Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Jedi Masters vs. Gedolei Torah vs. Rishonim

Which is easier, to become a Jedi Master, to become a Gadol B'Torah, or to become a Rishon?

I'm not referring here to the acquisition of metaphysical abilities via the Force or kabbalah, or to the acquisition of wisdom and character traits which are presumed (though certainly not guaranteed) to accompany being Gadol b'Torah. I'm referring to the actual knowledge that needs to be acquired.

And let me specify that I am not discussing the Reform Jediism presented in the new Star Wars movies, in which you don't need any of the extensive study and training undertaken by Luke Skywalker. Rather, I am referring to traditional Jediism. In the latest movie, The Last Jedi, we visit the Ancient Jedi Temple and get a look at the library of classical Jedi sefarim, containing the ancient Jedi wisdom. And it contains...

Eight volumes.

Just eight! And Luke Skywalker confesses that he hasn't even read them! And, demonstrating an astonishing lack of respect, a certain ancient Jedi Master who turns out to be a Reformer agrees with Luke, noting that they aren't "page-turners"! What a pitiful reflection on contemporary culture, in which people assume that knowledge is to be acquired by flicking through bites of information online rather than by actually studying books cover-to-cover, even if they aren't page-turners.

So, with just eight books for a Jedi to study, it's much easier to become a Jedi Master than to become a Gadol B'Torah, in which there are hundreds and thousands of works to be mastered. And if it's harder to become a Gadol B'Torah than to become a Jedi Master, then kal v'chomer it is even more difficult to become a Rishon, those towering masters of Torah, right?

Wrong.

I'm going to say something which raised a lot of hackles when I first said it several years ago. But I'm going to say it again, because in the comments to the previous post, someone wrote that the reason why people have to learn in kollel for many years is that you can't learn Kol HaTorah Kula in just a few hours a day.

Nowadays, to become revered as a Gadol B'Torah, you'd have to learn an awful lot. You'd have spent time learning Tanach with some commentaries. You'd need to know Shas Bavli with every Rashi and Tosafos, which multiplies the study a hundredfold, along with major portions of Rishonim and Acharonim, the latter of which can be very intricate and require many hours of study. You'd also be expected to know Shas Yerushalmi, Shulchan Aruch, and to have studied lots of halachic literature. Plus, you would also have spent time on the way learning mussar sefarim and a host of other material. It's a lot to master; for several years, I lived next door to Rav Shmuel Auerbach's beis hamidrash, and I recall seeing him engrossed in study when I returned to my apartment at 11pm, and seeing him in the same position at 7am the next morning.

But the library of the Rishonim was much, much smaller. They hardly had any of this. They had Tanach, and manuscripts of the Gemara, and a few writings of the Geonim and some Rishonim. That was it! (And, of course, Chazal themselves had even less.) This isn't to say that the Rishonim were not geniuses and great scholars - of course they were. But it was much easier to master the material when there was much less to master.

Learning Kol HaTorah Kula only requires many years in kollel if you are defining Torah to include all the material that has accumulated over the centuries. But the complete Torah used to be much smaller. And let us not forget that Rambam wrote his Mishneh Torah with the intent that it completely replaces learning Gemara!

To be sure, given how Torah has developed, you're not going to be a towering scholar or teacher of Torah today unless you've learned a good portion of the material that has accumulated over the centuries. But to be an ordinary good learned Jew, there is much less that needs to be learned. Thus, Rav Eliezer Melamed writes that while it is important for everyone to gain a basic knowledge of Torah, which the community should fund, this should and need go no further than a few years in yeshivah. Once they have acquired an adequate basic general knowledge, they should study towards a career, so that they can be self-supportive. Only those who are directly studying to become rabbis or educators may continue their studies and be supported by the community, since they are dedicating themselves to a path of serving the community. For others, it is forbidden to continue their Torah study and receive communal support.

There's no obligation to become a contemporary Gadol B'Torah, which requires learning the accumulation of many centuries of development. The obligation is to have a thorough working knowledge of Torah, which requires much less effort. Though still more than Luke Skywalker was willing to exert!

37 comments:

  1. The difference between a Rishon and a contemporary Gadol is in quality, not quantity. A Rishon is assumed to know Shas and whichever seforim were available to him with a clarity that allows us to analyze every word he writes and build on the nuances and extrapolations that follow from them, whereas a contemporary Gadol is not assumed to be so precise. Additionally, a difficult passage in the writings of a contemporary can as a last resort be dismissed as an oversight, whereas a Rishon is assumed to never be mistaken; everything he writes must have an explanation. You may not agree that this should be so, but that is the accepted methodology in the Yeshiva World.

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    1. Leiby
      I have a small book giving the mistakes all great scholars made, including rishonim.
      They were humans.

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    2. How can anybody think that a Rishon cannot be mistaken, when one of the great Amoraim said about his own teaching that it was mistaken? It is virtually idol worship to say that a human being cannot err.

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    3. Aviv Itzhaky

      do you have a link to the small book ?

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    4. I don't think anybody truly believes that a Rishon can not have made a mistake; it's just accepted learning methodology not to entertain such a possibility

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    5. How can you say that a rishon is never mistaken if rishonim declare each other to be mistaken at times? At least one of them must be mistaken.

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    6. It is apparently the accepted methodology in the yeshiva world today to not entertain the possibility that even contemporary gedoilim can make a mistake. The Daas Torah ideology is built on this premise.

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    7. "How can you say that a rishon is never mistaken if rishonim declare each other to be mistaken at times? At least one of them must be mistaken."

      They could say it, we can not :)

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  2. Your premise is only partially correct. To be a RY today, you need to have political ability, to fundraise the capital investment (or inherit the funds, or like a cousin of mine's FIL, get a sufficient real estate base.)
    And political skills to get the requisite number of talmidim for your yeshiva. (That number varies, starting at an actual minyan of ten plus).

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    1. Often enough, none of the above are necessary. The top person/s in Kollel/Yeshiva - very dedicated, bright, a cut above in Lamdus, sincere - are sought out by people looking to hire them & run the Yeshiva for them. Ponovizh & Torah Vodaas stand out as examples; many lesser-known young start-ups also follow that model. And the good name brings in the Talmidim too.

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  3. to be a chazon ish requires no funds except super human dedication. according to his wife anybody could be the chazon ish, if they put their neshamah into leaning like he did.

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  4. I lived next door to Rav Shmuel Auerbach's beis hamidrash, and I recall seeing him engrossed in study when I returned to my apartment at 11pm, and seeing him in the same position at 7am the next morning.

    ...

    you are quite a smart cookie, that is why it is hard for you to find a hat that fits. if you acted like R. Auerbach would you be a major rosh hayeshiva ?

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  5. On the other hand, a Rishon had poorer quality texts, no indexing, no dictionaries and fewer others to rely on to decode what was going on. He had not word processor to use to write his seforim. It was easier in some ways, but harder in others.

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  6. You write: "And let us not forget that Rambam wrote his Mishneh Torah with the intent that it completely replaces learning Gemara!"
    That is a misunderstanding of what the Rambam wrote. He notes several times in that introduction that he is talking about the knowledge of דיני התורה. He is not discussing the fulfillment of the mitzva of talmud Torah.

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    1. No one was talking about the mitzvah of Talmud Torah.

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    2. The Rambam writes in a letter in which he was accused of not holding the Gemara in high enough esteem, that he has nothing against gemoroh - he even taught it to a couple of talmidim!

      It looks like the Rambam did intend for his work to supplant the gemoroh for the vast majority of people.

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    3. Avi: The topic of the post is what it takes to become a gadol baTorah. The paragraph where the Rambam was mentioned discusses what is included in Kol HaTorah Kula. R' Slifkin indicated that the Rambam held that Mishne Torah (actually Tak=nakh plus Mishne Torah, to be more precise) would meet the definition. I noted that this is a misreading of the Rambam, and he was not talking about what is included in "Torah," but rather what is needed to know the דיני התורה. Understood?

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    4. The Rambam felt that it should be unnecessary for most people to learn Gemarah. That is, the Rambam either felt that Talmud Torah does not require learning Gemarah, or he felt that most people had no need for a comprehensive curriculum vis a vis learning Torah.

      The Rambam's view was, very generally, that the entire purpose of mitzvot is to create an orderly society to give man the freedom to contemplate the divine. It would be entirely consistent with this approach to view talmud Torah as a requirement to learn Halachah and little else.

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    5. Not sure which Rambam you are talking about, but the one who wrote Mishne Torah writes (perek 1:11-12):
      וחייב לשלש את זמן למידתו שליש בתורה שבכתב ושליש בתורה שבעל פה ושליש יבין וישכיל אחרית דבר מראשיתו ויוציא דבר מדבר וידמה דבר לדבר ויבין במדות שהתורה נדרשת בהן עד שידע היאך הוא עיקר המדות והיאך יוציא האסור והמותר וכיוצא בהן מדברים שלמד מפי השמועה וענין זה הוא הנקרא גמרא:
      כיצד היה בעל אומנות והיה עוסק במלאכתו שלש שעות ביום ובתורה תשע אותן התשע קורא בשלש מהן בתורה שבכתב ובשלש בתורה שבעל פה ובשלש אחרות מתבונן בדעתו להבין דבר מדבר ודברי קבלה בכלל תורה שבכתב הן ופירושן בכלל תורה שבעל פה והענינים הנקראים פרדס בכלל הגמרא הן במה דברים אמורים בתחלת תלמודו של אדם אבל כשיגדיל בחכמה ולא יהא צריך לא ללמוד תורה שבכתב ולא לעסוק תמיד בתורה שבעל פה יקרא בעתים מזומנים תורה שבכתב ודברי השמועה כדי שלא ישכח דבר מדברי דיני תורה ויפנה כל ימיו לגמרא בלבד לפי רוחב שיש בלבו ויישוב דעתו:
      He clearly states that for the standard person, one-third of his time should be spent on learning Gemara, or its equivalent. He clearly describes learning not only the bottom line (which one can find in Mishne Torah) but the analysis of how those halakhot were derived, and comparing and contrasting them to one another. Then, when one is sufficiently learned, that should be his entire focus.

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    6. See Moshe Halbertal, What Is The Mishneh Torah:
      https://www.dropbox.com/s/l4zyvhao0q4n30d/Moshe%20Halbertal%20-%20What%20Is%20The%20Mishneh%20Torah%20-%20On%20Codification%20and%20Ambivalence.pdf?dl=0

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    7. Interesting. But I find it unusual that in his discussion of the possible interpretations of the Rambam's line in the introduction, he does not cite the ruling in hilkhos Talmud Torah, which I think make the matter clear. Either way, I stand by my earlier comment that your statement that the Rambam "wrote his Mishneh Torah with the intent that it completely replaces learning Gemara" is a mischaracterization.

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  7. What separates the true godol is the attainment of nefesh hasichlis. As the Rambam writes in his letter to his talmid the goal is 'tikkun midosecha vekinyan sichliosecha" - sichli is something that you have to work to attain, i.e. not just our ordinary intellect. 'Rationalism' is spiritual knowledge. At that point you are one with the Torah and your knowledge is of a different dimension. It's not in the books....

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  8. Regarding Yoda and his attitude as relates to the written Jedi manuscripts, keep in mind that his attitude may have changed due to his going from being a Gadol regarding his mastery of knowledge relating to the Force, to being one within the Force. One could only guess, but I would venture to say that if you could ask God, he would have a far narrower view of what is essential in Judaism than what you find on the shelves of a present day rosh yeshiva.

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  9. could the chazon ish have written the rambam, nemukei yosef etc. they would say never.

    also if you want to be a real radical, compare rav auerbach to the neviim or even yehosua bin nun. who knew more ?

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  10. You should see the shulchan aruch harav hilchos talmud torah where he delineates exactly what is the basic chiyuv for every jewish male to learn. Tanach, Shas bavli and yerushalmi and all the midrashie halacha (plus some others). this has been widely accepted (I've heard R Herchel Shachter from YU quote it a number of times). if you think any one who spends a couple of years in yeshiva has come even close to mastering these (forget about all the later achronim you talked about), then you are very mistaken.
    josh millet

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  11. would you be able to repost your link to chanukah miracle artscroll influenced by maskilim

    thanks

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    1. http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2010/12/kosher-certification-for-maccabees.html

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    2. the real i mean the other i mean the USUAL chaimDecember 26, 2017 at 1:09 AM

      Such a clever namesake I have. Cheers!

      N good ole positive attenshin n recognishin never hurt a body naither. Encore!

      Delete
  12. It's akin to the old joke where a kid tells his parents that they had it easier learning history in school because there was so much less of it.

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  13. Additionally, many late acharonim ("roshei yeshiva") would not even learn other acharonim or contemporary seforim.

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  14. In my opinion, the basic problem is true dedication to Torah, not how much is learned (though, of course, to become a Gadol one must master enough of the basic sources to consider them all intelligently when he offers a Psak).
    People who are truly dedicated to the true spirit of Torah (as defined as "what God would expect of his children" - not as something to pore over in order to keep up with the Cohens, or in order to find all possible Chumrahs to feel safe against doing something which might bring punishment upon himself) should not require enormous amounts of time for Torah study. The Chafetz Chaim was a grocery store owner, and in the times of the Mishnah Rav Yochanan HaSandler was given that epithet because he earned a living as a shoemeaker (Sandler)!

    As my brother from Sderot HaYarkon in Bet Shemesh has been known to say: When they asked a great Talmid Chacham how he became such a great scholar, he answered, "I became a Talmud Chacham in two minutes". When they found this hard to believe he explained, "Every time that I had two spare minutes, I learned a little Torah, and that's how I became a Talmid Chacham."

    [Catriel Lev from Ramat Bet Shemesh Alef]

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  15. We haven't had the slightest hint that these 8 Jedi books existed before this. They are only found at a single site, one of the holiest Jedi temples. I suggest these are more likely to be volumes akin to Sefer Yetzirah or the unrevealed version of the Zohar than to the Talmud or Tanach.

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  16. It is important to step into the time machine and imagine life in one of the old yeshivas. Even if it is ultimately impossible to know, it is good to try to imagine. All manuscripts, all by candlelight, much ba'l peh. Much individual devekut that is not as mediated as our own-- could a medieval Synagogue ever have had more than a couple actual sidurim? It is natural to project backwards on history and recreate it in a more palatable or relatable manner, but this is also a form of imperialism. The point is not to increase doubt but to restore perspective on gadlut that transcends generations.

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    1. Definitely. The printing press changed (Orthodox) Judaism forever. Until the widespread availability of seforim, there was a practical limit to what any one person could learn. I think one major difference between Rishonim and Acharonim is that the former had to depend on their own analysis, while the latter often synthesize a position based on previous writings. Obviously there are notable exceptions in both directions, but I feel that this is true in general.

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  17. I'd prefer to dress like a Jedi over a Chareidi Gadol any day....mink tail hats...who needs 'em????

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  18. Having now seen The Last Jedi I can say that I don't know where the claims of Reform Jedi'ism come from.
    Luke Skywalker (or should it Maran Hagaon haRav Luke ben Anakin?) never changed anything about the Force. If anything he restored it back to what it was claimed to be originally before George Lucas invented the mitochloridian farce. The Force is the life energy of the universe and everyone is a part of it since everyone is bound up within in. That's straight out of A New Hope. Not everyone can use it like Jedi can and I don't recall him claiming otherwise.
    When it comes to the size of the library in the Jedi Tree, well Yoda said that those books were the originals. And really, if you think about it, how many scrolls did the average member of the Anshei Knesses HaGedola have in his library? Or in the community Beis Medrash?
    As for Luke's willingness to destroy it all, well can you blame him? In his lifetime he'd learned that all the other Jedi had been suckered and killed by a Sith Lord, that his own father had been manipulated into the Dark Side, and then he had to fight his own father who then died leaving him alone as the only Jedi in the galaxy. No friends to meditate with. No one to practice light sabre fighting with. And then he's expected to build and run a new yeshi... Jedi Temple and get it all right? No wonder he was tired of the whole thing!

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