In English, teaching and learning are two distinct verbs, but this is not the case with (many) other languages, where the same word is used to express both concepts. Whilst pondering upon the traditional (rabbinic) Jewish practice of excluding women from learning or studying the Torah, I started wondering whether this might also have been the case with Talmudic Hebrew and Aramaic. If there is a difference between the Mishna and the Gemara with respect to usage, I would be interested in that aspect as well.


1 Answer 1


In both Mishnaic Hebrew and Talmudic Aramaic, the words meaning learning and teaching have the same triliteral root, but they have different binyanim.

In Hebrew, the root is ל-מ-ד. When in the pa'al form (lilmod) it means 'to learn', as opposed to the pi'el form (le-lammed) where it means 'to teach'.

A nice example of the two forms juxtaposed can be seen in Mishnah Avot 2:5:

וְלֹא הַבַּיְשָׁן לָמֵד, וְלֹא הַקַּפְּדָן מְלַמֵּד

Neither can the bashful learn, nor can the impatient teach

(Parenthetically, a crucial source in the context of discouraging women from studying Torah is Mishnah Sotah 3:4, which indeed talks about teaching one's daughter, not (explicitly) about a woman learning per se.)

(A second parenthetical remark: there is also a different verb, lehorot, which has more of a specific connotation of 'instructing', rather than teaching in general.)

The same holds true in Talmudic Aramaic. The root is י-ל-ף. Lelef means to learn, but le-yallef means to teach. (See e.g. Jastrow's dictionary.)

  • Were these subtle orthographical differences already effectively in place in the 200-500 CE period, or did they only come into being at a later time ?
    – user18041
    Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 10:43
  • 2
    These forms appear in Biblical Hebrew, long before 200CE
    – Joel K
    Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 10:56
  • These rules apply for all triliteral verb roots, which can be transitive or intransitive depending on conjugation. So DO and DONE share the root עשה, kill and be killed share the root רצח, SAY and SAID share the root אמר, etc. etc.
    – N.T.
    Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 11:38
  • 1
    @N.T. those are active vs passive. Learn and teach are both transitive. You're right generally that in most semetic languages all roots are conjugated using various 'binyanim'
    – Double AA
    Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 11:53

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