Monday, July 4, 2016

Why the Mitzvah of Talmud Torah is Special

The previous post, "What is the Highest Form of Human Endeavor?", produced a vigorous response. Rabbi Stefansky and others argued that there are many passages in the Gemara that seem to describe learning Torah as the greatest endeavor:
"Rav Yosef said: Talmud Torah is greater than saving lives" (Megilla 16b)
"Rav said: Torah study is greater than building the Beis HaMikdash" (Megillah 19b)
"[God said to David:] One day that you sit and busy yourself with Torah is better to me than a thousand offerings that your son Solomon will bring on the altar." (Shabbat 30a)
However, there are also other passages which contain similar descriptions about other mitzvos:
"Charity is greater than all the sacrifices" (Sukkah 49b)
"Charity and acts of kindness are the equivalent of all the mitzvos of the Torah" (Jerusalem Talmud, Pe'ah 1:1)
Rabbi Stefansky countered that there are many more such descriptions about Torah. Indeed there are, but this does not negate the statements about charity. All these statements about the importance of learning Torah are no different than the phrase Talmud Torah k'neged kulam, which has its counterpart in several other statements about other mitzvos being k'neged kulam. They are a combination of exaggerations, aggadic prose, and a result of the fact that learning Torah is of foundational importance because it enables you to do the other mitzvos.

Rabbi Stefansky also argued that the Gemara in Sanhedrin 99b explicitly states that man was created to toil in Torah. This seems to conclusively prove that learning Torah is the ultimate human endeavor!

Yet the Talmud derives this from a protracted and very subtle exegesis:
Rabbi Elazar said: Every man was created in order to toil, as it is written, “For man is born to toil” (Job 5:7). I still do not know, however, if he was created for the toil of the mouth or for the toil of work; but when the verse says, “[The toiling soul…] his mouth compels him,” this tells me that he was created for the toil of the mouth. I still do not know, however, if he was created for the toil of Torah or for the toil of speech; when the verse says, “This book of Torah should not depart from your mouth,” this tells me that he was created for the toil of Torah. (Sanhedrin 99b)
If learning Torah was really and truly the goal of our existence, wouldn't there be something actually in the Torah a little more explicit?! The statement in Sanhedrin is a nice drush. An obscure exegesis can hardly be taken as the foundational directive for human existence. (See too Maharsha, who (a) suggests that it is actually referring to teaching rather than studying Torah, and (b) seems to understand Rabbi Elazar more in terms of saying that toil in this world is inevitable, and it is better to fulfill this by way of Torah.)

Another point to consider is this: What about women? Those who claim that Torah study (which is taken to mean learning Gemara, lishmah) is the goal of creation tend to also be of the view that women should not be learning Gemara. So if the goal of creation is Torah study, does that mean that women do not fulfill the goal of creation, and can only enable it via men?!

The only clear source for Chazal's position on this topic is the passage where they explicitly, en masse, set out to discuss it. This is the passage in Kiddushin 40b mentioned in the previous post, where the Sages argued about which is greater, study or action, and they conclude that study is greater - because it leads to action. We see that the greatness of Torah is insofar as it teaches us how to fulfill the Torah, which is the ultimate goal. Tosafos adds that for someone who is ignorant, study is more important, so that he knows how to observe Torah, but for a learned person, it's more important to be spending his time fulfilling the Torah than to be studying it.

There is a related Gemara in Bava Kama 17a about the unparalleled honor bestowed upon Chizkiyah after his passing. A Torah scroll was placed on Chizkiyah's bed, and it was declared that he fulfilled all that is written in it. The Gemara asks that surely the same is said about other people. One answer given is that regarding Chizkiyah it was said that he expounded Torah, whereas regarding others it is only said that they fulfilled Torah. But, asks the Gemara, surely the greatness of studying Torah is that it leads to fulfilling it (and thus it is greater to praise people by saying that they fulfilled Torah)! The Gemara answers that it was said about Chizkiyah that he taught Torah. Rashi explains that while fulfilling Torah is superior than studying Torah, teaching Torah to others is yet better. Tosafos there notes that teaching is superior because it brings many people to fulfill the Torah. Again, we see that the ultimate goal of existence is not that man should study Torah; rather, it is that man should fulfill the Torah. (For a detailed discussion regarding this passage, and possibly errors in its transmission, see Yosef Witztum, "Kiyyem Zeh Mah Shekatuv Bezeh," Netuim 6:59-72.)

From both of these passages, we see that the tremendous value attached to studying Torah is due to its instructional role in teaching us how to fulfill the Torah. There is certainly also value in studying Torah even with non-practical applications, but the primary value of it is in its instructional role.

There is one final significant point to be made. Today, when people want to try to explain why it is so important to learn Torah, they resort to mystical explanations about connecting to the Shechinah and creating spiritual worlds. (They have to do that, because there is otherwise no rational explanation as to why learning Torah would be the goal of existence.) And yet, in all the discussion of the Gemara and Rishonim as to whether studying Torah or fulfilling Torah is greater, not a single authority mentions any such mystical notions. All the discussion in the Gemara and Rishonim about the particular importance of Torah study are in terms of its instructional value.

There are "regular" mitzvos, like blowing shofar, shiluach hakein, building a sukkah, etc. And there are especially significant mitzvos, such as Shabbos, charity, and yishuv ha'aretz. Of the especially significant mitzvos, learning Torah is unique. But this is (primarily) because of its instructional value. The ultimate goal of creation is not to learn Torah, it is to live Torah - to fulfill it.

116 comments:

  1. This reminds me of a rebbi I once had who used to repeat over and over that, by default, we are supposed to be learning--literally bent over a gemara--day and night, the only "heteirim" being the necessity of parnassa or a pressing mitzvah that can be done by you only. His evidence was the phrase "V'higisa bo yomam v'layla," which he translated as "And you must toil in it day and night."

    When I timidly raised my hand once to point out that "v'higisa" better translates to "and you should CONDUCT yourself in it," I got shouted down for the rest of shiur.

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    1. you think you are so clever but in truth you are just an ignoramous.
      see ran in nedarim 8a dibur hamaschil ha kamashma lan
      and menachos 99b that explicitly brings that pasuk to teach that you should be learning torah every second (according to one opinion).
      see also berachos 35b
      these are the actualll halachik sugyos that deal with this issue.
      or you can listen to Rabbi slifkin talk about midrshim.
      ben klein

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    2. Here's the full pasuk:

      לֹא-יָמוּשׁ סֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה הַזֶּה מִפִּיךָ, וְהָגִיתָ בּוֹ יוֹמָם וָלַיְלָה, לְמַעַן תִּשְׁמֹר לַעֲשׂוֹת, כְּכָל-הַכָּתוּב בּוֹ: כִּי-אָז תַּצְלִיחַ אֶת-דְּרָכֶךָ, וְאָז תַּשְׂכִּיל.

      This was directed to Yehoshua and the purpose of the learning is to know how to perform Mitzvot. I never understand how this is interpreted, other than in an Aggadic way, as a command for everyone to learn as much as they can.

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    3. Here's the thing - many people will use rabbi slifkins points as justification for minimizing the amount of time spent learning torah. But the reason for way we learn is totally irrelevant to that issue (it may irrelevant to what should be focused on in learning). That issue is discussed primarily in the halachik sugyas of menachos 99b and berachos 35b with their various commentaries. what comes our from those sugyot is that an average person should ideally spend most of his time learning while taking out time to earn a parnasah. the bare minimjm chiyuv is krias shma twice a day. For unique individuals such as rashbi they should spend all their time learning and rely on others for parnasah.

      ben klein

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    4. > you think you are so clever but in truth you are just an ignoramous.
      see ran in nedarim 8a dibur hamaschil ha kamashma lan

      You're not showing that he's an ignoramus, you're showing that his rebbe wasn't the first person to mistranslate the pasuk to make a rhetorical point.

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    5. Imagine my surprise in coming back here and learning that I think I'm clever. I guess we all learn new things about ourselves every day.

      As LoI stated, limud Torah has a PURPOSE. The fact that R' Slifkin demonstrates that the purpose is being well-learned enough to properly KEEP the Torah does not diminish its importance; if anything, it enhances it. What good is simply gaining wisdom if one does not apply it?

      Yeshivos in general--and my rebbi in particular--are invested in keeping their bachurim on the straight and narrow and in the beis midrash with their gemaras open. These bachurim are very often treated to very creative interpretations of halacha in order to ensure this obedience. I know I was. I think R' Slifkin is doing a great service in examining exactly what makes limud Torah so crucial.

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    6. I think the word הגית in this passuk is properly translated as "delve" or "think" or a similar meaning. Not necessarily "toil", but also not "conduct". It is from the root of הגה as thought, not הגה as steer, guide, conduct. This is evident from the beracha in arvit, based on this passuk, which is ובהם נהגה יומם ולילה (delve), not ובהם ננהג יומם ולילה (conduct ourselves, be guided).

      I welcome others' thoughts because I've been curious about the meaning of the word in this beracha for some time.

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  2. >If learning Torah was really and truly the goal of our existence, wouldn't there be something actually in the Torah a little more explicit?

    Or perhaps it's on purpose that in order to realize that the Torah is the true goal of existence one has to delve into it first?

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  3. 1. I’d like to know what you have to say about the ensuing gemara in Sanhedrin which venerates limmud Torah undertaken not for the purpose of public instruction, and claims that it is the purpose of the world.
    אפיקורוס כגון מאן? - אמר רב יוסף: כגון הני דאמרי מאי אהנו לן רבנן? לדידהו קרו, לדידהו תנו. אמר ליה אביי: האי מגלה פנים בתורה נמי הוא, דכתיב אם לא בריתי יומם ולילה חקות שמים וארץ לא שמתי.
    We also find Chazal, and Rishonim for that matter, investing time and effort to understand Torah that would not lead to practice, and we also have the Talmudic notion of יגדיל תורה ויאדיר.
    2. R. Bachye in כד הקמח does indeed derive from the gemara there that man’s ultimate purpose is limmud Torah itself.
    3. On the other hand, the passuk cited, לא ימוש ספר התורה הזה וגו', concludes לְמַ֙עַן֙ תִּשְׁמֹ֣ר לַעֲשׂ֔וֹת כְּכָל־הַכָּת֖וּב בּ֑וֹ כִּי־אָ֛ז תַּצְלִ֥יחַ אֶת־דְּרָכֶ֖ךָ וְאָ֥ז תַּשְׂכִּֽיל, as does the passuk which requires a king to constantly study Torah.
    I’m surprised you haven’t yet cited the Mishna Avot 1:17 ולא המדרש הוא העיקר אלא המעשה, although it is the statement of a single Tanna.
    4. The authority of an “obscure” gemara in face of a more topical one seems to be a matter of dispute among Gaonim and Rishonim – see Dr. Haym Soloveitchik’s work on the subject. (And I’m not sure how obscure it is; it is the focus of the sugya there). Secondly, although it certainly seems logical that "an obscure exegesis can hardly be taken as the foundational directive for human existence", the gemara notes at times that sometimes very fundamental halakhot are derived from seemingly tenuous drashot.
    5. Those who do contend that limmud Torah itself is man’s ultimate purpose would indeed maintain that women’s purpose is to assist them in their endeavor, and would cite the following passage:
    אמר ליה רב לרבי חייא: נשים במאי זכיין? באקרויי בנייהו לבי כנישתא, ובאתנויי גברייהו בי רבנן, ונטרין לגברייהו עד דאתו מבי רבנן.
    (Berakhot 17a, cf. Sotah 21a).
    In sum, I think it is safe to assume, and not surprisingly, that there has always been - and probably always will be - a plurality of approaches among great Torah scholars; indeed we find explicit passages in the gemara itself discussing differing approaches of Chazal wrt the integration of limmud Torah with mitzvot and derekh eretz.

    R Stefansky

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    1. "I’d like to know what you have to say about the ensuing gemara in Sanhedrin which venerates limmud Torah undertaken not for the purpose of public instruction, and claims that it is the purpose of the world.
      אפיקורוס כגון מאן? - אמר רב יוסף: כגון הני דאמרי מאי אהנו לן רבנן? לדידהו קרו, לדידהו תנו. אמר ליה אביי: האי מגלה פנים בתורה נמי הוא, דכתיב אם לא בריתי יומם ולילה חקות שמים וארץ לא שמתי."

      You're taking an approach which has recently become "standard" and reading it back into the Gemara. There are all kinds of possible interpretations of that Gemara. It doesn't at all necessarily mean that learning Torah is the purpose of the world. It could, for example, mean that Torah is an essential precondition for society. There's a difference between "essential precondition" and "purpose." Also, note that the Gemara is talking about רבנן, not students.

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    2. " R. Bachye in כד הקמח does indeed derive from the gemara there that man’s ultimate purpose is limmud Torah itself."

      True. On the other hand, in his commentary to Avos, R. Bachye says otherwise:

      “ ‘It is not the study that is the main point, but rather the practice’ – That is to say, the goal of a person’s knowledge and toil in Torah is not that he should study much Torah. The goal is nothing other than that it should bring him to practice. And that is what is written, ‘And you should study them and guard them to fulfill them’ – it comes to teach that the purpose of study is for nothing other than practice.” (Commentary to Avos 1:17)

      So this is a riddle to be resolved.

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    3. I’d like to know what you have to say about the ensuing gemara in Sanhedrin which venerates limmud Torah undertaken not for the purpose of public instruction, and claims that it is the purpose of the world.
      אפיקורוס כגון מאן? - אמר רב יוסף: כגון הני דאמרי מאי אהנו לן רבנן? לדידהו קרו, לדידהו תנו. אמר ליה אביי: האי מגלה פנים בתורה נמי הוא, דכתיב אם לא בריתי יומם ולילה חקות שמים וארץ לא שמתי.


      How is this one relevant? The scoffers are saying that the rabbis are just learning for themselves (perhaps for their own intellectual preoccupation). The answer is that the world would not have been created if not for the covenant between the Jews and God and that therefore there is a lot of value in Torah study, presumably to elaborate on the covenant. That doesn't say anything about whether the learning is for practical halacha or not. A Bris is generally practical, I assume.

      We also find Chazal, and Rishonim for that matter, investing time and effort to understand Torah that would not lead to practice, and we also have the Talmudic notion of יגדיל תורה ויאדיר.

      I don't see a contradiction. There can be value in both. That is always given as an answer to the question of why study Torah that is not practical, which implies that almost always it is. Physics has specialists in theory and in experiment, but they all together and neither will work on their own (well experimenters could work on their own but the theoretician specialists need their theories to be tested eventually).

      2. R. Bachye in כד הקמח does indeed derive from the gemara there that man’s ultimate purpose is limmud Torah itself.

      I don't know that statement, but I know that in the intro to Chovos Halevavos, he specifically criticizes preoccupation with theoretical halacha and says that one should study halacha to know what to do and then study the duties of the heart which is also practical (although some parts are intellectual like the Rambam).

      In sum, I think it is safe to assume, and not surprisingly, that there has always been - and probably always will be - a plurality of approaches among great Torah scholars; indeed we find explicit passages in the gemara itself discussing differing approaches of Chazal wrt the integration of limmud Torah with mitzvot and derekh eretz.

      Agree with that. But it could be that these statements are not all contradictory, but rather different emphases. In that case, there may have been few who took an extremist approach in one direction or the other.

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    4. Two different people. You're referring to Bahya ibn Paquda ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bahya_ibn_Paquda ); he's referring to Bahya ben Asher ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bahya_ben_Asher ).

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    5. Ah, thank you :). My ignorance shines through. I had in the back of my mind that there there might more than one and didn't check...

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  4. Appreciated how that picture came up on my feed reader.

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  5. I'd also like to know what you think about the midrash Kohelet that clearly endorses Torah not for the sake of practice, as well as the Rishonim, especially R. Avraham of Montpelier, who understood that the goal of limmud Torah is the pure pursuit of knowledge. It certainly does seem that there is a plurality of approaches.

    R Stefansky

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  6. Another thought: Was R. Elazar deriving this notion a priori from the drash, or was he using it to support an already commonly accepted principle?

    R Stefansky

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  7. Ron Yitzchok EisenmanJuly 5, 2016 at 3:48 AM

    Let's not forget making Shalom which the Avos D'Rebbe Nosson (chapter 24) also lists as being K'neged Kulam
    מסכתות קטנות מסכת אבות דרבי נתן נוסחא ב פרק כד
    דבר אחר אוהב שלום ורודף שלום אפילו אתה רץ אחריו מעיר לעיר ומכרך לכרך וממדינה למדינה אל תמנע מלהטיל שלום שהוא שקול כנגד כל המצות שבתורה:

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    1. R' Eisenman, shlit"a. You might want to see the list of 5 discussed by Prof Broznik on Shaalvim's web site http://shaalvim.co.il/torah/maayan-article.asp?id=720

      R' Wolbe, by leveraging the idea rather than the idiom "keneged kulam", lists 7 such mitzvos in his sefer "Mitzvos haShkulos": (1) zedakah, (2) tzitzis, (3) tefillin, (4) yishuv Eretz Yisrael, (5) beris milah, (6) Shabbos, and (7) denying avodah zara. With a possible #8 - teshuvah.

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  8. "It is true that Rambam held that study is indeed the highest form of human endeavor. However, the type of study that Rambam had in mind was that of philosophy, not Gemara. As the Vilna Gaon points out, Rambam was deeply affected by Greco-Islamic thought. In the role that he attributed to philosophical contemplation, Rambam represents an unusual departure from both those who preceded him and those who followed him."
    Don't be so quick to dismiss this position - the Gemara itself indicates that metaphysical speculation/meditation (which very well may overlap with philosophical subject matter) is superior to analyzing halachic legalisms:

    "A great thing - this is the workings of the Chariot; a small thing - this is the legal discourses of Abaye and Rava." (Sukkah, 28a)



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  9. I think you are pushing this too much . I think strange position to be arguing that Talmud Torah is not paramount in Judaism the Gemara asks that question about women don't find that convincing

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  10. Ralbag on the parsha we just read:

    והתועלת השני המגיע ממנה
    והוא כולל כל מתנות כהונה
    והוא כי השם יתע' רצה שיהיה לכהנים פנאי
    לעסוק בתורה ולעמוד על סודותיה
    כדי שיורו משפטיו ליעקב ותורתו לישראל
    ולזה רצה שיהא לחמם נתן ומימיהם נאמנים

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  11. I think that the last argument in your prior post was very important: "If Chazal and classical Judaism do not maintain that the highest form of human endeavor is Torah study, then what is the highest form of human endeavor? The answer is that there isn't one."

    The assumption that there is one "single" greatest thing to be done or purpose in life is the essential fallacy here. With that assumption, one can go through the sources and argue that A, B, or C is the "real" answer. But if you take the Gemara and other sources as seriously as we take other endeavors and not attempt massive oversimplification, then each statement can be taken without prejudice on its own and without implying that any single one of them is trying to uncover the ultimate meaning of life.

    That also can help explain the fact that the Gemara has lots of statements that detail the value of learning with perhaps fewer detailing other values. The Gemara's audience is either other Rabbis or students; in other words, the intellectual elite. To keep the Torah alive and well, we need vibrant community of scholars who will study it in a deep way. It is important to emphasize to the intellectuals the value of continued lifetime effort and study. It would not be a contradiction to this, if the army general emphasize the overarching importance of military training and obedience to ensure a good outcome in war, nor a doctor emphasizing to his student the overarching importance of keeping up-to-date with the latest medical advance and carefully caring for patients.

    Even the Rambam, who took the philosophical view that development of the intellect and desire to know God via his creations is the ultimate purpose of world, spent lots of time with both the knowledge and practice of medicine. I don't think that there is a contradiction there, but a confluence.

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    1. I tend to agree with this, but it assumes, I suspect correctly, that Chazal were as susceptible as anyone else to the natural tendency of all passionate people to attempt to force their habits and passions on society as a whole.

      The problem is that this became canon, codified in Shas and Poskim and implemented across the religious world, including in just about every MO yeshiva.

      You're basically saying that we can't trust Chazal to have perspective any more than we can expect today's Charedi Gedolim to have perspective. While I tend to agree, this makes a mockery of the demand that we follow Chazal the way it's become accepted to do so, other than for the simple functional need to have a system - any system - of unified practice of Halacha.

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    2. Lion of Israel: I feel much the same. Finding some sort of balance between making chazal meaningful and yet not going against what I feel a logical analysis of their works reveals is tricky to say the least. I have a bit written about it on my blog (a Jew muses) but I feel that I don't really have anything geshmak.

      Still plenty of time to sort that out. To each his own challenges.

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    3. not so sure that there is anything inaccurate about what you just wrote.

      yes, we accepted chazal's perspective as the unified practice the day we started to think about the Talmud as 'signed and sealed'

      but it could have been otherwise.

      I don't think it's such a bad thing. (except for the sort of occasional inherent sexism, but there's ways around that...)

      (if you wanted to take it a step further, then Menachem Kellner does the same thing when he says that Rambam thinks that even God could have picked a different set of unified practices to achieve his goals but he happened to pick this one. )

      I don't think it's the specific practices that matter so much, rather than if they advance the ultimate cause. I would probably just add that I think chazal had more of a sense of the ultimate cause than do today's haredim, but what do I know...

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    4. I don't see what you are saying about lack of perspective. Up until recent times, only the elite studied Gemara and only the elite dedicated the bulk of their time to Torah study. This did keep the Torah alive as vibrant system. I don't think that Chazal ever intended the notion that everyone abandon their work and study Torah full time as an ideal.

      What has changed is that in our extreme wealth, it has not become possible for every single person in particular sectors of society to study Torah full time, regardless of their success in doing so and regardless of the other important things that must be done in society. I don't think that this is what they intended.

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    5. Lack of perspective would be what allowed Chazal to make statements to the effect that learning Torah is the greatest thing on Earth because to them, personally, it was the greatest thing on Earth. And despite there being no indication that this is what Hashem intended. Someone with perspective is able to realize that just because he's devoted his life to one pursuit/discipline, doesn't mean that everyone else should be expected to treat that discipline with the same seriousness as him.

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    6. David Ohsie,

      What is the evidence that up until recent times, only the elite studied Gemara?

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    7. MK it's in the book by shaul stampfer published by Littman called 'Lithuanian yeshiva of the nineteenth century:creating a tradition of learning'

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    8. Lack of perspective would be what allowed Chazal to make statements to the effect that learning Torah is the greatest thing on Earth because to them, personally, it was the greatest thing on Earth.

      But they could be right. It only is "wrong" if you apply it to everyone. To achieve greatness in any area requires extreme effort in that area, for almost all people. It's absolutely correct that if one wants to achieve greatness in learning, one has to dedicate an outsize portion of their life to it. If you take their statements seriously and don't make them into some kind of "answer to all questions", then they make perfect sense.

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    9. But Chazal themselves and the poskim since have almost always applied it to everyone.

      Chazal and all of the poskim since who've emphasized the importance of learning didn't generally qualify their statements as applying to people who want to achieve 'greatness' in learning. They always said that learning as much as possible is what we should be striving to do (which by definition, means to the exclusion of other endeavors, like chessed). You need go no further than some of the quotes that appear in this thread.

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    10. Stampfer's (outstanding) book absolutely does not say that prior to recent times only the elite studied Gemara. To the contrary, it contrasts the new style of regional yeshivot for the select to the long-existing system of countless jews learning in hundreds of local shul batei midrash throughout Europe.

      RM

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    11. And the regional yeshivot were.... tiny for the few only . See s.leiman's article in 'judaism's encounters with secular cultures'

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    12. Thanks for the sarcastic elipses but it's you who did not follow so I'll try again.

      Relatively few were studying full time at regional yeshivot until relatively modern times, granted.

      But many, not the elite few, were studying gemorah in other venues, like local batei midrash, homes of rabbis, and cheders, for a very long time.

      The statement to which I responded, that "until recent times, only the elite studied Gemara," is false.

      The sourcing of that statement to Stampfer's book is also false. The author of those posts seems to think that the fact few were in full time regional yeshiva as documented by Stampfer means that only those few studied gemorah. Neither factually correct nor found in his book.

      RM

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  12. But what about aggadadic material and philosophy? Are they not worth learning? What is their action that you are leading too?

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  13. I thought you might also reference Rambam in the introduction to Mishneh Torah where he says (I am paraphrasing) that it is only necessary to study Tanach then Mishneh Torah because that way you will learn the practical halacha, which is the point of Torah She Be'al Peh?

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    1. What he says is that unlike prior commentaries that required you to start from the Gemara on down, his book can be read in a standalone fashion. This is true, but it doesn't seem to bear directly on the question.

      Delete
    2. David Ohsie:the Rambam was asked in a Teshuva what he had against learning Gemora. His reply? That he had nothing against the Gemora, and he even learnt Gemora with some of his Talmidim.

      When the Rambam writes that the only ספר one needs is the יד he meant that literaly.

      Delete
  14. "They have to do that, because there is otherwise no rational explanation as to why learning Torah would be the goal of existence."

    Shouldn't that be:

    "They have to do that, because there is no rational explanation as to why learning Torah would be the goal of existence."

    Sometimes just one word can make a big difference.

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  15. G,

    >If learning Torah was really and truly the goal of our existence, wouldn't there be something actually in the Torah a little more explicit?

    You can ask the same question about olam habo, techias hameisim and moshiach.

    And indeed rishonim and acharonim do.

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    1. Hmm, they ask the question about Olam Haba, techiat hameitim and moshiach. But do they ask this question regarding learning as the only purpose of life?

      And if not, what conclusion should we draw from the fact that they don't ask this question?

      Delete
    2. I would conclude that it shows that the Rishonim were well aware that these are concepts not found in Torah AND that the Rishonim were well aware that these concepts were probably unknown to Moshe Rabbenu.

      I would tentatively conclude that the Rishonim would not be surprised that the Torah doesn't mention Limmud Torah since they had the intelligence to know that you can't instruct people to learn a book that hasn't been written yet. There was no Torah to study until (at least, one would assume) after Moshe's death. The Torah makes no record of anyone studying Torah. You'd think if Abraham was so devoted to limmud it would be recorded, no? But it isn't.

      Coz neither God nor Chazal were thickies.

      Delete
    3. Huh? If they are reading it and/or reciting it and/or hearing it and it is instructing them on any issue, then yes it has been written (or composed).

      I don't think your response made sense soapbox.

      Delete
    4. The avot weren't reading writing reciting or taking instruction from it... it wasn't written yet. Is that clearer?

      Delete
    5. Why would we be talking about the avos? I think you took my question way out of the context in which it was asked.

      There are important topics explicitly mentioned in Torah text but also some that are not. A few examples were given. Rishonim ask why certain key fundamentals are not explicitly mentioned including Moshiach etc. The op implies that all not-explicitly mentioned topics are equivalent and there is no question because rishonim asked and answered this question about fundamentals like Moshiach etc. So we have no question of why can't Talmud Torah be ultimate life purpose even though not explicitly mentioned. He deflected r Slifkin's question. But rishonim apparently do NOT ask why Talmud Torah was not explicitly stressed, praised, mentioned as life goal (is this true that is not mentioned?), unlike these other instances. Which sets it apart from moshiah, olam haba, techiet hameitim where they felt compelled to ask. I would point out, if true, The fact that they didn't ask tells us something very important - it was not the only purpose of man and they didn't need to convince karaites or their followers of this theological principle because they werent promoting it as such.

      Delete
  16. It always cracks me up that people who study so much Torah and claim such expertize can't distinguish between a polemic rabbinic statement and a substantive one.

    It just throws their whole legitimacy into doubt.

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    1. Is there a key somewhere so we can decipher precisely when it's a polemic statement and when it's a substantive one? How did you determine with such certainty?

      Delete
    2. Really?
      My honest response is that if anyone needs to be told how to distinguish forms of communication then they must have some severe difficulties in their everyday social intercourse. Even dummies like me can spot it in our daily lives.

      Having said that, the keys would be a) exaggeration (X is SOOOOO important)
      b) repetitive use of certain phrases (kneged kulam) that
      c) don't make sense in the normal usage (they can't all be the most important thing )
      d) context - is the setting a substantive discussion or an educational one

      Etc

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  17. "So if the goal of creation is Torah study, does that mean that women do not fulfill the goal of creation, and can only enable it via men?!"

    Yes, isn't this what haredim believe and teach? Why do you write it with such exasperation as if it couldn't possibly be their view logically? It is in fact their view. Correct me if I'm wrong.

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    1. "So if the goal of creation is Torah study, does that mean that women do not fulfill the goal of creation, and can only enable it via men?!"

      The answer would be yes according to many Frum people. The Torah and halacha itself is sexist and biased towards males.

      Delete
  18. Rav Slifkin - While I more or less agree with you on this topic, I do think it would be valuable to get your thoughts on the pretty obvious discrepancy between:

    1. Chumash (where the idea of learning for learning's sake doesn't appear at all)
    2. Nach (where I guess you can find some psukim in Tehillim that can reasonably be interpreted to refer to the importance of learning lishma)
    3. Chazal (where there are all kinds of contradictory and aggadic statements about the importance of learning, as you've demonstrated. Is this change possibly a result of the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash?)
    4. Psak in the Rishonim and Acharonim (according to many of whom males are absolutely required to spend a specified or unspecified amount of time learning lishma)
    5. Modern-day Kollel as the preferred lifestyle for any man who chooses it (Volozhin?)

    There’s a pretty clear progression here and I think it warrants analysis. It’s not enough to say that Chazal’s statement are all over the place and/or exaggerations. Chazal are only one link in the chain. Admittedly, the results of such an analysis might not be pretty.

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    1. Well said. Besides for that there's also a difference in the reasons why learning torah is important. In tehillim it seems to be to appreciate the beauty and genius of Hashem's laws, in the gemoroh it is Complicated and often contradictory, and in today's world it is an end in its own right, or important for kabbalistic reasons.

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    2. > Chazal (where there are all kinds of contradictory and aggadic statements about the importance of learning, as you've demonstrated. Is this change possibly a result of the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash?)

      I would guess that it is the result of an official class of scholars sanctioned as authorities by the Roman government. These were people who derived their authority from their expertise in Torah and their association with the Torah academies.

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    3. The chain of progression you describe is inherent in any legalistic society. Here in America, a law is drafted. Take the National Labor Relations Act, for example, from 1935. In the early stages there was not much said about it. But over time, it took on more importance. After a while there were lawyers who did nothing but specialize in it. After even more time there were entire treatises devoted to the subject, with scholarship reconciling the different opinions. Then other professions arose, non-lawyers, who made their living on the periphery of the law, ie, archiving material about it, organizing seminars, providing training, etc. Then there were paid lobbyists on both sides of the law urging changes here, modifications there. In short order the one little law took on on a life of its own.

      The same thing has happened to the Torah though, of course, in its own unique fashion. The sages knew this would happen. It's one of the reasons the oral law was not supposed to be written (though one can debate if that was actually known, or it was only explicated in apologia when the Mishna was actually written down.)

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    4. DF - I don't disagree that a certain dynamic was in effect here, much as there is in other disciplines. But this almost completely removes the element of Hashgacha from the process and clearly isn't even supported by any in the Yeshiva world.

      Again, I think that this is probably what happened (and is happening), but it makes it very hard to take the idea of Mesorah seriously.

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    5. Why does that take hashgacha out of it?

      There should be hashgacha behind the evolution of the national labor relations act too. Doesn't Hashem run the whole world?

      Delete
  19. The debate over the relative value of Torah study and mitzvot ma'asiyot, and the relationship between Torah study and worldly knowledge has gone on since (at least) the time of the Tannaim, through the Amoraim, the Rishonim and the Acharonim. Thus the various contradictory citations. I therefore take some amusement at the thought that you and your interlocutors think you can resolve this definitively in a blog post and its comments.

    More seriously, it is troubling that a large part of the religious community think that kollel for every male, a phenomenon that began in my lifetime, is not only obviously the ideal, but is the way Jews have always lived. Given the vast evidence in Shas and Posekim that this is not the case (never mind external historical records) it makes me wonder whether a great many of the students are too busy affecting the mystical realms or to ideologically narrowed to fully comprehend what they are studying.

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  20. ******************July 5, 2016 at 3:07 PM

    At the end of the day this blog is focused on philosophy and theory. What about practice.

    I think that Tosfos would consider most of us ignorant in torah, so according to his (and the Rishonim that share his) opinion one should definitely consider learning as being more important.

    Practically speaking, assume I become a multi millionaire from the lottery and have enough money for myself, my kids and my grand kids to live comfortably. Should I;

    1) Continue with my employment. This gives me on a good day, provided I am not exhausted 1 - 2 hours learning in the evening. After all "great is work".
    2) Go to Kollel - assume I can learn well enough.
    3) Go and join my local chesed organisation and spend my days delivering hot meals to old people.
    4) A combination of the above.

    Answers on a post card will full explanations - from the point of view of a yeshish (I do not use the word chareidi - in my view there are no real chareidim outside Israel) person, a rationalist person, and a modern orthodox person.

    According to the tone of this post, option 3 is the most preferable. Surely that cannot be correct.

    I think that the contemporary yeshivish approach ( is that all Jews are one unit - so providing there are enough people doing chesed, those that can (with both the mental and financial capabilities) should learn as much as possible. In that way both highest forms of human endeavor are catered for.

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    1. Well, Chazal say that any Torah not accompanied by labor will end up being null and will lead to sin, and also say that Torah accompanied by gemilus chasadim is better than Torah not so accompanied, so I guess that would call for option 4. The question would be the ratio of working/learning. I don't think that the 1-2 hour time slot for learning is sufficient for your lottery winner.

      Delete
    2. 3 is correct. Not even slightly joking

      Delete
    3. It has to be #4. People are complex; obviously one cannot achieve self-perfection into a closer image of G-d without a "balanced diet" of mitzvos. Even though I believe the "image of G-d" is to imitate His commitment to benefiting others.

      Tagential comment, but an important one:

      I have a 50-55 hour a week job. It is rare that I can hold down a chavrusah. HOWEVER, I do learn during my commute, in addition to weekends. I made a siyum on the entire Yerushalmi just learning it while commuting or on chol hamo'ed. I then moved on to Arukh haShulchan, and in 2+ years I learned Orakh Chaim and 2/3 of Yoreh Dei'ah.

      I am not saying that to brag, but to point out that anyone else could too. One thing about learning; it can be done in contexts that rule out the possibility of other mitzvos. For example, if you keep a Mishnayos or Mishnah Berurah in your pocket (or on your phone or tablet), you could be learning waiting for the bus, on line at the supermarket, etc... And 5 min here 5 min there add up.

      Freeing up your time for that chesed program.

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    4. "3 is correct. Not even slightly joking."

      Then you must know the true answer is irrational.

      RM

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    5. And transcendental, to boot!

      Delete
  21. See the introduction to the Chaye Adam. The motivation for publishing his book on practical Halacha was due to the lapse of observance in his time. He recognized the error of those who believed that studying and learning Torah was fundamentally more important than practice. The Chaye Adam is an attempt to combat that mistaken belief. See there for his praise of the Gra who made the focus of Torah study its practical application.

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  22. "Kineged" (as in "kineged kulam") has the same meaning as in the phrase, "Ezer Kinegdo". As woman assists and completes man, the study of the law assists and completes the performance of the law. Correspondingly, as woman is not designed to supplant man, neither is the study of Torah designed to supplant the actual performance of it.


    (I may have noted this in a previous post, apologies if so.)

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    1. The word kneged means "corresponding to" or "lining up with" or "opposite of". So Ezer Knegdo gets translated as "help appropriate (meet) for him". Without the word "Ezer", the notion of assistance and completion does not show up. I think that the standard translation of "equal in weight to all of them" is most probable.

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  23. This discussion starts by ignoring the Yerushalmi; there is nothing new in the blog post that Chazal didn't outright say. See also the Bavli's parallel on Qiddushin 40b. Torah lishmah means to teach or to do. Since that is the full scope of Chazal's dispute about what learning is for, why is there all this talk about trying to deduce its purpose?

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  24. There is so much ignorance here it is hard to know where to start from. But let's start with this: What is a greater mitzvah - Kibbud Av V'Eim or Talmud Torah? Both equal?

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  25. Answer: Talmud Torah. Who says? Rambam (Mamrim 6:13)

    ותלמוד תורה גדול מכבוד אב ואם

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    1. Polemics about the importance of the mitzvah of Talmud Torah codified in the halachic section of Rambam and Shulchan Aruch that deals with the laws of Kibbud Av V'Eim!? What was that about getting cracked up over people who can't tell the difference etc.?

      Delete
    2. Almost anywhere you see a comparison of which mitzvah is more important than another it's polemics. Not bible bashing fire and brimstone polemics but polemics nonetheless

      Delete
    3. If your parents tell you not to study Torah, Talmud Torah trumps Kibud Av v'Em. But if your parents ask you for a favor, you better get up from that Gemara!

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    4. "If your parents tell you not to study Torah, Talmud Torah trumps Kibud Av v'Em"

      Chazal understood reverse psychology!

      RM

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  26. Although fulfillment of mitzvos is what sustains most people, for it is impossible for most people to apprehend of the glory of their Creator that which is fitting to apprehend by way of knowledge and inquiry, and it is sufficient for them to apprehend Him by way of tradition and fulfilling the mitzvos... nonetheless one whom Hashem has graced with knowledge of Torah and who merited to be among the remnants who calls unto Hashem, he is the essential one, and the peg on which all else is suspended (הוא עיקר ויתד שהכל תלוי בו). (Meiri, Sotah 21).

    The baraisa in Avos 6:1 says a heck of a lot more about one who studies Torah Lishmah than: he knows how to fulfill the mitzvos.



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  27. Rabbi Dr. Slifkin,
    Without wading into the actual substance of this discussion, I'd like to share some feelings with you.
    It seems to me that the affair with your books, in which I tend to agree with you that you were severely mistreated, had some unexpected positive ramifications. Namely, while you might have ended up there on your own anyway, the incident certainly pushed you more strongly in the direction of "rationalist Judaism." This has resulted in your making efforts to present to a larger public the vision of many of our rationalistically inclined Rishonim, a major contribution in its own right.
    Yet seeing these last two posts has made me wonder whether you may have been pushed too far to the opposite extreme. I am fully sympathetic to the issue that you raise about the compromised level of basic decency and goodness possibly facilitated by overemphasis on Torah study, and I see this as coupled with your desire to remain as theologically distant as possible from those who wronged you. Yet I firmly believe that you are overstepping your bounds. Are issues such as these really so simple and straightforward as to be easily resolved, with almost no loose ends, in a blog post or two? Is there really no mystique left for you in the sometimes cryptic and enigmatic statements of our Sages? Do you really have the entire structure of Judaism mapped out in front of you with no doubts or uncertainty? Leaving aside Kabbalistic interpretations of the mystical effects of Torah study, do Rav Soloveitchik's and Rav Lichtenstein's depictions of the utterly absorbing and transformative nature of Talmud Torah - all expressed without any recourse whatsoever to Zohar, Nefesh HaChaim or the like, and all developed naturally out of classic Talmudic statements - not strike any responsive chord within you? Do you really arrogate the right to sit in judgment over Talmudic statements and declare "this one is hyberbole, this one polemical, this one hortatory," and so on? Is the challenge of reconciling the teachings of Hazal with the apparent world view of the Tanach one that holds no excitement for you?
    The issues you raise are legitimate; the conclusions you allow yourself to reach with such certainty and absoluteness, less so. I challenge you to work toward, and help the rest of us work toward, a new model of Talmud Torah that fits the myriad and ubiquitous teachings of Chazal pointing unequivocally toward a more grandiose and more mystical (not in a kabbalistic sense!) understanding of Talmud Torah, and that, at the same time, satisfies the demand that you have and that we all share that personal growth and ethical excellence remain the focal points of our life.

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    1. I most definitely agree the issue is more complicated than these blog posts make it out to be. However I would suggest that you will struggle to create a unified theory from all these statements of chazal. They were said by different people, at different times and in different places. A large amount of variation in views is to be expected.

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    2. Why do you feel the need to state what "boundaries" you envision for Rabbi Slifkin? You are certainly not the first commenter here to behave this way. I don't get it. His approach to things offends your sensibilities? So what? You think a different message should be spread? So write your own blog and spread it. Why all these lectures all the time about what Rabbi Slifkin should or should not say and topics he should or should not cover?

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    3. BF, I don't know why you assume that I think that these blog posts "easily resolve" this topic, and I'm sorry if I gave that impression. This is indeed an extremely complicated topic. But I think it's fairly clear that the contemporary yeshivish view about limmud Torah is out of sync with Chazal and the Rishonim.

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    4. "But I think it's fairly clear that the contemporary yeshivish view about limmud Torah is out of sync with Chazal and the Rishonim."

      Rav Slifkin - Wouldn't it be equally (or more) accurate to say that Chazal's view of limud Torah was out of sync with Torah Sh'Bichtav? You can make a case that Kollel-for-all is simply an expansion on some of the ideas of Chazal. But I don't understand how you get from the complete absence of statements regarding learning Torah in Chumash to the statements of Chazal.

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    5. Rabbi Sperber did map out a unified theory of Judaism on this plane:
      see his book
      ON THE RELATIONSHIP OF MITZVOT BETWEEN MAN AND HIS NEIGHBOR AND MAN AND HIS MAKER
      http://www.urimpublications.com/Merchant2/merchant.mv?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=UP&Product_Code=MitzvotSperber

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    6. Bravo, BF, your critique is important and well-balanced. The polemic against certain ideas in yeshiva currency must give way to a new weaving of sources, with emunah and peirush and MADA and mystery all contributing to new understandings and inspirations for Jews to learn and act.

      Delete
    7. Soapbox:let me rephrase that which I said. One can try to create some sort of unified theory of Judaism. However such a theory would be about as meaningful as a unified theory of spells in Harry Potter.

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    8. There wouldn't be one "unified theory of Judaism", but numerous. There are many valid approaches, each emphasizing different aspects of a single unfathomable whole. Which is why the verse is written in the plural "it's ways are ways of peace" and Shelomo haMelekh enjoins us to find the right way for each child, "Educate the child according to their way, and even when they are aged they will not veer from it."

      In other words, I owuld modify your idea to say: Each person MUST create a fundamental theory of Judaism for themselves. Trying to create one that would would for everyone would be about as meaningful as a unified theory of spells in Harry Potter. But working without one reduces one observance to being as meaningful as hammering nails into wood without having decided what one is wishing to build.

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    9. Micha:I was referring to a unified theory explaining all gemoroh's and deos, as opposed to a personal philosophy of religion.

      Delete
  28. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  29. While there are numerous Talmudic sources to support each side of the current argument, the proposition that torah study in and of itself is the essential mission in life is rather elitist. Most of us don't have the opportunity - even having the inclination, to be so devoted to test study. Furthermore, as R' Natan pointed out, Talmud has been traditionally regarded as a forbidden subject to teach girls/women. Nor is torah study a mitzvah for women, even if there is no prohibition to teach it. How can someone be excluded from the asserted main purpose in life simply because of gender? Is humanity really meant to be divided into a hierarchy or worthiness: Gentile < Jewish woman < Jewish man < Jewish ben-torah? If so, then the Jewish woman is singularly disadvantaged since a Gentile man can become a Jew and even a ben-torah and a Jewish man can certainly become so, but a woman can't become a man with his torah obligations and halachic status.

    Y. Aharon

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    1. On the women's learning thing: I think that the prohibition is clearly inoperative today and the reason given makes no sense today as a rule. The right conclusion today would be that if a woman with the right capabilities is inclined to dedicate her life to study Torah at the highest level that she should be encouraged to do so.

      Also, one man's reductio ad absurdum is another man's ein hacha nami. I believe that there were many medievals who believed that woman < man. The beracha of Sheasani Kirtznono is one symptom of that.

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    2. With regard to women, isn't it an explicit Gemara that says that they earn Torah merit (only) by enabling their husbands and sons to go out and learn Torah? And aren't women obviously excluded from a whole class of mitzvos? And yet, does any Torah-values person conclude from any of this that women are inferior to men in Judaism? Definitely not.
      How shall we understand this? I'm far from certain. In this case, I would assume that the answer is that "men" and "women" as separate entities in Torah philosophy is somewhat artificial; the archetype is man-woman together, either as one flesh or two, but together. A "human" is a "man-women" composite. We don't worry about the poor manual dexterity of the foot relative to the hand, because they are both important parts of the composite organism that serve different, interrelated functions. So too, any "shortcoming" in women is going to be counterbalanced by the men, and visa versa.

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    3. David - I agree with you, but poskim are all over the place in deciding when something becomes inoperative. Basically, any halachot related to women that aren't absolutely based on a clear גזירת הכתוב are open to that kind of tweaking. Whether it's saying שלא עשני אשה, women's testimony, שררה or even matters of אישות וקידושין, once you accept that unqualified statements made by Chazal, with no indication as to their relation to the era in which they were made, can be called inoperative, you're opening a giant Pandora's box.

      Again, I think this box needs to be opened, but it's not just about my daughter learning Mishnayot. There is no fundamental difference between changing the Halacha about a girl learning Mishnayot and changing many of the Halachot of אישות. Most attempts at distinguishing between the two, by coming up with different categories of halachot, are not intellectually honest.

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    4. "And yet, does any Torah-values person conclude from any of this that women are inferior to men in Judaism? Definitely not."

      Untrue. Perhaps mostly true in modern times when the prohibition against Women learning Torah has been lifted.

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    5. David - I agree with you, but poskim are all over the place in deciding when something becomes inoperative.

      You misunderstand. I'm not claiming that the prohibition against women learning *should be* inoperative. I'm claiming that it *is* inoperative. That is because large swaths (almost all?) Orthodox society including their religious institutions allow it. They do make some distinctions (you can learn Gemara for the Aggadata, but not just open the Daf), but it is very squishy and there really no line that hasn't been crossed. If there is a pandora's box, it has already been opened (and I don't think that it is simple as you say that it is intellectually dishonest to distinguish halachos). If I had to distinguish, it would be simple: the Gemera itself has different positions and the conclusion is a Rabbinic protection based on a fact which no longer applies. But my argument doesn't depend on that.

      Generally, what is Orthodox is based on what the Orthodox and their leadership allows. I think that the outsized focus by some on OO is because of this fact. If OO gets enough adherents that keep Shabbos, Kashrus, always marry in, etc, but they also have women Rabbis and accept homosexuality, then this changes the definition of observant Judaism. This is not so surprising given that there have always been splits among observant groups of Jews (Tzedukim, Essenes, Karaites) and there are plenty of other big splits right now.

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    6. David, I believe that we need to be more careful about language used in discussing the issue of women studying or being taught torah. First, the halacha that is still, to my knowledge, accepted in the Hareidi/yeshivish world is that a girl/woman may not be taught Talmud. Rav Moshe Feinstein in his Igrot Moshe was adamant about not teaching Mishnayot to girls and Rav Yaakov Weinberg once gave a talk in Torah Umesorah where he questioned the propriety of teaching Rashi on parshat Mishpatim to girls due to its Talmudic content. This attitude appears to be primarily based on the psak of the Rambam in Mishne Torah who rules according to R' Eliezer in T.B. Sotah. The Rambam is, however, careful to distinguish between the written torah and Talmud. Only the latter is restricted. Furthermore, the prohibition only extends to teaching Talmud, not to self-study. The latter is not only permitted but is rewarded as a mitzvah that one accepts voluntarily. Your statement about the restriction on teaching torah being non-operative today is only true in some MO institutions. The day-school in my community still does not offer any Talmud instruction to its girls. Nevertheless, the phenomenon of women studying Talmud is something increasingly evident in some circles. I recently had the opportunity to attend the excellent Daf Yomi shiur given by Rav Dov Linzer which was also attended by some women. One of them carried an infant who started kvetching. She carried him away from the group but asked for the gemara so that she could continue to attend to the shiur. Such women will likely change the face of Judaism for the better.

      I am not questioning the different roles that men and women can play in life and religion - only the assertion that women are locked into a lesser position and status. That would be wrong if attributed to GOD rather than fallible men.

      Y. Aharon

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    7. David, I believe that we need to be more careful about language used in discussing the issue of women studying or being taught torah. First, the halacha that is still, to my knowledge, accepted in the Hareidi/yeshivish world is that a girl/woman may not be taught Talmud.

      Y. Aharon: The prohibition was on teaching Torah and that has been abrogated. Yes, you will find various differences of opinion on what the "new" limits are, and some would prohibit teaching Gemara to women, but they have all abrogated the prohibition and pretty much for the reason that it is clear that the Gemara's reason makes no sense in our context; if they can go to university, they can learn torah. My daughter went to pretty right wing places and looked at Aggadata in the Gemara. If they are studying Ramban on the Torah, pretty much all limits have been surpassed (the Holzer book on his chats with the Rav mentions this idea; of course he was an equal curriculum for boys and girls).

      I am not questioning the different roles that men and women can play in life and religion - only the assertion that women are locked into a lesser position and status. That would be wrong if attributed to GOD rather than fallible men.

      My point was simply that woman < man was believed by Torah authorities, so you can't use that as reductio ad absurdum as applied what the Rishonim thought.

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  30. I really don't get the point of all of this. Clearly, one needs knowledge and wisdom from Torah study in order to conduct one's life properly. And clearly the vast majority of us don't get enough Torah in our lives (despite trying). Mai nafka mina? Either way, we need to live our lives according to the mitzvot, and constantly learn Torah to reinforce that. This is true whether you're in kollel, a burger chef, an investment banker, or in any position in life.
    The only time any of this is a practical question is the very scenario the Gemara discussed. I have a period of time at my disposal right now and I could either spend it learning, or doing some other mitzvah. And the sugyah says how that is supposed to work.
    On the philosophical level, it's a worthy question. But I don't get the impression people are getting worked up here over philosophical conjecture. And here too, again, it seems clear to me that the best conclusion we can draw is that the "highest human endeavor" is living an integrated life of Torah and mitzvos both, however the balance works out in one's life. Which parts are most "valuable"? We were explicitly not told.

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    1. "Mai nafka mina?"

      Kollel for the masses leading to poverty for the masses. Agree otherwise.

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    2. ******************July 7, 2016 at 10:55 AM

      To call a spade a spade, methinks it's just disguised chareidi bashing as usual.

      Although in this case, MY, RZ and MO yeshivos are fundamentally the same here (appreciate they may have more besides gemoro and mussar on the curriculum, but fundamentally they are the same).

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    3. Asterisks: A heads-up. There are blacks who take offense at the idiom "to call a spade a spade", believing it's a reference to making sure to label blacks as blacks, in this case by a nickname based on the spade card suit.

      On the one hand, that's not the real origin of the idiom. The real origin is Plutarch (contemporary to R' Aqiva), "calling a fig a fig, and a trough a trough" where "trough" got mistranslated by Erasmus (Rotterdam, 1466-1536).

      On the other hand, there are Orthodox Jews of color who read this block, and likely will / were offended.

      You might wish to excise the idiom from your library, at least when you have no control over the audience.

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    4. Although in this case, MY, RZ and MO yeshivos are fundamentally the same here (appreciate they may have more besides gemoro and mussar on the curriculum, but fundamentally they are the same).

      RZ supports army service for some. MO expect many to college.

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    5. Yes I know. But they have still borrowed the whole concept of a yeshiva from those who you rant and rave about. What happens afterwards or expectations was not my point.

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    6. I don't rant and rave about the concept of a Yeshiva. Any subject worth studying is worth studying with depth and there always should be great minds dedicating their lives to such study (and teaching/publishing their discoveries). That doesn't mean that everyone should be putting aside all else for study. This is not rocket science.

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    7. David

      You misunderstood deliberately or inadvertently I do not know.

      I said the concept of yeshiva COMES FROM those you rant and rave about. The Rishonim or early Acharonim had never heard of OUR concept of yeshiva. Post war chareidim invented the concept and it was taken up by non charedim as well. Despite the fact that according to this post they should be spending most of their day with the local chesed organisation and charedim have got this wrong as well.

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    8. I don't rant and rave about any group. I don't think that the modern Yeshiva was invented after the war, and the pre-war Yeshiva had all types. I personally think that more of those from the nominally all-learning societies should be educated in secular subjects in their youth and work when older, not spend more time with the local Chesed org.

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    9. Before the war yeshiva was for a relatively select group of those that showed great ability. And before that those that showed great ability rose to the top like cream with no formal yeshiva framework.

      I repeat the concept of the vast majority of 17 and 18 year olds or so going off to learn in a yeshiva (albeit for less time) was taken from the charedim. It's a pity that the can't acknowledge that.

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    10. That is entirely possible and I can acknowledge that; I'm not an expert here. But the other factor is simply wealth. As a high school (and beyond) education became universal, the same was going to be extended to religious studies. In fact, I think (maybe I'm wrong) that this started in America pre-war and was not only done by "Charedim".

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  31. Why should a pasuk in Joshua serve as a source for a mitzvah? I never understood that.

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  32. Your argument that if Torah study was that important it would be more explicit fails to convince. What about hilchos shabbos, for example, the violation of which is punishable by death. There is almost nothing about it in the Torah aside from the prohibition on creating fire.

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    1. And the ten commandments ???

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    2. But we see in the Chumash that chillul Shabbos is punishable by death! No such thing is said regarding Torah study.

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  33. Dear Rabbi Slifkin,

    Point 1) Devarim 21:18 - The Gemara (Sanhedrin 71a) explains this law was never intended to be used. So why is it in the Torah - To study and obtain reward.

    That Gemara suggests the notion study for study sake.

    Point 2) You write “If learning Torah was really and truly the goal of our existence, wouldn't there be something actually in the Torah a little more explicit?!”

    I have asked myself the same question regarding so much of “Jewish” beliefs/halacha/ritual/custom. If XYZ “Jewish” belief/halacha /ritual/custom was so important would not the Torah discuss it ? Yet so much of “Jewish” belief/halacha/ritual/custom is not mentioned at all in the Torah. Rather, the Rabbis read into the Torah things that almost certainly were not intended by the Torah, and were made up and contrived by the Rabbis.

    What may XYZ consist of - ‘life after death’, ‘resurrection’ immediately come to mind, but there is so much more.

    The reason why the Torah does not discuss these XYZ things is because the Ancient Israelite religions, evolved and continued to evolve. The ancient Israelites also were adopting/adapting from prior cultures and from the cultures they continued to come into contact with. This evolution continued into the various brands of ancient Judaism and continues even up to today.

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    1. On point 1, study for its own sake? Doesn't that rather suggest study for the sake of reward?

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    2. @ Stdent V - What I am getting at is study for study sake as opposed study so as in order to implement a law or take an action regarding a law. I am citing a talmud that sort of opposes the gist of Rabbi Slifkin's argument "The ultimate goal of creation is not to learn Torah, it is to live Torah - to fulfill it." The pasukim in question were never intended to be fulfilled.

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  34. The gemara in brachos 6a says ומנין שאפילו אחד שיושב ועוסק בתורה שהשכינה עמו שנאמר בכל מקום אשר אזכיר את שמי אבוא אליך וברכתיך. the obvious implication of the gemorah is that learning torah creates a unique connection and closeness with hashem. I don't think it says this by any other mitzva except for tefilla when there are ten men.

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    1. Really blatant polemics

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