Torah study

Torah scroll
Reading of the Torah

Torah study is the study of the Torah, Hebrew Bible, Talmud, responsa, rabbinic literature and similar works, all of which are Judaism's religious texts. According to Rabbinic beliefs the study is ideally done for the purpose of the mitzvah ("commandment") of Torah study itself.

This practice is present to an extent in all religious branches of Judaism and is considered of paramount importance among religious Jews. Torah study has evolved over the generations, as lifestyles changed and also as new texts were written.

Traditional view of Torah study

In rabbinic literature, the highest ideal of all Jewish men is Torah study, women being exempt from Torah study.[1] This literature teaches an eagerness for such study and a thirst for knowledge that expands beyond the text of the Tanakh to the entire Oral Torah.[2] Some examples of traditional religious teachings:


Torah study is counted amongst the 613 mitzvot ("[Biblical] commandments"), finding its source in the verse (Deuteronomy 6:7): "And you shall teach it to your children," upon which the Talmud comments that "Study is necessary in order to teach." The importance of study is attested to in another Talmudic discussion (Kiddushin 40b) about which is preferred: study or action. The answer there, a seeming compromise, is "study that leads to action." Although the word "Torah" refers specifically to the Five Books of Moses, in Judaism the word also refers to the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), the Talmud and other religious works, even including the study of Kabbalah, Hasidism, Mussar and much more.

Forms of traditional Jewish Torah study

The Talmud (Tractate Kiddushin 30a) defines the objective of Torah study: "That the words of Torah shall be clear in your mouth so that if someone asks you something, you shall need not hesitate and then tell it to him, rather you shall tell it to him immediately." In yeshivas ("Talmudical schools"), rabbinical schools and kollels ("[post-graduate] Talmudical schools") the primary ways of studying Torah include study of:

Other less universally studied texts include the Nevi'im and Ketuvim, other rabbinic literature (such as midrash) and works of religious Jewish philosophy.

The text of the Torah can be studied on any of four levels as described in the Zohar:

The initial letters of the words Peshat, Remez, Derash, Sod, forming together the Hebrew word PaRDeS (also meaning "orchard"), became the designation for the four-way method of studying Torah, in which the mystical sense given in the Kabbalah was the highest point. The distinction is similar to the medieval Christian classification into literal, typological, tropological (moral) and anagogical senses of Scripture (see Allegory in the Middle Ages): it is not certain whether this fourfold division first appeared in a Jewish or a Christian context.

In some traditional circles, most notably the Orthodox and Haredi, Torah study is a way of life for males. Women do not study Torah, but gain merit for facilitating Torah study for the men. In some communities, men forgo other occupations and study Torah full-time.

Haredi Israelis often choose to devote many years to Torah study, often studying at a Kollel. National Religious Israelis often choose to devote time after high school to Torah study, either during their army service at a Hesder yeshiva, or before their service at a Mechina.

In addition to full-time Torah study, Jews around the world often attend Torah classes in a contemporary academic framework. The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute offers classes on Parenting, Marriage, Medical Ethics, and Business Ethics.[4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12]


The Brisker method

The Brisker method consists of a methodical search for precise definitions of each concept involved in the discussion. Once the mechanism by which a law works is rigidly and correctly defined, it can become clear that one aspect of the definition applies in one situation but not another. Therefore, the final halacha will differ in the two situations, even if they superficially appear to be very similar.

Often an entire series of disagreements among the Rishonim (Talmudic commentaries from roughly the period 1000–1500) may stem back to a subtle difference in how these Rishonim understand a line from the Talmud. The Brisker method can provide a precise formulation of how each Rishon understood the topic, and thus account for their differences in opinion. This approach is most spectacular when a whole series of debates between two Rishonim can be shown to revolve around a single "chakira", or difference in the understanding of a Talmudic concept.

The Brisker method is not a total break from the past. Rabbis before Brisk sometimes made "conceptual" distinctions, and Brisker rabbis can still resolve issues without recourse to the terminology they invented. The difference is one of focus and degree. Non-Brisk analysis tends to formulate "conceptual" definitions only when necessary, while for Briskers, these definitions are the first and most common tool to be used when approaching a Talmudic issue. One example of Rabbi Chaim's emphasis on the value of precise definition can be found in quote: "One approach which answers three different problems is better than three different approaches to individually solve the three problems" (a corollary of Occam's razor).

The Luzzatto method

Luzzatto was the only one to set down the sages' thought process in an organized, systematic, and complete program that can be taught and reproduced. This method makes Gemara learning accessible to everyone by exploring key logical concepts of Talmudic analysis. Based on precision and clarity of thinking, one's inherent intellectual powers are studied, cultivated and nurtured. Conscious awareness of one's thinking and thoughts is the key to understanding Torah.

The Zilberman method

The Zilberman method draws upon traditional teaching methods as outlined by Chazal and championed by the Maharal and Vilna Gaon. The Mishnah and the Gemara set forth halachic guidelines for teaching Torah to children. These guidelines include the ages at which texts should be studied (“Five years old is the age to begin studying Scripture; ten for Mishnah; thirteen for the obligation of the commandments; fifteen for the study of Talmud…” [Avot 5:21]), the times of study (including Shabbat for children; Hachazan roeh heichan tinokot korin – the chazzan observes [on Shabbat] where [in the text] the children are reading [Shabbat 11a, Rashi, Ran]) and the manner of teaching (safi lei k’tura –stuffing the children like oxen [Ketubot 50a]; ligmar inish v’hadar lisbor –read the text and then explain it [Shabbat 63a]).

The Zilberman method has children focus exclusively on Tanach and Mishnah in their younger years, ensuring that they know large portions of both areas by heart before they begin learning Gemara. Indeed, graduates of such schools tend to have impressive fluency in these areas. Two key elements in Zilberman’s methodology, however, must be singled out: chazarah (review) and student participation.

In the Zilberman-styled school, a new text of Chumash is introduced in the following manner (obviously adjustments are made for each grade level). On Monday and Tuesday, the teacher chants the text with the ta’amei ha’mikra (tropp) and the students immediately imitate him. This is repeated several times until the students are able to read the text independently. Then the teacher introduces the translation/explanation of the text and invites students to participate in the process. New words typically need to be translated only once; subsequently, students are encouraged to call out the translation on their own. All translations are strictly literal. If the translation does not automatically yield a comprehensible meaning, the students are invited to try to find one. The class spends the rest of the week reviewing the material. Each pasuk is reviewed with the tropp at least twenty-four times.[13]

Study cycles

Apart from full-time Torah study as engaged in at schools and yeshivot or for the purpose of rabbinic training, there is also held to be an obligation on individuals to set aside a regular study period to review their knowledge. Examples of programmes of study are as follows.

D'var Torah

A D'var Torah (Heb: דבר תורה) (Plural: Divrei Torah), also known as a Drasha in Ashkenazic communities, is a talk on topics relating to a section (parashah) of the Torah – typically the weekly Torah portion. In respect to its place in synagogues, rabbis will often give their D'var Torah after the Torah service. Divrei Torah can range in length, depending on the rabbi and the depth of the talk. In most congregations, it will not last much longer than fifteen minutes, but in the case of Rebbes or special occasions, a Dvar Torah can last all afternoon. It is extremely likely that a D'var Torah will carry a life lesson, backed up by passages from certain Jewish texts like the Talmud or Mishnah.

The homily in Christian liturgical traditions bears many similarities to the tradition of D'var Torah.

Torah study by Jewish religious movements

Like Orthodox Jews, other Jewish denominations may use any or all of the traditional areas and modes of Torah study. They study the Parsha, the Talmud, ethical works, and more. They may study simply the peshat of the text, or they may also study, to a limited extent, the remez, derash and sod, which is found in Etz Hayyim: A Torah Commentary (Rabbinical Assembly), used in many Conservative congregations. It is common in Torah study among Jews involved in Jewish Renewal. Some level of PaRDeS study can even be found in forms of Judaism that otherwise are strictly rationalist, such as Reconstructionist Judaism. However, non-Orthodox Jews generally spend less time in detailed study of the classical Torah commentators, and spend more time studying modern Torah commentaries that draw on and include the classical commentators, but which are written from more modern perspectives. Furthermore, works of rabbinic literature (such as the Talmud) typically receive less attention than the Tanakh.

Before the Enlightenment, virtually all Jews believed that the Torah was dictated to Moses by God.[14] They also believed that as many parts of the Torah, specifically the laws and commandments, are written in unspecific terms, Moses also received an interpretation of the Torah that was transmitted through the generations in oral form till it was finally put in writing in the Mishnah and later, in greater detail, the Talmud.[15] After the Enlightenment, many Jews began to participate in wider European society, where they engaged in study related to critical methods of textual analysis, including both lower and higher criticism, the modern historical method, hermeneutics, and fields relevant to Bible study such as near-Eastern archaeology and linguistics. In time the documentary hypothesis emerged from these studies. Formulated primarily by non Jews, the documentary hypothesis holds that the Torah was not written by Moses, but was simply written by different people who lived during different periods of Israelite history. Some Jews adapted the findings of these disciplines. Consequently, biblical study primarily focused on the intentions of these people, and the circumstances in which they lived. This type of study depends on evidence external to the text, especially archeological evidence and comparative literature.

Today, Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist rabbis draw on the lessons of modern critical Bible scholarship as well as the traditional forms of Biblical exegesis. Orthodox, Sephardim, a majority of Israeli Jews[16] and other Jews, including many whom are not observant, reject critical Bible scholarship and the documentary hypothesis, holding to the opinion that it is contradicted by the Torah in Deuteronomy 31:24,25 and 26, and the Talmud (Gittin 60a, Bava Basra 15b), which state that Moses wrote the Torah, as well as by the Mishnah,[17] which asserts the divine origin of the Torah as one of the essential tenets of Judaism.

Humanistic Jews value the Torah as a historical, political, and sociological text written by their ancestors. They do not believe 'that every word of the Torah is true, or even morally correct, just because the Torah is old.' The Torah is both disagreed with and questioned. Humanistic Jews believe that the entire Jewish experience, and not only the Torah, should be studied as a source for Jewish behavior and ethical values.[18]

The recommended way to study the Torah is by reading the original text written in Hebrew. This allows the reader to understand language-specific information. For example, the Hebrew word for earth is 'adama' and the name of the first man is 'Adam' meaning 'of the earth'. Jewish denominations vary in the importance placed on the usage of the original Hebrew text. Most denominations strongly recommend it, but also allow studying the Torah in other languages, and using Rashi and other commentary to learn language-specific information.

Non-religious Torah study

According to Ruth Calderon, there are currently almost one hundred non-halakhic Torah study centers in Israel. Whilst influenced by methods used in the yeshiva and in the university, non religious Torah study includes the use of new tools that are not part of the accepted hermeneutic tradition of the exegetic literature. These include Feminist, and post-modernist criticism, historic, sociological and psychological analyses, and literary analysis.[19] Among these institutions is the Alma Centre for Hebrew Studies in Tel Aviv.[20]

Torah study in Israel

Devoting a year to Torah study in the modern Land of Israel is a common practice among American, and, to a lesser extent, European, South African, South American, and Australian Modern Orthodox Jews. Young adults spend a year studying Torah in the Land of Israel. It is common both among males and females, with the boys normally going to a yeshiva and the girls to a midrasha (often called seminary or seminaria). Common Yeshivot with year-in-Israel programs include: Mir yeshiva (Jerusalem), Yeshivat Sha'alvim Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh Yeshivat Har Etzion, Yeshivat HaMivtar, Machon Meir, Dvar Yerushalayim, Aish HaTorah and Ohr Somayach, Jerusalem. Common seminaries or midrashot include: Midreshet HaRova Midreshet Lindenbaum, Migdal Oz, Nishmat, Bnos Chava, Michlalah , Neve Yerushalayim and many many others. Chasidic and Charedi boys from abroad often spend many years studying in the Land of Israel. Bnei Akiva offers a number of options to spend a year of study in Israel, as part of their Hachshara programs.

See also


  3. The Babylonian Talmud in English. Tractate Horayoth 13a. I. Epstein, Editor. London UK: the Soncino Press, 1935.
  4. Wertheimer, Jack (June 16, 2014). "Why the Lubavitch Movement Thrives in the Absence of a Living Rebbe". JA Mag in Jewish World. Orthodox Union. Retrieved 30 September 2014. Among the latter is the Jewish Learning Institute, the largest educational program for Jewish adults in the world (with the possible exception of the Daf Yomi enterprise), which currently enrolls over 66,000 teens and adults at some 850 sites around the world, each following a prescribed course of study according to a set timetable.
  5. Wertheimer, Jack. "The Outreach Revolution". Commentary Magazine. Retrieved April 2, 2013.
  6. Forde, Noelle. "Combating Apathy to Israel: Chabad's New Israel Awareness ourse". Chabad's new free program helps young Jews connect spiritually with Israel. Israel National News. Retrieved November 21, 2007.
  7. Posted Sunday, Aug 3rd, 2014
  8. Open Source Contributor. "BRCA gene cancer risk for Ashkenazi Jews in West Hartford". West Hartford News. Retrieved October 31, 2013.
  9. "Chabad hosts Jewish perspectives on staying positive". New Jersey Hills Media Group, Bernardsville, NJ. Hanover Eagle. October 30, 2014. Retrieved 3 November 2014. “How Happiness Thinks” was created by the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute- an internationally acclaimed adult education program running on over 350 cities worldwide, which boast over 75,000 students. This particular course builds on the latest observations and discoveries in the field of positive psychology. “How Happiness Thinks” offers participants the chance to earn up to 15 continuing education credits from the American Psychological Association (APA), American Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) and the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC).
  10. Open Source Contributor. "New Course to Explore Modern Ethical Dilemmas". Your Houston News. Retrieved November 3, 2013.
  11. Tribune staff report (October 30, 2014). "Happiness focus of JLI presentation". Tahoe Daily Tribune. Retrieved 3 November 2014. JLI, the adult education branch of Chabad Lubavitch, offers programs in more than 350 U.S. cities and in numerous foreign locations, including Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Venezuela. More than 260,000 students have attended JLI classes since the organization was founded in 1998.
  12. Sheskin and Dashefsky (2014). "National Jewish Organizations". American Jewish Year Book (Book) (Volume 113 ed.). Springer International Publishing. pp. 447–597. ISBN 978-3-319-01657-3. ... Is currently the largest provider of adult Jewish learning. JLI's mission is to inspire Jewish learning worldwide and to transform Jewish life and the greater community through Torah study. Its goal is to create a global network of informed students connected by bonds of shared Jewish experience. JLI's holistic approach to Jewish study considers the impact of Jewish values on personal and interpersonal growth. (The authors of the book are Professor Ira Sheskin of Department of Geography and Regional Studies, The Jewish Demography Project, The Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies, University of Miami, and Professor Arnold Dashefsky, Department of Sociology, The Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life, University of Connecticut.)
  13. Gottlieb, Dovid (March 8, 2010). "The Zilberman Method". Jewish Action.
  14. Mishnah, Sanhedrin 11:1
  15. Maimonides, Introduction to Commentary on Mishnah, also, Maimonides, Commentary on Mishnah, Sanhedrin 11:1
  16. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Daniel Elazar Papers Index, Israel: Religion and Society
  17. Sanhedrin 11:1


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