Friday, March 16, 2007

"Torah Is A Smorgasbord'"

(Painting by Tiefenbrun)

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz commenting on A Tzaddik's Advice To Me:

While I agree with the Ein Yaakov eitzah, I respectfully disagree with the overall message of the advice you were given.

In my opinion, our Torah is a ‘smorgasbord’ of learning options and it is my contention that people should ‘nosh’ on what satisfies them. This is what Chazal meant when they said a person ought to learn "mah she'libo chafeitz" - that one should learn what one's heart is drawn to.

Nothing succeeds like success. This means that a person will only be successful when he feels himself making progress.

The Gemorah-only thinking is sending an inadvertent message to those who find Gemorah difficult. One that they are chas v’shalom second class citizens in the community of lomdei Torah.


At March 16, 2007 at 10:57:00 AM EDT, Blogger muse said...

And in Pirkei Avot it says to "choose our own rav," meaning people should mind their own business.

At March 16, 2007 at 3:27:00 PM EDT, Blogger David Guttmann said...

R. Yakov has given you excellent advise. There is no "segula" in learning gemara. there is a chiyuv to learn hallacha.Learn Rambam or Mishna berurah and you have learned the summary of the gemara.

At March 16, 2007 at 3:51:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Litvak said...

R. Yaakov has given good advice.


Also, it should be noted that many other seforim today have portions of gemara contained in them.

Let's say you are learning the Torah commentary of the Netziv, for example, which we discussed here recently. It is full of references to gemaras and other teachings of Chazal (so much so that a beginner probably would be hard-pressed to follow them).

Could one say that learning it is totally 'leaving out' gemara ? I don't think so.

That is somewhat of an extreme example perhaps, but there are other such works as well.

Just as Tosfos (Rabbeinu Tam I think it was) famously stated that Talmud Bavli is a mixture of different parts of Torah, therefore one could fulfill the requirement of studying chumash through it, so too, perhaps we can say that learning chumash with a commentary that incorporates gemara can fulfill the requirement to study gemara !

Additionally, we must understand what 'gemara' really means. Gemara is discussions of Torah, using the mishna as a starting point. It is analysis and arguments of 'static' texts such as mishna and breisos, which make them come alive. When we treat gemara as if it is a static text itself we are making it into a new, another layer of mishna to a degree. But it's not meant to be like that. The correct idea is to take what you are learning, wrestle with it and make it your own.

At March 16, 2007 at 4:16:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

One consideration for many older Baalei Teshuvah is how to make up for all the time we lost before we began to seriously study Torah law. For some people, really picking up the Gemara's language and methodology at a late stage would be so hard and take so much time as to crowd out other study needs. On the other hand, we shouldn't make it too easy on ourselves. This is where one's rebbe can help balance personal learning priorities.

At March 18, 2007 at 2:05:00 AM EDT, Blogger avakesh said...

Gemara teaches one how to think Jewish. If you learn 2-3 hours per day, perhaps, you can attend a shiur one a week from a truly good teacher that for that hour makes Gemara an exciting adventure.

Learning Mishna with Kehati, even the English translation now available, is a good summary of relevant Gemara discussion and much easier and faster.

At March 18, 2007 at 6:46:00 AM EDT, Blogger yitz said...

I am quite surprised at Rabbi Horowitz's statement. It seems that he didn't read your earlier comment: Since I told the Rebbe about all my past difficulties with Gemara and he tailored his eitza to me, that is good enough for me...I don't need to look further. As I said, I plan to adhere to this 100%. Of all the comments above, the one I most fully agree with is: The correct idea is to take what you are learning, wrestle with it and make it your own. I personally think that for most Jewish men, this can best be done with Gemara. But note that he says, "wrestle with it." It's not supposed to be, necessarily, easy. An English translation, or even Ivrit-b'Ivrit Gemaros such as ArtScroll or Steinsaltz are no substitute for "breaking our heads" over a Gemara -- to try to come to understand what Chazal, our Sages, are trying to teach us. Obviously this will vary with people of different ages, backgrounds and intellect. But in your case, you DID ask a Rav, and went straight with his advice.
One question: did you ask him HOW LONG to learn just Ein Yaakov, before going on to "regular" Gemara learning? Perhaps I should have included that in my earlier suggestion of girsa learning. B'hatzlacha Rabba in any case!

At March 18, 2007 at 8:52:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Muse: What do you mean? Who should mind their own business ?

David: In the past I learned Mishneh Torah for 2+ years, and I have also learned a bit of Mishna Berura, neither of which I enjoy as much as Kitzur Shulchan Aruch. I am A Simple Jew, so I need a simple sefer to learn from.

Litvak: I hear ya!

Bob: Your's is excellent advice as well.

Avakesh: I wish I could find one... I haven't yet.


Yitz: The Sudilkover Rebbe did not specify an amount of time to continue learning Ein Yaakov. He did think it was a good for me to learn it for some time to wade in the shallow pool before I actually go swimming in the deeper water. I guess I will just keep learning Ein Yaakov until I see him next time and bring the question up to him. At this point, I am relieved to be able to learn Ein Yaakov and don't plan to rush to ask any more questions.

At March 18, 2007 at 12:08:00 PM EDT, Blogger yitz said...

Perhaps when the Rebbe said, "A Yid must learn Gemara!",and also "Gemara brings holiness into the Jewish neshoma and into the Jewish body." -- perhaps he also had in mind what Avakesh wrote: Gemara teaches one how to think Jewish. In any case, we see how important it is. My question to you about "how long" was meant that you shouldn't 'baby' yourself and stay longer on EY till you get to the Gemara itself -- and that perhaps the next stage could be girsa.
I think Batya [muse] meant that since you asked YOUR Rav, no one else has to interfere with your decision.

At March 20, 2007 at 1:44:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Litvak said...

Interesting article somewhat related to this at,7340,L-3378392,00.html

When people don't enjoy what they are learning, great problems can arise, G-d help us. That's why it's so important that the learning be satisfying and even enjoyable, by learning what people are interested in and is appropriate. To force a youngster to learn something on a level he is not ready for has caused many problems.

If one is learning gemara, one should first learn simply, without too many commentaries, covering signifcant amounts of ground, and only later get into deeper, more intricate analysis and learning slower.

Another problem is that alot of gemara deals with things that, while part of regular life when it was compiled, are not so for most Jews today, which can make it seem out of touch and hopelessly irrelevant, especially for youngsters. Like learning about oxen goring each other, lost and stolen sheep and the like. We have to either make it relevant to today (e.g. by analogizing cars and trucks to oxen perhaps) or otherwise deal with this disonnect.

At March 20, 2007 at 1:46:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Litvak said...

* disconnect.


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