Torah study

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Torah study is the study of the Torah, Hebrew Bible, Talmud, responsa, rabbinic literature and other Jewish religious texts.


That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation. ~ Hillel the Elder
For how long is it a duty to study the Law? To the day of death. ~ Maimonides
  • The origins of Rabbinic literature go at least as far back as the second century BCE. Some of the books Misrash of Rabbinic interpretations of the Bible, or misrash although based on materials dating earlier than the sixth century CE, were not committed to writing and edited together until the eleventh or twelfth century CE. The scholars of the Bible from the time of Ezra on are first called “scribes,” because their first job was to make copies of the Torah. They are then called “sages” (‘’hakhamim’’), because in copying the Torah they came to know it and to interpret and apply it. The title “rabbi”, meaning master and teacher of the tradition, appears in the first century CE. The title persists to this day, but it is the classical Rabbis of the second century BCE through the sixth century CE to whose words we refer when we speak of Rabbinic literature.
  • The Pharisees have delivered to the people a great many observances by succession from their fathers which are not written in the law of Moses; and for that reason it is that the Sadducees reject them, and say that we are to esteem those observances to be obligatory which are in the Written Word, but are not to observe what are derived from the tradition of our forefathers.
  • The entire oral law in the wider sense, namely, the entire material of the Mishnah, the Tosefta, and the halakic midrashim, was preserved only orally, and was not reduced to writing until the beginning of the third century C.E., because there was a prejudice against recording halakot. The origin of this objection is unknown. There has never been any formal interdiction against recording halakot, nor are there any references to any date of such a prohibition or to any person who issued one. Even the two Talmudic passages which allude to the custom of not recording halakot do not mention a formal interdiction. One of these passages, the comment of Judah b. Naḥmani, "What has been said orally thou mayest not say in writing, and vice versa" (Giṭ. 60b and parallel passages), is merely a haggadic explanation of the prevailing custom. If this interpretation had been taken literally, the Prophets would not have been allowed to commit their prophecies to writing (comp. Weiss, "Dor," i. 92 et seq.). The second passage, which is by R. Johanan and reads as follows: "He who records halakot is like him who burns the Torah; and whosoever studies these written collections has no reward" (Tem. 14b), is merely a reproof directed against those who make such compilations for public use. As the Mishnah had been committed to writing by the time of R. Johanan (199-279), there could be no question of a prohibition against recording halakot.
  • For how long is it a duty to study the Law? To the day of death.
    • Maimonides, Treatise 3: “The Study of the Torah,” Chapter 1, Section 9, H. Russell, trans. (1983), p. 52
  • An artisan busies himself with his work for three hours each day and spends nine hours in study.
    • Maimonides, Treatise 3: “The Study of the Torah,” Chapter 1, Section 12, H. Russell, trans. (1983), p. 52
  • I do not care if they insult me or Aaron, but I insist that the insult of the Torah be avenged. 'If these men die the common death of all men,' I shall myself become a disbeliever and declare the Torah was not given by God.
    • Moses, in Legends of the Jews (1909)
  • A learned mamzer takes precedence over an ignorant High Priest.
    • Pharasaic proverb; as quoted by Salo Wittmayer Baron, Great Ages and Ideas of the Jewish People, Leo Walden Schwartz ed., Random House, (1956).
  • Had they observed Torah and Gospel and what is revealed to them from their Lord, they would certainly have been rewarded from above and from beneath their feet. Among them are people who are keeping to the moderate course; but evil is what most of them do!
    • Quran, chapter V verse 66
  • I hardly remember reading the Torah in school. On the rare occasion we did, it was always as a series of mythical stories: a plotline with characters, good and evil, who behave all the time like the rest of us, trying to find meaning in life when none is available. Years later, when I was already an adult, I remember feeling struck by the religious emphasis in just about every episode. How could I have missed it? My gut feeling is that our teachers were ambivalent about it, too. They liked storytelling, and that's what they stressed. Today I'm grateful to them for introducing me to the Bible not as a Halakhic (legal) manual but as a depository of collective memory. For that reason, my relationship with it isn't tyrannical.
    • Ilan Stavans "A Yidisher Bokher in Mexique" in How Yiddish Changed America and How America Changed Yiddish (2020)
A Torah scroll displaying the opening verses of Deuteronomy chapter 6. The famous Shema Yisrael prayer is the sixth line from the top.
  • The Oral Law is a legal commentary on the Torah, explaining how its commandments are to be carried out. Common sense suggests that some sort of oral tradition was always needed to accompany the Written Law, because the Torah alone, even with its 613 commandments, is an insufficient guide to Jewish life. For example, the fourth of the Ten Commandments, ordains, "Remember the Sabbath day to make it holy" (Exodus 20:8). From the Sabbath's inclusion in the Ten Commandments, it is clear that the Torah regards it as an important holiday. Yet when one looks for the specific biblical laws regulating how to observe the day, one finds only injunctions against lighting a fire, going away from one's dwelling, cutting down a tree, plowing and harvesting. Would merely refraining from these few activities fulfill the biblical command to make the Sabbath holy? Indeed, the Sabbath rituals that are most commonly associated with holiness-lighting of candles, reciting the kiddush, and the reading of the weekly Torah portion are found not in the Torah, but in the Oral Law.
    Without an oral tradition, some of the Torah's laws would be incomprehensible. In the Shema's first paragraph, the Bible instructs: "And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart. And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes." "Bind them for a sign upon your hand," the last verse instructs. Bind what? The Torah doesn't say. "And they shall be for frontlets between your eyes." What are frontlets? The Hebrew word for frontlets, totafot is used three times in the Torah — always in this context (Exodus 13:16; Deuteronomy 6:8, 11:18) — and is as obscure as is the English. Only in the Oral Law do we learn that what a Jewish male should bind upon his hand and between his eyes are tefillin ( phylacteries).
    • Joseph Telushkin, "Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People and Its History". NY: William Morrow and Co., 1991; republished in “The Oral Law Talmud and Mishna”, Jewish Virtual Library.
A close-up of a Torah scroll, showing the Hebrew letters adorned with tagin decorations. The passage is Numbers 18:27–30.
  • When the Sages went to Yavneh they said: The time will come that a man will seek a matter in the Torah but will not find it. He will seek a matter from the Scribes but will not find it. … They said: Let us begin [to record] with Hillel and Shammai.
  • A man of valor is one who is mighty of heart with perfect trust to perform mitzvot at all times and to meditate upon the Torah day and night, even though there is no food or clothing in his house, and his children and the members of his household cry out to him: Provide us with our support and maintenance. And he does not heed them at all, or listen to their cries.

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