Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Talmud Torah Keneged Kulam!

The phrase Talmud Torah k’neged kulam, "the study of Torah is equal to everything," is well known from its daily recital in the morning prayers:
These are the things which man performs and enjoys their fruits in this world, while the principal remains for him in the World to Come: honoring one’s parents, bestowing kindness, arriving at the study hall early in the morning and evening, welcoming guests, visiting the sick, assisting a bride, escorting the dead, contemplation of prayer, and making peace between man and his fellow. And the study of the Torah is equal to them all.
This phrase is commonly cited as a trump card for shutting down any discussion relating to people's obligations:
"Shouldn't men work to support their families, rather than staying in Kollel?"
   "Talmud Torah k'neged kulam!"
"Should people give their children an education that enables them to earn a living, as Chazal instruct?"
   "Talmud Torah k'neged kulam!"
"Shouldn't the burden of military service and supporting the economy be shared across society in Israel?"
   "Talmud Torah k'neged kulam!"
While the idea that Torah is equal in value to all other mitzvot put together is not necessarily related to the mystical outlook, it does dovetail with it. After all, from a rationalist perspective, while Torah is extremely important in terms of its instructional and educational value, it is difficult to see why it would be equal in value to all other mitzvot put together. Whereas if learning Torah is of mystical significance, then this can easily be proposed to be equal to all other mitzvot combined.

Yet in practice, nobody, and certainly not Chazal, ever took Talmud Torah k'neged kulam to mean that any given moment of Torah study is equal in value to all other mitzvot combined. If they did, then there would never be grounds to do an optional mitzvah, much less to institute any kind of non-critical act, religious or otherwise, that could take people away from a moment of Torah study.

Furthermore, it is important to note that there are several mitzvot about which Chazal say that they are equal to all other mitzvot together:
Shabbos is equal to all the mitzvot of the Torah. (Yerushalmi, Berachot 9a)
Great is circumcision, for it is equal to all the mitzvot of the Torah. (Yerushalmi, Nedarim 12b)
The mitzvah of tzitzit is equal to all the mitzvot of the Torah (Nedarim 25a, Menachot 43b)
Charity and bestowing kindness are equal to all the mitzvot of the Torah (Yerushalmi, Pe’ah 3a)
Settling the land of Israel is equal to all the mitzvot of the Torah. (Tosefta, Avodah Zarah 5)
Now, it is logically impossible for all these things to be equal to all other mitzvot! Thus, the phrase k’neged kulam cannot be interpreted literally to mean that they are equal to all other mitzvot.

Most significantly, the version that we say in Shacharit, which has a long list of mitzvot regarding which it is said that Talmud Torah K'neged Kulam, is not the original text. Rather, it is an expansion of the original text, which is a Mishnah in Pe’ah. That Mishnah lists three mitzvot, and then says Talmud Torah k'neged kulam:
These are the things which man performs and enjoys their fruits in this world, while the principal remains for him in the World to Come: honoring one’s parents, bestowing kindness, and making peace between man and his fellow. And the study of the Torah is equal to them all. (Mishnah, Pe’ah 1:1)
Now, the significance of realizing that this is the underlying source for Talmud Torah k'neged kulam is that this text also has a corresponding text regarding sins, which states as follows:
And correspondingly, these are the things for which a person is punished in this world, while the principal remains for him in the World to Come: Idolatry, forbidden relationships and murder. And lashon hara (evil speech) is equal to them all. (Yerushalmi, Peah 4a; Tosefta, Pe’ah 1:2) 
What are we to make of this? Lashon hara is very bad, but it is certainly not worse than idolatry, adultery and murder! Clearly, the point is to emphasize the severity of lashon hara, which can be far-reaching in its effects.

Thus, when Chazal say that lashon hara is equal to idolatry, adultery and murder, this is not meant to be understood literally. Likewise, when Chazal say in the corresponding text that Talmud Torah is equal to all other mitzvot, it is likewise not meant to be understood literally.

Having said all that, what does Talmud Torah k'neged kulam actually mean? It means that it is of foundational significance vis-a-vis mitzvot, just as lashon hara is of foundational significance vis-a-vis sin. It is the same as the discussion in Kiddushin 40b, where the consensus is that study is greater than action—and the reason given is that study leads to action. Rambam explicitly explains Talmud Torah k'neged kulam this way:
And when you investigate this matter, you will find that Talmud Torah is weighed as equivalent to everything, because through Talmud Torah a person merits all these [mitzvot in the list], just as we explained at the beginning—that study leads to action. (Rambam, Commentary to the Mishnah, Pe’ah 1:1)
There are “regular” mitzvot, like blowing shofar, shiluach hakein, building a sukkah, etc. And there are especially significant mitzvot, described by Chazal as being “equal to all others,” such as circumcision, Shabbos, charity, and settling the land of Israel. Of the especially significant mitzvot, learning Torah is unique. But this is (primarily) because, as Chazal say, "study leads to action."


(Extracted from my forthcoming book, Rationalism vs. Mysticism: Schisms in Traditional Jewish Thought)

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44 comments:

  1. So this is the text
    These are the things which man performs and enjoys their fruits in this world, while the principal remains for him in the World to Come: honoring one’s parents, bestowing kindness, and making peace between man and his fellow. And the study of the Torah is equal to them all. (Mishnah, Pe’ah 1:1)

    i get really frustrated when people don't read for meaning. The text is clear and unambiguous. Torah is the equal of them all is clearly related to the notion of reward in both this life and the world to come. The operative sentence is These are the things which man performs and enjoys their fruits in this world, while the principal remains for him in the World to Come:

    No person with the most basic of litteracy skills could suggest that this passage in any way implies that Talmud Torah k'neged kulam! could in anyway displace or even supersede obligations in other mitzvot. The passage is unambiguously stating that the reward in this life for Talmud Torah is as great as those for g'milut chesed.

    The question becomes; how can we possibly rely on people who so misread such a simple text for halachic advice?

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    1. So to paraphrase, you interpret that phrase as "the study of Torah is as equal as any of the others". I don't know, sounded a bit like a kvetch.Why was "kulam" used rather than "kol ehad mayhem"?

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    2. None of the other mitzvot can be equated to the study of Torah. Rather, the study of Torah can be equated to all the mitzvot, because study leads to deed. Therefore, study takes precedence over deed in all cases.

      [The following rules apply] when a person is confronted with the performance of a mitzvah and the study of Torah: If the mitzvah can be performed by another individual, he should not interrupt his studies. If not, he should perform the mitzvah, and then return to his studies.

      Rambam, Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:3-4

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    3. Dear Michael,

      Perhaps I have trouble expressing myself with clarity, for this I appologise. The substance of my intended meaning was that Talmud Torah k'neged kulam, when quoted in context can only be referring to the nature of reward in both this life and the next. Suggesting that the comment is about priority of mitzvah observance, or as a justification for neglecting other mitzvot simply perverts the meaning of the text.

      Quoting something out of context - and changing its intended meaning in the process is a deception.

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    4. "[The following rules apply] when a person is confronted with the performance of a mitzvah and the study of Torah: If the mitzvah can be performed by another individual, he should not interrupt his studies. If not, he should perform the mitzvah, and then return to his studies."

      Well, no one else can do a man's army service for him, nor work for his wages in his stead. So...

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    5. AND no-one is excused from Milchemet Mitzvah.

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    6. William,

      Yes I can and yes I do another man's army service and pay his wages

      Yours irritatedly,
      An Israeli Regular Joe

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    7. Sorry to burst your bubble but not correct
      The patriarchal tribe of Levi for example did not fight
      of course they did fight against other Jews when called upon to stop them from sinning grievously or to fight for their religion



      CF. Taz as well as others that women are never called upon and certainly never in any organized formation either

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    8. The patriarchal tribe of Levi for example did not fight

      You are contradicting an explicit Rashi in פרשת מטות.

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  2. This essay requires a good comment. For this I will reinstate a previous comment for clarity; as it is a necessity for this essay.

    Neither passive piety nor study of the Torah, Talmud, or mystical tracts bring people to G-d. A person who spends all his time in prayer does not live a saintly life and does not come close to G-d. Those who contribute nothing to society, reject the joys of this world are definitely not pious, nor can they be called appropriately human. Aristotle wrote that being really human is using ones’ intelligence. The intellect is what separates us from animals, this is the meaning of the “image of G-d.” Near the end of his Guide, Maimonides writes a parable about Talmudic scholars stumbling outside G-d’s palace, never quite finding the entrance. Solitary contemplation in total seclusion is not want G-d wants. G-d desires people to use their intellect and the five senses He gave them. It is foolish to think that G-d wants people to rely on Him and not rely on themselves. Which begs the question, who is a true Torah-observant Jew? The ideal Jew is a Jew who knows both philosophy and science, metaphysics and Torah, as well as secular subjects, and uses that knowledge to develop their intellect to improve themselves and society. In short, to be all that they can be.[1]

    [1] Torah study leads to proper action. Few people realize this. Most people fail to recognize the good that flows from proper action. They can be blind to this for a long period time or until many years have passed. Failure to do so could also lead them astray. These people, indeed the vast majority of people, need a proper guide to teach them proper behavior. The Torah does this.

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    1. So many non-sequiturs here.
      (1) How is it that one who studies all day is not "appropriately human" according to the Aristotelian definition? Does Torah study not require engaging one's intellect?

      Curiosity. Turk Hill, and all of the other rationalist here, including Rabbi Slifkin - Do you believe in bodily resurrection?

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    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    4. Unknown,

      Maimonides, the philosophical descendant of Aristotelian philosophy felt that a person should be knowledgeable in all subjects and learn the truth even if it comes from the Greek pagan Aristotle, for "the truth is the truth no matter the source." He also felt that a person should develop their minds to improve themselves and society.

      Near the end of his Guide, he writes a parable about Talmudic scholars stumbling about, never enter G-d's palace. Saying that should not be mistaken as advocating a neglecting of Torah study. Nevertheless, G-d does not want people to sit in solitude, contributing nothing to society, expecting G-d to remedy human societal needs as if expecting Him to perform a miracle. Contrary, people should use religious text to promote good action. Rambam writes that the Torah mitzvot have three purposes: teach the truth and improve the self and society.

      In his work called Chelek, Maimonides explains that upon death a person’s intelligence joins (or is absorbed by) the higher intellect; it goes to the world to come and that this situation is ideal and blissful. Thus why would the soul wish to resurrect or be reborn at a lower and less satisfying level? He seems to say that the resurrection will be a spiritual resurrection, not physical. This idea will bother many people, but it is more realistic.

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    5. The Rambam did not write a work called Chelek, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi/Ravina/Rav Ashi did. But the Rambam did write a treatise where he affirms his belief in physical resurrection. Please do not attempt to pass your own personal views as those of the Rambam. And by the way, its specifically the Talmud scholars who find themselves on the perimeter of the palace seeking entry, those who deride Talmud scholars, and those who never seclude themselves to study Talmud, don't even enter the palace's zip code. Lastly, do you think the Rambam wrote Hilchos Meilah (you can look that up on Google) without ever dedicating himself to hours upon hours upon hours of secluded Talmud study?? Please, do not profess knowledge of the Rambam's hashkafos by reading a Wikipedia article about Maimonides. I hope Mr. Turk Hill is not representative of the average reader here....

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    6. Rambam certainly felt that Talmud study was necessary, as you point out, those who rejected talmudic study were even further. The point was not to disparage Talmud study. Rambam writes that a prophet is the perfected state of man. What Rambam was saying was that people should not only study talmud, but medicine, as well as science, which he considered a mitzvah.

      As far as resurrection, I think that he would still reject resurrection because I understand him to be convinced that whatever happens in this world happens according to the laws of nature, and resurrection is not part of the laws of nature.

      True, he adds resurrection in his thirteen principles, but he added it for the masses who were fearful of death and needed to believe in resurrection. As you know, he did not always tell the truth because of the need to help people, and he often engaged in essential truths. I think that he did not accept most of the thirteen principals.

      If he wrote the book on resurrection, and this is doubtful, it was probably an essential truth, as the thirteen principles. In any event, people often need Maimonides to be saying something that confirms their preconceived notions. They need Maimonides to say something he never said, and in doing so, they often invent a false Maimonides.

      (Not all scholars accept the idea that Maimonides wrote many essential truths. But I think he did.)

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    7. Isn't it ironic to in one sentence accuse people of ascribing things to the Rambam in order to "confirm their preconceived notions" and then in the very next sentence suggest that what the Rambam wrote was either insincere or not really written by him in order to confirm YOUR preconceived notions???

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    8. No. Because there has been a long tradition of writing for two audiences used by philosophers, such as Baruch Spinoza, as well as many Arab philosophers, such as Averroes and Ibn Tufayl’s book The Hayy Ibn Yaqzan, a parable. The natural philosophers (rationalists) called it Plato's "Noble Lie." Maimonides called it an “essential truth,” because he felt the need to help people who would otherwise feel threatened if they were told that their childish views about G-d were wrong. Thus he employed the technique of "Necessary beliefs."

      In the introduction to the Guide, Maimonides explained his technique. He will purposely contradict himself so that the uneducated reader will think that he is agreeing with them, ideas that they need to be told are true, otherwise they will feel threatened, while the educated reader will mine his teachings and read his entire book to uncover for his true view. Thus, Maimonides writes:

      “Do not read superficially, lest you do me an injury, and derive no benefit for yourself. You must study thoroughly and read continually; for you will find the solution of those important problems of religion, which are the source of anxiety to all intelligent men.”

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  3. The phrase is taken out of context and then twisted to mean whatever the speaker wishes it to mean.

    The ברייתא starts with אלו הן שאוכל פירותהן בעולם הזה והקרן קימת לו בעולם הבא. It makes no value judgement about the relative merit or reward for any of the מצוות it lists. It also does not claim that תלמוד תורה is כנגד all מצוות, but only כנגד those listed.

    My personal explanation is that מצוות, generally, are rewarded in this world. The Torah mentions several times various (material) rewards which accrue for performance of מצוות. However, תלמוד תורה is different. It is only an enabler (ללמוד על מנת לעשות). There is no material reward for it study. Rather, the reward accrues entirely בעולם הבא.

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  4. From Rav Melamed's "Peninei Halakha:Ha'Am ve Ha'Aretz": "As we have already noted, our Sages, of blessed memory, have stated, “Settling the Land of Israel is equal [in weight] to all the commandments in the Torah.” Although the Chachamim have said the same regarding a few other commandments, nevertheless, from a halachic standpoint, settling the Land of Israel is superior to all the other mitzvot, for it is the only one which we are commanded to fulfill with miserut nefesh (self-sacrifice), in conquering the Land and defending it from her enemies (as has been clarified in section 5 of this chapter).8

    8. Mitzvot that are said to be equal in weight to all the commandments in the Torah are the mitzvah of brit milah (Nedarim 32A); tzedakah (Baba Batra 9A); tzitzit (Shavuot 29A); tefillin (Menachot 43B). It is also said about Shabbat (Yerushalmi Nedarim 3:9); gemilat hasidim (Yerushalmi Peah 1:1); and in several places regarding the mitzvah of Talmud Torah. Nonetheless, only the mitzvah of conquering and settling the Land demands the willingness to give up one’s life, giving it a higher halachic standing. Even regarding the three principle prohibitions that we must be willing to be killed over and not commit - murder, idol worship, and forbidden sexual relations – and over all mitzvot in a time of gezerat malchut (when the Gentiles enact decrees compelling us to violate the Torah in order to sever us from our faith), all of these situations should be avoided l’chatchelah, from the outset, if at all possible. However, in order to conquer Eretz Yisrael, we must be ready, l’chatchelah, to set off to war and risk our lives in the battle.

    Additionally, it is the only mitzvah which nullifies the rabbinical prohibition of “shvut” on Shabbat. While, this is not the appropriate place to explain in depth the details of shvut, suffice it to say that the Sages enacted fences to the Torah, in order to prevent transgression. The fences concerning the laws of Shabbat are called shvut. In an effort to strengthen these restrictions, the Sages declared that even in a situation where a conflict arises between the fulfillment of a precept from the Torah and the prohibition of shvut, which is a rabbinic enactment, one should not fulfill the commandment from the Torah, for if people transgressed the restrictions of shvut, they would eventually come to transgress Shabbat completely. Consequently, if a brit milah falls out on Shabbat, and, in order to fulfill the mitzvah, the circumcision knife must be carried in an area where the Sages forbade carrying on Shabbat, the brit milah is postponed in order not to transgress the shvut which they established.

    Furthermore, in order to prevent the possibility of desecrating the Sabbath, the Sages determined that if Rosh HaShanah falls on Shabbat, the shofar must not be blown, to prevent a person from carrying it in the public domain, thereby transgressing a Torah prohibition. Similarly, if the first day of the holiday of Succot falls on Shabbat, the Sages forbade the waving of the lulav, in order to prevent the four species from being carried four cubits in the public domain, transgressing a Torah prohibition. In the cases cited, the Torah commandments of blowing the shofar and waving the lulav are nullified because of the rabbinical prohibition of shvut.

    Only for one commandment, settling the Land of Israel, did Chachamim cancel the prohibition of shvut. If a Jew has the opportunity to purchase a house in the Land of Israel from a non-Jew on Shabbat, he is permitted to make the transaction, telling the non-Jew to write the contract for him on Shabbat, which is normally forbidden, and to show him where the purchase money is located. We are not talking here about saving the entire Land, but rather the redemption of one single house. In order to make the purchase possible, the Sages permitted the transgression of their rabbinical prohibition, something they did not permit concerning any other precept (Orach Chaim, sect. 306, paragraph 11).

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  5. It seems rather strange to opine on a mishna without citing to the gemara on that mishna. Here's how the Yerushalmi (4a) explains the mishna:

    רבי ברכיה ורבי חייא דכפר דחומין חד אמר אפילו כל העולם כולו אינו שוה לדבר אחד של תורה וחד אמר אפי' כל מצותיה של תורה אינן שוות לדבר א' מן התורה

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  6. Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein has a very good, balanced explanation of the value of learning Torah. He seems to combine the rational and the mystical.

    https://www.etzion.org.il/en/nature-and-value-torah-study

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  7. When the Mishnah states that Torah study is equivalent to all of them - what is all of them? Wouldn't it make sense that the referent of "them" be the mitzvot mentioned earlier in the same mishnah, as I pointed out here?

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  8. I apologize for not remembering the source, but there is a gemara where one of the Amora's sons was burying people in the cemetery and he was asked how can his son do this when Talmud Torah k'neged kulam (he should have been learning)
    The gemara answers - that he was osek in a mitzvah "she ie efshar laasos bidai acharim"

    It seems the gemara took talmud torah kineged kulam literally.

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    1. One of the מצוות listed is הלוית המת.

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  9. The idea behind the primacy of talmud torah over everything else is not based on four words (and as indicated in my prior comment even those four words are fairly significant according to the Gemara). There are lots of mamarei chazal that speak to this concept. The alleged conversation with the defender of the kollel system is a classic straw-man argument. No one would argue those four words are the basis of their entire worldview. Here's just a small sampling:

    גדול תלמוד תורה יותר מבנין בית המקדש

    גדול תלמוד תורה יותר מכבוד אב ואם

    גדול ת"ת יותר מהצלת נפשות

    טוב לי יום אחד שאתה עוסק בתורה לפני מאלף עולות שעתיד שלמה בנך להקריב לפני על גבי המזבח

    א"ר יוחנן מנין לדברי תורה שהן קולטין שנאמר (דברים ד, מג) את בצר במדבר וגו

    רב חסדא הוה יתיב וגריס בבי רב ולא הוה קא יכול שליחא [דמלאכא דמותא] למיקרב לגביה דלא
    הוה שתיק פומיה מגירסא


    א"ר יהושע בן לוי מאי דכתיב (תהלים קכב, ב) עומדות היו רגלינו בשעריך ירושלם מי גרם לרגלינו שיעמדו במלחמה שערי ירושלם שהיו עוסקים בתורה

    ריב"ל מיכרך בהו ועסיק בתורה אמר (משלי ה, יט) אילת אהבים ויעלת חן אם חן מעלה על לומדיה אגוני לא מגנא

    I would hope in your book you discuss all of these and do not limit your attention to four words. Of course, none of these necessarily prove anything about the concept of kollel, but they certainly do indicate that learning Torah is not the same thing as other mitzvos.

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    1. You seem to have missed the point. No one is arguing that ת’’ת isn't important. But no one uses those quotes to justify ת’’ת at the expense of all other acts. People do use the phrase תלמוד תורה כנגד כולם in that way.

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    2. You Avi, seem to have missed the point. Youcan't pay lip service to the primacy of torah study and then structure yourlife in such a way that it basically takes a backseat to everything else. While some chareidim can go to an extreme and ignore other obligations (such as parnasah), most dati leumi and MO tend to go to the other extreme - putting their real efforts in life into their career, leisure, etc. leaving little or no time and focus for talmud torah.
      Shimon Langer

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    3. R Slifkin makes it clear that Talmud Torah is a significant unique mitzvah more so than most of the mitzvot. His article is explaining why that is the case, and it's because "Study leads to action". It seems Avi actually read R Slifkin's article; I am not conviced that others in this thread have done the same.

      Notice how Shimon comes in on his high horse attacking "most" dati leumi and MO, while minimizing the other extreme to "some" chareidim. Very slick.
      Shimon goes on to quote R Lichtenstein but only in his remarks to the "third level" of talmud torah. Shimon, what are the other levels? and while R Aharon submits that the third level is deeply rooted in tradition, does he use the phrase "talmud torah kneged kulam" to back that up? Furthermore, does R Lichtenstein explain that within the camp that sees TT as cosmic, what does he say in terms of its status vis-a-vis other mitzvot?

      G Wielgus comes in with a few sources that he doesn't even cite nor does he explain the context of which they are mentioned. It's also ironic that he uses these sources to prove "primacy of talmud torah over everything else", when these sources only point to talmud torah's primacy over a handful of mitzvot. Furthermore, the word "gadol" insinuates that TT has an advantage over the other mitzvah its being contrasted with and not necessarily that it bears greater weight than the other.

      I think the major question here is: was the scenario that the Jewish people found themselves in during the times of the gemara similar to the environment that the Jewish people find themselves in now , particularly with respect to the establishment of society in the land of Israel and with respect to the formalization of the Jewish legal system?

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    4. You seem to be arguing against a straw man.

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    5. @N8ZL,

      The point of Rabbi Slifkin's post (if I understand it correctly) is that charedi society overemphasizes Talmud Torah and their misunderstanding of the Mishna is to blame for that.

      My response to that was two-fold:

      a) You cannot have a good faith discussion about a mishna without citing to the gemara. I know Rabbi Slifkin has seen the yerushalmi because he quotes other items from the same page. It strikes me as rather dishonest not to mention the Yerushalmi (as a refresher, חד אמר אפילו כל העולם כולו אינו שוה לדבר אחד של תורה וחד אמר אפי' כל מצותיה של תורה אינן שוות לדבר א' מן התורה)

      b) the incredible importance of Talmud Torah does not come from four words. One must look at all of chazal to get a sense of how they valued talmud torah The examples are provided were off the top of my head and someone with a better memory than me can provide a lot more. The examples I gave showed that a) TT was "greater" than re-building the Temple, honoring one's father and mother, and saving lives, and b) talmud torah protects individuals and society from harm. I apologize for not providing actual citations but just copy and paste your browser and you will find that each one is a gemara.

      The bottom line is, Talmud Torah is THAT important. In the eyes of Chazal, it is NOT overemphasized. None of this is intended to justify the current kollel system. The argument can be made that notwithstanding the fact that TT is quite important, a person still has the duty to work for a living, just as he has a duty to daven and shake lulav.

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    6. @G Wielgus

      You're arguing against something that was never said. This post was about ת’’ת כנגד כולם, and the way it's misinterpreted or misused to justify learning at the expense of everything, and everyone, else. That ת’’ת is considered very important was never brought into question.

      There's a lot of hyperbole in the גמרא when it comes to the importance of ת׳׳ת. What is usually missing from the discussion are the explanations given by the ראשונים for why it's so important. The lack of nuance is essentially the point behind the discussion. It's also particularly important to those living in Israel, because we experience, on a daily basis, the effects of this ignorance.

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    7. @G Wielgus

      Rabbi Slifkin says the following in the above article:

      - “while Torah is extremely important in terms of its instructional and educational value, it is difficult to see why it would be equal in value to all other mitzvot put together. “
      - “Having said all that, what does Talmud Torah k'neged kulam actually mean? It means that it is of foundational significance vis-a-vis mitzvoth”
      - “Of the especially significant mitzvot, learning Torah is unique”

      Is there any where in these words that imply R Slifkin does not believe in "the incredible importance of Talmud Torah"? Instead, it is you who project your own interpretation into R Slifkin's intention and say that R Slifkin's point is that "charedi society overemphasizes Talmud Torah". I may have missed it, but where exactly did he say that in the article!? His real words at the beginning of the essay were "This phrase is commonly cited as a trump card for shutting down any discussion relating to people's obligations:"
      Even the gemara you cite from the Yerushalmi doesn't say anything about talmud torah in relation to one's basic obligations in life. All it does is poetically describe the foundational aspect of Torah, which R Slifkin is not disagreeing upon. So it's dishonest of you to be falsely criticizing him for something he didn't say.

      What's strange is that you end off your comment with "The argument can be made that notwithstanding the fact that TT is quite important, a person still has the duty to work for a living, just as he has a duty to daven and shake lulav." That's exactly what R Slifkin is arguing! What did I miss from the article that you are reading into?

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    8. @Avi "You're arguing against something that was never said. This post was about ת’’ת כנגד כולם, and the way it's misinterpreted or misused to justify learning at the expense of everything, and everyone, else. That ת’’ת is considered very important was never brought into question."
      After all, where did R' Slifkin get all his knowledge to use for his books and this blog? Talmud Torah ; )

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    9. @N8ZL,

      We seem to be talking in circles at this point but I will give it one more try.

      What is the point of this post? R' Slifkin is claiming that certain people read this Mishna and assume it means TT is a certain level of importance (Let's call those certain people "charedim" for simplicity's sake). R' Slifkin's argument is that the Mishnah is being read wrong, and that while TT is quite important, it is not as important as the Charedim would have you believe. He may not have used the word overemphasized in this post but he has in the past and I don't think he's retracting his earlier views (see here for example, http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2013/09/kneged-kulam.html).

      The Gemaras I quoted were to demonstrate that TT is actually THAT important. TT is not simply the equivalent of Lashon Hora. TT is greater than saving a life, greater then rebuilding the Temple and greater than serving one's parent. The study of TT protects an individual from harm and protects the city of Jerusalem from harm (not making any political statement here, just translating the gemaras). It even protected Rav Yehoshua from a contagious disease!

      Now, being "greater" than everything else doesn't necessarily mean one should be studying Torah at all times. For example, the gemara says TT is greater than saving a life. Yet if I were learning and someone next to me was in distress I would have the halachic obligation to go save him, assuming no one else would. I also have to daven, shake lulva, and perhaps make a living and fight in the army. Those are two separate points.

      I'll summarize it this way: in the prior post I linked to R' Slifkin says that certain people believe "it's impossible to over-emphasize the mitzvah of Talmud Torah, since Talmud Torah k'neged kulam." The point of my post is to argue that yes, it is in fact nearly impossible to over-emphasize the mitzvah of TT. Hope this clears it up.

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    10. "I would hope in your book you discuss all of these and do not limit your attention to four words". Yes, I do. However, there are also other passages which contain similar descriptions about other mitzvot:
      "Charity is greater than all the sacrifices." (Sukkah 49b)
      "Charity and acts of kindness are the equivalent of all the mitzvot of the Torah." (Jerusalem Talmud, Pe'ah 1:1)
      Thus, 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 mitzvot 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 mitzvot.

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    11. @G Wielgus

      While you use a vague term such as "a certain level of importance" without defining what you mean, RNS is being very specific that the "certain level of importance" is to the point that TT comes first before anything else, hence his words that the mishna is "a trump card for shutting down any discussion relating to PEOPLE'S OBLIGATIONS" .

      What I don't understand is that you yourself previously admitted "The argument can be made that notwithstanding the fact that TT is quite important, a person still has the duty to work for a living" and your most recent comment carries the same vibes where you say "it doesn't necessarily mean one should be studying Torah at all times" (which is what RNS is focusing on). So I'm not getting if you're arguing or agreeing.

      Furthermore, you say that TT and Lashon Hara are not meant to be equivalent, but it's hard to say that when you have two teachings that are identical in their wordage. Furthermore, the fact that "TT is greater than building the temple" matches up quite well with Lashon Hara, which is chosen as the cause of the "destruction of the temple".

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  10. "At a third level, the role of talmud Torah is conceived in cosmological and mystical terms, bordering, in some formulations, on the magical. From this perspective, it attains continuous cosmic significance as a metaphysical factor affecting the fabric of reality - indeed, as that which supports and sustains the very existence of the universe. The Talmud cites this concept in the name of Rabbi Eleazar, who, interpreting a biblical verse in this vein, saw it as attesting to the significance of Torah: "Rabbi Eleazar said: 'Great is Torah for, were it not for it, heaven and earth would not exist, as it is stated [Yirmiyahu 33:25], "If my covenant be not day and night, I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth"'" (Nedarim 32a); and elsewhere the Talmud explains the gravity of bittul Torah - literally, "the negation of Torah," that is, the failure to study it adequately - on a similar basis (Shabbat 33a). Rabbi Hayyim Volozhiner, founder in 1802 of the archetypal Lithuanian yeshiva and the most vigorous modern proponent of this view, went so far as to arrange for some measure of Torah study at his yeshiva at all times in order to ensure cosmic existence. To many, this may surely seem naively bizarre anthropocentrism. Be that as it may, the underlying attitude, shorn of its literalist application, is deeply rooted in rabbinic tradition."
    from Rav Aharon Lichtensteins article about the centrality of Talmud Torah. I highly recommend reading the whole thing.
    It goes without saying that Rav Aharon was hardly an anti-rationalist chareidi extremist.
    The truth is that (as G Wielgus pointed out above) anyone who has spent significant time learning traditional jewish texts (from medrash to talmud, from the rishonim to the achronim) sees the overwhelming emphasis put on talmud torah besides for its instructional value. Unfortunately, Rabbi Slifkin is taking advantage of his readers relative ignorance and pretending that this view is based on a scattering of one liners in the talmud that are up for interpretation.
    As rav aharon said, the status given to talmud torah by those Rav Slifkin is coming to argue with "is deeply rooted in rabbinic tradition."
    Shimon Langer

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    1. Huh? In this extract, Rav Lichtenstein is specifically presenting the mystical view.

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    2. @Anonymous a.k.a Shimon Langer


      -In the exact words you quoted from R Lichtenstein, at the end it says:
      "the underlying ATTITUDE, SHORN OF ITS LITERALIST APPLICATION, is deeply rooted in rabbinic tradition"
      You see, R Lichtenstein hits the hammer right on the nail there. He says unequivocally that the "attitude" of primacy of TT through the cosmic lens is deeply rooted in tradition. But he purposefully inserts the words "shorn of its literalist application". In case you were unaware, the word "shorn" means "removed". R Lichtenstein is rightfully insinuating that while the "attitude" has deep roots, the notion of taking this idea and "applying it literally" DOES NOT. I would therefore argue that your quote in fact supports R Slifkin's approach.

      I am not saying that R Lichtenstein's views in that article line up with that of R Slifkin (I actually think they don't in a few spots). But it seems clear that the small portion of R Lichtenstein's article regarding the mystic realm of TT fits in perfectly with R Slifkin's overall approach.

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  11. Well said Shimon Langer!
    This site, especially the commenters, has become so extreme. It used to raise interesting alternative perspectives on issues, ones that were worthy of consideration, even for the more conservative minded. Those days are long over.
    Turk Hill's comment above, specifically, reflects a true lack of historical perspective and a basic misunderstanding (misrepresentation?) of some Judaism's most seminal texts and principles. I wonder how many of the commenters here are truly well versed in Torah/Talmudic study and how many of them are truly halalchikly observant.

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    1. 'twas well-nigh inevitable
      Some come to that realization earlier some Just come there later

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  12. Probably someone already noted that before me... R. Slifkin, you are missing the point. The Mishna doesn't say "learning of Tora" is equal to the rest of the commandments in general. It says that the might of Tora learning merit to enjoy in this world is equal to the might of merit of honoring the parents, welcoming the guests and so on - together.

    The Mishna absolutely does not mean that Tora learning allows us to forget about honoring the parents or welcoming guests.

    The same is about Shabbat, for example. The Sages do not mean that Shabat is replacement of rest of the commandments. They mean a specific aspect: one who doesn't observe Shabat is like one who doesn't observe anything, i.e. we should take him for non-Jew.

    The same is about "lashon ha-ra": the meaning is not that it's worse than murder and adultery together, but that a damage it might cause in this world is like a damage of murder and the damage of adultery.

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  13. There's another term used for these sort of justifications. From the Rambam: "Efshar laasos al yedei achar"

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