We are enjoined to study the "Torah". Joshua told Israel:

לֹֽא־יָמ֡וּשׁ סֵפֶר֩ הַתּוֹרָ֨ה הַזֶּ֜ה מִפִּ֗יךָ וְהָגִ֤יתָ בּוֹ֙ יוֹמָ֣ם וָלַ֔יְלָה
Let not this Book of the Torah cease from your lips, but recite it day and night.
Joshua 1:8

Since Joshua's day, the phrase studying "Torah" has greatly expanded. So my questions are:

  1. What must we study? (Tanach, Talmud, Midrash, main commentators, and...)

  2. What may we study, if we wish? (Secular subjects and...)

  3. What may we not study? (Other religions and...)

  • 4
    "the phrase 'studying Torah' has greatly expanded" Is that really true? There are surely more physical book titles but is the content scope that indistinguishable? There are dozens of new calculus textbooks this decade, but the subject is still calculus.
    – Double AA
    Jul 1, 2020 at 17:01
  • Is your question about the verb or the noun? If, as it seems, you are focusing on the noun (the definition of Torah for the sake of this obligation) I would recommend using the quotes around just Torah. Then there could be a different question about what qualifies as "learning" as distinct from "reading" or "hearing."
    – rosends
    Jul 1, 2020 at 18:19
  • @rosends Good point. Done. Jul 1, 2020 at 18:28
  • 1
    VTC as too broad/unclear. You yourself wrote 3 explicit questions, which to me seem distinct. Plus a fourth broader implied question of "what is considered under the category of 'Torah'" (which I suspect is actually what you meant to ask here).. Jul 1, 2020 at 18:42
  • 1
    Please spleet it in several questions
    – kouty
    Jul 1, 2020 at 19:14

1 Answer 1


The Talmud in Kiddushin 30a states:

אמר רב ספרא משום ר' יהושע בן חנניא מאי דכתיב ושננתם לבניך אל תקרי ושננתם אלא ושלשתם לעולם ישלש אדם שנותיו שליש במקרא שליש במשנה שליש בתלמוד מי יודע כמה חיי לא צריכא ליומי

R. Safra said on the authority of R. Joshua b. Hanania: What is meant by, and thou shalt teach them diligently [we-shinnantem] unto thy children? Read not we-shinnantem, but we-shillashtem: [you shall divide into three]: one should always divide his years into three: [devoting] a third to Mikra, a third to Mishnah, and a third to Talmud. Does one then know how long he will live? — This refers only to days.

(Soncino translation)

The Talmud here lists a threefold division of Torah study, from which we can infer that one fulfills his obligation with these three divisions alone. For if there were other obligatory parts of Torah study not included in these three, the Talmud would not instruct us to only split our time into three parts. And even if one were to argue that the Talmud might perhaps be speaking imprecisely and there may be other aspects of Torah study not listed, when we look at Rambam's codification of this law it is even clearer. Rambam gives precise details as to how the day breaks down; he gives as an example one who works three hours per day and studies nine hours per day. He explains that the nine hours should be divided, with three hours being spent on each area of study. Such a division clearly uses up all allocated time for Torah study; hence, if there was something else obligatory it would have to be included here.

The Talmud does not go into detail about the composition of these three divisions. However, if we turn again to Rambam's codification of this law (Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:11-12), we find it described in much greater detail:

וחייב לשלש את זמן למידתו שליש בתורה שבכתב ושליש בתורה שבעל פה ושליש יבין וישכיל אחרית דבר מראשיתו ויוציא דבר מדבר וידמה דבר לדבר ויבין במדות שהתורה נדרשת בהן עד שידע היאך הוא עיקר המדות והיאך יוציא האסור והמותר וכיוצא בהן מדברים שלמד מפי השמועה וענין זה הוא הנקרא גמרא

כיצד היה בעל אומנות והיה עוסק במלאכתו שלש שעות ביום ובתורה תשע אותן התשע קורא בשלש מהן בתורה שבכתב ובשלש בתורה שבעל פה ובשלש אחרות מתבונן בדעתו להבין דבר מדבר ודברי קבלה בכלל תורה שבכתב הן ופירושן בכלל תורה שבעל פה והענינים הנקראים פרדס בכלל הגמרא הן

A person is obligated to divide his study time in three: one third should be devoted to the Written Law; one third to the Oral Law; and one third to understanding and conceptualizing the ultimate derivation of a concept from its roots, inferring one concept from another and comparing concepts, understanding [the Torah] based on the principles of Biblical exegesis, until one appreciates the essence of those principles and how the prohibitions and the other decisions which one received according to the oral tradition can be derived using them. The latter topic is called Gemara.

How is the above expressed? A person who is a craftsman may spend three hours each day involved in his work, and [devote] nine hours to Torah study: In those nine hours, he should spend three reading the Written Law; three, the Oral Law; and three, meditating with his intellect to derive one concept from another.

The "words of the prophetic tradition" are considered part of the Written Law; and their explanation, part of the Oral Law. The matters referred to as Pardes are considered part of the Gemara.

(Touger translation)

We can apparently conclude, then, that anything that doesn't fall under this rubric is not obligatory Torah study.

(Cf. what form of study requires a blessing.)

  • So, to answer my first question, in Rambam's view you are only obligated to study Tanach, Mishna and Gemara. Correct? Was this later codified as halacha? Jul 2, 2020 at 1:08
  • @MauriceMizrahi Well he expands Mishnah to apparently include anything that is in explanation of Torah Shebichsav, which would presumably include large portions of other Chazalic Literature (and, one could argue, later Rabbinic Literature as well). In any case, he himself is codifying it as halacha.
    – Alex
    Jul 2, 2020 at 1:16
  • Note, too, the Baal Hatanya's reformulation of this halacha (in his Hilchos Talmud Torah 2:1), where he says that the Tur, Shulchan Aruch and Rema count as Mishnah, and the commentators on them count as Gemara.
    – Meir
    Jul 2, 2020 at 2:08

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