God. This doesn't tell us anything about whether Torah should be studied only for the sake of knowing practical halakha.
      R. Slifkin here quotes one source from Sefer Chasidim as representative of the "classical" view; however this ignores the fact that Chasidei Ashkenaz had their own fight against the view of the Ba'alei Tosafot about the proper method of study. (See, e.g., Haym Soloveitchik's "Three Themes in the Sefer Hasidim.") It seems that only sources he disagrees with are contextualized, historicized, and critiqued, whereas sources he agrees with are accepted as objective truth. In a previous post on this subject, R. Slifkin explained his methodology for being quick to accept the claims of academics and quick to reject the claims of the likes of R. Chaim Volozhiner: "R. Chaim had a tremendous vested interest. Halbertal has little or none." Maintaining this thesis requires its own unique form of bias. In this post, he again makes the strange claim that R. Lamm demonstrates the text of the Gemara "to be an errant textual version" when this was already pointed out to be false in the previous post. All this is to say that R. Slifkin may have some work still to do in attaining the level of objectivity required to seek the truth which R. Chaim Volozhiner as well as many earlier sources understood to be the primary goal of the mitzvah of Torah study.

      Delete
  4. Rav Gordiemr's position is an example of Haredi (Litvish) idolatry. They have two gods, the True One and His Torah.

    ReplyDelete
  5. “The notion that Torah Lishmah refers to "study purely for the mitzvah of Talmud Torah and nothing else" was the innovation of Rav Chaim of Volozhin,”
    I’m sorry R Slifkin, but it wasn’t. Granted, it is disingenuous to only present the Nefesh Hachaim’s view of Torah Lishmah, and ignore the prominent Rishonim who did not understand it thus. However it is (equally?) dishonest of you to pretend that this is an innovation of Rav Chaim of Volozhin. Firstly, there are indeed Rishonim who understood the concept of Torah Lishmah as Rav Chaim did.
    Rav Matisyahu Hayizhari (Avot 6:1 כל העוסק בתורה לשמה...)
    הוא לשמה האמתית, שהוא לקיים מצות האל ית' ולהשיג כוונתו בבריאתו המין האינושי,שהוא לשמור מצותיו, ולהשיג מידיעת הנמצאות משלמותו ית' מה שאיפשר למין האינושי להשיג, ולהיות דבק אליו תמיד לא יפרד ממנו.
    He is clear that the concept of לשמה is not to facilitate the performance of mitzvot, but rather the pursuit for knowledge and understanding. (The words שהוא לשמור מצוותיו do not mean that this is the goal of Torah study, but rather this is the purpose of the creation of man, knowledge which one gains through Torah study, which in turn, is to understand God, as much as one can. Read it carefully).
    Rav Yitzchak Aramah (Akeidat Yitzchak Parshat Shemini)
    וזה שמי שעוסק בתורה לשמה ולתכלית עצמיותה הנה הוא מקפיד עליה מאד ומחשיבה ומוקרה ומודה ומשבח תמיד למי ששם עמלו בה... אמנם מי שהעסק וההשתדלות בה אינו על זה הענין אלא שמתעסק בה לפי שנמצא בידו זה העסק מזולתו או שפונה לתכליות אחרות הנה באמת לא חשקה נפשו בעצם וראשונה בעסק ההוא...
    He seems to understand that the concept of Torah Lishmah is Torah which is studied לתכלית עצמיותה (for its’ own purpose – and not to facilitate mitzvah performance). He also indicates further that one who studies לשמה is one who חשקה נפשו בעצם וראשונה בעסק ההוא - once again, solely for the עסק (endeavor) itself.
    Rav Avraham ben HaRambam (Teshuvot 82)
    שהעוסקים במחקר בשאלות ההלכה ובעיון בעניני הדת צריך שתהיה כונת כל אחד מהם להגיע אל האמת ולחזר מהפכה ולא נצחון הסברה שבאה להם והדעה שעלתה במחשבתם. כי זהו מעשה אנשי הדת שהם עוסקים בתורה לשמה, כלומר בקשת האמת, לא בקשת הנצחון.
    He writes that תורה לשמה the pursuit of truth through Torah study; although since his intention is to criticize those whose aim is to defend their own position as opposed to objectively searching for the truth, this might not be a conclusive reflection of his stance on Torah study being a goal unto itself vis-à-vis a means to performance. (However, his understanding of the word לשמה as the objective search for the truth is supported by Shabbat 63a אמר רבי ירמיה אמר רבי אלעזר שני תלמידי חכמים המחדדין זה לזה בהלכה הקדוש ברוך הוא מצליח להם... יכול אפילו שלא לשמה תלמוד לומר על דבר אמת).

    (continued)

    R Stefansky

    ReplyDelete
  6. (continued from previous comment)
    Secondly, some additional Rishonim write that the ultimate goal of Torah study is not to facilitate mitzvah performance, but rather its goal is self-contained in the study and the amassing of Torah knowledge, albeit they do not explicitly write that is the meaning of Lishmah.
    Rav Avraham Min Hahar (Nedarim 48a)
    אבל מצות לימוד, שהוא ענין ציור הלב וידיעת האמת, עיקר הציווי הוא כדי לצייר האמת ולהתענג וליהנות במדע לשמח לבבו ושכלו, כדכתיב 'פקודי ה' ישרים משמחי לב'. ומשום הכי אבל אסור לקרות בתורה ובנביאים ובכתובים, מפני שהם משמחים לבו על כרחו. הילכך לא שייך למימר במצות תלמוד דלא ניתן ליהנות, שעיקר מצותו היא ההנאה והתענוג במה שמשיג ומבין בלימודו.
    Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah 419 – Talmud Torah)
    שורש מצוה זו ידוע, כי בלמוד ידע האדם דרכי השם יתברך, וזולתו לא ידע ולא יבין ונחשב כבהמה.
    Rav Bachya (Introduction to Chovot Halevavot)
    אך החכמה שהצורך אליה יותר אל התורה היא החכמה העליונה והיא החכמה האלקית, ואנחנו חייבין ללמוד אותה, כדי להבין ולהגיע אל תורתנו
    Rav Moshe Almosnino in Pirkei Moshe to Avot 4:5 understands that the Mishna is endorsing both opinions, and in regard to Rav Chaim’s understanding he writes: שחשבו רבים מהחכמים ששמו האושר והתכלית האחרון העיון והידיעה ובכלל שלמות השכל העיוני.
    Furthermore, Tehillim ch. 119 is an extended lauding of the study of Torah and the knowledge one gains thereby, and the absence of a qualification that the study is performed just for the sake of action supports Rav Chaim’s understanding.

    R Stefansky

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm no Torah scholar (far from it) but as I read the quotes you bring they don't seem to support what you are claiming they say. For example:

      1. Rav Hayizhari says in the quote you bring 'lekayem mitzvot hashem'. i.e. it's about doing mitzvot, not studying. (that comes before the section you discussed about the purpose of creation)

      2. Rav Avraham min Hahar doesn't seem to be discussing the study/act question at all, but rather the question of whether or not you can 'enjoy' learning

      3. Rav Bachya does say that it's important to gain wisdom but he doesn't say (in this quote, at least) that this is The (capital T) purpose of limmud Torah

      4. If you are bringing Tehillim, then you didn't bring the mishna )admittedly not a rishon, but still fairly normative... 'רבי ישמעאל [ בנו ] אומר, הלומד תורה על מנת ללמדיג, מספיקין בידו ללמוד וללמדיד.
      והלומד על מנת לעשות, מספיקין בידו ללמוד וללמד לשמור ולעשותטו.

      Delete
    2. @fozziebear

      1. You are misreading לקיים מצות השם. The word מצות is not the plural form of mitzva (i.e. mitzvot, and usually spelled מצוות) but rather means the mitzva of (i.e. mitzvat). He writes that one should study Torah because it is Hashem's mitzva, and then proceeds to explain what is the nature of Torah study.

      2. You are right, his primary intention is explain that the ideal form of Torah study is study through which one gains pleasure. However, he does touch upon the purpose of Torah study as well. אבל מצות לימוד, שהוא ענין ציור הלב וידיעת האמת, עיקר הציווי הוא כדי לצייר האמת

      3.OK, he doesn't say that is the primary focus of Torah study. And therefore, it is probably irrelevant to the discussion at hand. But it still negates the idea that the purpose of Torah study is solely to facilitate the performance of mitzvot!
      R Stefansky

      Delete
    3. R Stefansky, I need to go through your sources ones by one, but Rabbeinu Bachya is the a clear supporter of the notion that one studies Torah for practice. In his introduction to Chovos Halevavos, he tells the story of a student who was scolded for spending time on a difficult case in Gittin that would never come up practically and neglecting the duties of the heart.

      1. You are misreading לקיים מצות השם. The word מצות is not the plural form of mitzva (i.e. mitzvot, and usually spelled מצוות) but rather means the mitzva of (i.e. mitzvat). He writes that one should study Torah because it is Hashem's mitzva, and then proceeds to explain what is the nature of Torah study.

      But then you leave out translating the next part "שהוא לשמור מצותיו". He says that you should study to know what to do what God's purpose is for man which is

      1) To keep the mitzvos
      2) To understand the world as much as possible so that one clings to God

      Delete
    4. The quote from R Avraham B Harambam is actually a warning against becoming overly theoretical. One should go after the truth and not after their own novel theories.

      Delete
    5. @David Ohsie
      "In his introduction to Chovos Halevavos, he tells the story of a student who was scolded for spending time on a difficult case in Gittin that would never come up practically and neglecting the duties of the heart."
      You’re right. And for this reason, R Bachye would probably not approve of Yeshivot placing emphasis solely on the intellectual pursuit of Torah. He chastises those who only focus on amassing knowledge. And he therefore would agree with Nenatel Paley that the Yeshiva curriculum needs to undergo a revision. But when dealing with the nature of study itself, he does believe it to be primarily to gain knowledge, and not just to lead to performance.

      "But then you leave out translating the next part "שהוא לשמור מצותיו". He says that you should study to know what to do what God's purpose is for man which is
      1) To keep the mitzvos
      2) To understand the world as much as possible so that one clings to God"
      I translated it earlier. But this is immaterial to the current discussion, namely what should be the focus of Torah study. In regard to this, he clearly writes that one studies Torah in order to realize God’s purpose in the creation of man, and not as a means to mitzvah performance. It is clearly an intellectual exercise. Furthermore, the goal of ולהשיג מידיעת הנמצאות משלמותו ית' מה שאיפשר למין האינושי להשיג certainly supports even the study of Torah which does not inform halachic practice. (Although to this end, - and for other reasons as well - , the standard yeshiva curriculum should be expanded to include an in-depth study of aggadot, as well as the seforim of the rishonim currently gathering dust on the machshava shelf).

      As for the quote from R Avraham b HaRambam, I only meant to demonstrate that the word לשמה was not understood by all the rishonim to mean study for the sake of practice.

      R Stefansky

      Delete
    6. "But when dealing with the nature of study itself, he does believe it to be primarily to gain knowledge, and not just to lead to performance."

      I'm not expert in Rabbeinu Bachya, but I think that this is a misreading of the book. For him it is all practical, it is just that he expands the meaning of practical to various forms of devotion to God, that is, duties of the heart. (As an aside, there is a sense in which he considers nothing to be practical, since he doubts the possibility of free will given God's complete control of the world.)

      In regard to this, he clearly writes that one studies Torah in order to realize God’s purpose in the creation of man, and not as a means to mitzvah performance. It is clearly an intellectual exercise. Furthermore, the goal of ולהשיג מידיעת הנמצאות משלמותו ית' מה שאיפשר למין האינושי להשיג certainly supports even the study of Torah which does not inform halachic practice.

      I think that this is an very odd way of reading it. You seem to be reading it as "he should study Torah in order to understand, in the abstract, that people are supposed to do Mitzvos". But then learning what the details of the Mitzvos God actually wants you to do is excluded. That would not take very long nor much dedication.

      Moreover, according to your reading, "ולהשיג מידיעת הנמצאות משלמותו ית'" would also not be included in Lishmah, rather it would only include knowing that this is what you are supposed to be doing.

      I think that the more natural reading is that the commandment of Talmud Torah is to know what what one needs to do to fulfill God's purpose for man in life. Since God's purpose includes doing Mitzvos, you have to learn the Mitzvos. Since God's purpose includes Man coming close to understanding God and his creations, one must come as close to knowledge of God and his creations as possible for a human to do.

      As for the quote from R Avraham b HaRambam, I only meant to demonstrate that the word לשמה was not understood by all the rishonim to mean study for the sake of practice.

      I think that we agree on the following:

      1) Some forms of learning were always meant to be "for knowledge sake", namely the understanding the mysteries that brings one closer to a knowledge of God (the dispute is over what those mysteries are).

      2) Lishmah also includes plain learning of halachos with dedication to get the halacha as right as possible.

      I think that the thing that is a Chiddush is that notion that learning halachic material for non-practical purposes is more "Lishmah" than if you learn in order to understand the actual halacha. I don't think that your sources support that notion.

      Regardless, thank you for bringing actual sources and great Torah knowledge (certainly greater than mine) to the discussion.

      Delete
  7. The talmudic notion of יגדיל תורה ויאדיר is the idea that study of Torah comprises learning with no practical/halachic ramifications. (Although this does not support Rav Chaim's point that the primary focus of learning is not done to facilitate action).

    There is also a fascinating midrash in Kohelet Rabba on the passukונתתי את לבי לדרוש ולתור בחכמה, which says that Hashem created the concept of forgetfulness in order that people should always have to keep studying.

    רבנן דתמן בשם ר' יצחק דהכא ורבי טוביה בש"ר יצחק לטובתו אדם למד תורה ושוכח שאילו היה אדם למד תורה ולא שכחה היה מתעסק בתורה שתים שלש שנים וחוזר ומתעסק במלאכתו ולא היה משגיח בה לעולם כל ימיו אלא מתוך שאדם למד תורה ושוכחה אינו מזיז ואינו מזיע את עצמו מדברי תורה

    Now while this does not directly support R Chaim's view of the goal of Torah Study, is certainly calls into question the notion that Torah study is primarily utilitarian.

    The gemara Sanhedrin 99b which states that a person was created primarily for עמל תורה - the labor of Torah study also doesn't seem to reflect the utilitarian view of Torah study.

    R Stefansky

    R Stefansky

    ReplyDelete
  8. Another excellent source which echos Rav Lamms is the book Torah Study by R Yehudah Levi:
    http://www.feldheim.com/torah-study.html (interesting Haskoma section too)

    ReplyDelete
  9. This whole discussion is kind of odd considering that YU regularly studies "non-yeshivish" masechtot (Brachot and Moed for example) and requires all its students to take Bible, Hebrew, and Jewish history courses. It also offers Jewish philosophy and halakha courses that are required in different divisons.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm in YU, and "regularly" means once every three years. That means about 2/3 of students in the Mazer Yeshiva Program (most advanced Jewish studies program) learn Berakhot or Moed only once in four years on campus. And even when YU does learn "non-yeshivish" masekhtot, there is no guarantee that students will come away from that year with a knowledge of halakha le-maaseh that should be expected from a year of studying that masekhta. There is no Jewish Philosophy or Halakha requirement in MYP, and Bible is relegated to the classroom rather than the Beit Midrash.

      Delete
    2. Netanel, don't confuse the discussion with facts! This discussion is supposed to be "Lishmah" and not "L'Maaseh" and you are ruining it. Besides, what would a mere YU guy know about the subject :).

      Delete
    3. Isn't there a Mishna Brura learning requirement in YP? There was one in my day, but it was mostly honored in the breach...

      Delete
  10. Some time ago, there was a piece over at Cross-Currents which I believe was written by Rav Gordimer which was a complaint about another "frightening" development (his word) whereby people coming out of the approved Yeshivot were going off on their own and starting their own Batei Midrash. As I recall, what "frightened" him was these those who are doing it are going to lose contact with the Mesorah they picked up in their home Yeshivot. My question is that if everything stays within a single bloc of "accepted Masorah" isn't this going to lead to an "incestuous" situation where everyone is afraid to do anything novel and will stifle creativity? How could someone like the Gaon MiVilna or Rav Chaim miBrisk come up with revolutionary new ways of study if they were constantly looking over their shoulders in order to stay in line with the old ways?

    ReplyDelete
  11. The Rav, R Aharon Lichtenstein, R Rosensweig and many others of the leading thinkers/talmidei chachamim of centrist orthodoxy enthusiastically supported (and support) the current Talmud curriculum in YU despite it being the "yeshivish" mesechtos. We're they also hoodwinked by the chareidi upheaval?
    Josh

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Except as I pointed out, YU's curriculum has always included "non-yeshivish" masechtot.

      Delete
    2. Josh, I refer you to this letter (https://goo.gl/N0PEqK) from the Rav to Rabbi Dr. Belkin in 1965, in which he argues passionately for a complete revamping of the semikha program to limit pilpul and lomdus in favor of halakha le-maaseh. Note that he says, towards the end of the letter, that he would recommend the same changes for the undergraduate department were it not for the fact that "a thorough reorganization of the undergraduate department is not feasible under present circumstances." That the Rav would support the current exaggerated focus on lomdus in YU is a tenuous assumption.

      Delete
    3. Just note that all of YU- from high school through college through RIETS- learns the same masechet every year. (Exceptions are Chulin and beginners' classes.)

      Delete
    4. Netanel, that single letter of the Rav, though admittedly surprising, cannot erase the decades of lomdish shiurim that he delivered! He may have felt that it was important to train students in practical halachah, but he surely didn't dedicate his own life to a method of learning that he didn't believe in!

      Delete
    5. It was 1955 not 1965.

      Delete
  12. This si nothing new. The Maahral wrote that if it were up to him the Rosh would be on the daf instead of Tosefot as the former is pesak and the latter is pilpul. However, he ddi not completely negate theoretical learning. He only thought that one should first master Halacha. Seephardim , on the other hand, have always favored learning in order to clarify the Halacha. Both are legitimate.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And it was a non-Jew, Daniel Bomberg, who put Tosafot there. :-)

      Delete
  13. Gordimer is a true Brisker. However, the Brisker "derech" is based on sophistry and highly questionable intellectual assumptions. In many ways, it is a complete waste of time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Can you back up your statement in a meaningful way? What do you mean the Brisker derech is based on sophistry, what makes you an authority on whether an argument is sophistic? Im curious which derech in learning do you employ?

      Delete
    2. "Sophistry" is another word for "pilpul." Officially, Brisk holds itself out as the anti-pilpul, but even its practitioners admit that it's simply another form of it.

      Delete
  14. My understanding is that learning "Lishma" means "learning without expectation of any worldly benefit." The Rambam in Hakdama L'peirush Hamishnayos explains how a child is motivated by the promise of nuts (candy), an older person by money, the next stage of life with Kavod, etc.

    I think some of the opinions (and insults) expressed here are based on an incorrect premise, namely, that learning in the "traditional yeshiva style" somehow excludes learning with the intention of doing. The unique depth of mind (and, in my opinion, "Siyata D'shmaya) attained through yeshiva Iyun learning is the foundation of the deepest understanding and most authoritative opinions in halacha. So learning is learning and there is a Mesorah for it that's alive and well and from which great talmidei chachamim continue to flow. Some focus more on theory. Others focus more on practice. All need to know the halachos of daily life.

    The question of "Lishma" is really one of emotional/spiritual maturity. It's not "learning for the sake of learning" vs "learning practical halacha." It's whatever learning you do, what is your motivation? Is it for candy, a rabbanut job, so people will stand up for you? Or is it because Hash-m commanded us to do it, to learn, to know, to do, to grow and be connected to Him through the process of Torah learning and everything it entails, including doing and teaching.

    Yitzchak in Jerusalem

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Since when is it required to write 'Hash-m'?

      Delete
    2. Maybe that is how you define lishma but the subject of the post is the nefesh hahaim and how the charedi world at large defines lishma.

      Delete
  15. Rav Chaim is expounding R' Eliezer beR' Tzadoq's contrast (Nedarim 51a): עשה דברים לשם פעלן ודבר בהן לשמן -- do things for the sake of the One Who performs them, and talk about them for their own sake.

    He is not contradicting the idea that the purpose of learning is to know what to do or to teach any more than he is denying the idea that the purpose of tzedaqah is to provide for the poor.

    As for R' Chaim Volozhiner's position on the purpose of the whole enterprise of life... In the introduction to Nefesh haChaim, his son (and the book's redactor) R' Yitzchaq recalls:

    "My father always used to rebuke me, as he saw that I would not take part in the pain of others. This is what he always told me: 'This is a person's entire purpose. A person is not created for himself. A person is created only to benefit others, with whatever power is in his possession.'"

    R Chaim does not say the point of knowing is to know; the point of knowing has to in some way benefit others -- "for this is a person's entire purpose" in everything.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Sometimes when men write entire books or articles on a subject, the basic point of the subject gets lost. It is true that in various locations the words "Torah Lishma" can be given different shades of meaning, and we all know the מפרשים discuss it. But its basic over-arching meaning is simple and should not be distorted by over-analysis: It means NOT learning Torah as a means to acquire fame or fortune. That's the key point, avoidance of the negative. Whether it thereby also carries an affirmative meaning, and whether that meaning is learning in order to know how to do Halacha, or purely because God commanded it, or for the pure joy of it, is dialectic and frankly not terribly important.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yasher koach, DF. This is peshat.

      Delete
  17. It seems to me that dedicated talmud torah involves all the elements mentioned: knowledge for its own sake, knowledge for practical application, and knowledge to establish and strengthen a connection to the Divine. The issue of priority, it seems to me, is a subjective matter and also depends on circumstances. There is a strong basis for the argument that given a limited time of such study, the priority should be on the subject matter that lends itself both to student interest and to practical application. This type of consideration would suggest that selected sugyot should be studied rather a total focus on the study of a limited number of consecutive pages of a 'yeshivish' masechet each year. Of course, at least a taste of involved Talmudic argumentation and analysis should be provided to help expand the students' minds and to provide an appreciation of the intellectual power of the arguments. Nor should study of Tanach be neglected, even if the intellectual challenge is less, to avoid the charge of 'd'var Elo_im baza..'.

    I suspect that R' Gordimers unstated objection to the student proposal to change Talmud study priorities in the 'yeshiva' program in YU is that such a change would be considered 'proof' in the Hareidi world that YU is not a yeshiva i.e. "they spend much time on secular studies and even their Talmud study is not 'lishma'".

    Y. Aharon

    ReplyDelete
  18. What about where the gemara comments "d'rosh ukabel s'char"? Doesn't that seem like Chazal are indicating a value to learning with no other motive that learning?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lilmod al menas la'asos, learning in order to do, is not limited to learning the halakhos one may encounter. It also involves internalizing the right values, middos and worldview to make it possible to choose what we know the Torah asks of us in the moment of decision and temptation.

      It was on this basis that Beis Yaakov was ruled permissible. Chazal tell us that girls must learn what it takes to grow up to be observant women. Yes, that requires knowing hilkhos kashrus, Shabbos, etc... But it also requires knowing enough Torah to want to keep kashrus, Shabbos, etc...

      WRT RCV in particular... I think he held the tachlis of learning was to provide the energy that sustains the world -- for the sake of everyone else in it. This is the best I can do to fit the quote from the introduction of NhC I posted yesterday with the content of sha'ar 4.

      Delete
  19. I think that the Torah lishma issue is mistakenly conflated with general criticism (particularly long-term kollel) of chareidi society - i.e., the target of the criticism really is more chareidi hashkafa in general, not the non-practical Torah learning per se. If it was, why is the theoretical and non-practical learning and writing of the non-chareidi world (this blog, The Seforim blog, Rabbi Norman Lamm (!), Rabbi Hayim Soloveitchik, etc.) less of a legitimate target than the Torah study of the chareidi world? Why aren't all these writings a complete waste of time and "against the mesorah" because they don't have relevance to practical halacha? Is everything in Torah that you learn, read and ponder only relate to practical halacha? I don't think so (I would wager the vast majority isn't!).

    (Incidentally, both Rav Aharon Lichtenstein (http://www.torahmusings.com/2015/11/command-and-torah-study/) and Rav J. B. Soloveichik have written of the primacy of Torah study.)

    ReplyDelete
  20. R’ Slifkin,

    Although I rarely comment on this blog, there are some remarks I would like to make regarding your portrayal of R’ Chaim Volozhiner’s (RCV) shita regarding Torah Lishma (TL). Before I begin I would like to note that the purpose of this comment is not to weigh in on the validity of Rabbi Gordimer’s presentation in Cross Currents (CC). I leave that assessment to the readers of CC. My focus is exclusively on your presentation of TL as explicated by RCV which, in my opinion, contains several errors.

    You maintain that “the classical definition of Torah Lishmah, amongst Chazal and the Rishonim, was functional: that it referred to learning Torah in order to understand and perform the mitzvos correctly”.

    You then juxtapose this approach with your understanding of RCV’s attitude as follows:

    “The notion that Torah Lishmah refers to "study purely for the mitzvah of Talmud Torah and nothing else" was the innovation of Rav Chaim of Volozhin, which itself was a reaction to the chassidic transfer of the focus of religious life towards spirituality. Rav Chaim's proposed source for his novel definition of Torah lishmah was a rather questionable inference from a certain statement of the Rosh, in turn based on a Talmudic passage which R. Lamm demonstrates to be an errant textual version (see note 20 on pp. 247-8). To quote R. Lamm: "In conclusion, then, R. Hayyim's reaction to the disturbance in the study-practice (and study-prayer) equilibrium by the hasidic initiative was to endow study with a value much greater than was attributed to it before." A fundamental component of this was to give a new definition of Torah lishmah.”

    This paragraph contains several errors, both on your part and by R. Lamm. Let’s go step by step.

    In your first sentence you write: “The notion that Torah Lishmah refers to "study purely for the mitzvah of Talmud Torah and nothing else" was the innovation of Rav Chaim of Volozhin”. Clearly you are under the impression that RCV taught that TL is not necessarily for the sake of understanding the proper halachic parameters of the mitzvos. Unfortunately, this is NOT what RCV writes. In fact, he writes the exact opposite. Here’s a snippet from Ruach Chaim beginning of Chapter 6 (my translation).

    “For the main purpose of [Torah] study is not just to cleave [to Hashem] but rather to attain, via the Torah, the mitzvos and the dinim, and to know everything [i.e. all the mitzvos in the Torah] clearly, its outlines and its details”

    As you can see, you have erred in your hash’ara of RCV’s idea of TL.

    Continued…

    ReplyDelete
  21. In your first sentence, you continue: “which itself was a reaction to the chassidic transfer of the focus of religious life towards spirituality”

    This is inaccurate. His issue with the chasidim was their transfer of the focus on limud hatorah from practical considerations (i.e. knowing the Torah) to diveikus (cleaving to Hashem). He argued that if the entire purpose of limud hatorah was to achieve diveikus, then one could study a few passages over and over while “cleaving to God” in his mind without ever having to study anything else. According to RCV, this was just wrong. The purpose of limud hatorah is to study all of the Torah so one can know all of its mitzvos, its dinim etc. This, in my opinion, is a much more accurate presentation of RCV’s outlook.

    Your second sentence begins: “Rav Chaim's proposed source for his novel definition of Torah lishmah was a rather questionable inference from a certain statement of the Rosh”

    What is questionable about RCV’s inference? Actually, the Rosh is quite clear. Here are his words (my translation). “And speak in them for their sake: All of your speaking and involvement in Torah should be for the sake of Torah, to wit, to know and understand and increase wisdom and sharpness and not for the purpose of contrariness or personal gain”

    This is exactly RCV’s point. The proper format of limud hatorah is to acquire knowledge of Torah and this is referred to by Chazal as TL. What’s questionable?

    You go on in your second sentence: “in turn based on a Talmudic passage which R. Lamm demonstrates to be an errant textual version (see note 20 on pp. 247-8)”

    I don’t have R. Lamm’s book so I can’t speak to his comments but the Talmudic passage is not an “errant” textual version. There are two nuschaos (versions), one that reads “speak in them for their sake” and one that reads “speak in them for the sake of Heaven”. RCV’s rebbi (GRA) maintains the first version (see GRA’s comments to DEZ chapter 2). Notwithstanding, RCV broaches the alternative version and asserts that his explanation stands regardless of which version is correct.

    Your third sentence: “To quote R. Lamm: "In conclusion, then, R. Hayyim's reaction to the disturbance in the study-practice (and study-prayer) equilibrium by the hasidic initiative was to endow study with a value much greater than was attributed to it before."

    As I mentioned, I don’t have R. Lamm’s book so it wouldn’t be fair to comment on a single quote from his book but taken in isolation his statement is obviously incorrect. All one needs to do is read Nefesh HaChaim Part 4 ch. 1-3. RCV’s thesis is based entirely on Chazal! If one disagrees with RCV’s interpretation of Chazal, fine. But to state that RCV invented a new value in limud hatorah is simply false.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think the key here is in R' Simcha Coffer's use of the word "format" in "The proper format of limud hatorah is to acquire knowledge of Torah and this is referred to by Chazal as TL."

      Yes, that's the format which this gemara calls "Torah liShmah", but it's not the goal or purpose of Talmud Torah. Until reading that paragraph in RSC's comment, I have been conflating the two -- format and purpose. However, the purpose is "lilmod al menas lelameid -- to learn in order to teach" and/or "lilmod al menas la'asos -- to learn in order to do".

      Delete
    2. RMB wrote:

      “Yes, that's the format which this gemara calls "Torah liShmah", but it's not the goal or purpose of Talmud Torah. Until reading that paragraph in RSC's comment, I have been conflating the two -- format and purpose. However, the purpose is "lilmod al menas lelameid -- to learn in order to teach" and/or "lilmod al menas la'asos -- to learn in order to do".

      I have several comments on this but first I’d like to point out something obvious. Lil’mod al me’nas li’lamed/la’aos are recorded (Avos 6:7) as #45 and #46 respectively in the list of 48 methods that assist in the acquisition and retention of Torah knowledge (along with items such as humility, good character, etc.) and as such relate more to format then they do to purpose, at least in the words of Chazal. (If a person learns in order to teach he will learn better, as any rebbi knows. And if a person learns with the goal of performing the mitzvos, he will make sure to pay special attention to details etc.)

      Notwithstanding, there are many ma’amarei Chazal about the qualities of limud haTorah but none of them state that THE purpose of limud haTorah is exclusively for teaching/doing mitzvos. If this were so, we would not be obligated to learn most of the Torah today. Even in ancient times there are many mitzvos that relate exclusively to specific groups/people in klal yisrael.

      When it comes to the purpose of mitzvos, any mitzvos, I think Chazal were intentionally nebulous on the topic. Yes, the Rishonim wrote sefarim on the ta’amei ha’mitzvos (like Moreh N., Sefer haChinuch and others) but their pirushim were speculative and were not meant exclusively. They were meant as one of several possible explanations for the rationale of the mitzvos.

      The crucial thing here is the greatness/importance Chazal attributed to the various mitzvos and limud hatorah clearly takes the cake. There is no mitzvah that is lauded by Chazal more than limud haTorah. From a halachic standpoint, there is no other mitzvah that is obligatory all the time, anytime (anytime one has free time from obligations of parnasa), and pre-empts the performance of any other mitzvah. The benefits of limud haTorah, both spiritual and physical, as propounded by Chazal are endless! IMO, this is the true matter at hand here (as relates to the ideological underpinnings of this post).

      Delete
    3. Except that it's the Yerushalmi (Berakhos 1:2, vilna 8a), not me, which says that someone who doesn't learn al menas lelameid or a"m la'asos missed the whole point. "Better not to be born" or to be strangulated by his umbilical cord at birth doesn't sound like format requirements. And the Y-mi explains this is why we stop learning for mitzvos ma'asiyos.

      And, as the Meshekh Chokhmah points out -- we even stop learning for a hekhsher mitzvah. But someone traveling to teach does not stop for a mitzvah. (See the MC on Devarim 28:62, IMHO a "must read".)

      For that matter, RCV himself held that the whole purpose of life is only to help others, so however you explain his position on "torah lishmah", it has to be consistent with that.)

      I think you too are falling into the trap of conflating "al menas la'asos" with "in order to know the halakhah well enough to follow it". We need aggadita in order to want to follow it deeply enough to actually make the right choices beshe'as maaseh. We need to know the full Torah weltenschaung in order to know what values to live by. As R' Wolbe puts it in a va'ad on Hislamdus, we need to know hilkhos tzora'as to get a complete picture of what leshon hara is. (Rebbe similarly implies by the way he composed Berakhos 1:1 that we don't fully get the mitzvah of Shema without understanding the laws of tevul yom and the nightly mishmaros.)

      Delete
  22. What about Rashi to bereishis 46, 28:

    לפניו: .... ומדרש אגדה להורות לפניו לתקן לו בית תלמוד שמשם תצא הוראה:

    Yaakov required specifically a Beis Talmud that would produce Horo'oh.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Slifikn, you have become a negative individual so bent on proving the chareidi way wrong that it blinds you to objective open dialogue. it is an unhealthy obsession. Science for you has become the opium of the masses. Wake up - science is polluted with corruption, political correctness and more. There are plenty of scientists who disagree with many wide-spread scientific beliefs. you refuse to listen to any legitimate scientific opinions that is not mainstream. your overall tone is condescending to the sages of the Talmud and our mesorah.
    Your motus operandi is to seek out all cases where you believe our great sages have erred. It is not the specific cases that you write about which make many people feel very uncomfortable about you - including former supporters -it is your overall objective which is based around showing how rational the torah really is even when 99% of the commentators disagree with you.
    your overall attitude is condescending, arrogant and hashkafically abhorrent.
    it is a shame that a bright person like you an let a personal grudge so color his judgement and mode of thinking. For a so-called rational jew, you appear to be an emotionally driven, grudge-bearing, individual hell bent on settling the score with your detractors. Many of us chareidim here in New York who used to admire you for your ability to go against the grain and be a bit more open-minded are sick of your border-line kefira and attacks on a very large significant section of klal yisroel

    ReplyDelete
  24. I scanned R. Lamm's footnote and added it to the post.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I love it when the Modern Orthodox debate which style of learning is best. Halevai they should just learn any subject whatsoever for any reason whatsoever.

    The shuls' batei medrash in Teaneck are virtually empty on weekends and weeknights. Where is everyone? The Doghouse?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Look at the above guy trying to raise the yeshiva world up, by poor attempts to mock Modern Orthodox! That's a real ben Torah for you! In any even, Teanecker:

      1) Your statement above is simply false. How could you even know that, anyway? Are you in every beis medrash every night?

      2) A lot of MO learn at home with their children. At HOME. You know - the way your Gedolim do. Many of them use computers, another reason to learn at home. Believe it or not, a lot of the better Lakewood guys are starting to do the same thing.

      3) I've lived in "Yeshivish" towns, and very rarely, if ever, did I see rabbis, rebbeim, or even former kollel members in the botei midrashim. The only ones I saw were current kollel members who were being *paid* to learn with teenagers or ballei battim (and mainly Young Israel or ballei teshuvah type at that.)

      Delete
    2. Typical reply from the Modern Orthodox - deflect the issue and make it about "raising the yeshiva world." Not my intent. Nor to mock. Simply to point out the truth: The Modern Orthodox on the whole do not make Torah study a priority.

      1. It is not "simply" false. Nor is it complicated. Everyone is invited to go to any shul in Teaneck on any given Sunday and during weeknights, as I do (being a Teanecker). People learning in the beis medrash is a rarity.

      2. Your claim that "a lot of MO" learn at home is impossible to refute because (a) even ten percent can be considered "a lot"; and (b) unlike my ability to walk in and out of the various shuls in the community, I can't similarly walk in and out of people's homes!

      Having said that, while I do know of some who learn at home, there's no reason to believe that the majority do. Learning at home is very distracting (especially with kids). Even if we were to assume that for every person learning in shul there are ten such people learning at home, it would still amount to a fraction of the overall community.

      3. I don't know which Yeshivish towns you refer to, but in many communities, From Passaic to St. Louis, the BMs are full at night.

      Delete
    3. Maybe the problem is that it has been drilled into everyone's head that "real learning" is total immersion in Talmud. Every other aspect of Torah, i.e. theoretical and practical halacha, TANACH, Jewish philosophy, Mussar, etc are viewed as "not really serious". I don't believe that most Ba'al HaBayit Jews really find Talmud as engrossing as the scholarly leadership views it, it certainly was never intended to be for a mass audience nor was it viewed as the ONLY key to Jewish spirituality.
      Of course Talmud is important, that is why the Daf Yomi is so important in that it connects everyone with it in a way that is understandable for the Ba'al Habayit Jew, but if Batei Midrash and synagogues would broaden their program of shiurim to include these others areas of Torah, maybe more Ba'alei HaBayit could get connected to organized study.

      Delete
    4. Teanecker - let me dial down the rhetoric. it is true that the yeshivah community officially places more of an emphasis on torah study than the MO. And we can debate whether that emphasis is more important or less important than honest work and not taking money from the community, which is more heavily emphasized in the MO community than in the yeshivish.

      My point though, and maybe I phrased it badly, is leshitascha - most of the people from the yeshivish community I see learning at night are being paid to be there. Ex kollel guys who join the working world are no more or no less apt to go to the beis medrash than MO guys. Which is more of a tainah on those ex kolle guys, because a) they look like hypocrites, and b) they're usually just working simple low paid 9-5 type jobs, for some gvir or shver who took them in. The MO guys are doctors and lawyers and putting in long hours. And I still see such guys learning at night (and in the morning, sometimes.)

      Delete
    5. RYBD: My instinct is to agree with you. And in fact, the AhS (YD 246:17) describes the phenomena of "chevrah shas" (like daf yomi but each shul at its own daf) as letting people learn what they want, or else they will end up learning nothing. The Shakh and the Taz (s”q 1) quotes the Derishah that in his day (as well as the Arukh haShulchan’s and ours), with our lesser time allocated for learning, better to learn halakhah.

      But all of that is about baalei bayis (balebatim", in Yiddish), not really the Mazer Yeshiva Program.

      As for yeshiva programming, our talmud-centric curriculum predates Rabbeinu Tam by such a large margin, he feels compelled to defend it despite flying in the face of a beraisa (about 1/3 Tanakh, 1/3 halakhah, 1/3 halachic theory). It appears thrice in our Tosafos, which may be an artifact of editing more than import: Avodah Zarah 19b “Yeshaleish,” Sanhe­drin 24a “Belulah,” and Kiddushin 30a “Lo”. He offers the mnemonic that it's called Talmud Bavli because "hakol balul bo -- everything is mixed into it."

      So perhaps the first step, at least for Ashkenazim who are loathe to tamper with a millennium or more of tradition, is to change how we learn -- and therefore how schools teach -- gemara. We could be extracting Jewish Thought, Mussar, and even taking detours into Tanakh, if we were interested in everything that is mixed into the Bavli.

      Meanwhile, in my experience there is neglect of learning the parashah and haftorah. Even among those who are ma'avir sedra, many "daven up" the responsibility rather than actually fulfill the enactment of learning and understanding the chumash.

      Delete
    6. Tangent alert!

      Teanecker: Passaic is a weird phenomenon, not quite a yeshivish community. 40% of Passaic's adult shomerei Shabbos are BTs. 1/3 of our shul rabbis either currently work at either YU and RIETS or the OU, or have worked at one of those in the past 4 years. (R Yonasan Sachs defected to Lander's.) A lot of those "black hatters" are far-right-wing YU, more than actually yeshivish.

      Delete
    7. Last, yeshivish are, by definition, those who place what goes on in a yeshiva front and center. Measuring religiosity by learning means you bought into the yeshivish yardstick. By which it's inevitable the MO community will fall short of the yeshivish one.

      That said:

      1- A sizable chunk of the MO community self-defines as a subtype of yeshivish -- despite not realizing it. This includes many students of the Rav and R' Herschel Schachter, and those who feel a close tie to the Brisker heritage they represent, or other rabbis and the Lithuanian Yeshiva in general. When you are actually sitting in a shiur, there is little difference in content between RIETS and BMG -- except that from my experience, I would say the BMG shiur is likely on a simpler level. (Yes, I went there. But I have significant experience with shiurim from maggidei shiur at each and feel comfortable making that claim.)

      They should be in the beis medrash in similar numbers, as they only differ with the self-identifying yeshivish in how one engages in the world when not in the BM.

      2- I would not take that claim as necessarily implying that MO is actually succeeding by its own yardstick to a comparable (ha! comparing apples and oranges) extent. In my experience, given the general lack of ability any masses have to live up to nuance, the MO masses unsurprisingly confuse the Rav's dialectic life and turn it into a compromised one.

      Delete
    8. -When you are actually sitting in a shiur, there is little difference in content between RIETS and BMG -- except that from my experience, I would say the BMG shiur is likely on a simpler level. (Yes, I went there. But I have significant experience with shiurim from maggidei shiur at each and feel comfortable making that claim.)

      Quite a bold statement, Micha Berger. No doubt you are anticipating this blog's Lakewoodian readership pouring their righteous wrath on what would be unforgivable heresy be it not so obviously and demonstratively false. But, at the risk of starting an unnecessary and fruitless debate, I shall endeavor to spring to your defense before the enraged mob arrives.
      Leave him be, I say! Leave him be! Let us, for a moment, soberly dissect the statement in question. “there is little difference in content between RIETS and BMG – except that from my experience, I would say the BMG shiur is likely on a simpler level”. Let us first presume that he is restricting his comments to shiurim on Talmud, and not on Chumash, Tanach, or Halacha. It is possible that he would not have dared to make such audacious assertions about the entire gamut of BMG shiurim. But to which of the RIETS shiurim is he referring to? To those given by R. Herschel Schachter himself? To R. Mordechai Willig’s shiurim? To those shiurim given by their younger colleagues, laden with theoretical conceptualizations and Brisker hyper-analysis that our young boys crave? To those given in the Beit Midrash? Or, perhaps, he is referring to shiurim given by RIETS alumni outside the walls of the great institution?
      To which shiurim in BMG is he referring? To those by the four Roshei Yeshiva? The Roshei Kollel? Or to the myriad of shiruim given by an ever-increasing amount of Roshei Chabura across numerous Batei Midrash? Or, is he referring to BMG-style shiurim given in the many post-HS yeshivot dotted around Lakewood, Monsey and Brooklyn? And how did he acquire his “significant experience”? Online? Or has he spent considerable time in both RIETS and BMG? He is no doubt aware of the diversity that exists in both between the approaches, methodology, and presentations of members of their respective faculties. Or even of the controversial new phenomenon known as “super-lomdus” gaining popularity in some BMG shiruim.
      And what does he mean by “simpler”? Less technical analysis? A lack of treatment of the breadth of the issue? Lack of contextual awareness? Less of an understanding of the Brisker method? Too much of a reliance on the Brisker method?
      So simmer down, my Lakewoodian friends, simmer down. The over-simplification of his position has drained his comment from any substantive content it might have otherwise had. Grouping all RIETS or BMG shiurim under one label is a generalization akin to “a Jewish perspective”, or dare I say, “not part of our Mesorah”. There is nothing to infuriate you, because, indeed, nothing has been said.

      Delete
    9. I am just saying: If you want lomdus, go to REITS, not BMG. But if you want hasmadah, BMG is for you.

      Delete
  26. Micha Berger-
    I am aware of the statement that "everything is in it (i.e. Talmud)" but it is not presented systematically.
    I have been attending Daf Yomi for years as a ba'al habayit (I have a very limited yeshiva background which I obtained after University but I discovered I was not cut out forfull-time yeshiva study), however I am not capable of studying Gemara "cold" (i.e. on my own). I follow the shiur with the (Hebrew) Steinsaltz which I find invaluable because of his marginalia and "Iyunim" which brings out many of the obvious questions. However, I am sure you are aware that the aggadatot are raced through and although it is chock full philosophy and "emunah", few of the maggidei shiur have the time or the ability to explain it on a deeper level so that section is essentially wasted. So even though everything is theoretically in the Talmud, few have the ability to extract a lot of the non-halachic material there.
    I actually prefer a shiur on theoretical halacha which brings down the sources and the opinions of the rishonim as opposed to simply diving into the "shakla v'tarya" of comparing beraitot and the such, but as I said, it is more "prestigious" to study Talmud. In addition , the references to TANACH come in bits and pieces and one does NOT get a true appreciation for the TANACH on a wholistic, thematic basis as the HAZAL and the Rishonim have but which has been lost on most people today who study it on a line-by-line basis which really loses the meat of it. Fortunately, today people like Rav Elchanan Samet are teaching us today to return to a thematic approach to TANACH.
    I still believe a more flexible approach to shiurim would bring a lot of people back to organized beit midrash study but it seems to be hard to get the rabbanim to give shiurim like this and for many ba'alei batim to get involved because of a "Talmud or nothing" philosophy which was inculcated in them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am not defending the gemara-centric curriculum on the grounds that I understand or agree with Rabbeinu Tam's defense.


      Rather, because the minhag is older than Rabbeinu Tam, and even in his day he thought it was worth defending.

      So, I argued what we may need to do is to stop racing through the bits that aren't halachic discourse. Learn aggadita with Maharsha or something. And to stop reading the quoted pesuqim only as far as knowing how they're prooftexts. Learn the paragraph in context, get the background of the narrative, see why this pasuq was chosen, etc...

      (I have suggested to new couples to learn Tanakh together. Especially if the guy is a yeshiva alum, the sort who thinks that his background is equivalent to knowing more Torah, but in this area his bride knows how to learn ["make a leining"] better than he does.)

      As for personal preferences, we seem to be similar in that regard -- I am learning Arukh haShulchan Yomi. (And it's no less "shaqla vetarya" in feel and intellectual stimulation than gemara is.)

      Delete
    2. Thanks for the tip regarding the Aruch HaShulchan. I have it at home. I find it arranged better than the Mishna Brerurah regarding laying out the various shitot, although the MB seems to make extracting the bottom-line halacha clearer, and of course the MB doesn't have the other 3 parts of the Tur/Shulchan Aruch which the AS does have.

      Delete
    3. I would prefer to say the AhS makes it more clear that there are often a variety of right answers, as well as answers that are more or less right (you may do X, you may do X if there is sufficient need, avoiding X is a waste of effort/time/money, etc...)

      But I just found the AhS easier to stick to because it's more intellectually intriguing.

      Aside from that, moments before I got married, R' Dovid Lifshitz asked me if I have an AhS for my new home because it better reflects halakhah as it was practiced in Suvalk, the Polish [legally] city in Litta [according to minhag borders] where he was rav and my greatgrandfather had a kloiz.

      See my Aspaqlaria: Textualism and the Mishnah Berurah, where I note the MB's self description. Hint: the title page and the introduction do not claim that it's a halachic guideline from which to get practice.

      And R' Amital zt"l notes a different shift: When we (read: all y'all whose rebbe didn't tell them otherwise on their wedding day) started following the MB, we didn't assume we were all baalei nefesh and other sorts of tzadiqim. We were happier just trying to keep up with the baseline, that's hard enough. So even after the MB gained popularity as a pragmatic guide, the resulting practice has changed.

      Delete
  27. The Gemarah itself asks what is greater to learn or do? The gemarah answers that to learn is greater as it leads to doing!!! Ech Noflu goborim. You dont need to delve into anything the answer is right there in black and white in Shas!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. R. Lamm discusses that point extensively. If learning is greater because it leads to doing, that implies that the ultimate goal is doing, not learning. Also, IIRC, there are some girsaos which read that learning "takes precedence" because it leads to doing, not that it is "greater."

      Delete

Comments for this blog are moderated. Please see this post about the comments policy for details. ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED - please use either your real name or a pseudonym.