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Must one say Birchas Hatorah before learning

  1. Aggadata in the Gemara?
  2. Biographies like Shem Hagedolim (a biography of various Rabbonim written by the Chida)?
  3. Artscroll biographies?
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For 1: the Aruch HaShulchan (Siman 47) writes for Aggadata one must recite a blessing. –  Hacham Gabriel Jun 24 '12 at 5:35
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@HachamGabriel sounds like the makings of an answer. –  msh210 Jun 24 '12 at 6:43
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I think the first one and the latter two should be split into two questions. –  Double AA Jun 24 '12 at 14:49
    
@DoubleAA the question goes min hakal el hakaved. Is a "biography" of (say) Dovid Hamelech considered Torah. If so, then is Shem Hagedolim, if so, is Artscroll. –  Shmuel Brin Jun 24 '12 at 18:38
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@ShmuelBrin First of all, aggadata is not a biography of Dovid Hamelech. It's specific stories about his life that chazal chose to teach us lessons. So it's more like a mussar book. I can't say I trust the editors at artscroll to make as deep a work. Second, they are on different levels: aggadata is a question that can be answered by straight up classical sources, while the latter two are looking for different more recent understandings in poskim. Those are really separate kinds of answers. –  Double AA Jun 24 '12 at 18:41

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