Disclaimer: I am Jewish. Don't get thrown off by the Arabic name. I can't login into my original stackexchange account. This is a pseudo twitter login account I use here.

I am wondering if someone can tell me what the end function is for learning Gemara?

I will use a real life example and it will be great if you can use my example to answer me.

I have multiple degrees in a well known STEM field.

So I learnt Algebra/Calculus so that I can use it to solve unknown mathematical quantities that I come across in Physics, Chem, Engineering etc. I learnt college physics to get me accustomed to learn how the world works according to the laws of physics etc I learnt antenna theory where I use Algebra/Calculus/Physics to determine wave propagation etc etc

So all the subjects I learnt complement each other and help me design new and better antennas that can communicate farther and for a minimum amount of power.

Every math proof will come in handy one fine day, someday.

So, going back to the initial question. What is the end function purpose of learning Gemara? Is it to learn how to come up with new laws that might be needed for newer life questions like Artificial Intelligence?.

Is learning Gemara more like a STEM field where you apply new knowledge to come up with newer solutions?

Or is Gemara like the medical field where you blindly prescribe tylenol to a patient if he has 3 symptoms checked out?

Or is Gemara like art where it is free for all?

Or is it like learning Law, where you apply already known statutes and dont think or research much about it?

What is the purpose of learning Gemara? What professional field is it closest to?

I do know that we should learn it because it is G_d’s wisdom and we have a mitzvah to learn it; but there needs to be a functional purpose for it.


6 Answers 6


tl;dr R' Aharon Lichtenstein has an essay outlining four elements that make gemara learning unique and important:

  1. Explanation of the principles and parameters of the laws
  2. Exposure to the personalities of the Talmudic Sages
  3. Immersion and participation in the dialectical process
  4. Connecting with the Almighty via immersion in Divine wisdom

In his illuminating essay, "Why Learn Gemara?" (originally published in Leaves of Faith: The World of Jewish Learning [Jersey City, 2003], pp. 1-17; posted by Shmuel in a comment above), Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein performs a tour de force in categorizing the unique characteristics that make gemara study a sui generis Torah study endeavor of paramount importance. Rabbi Lichtenstein asks:

Why the yeshiva world’s continued commitment to gemara? I believe we may single out at least four distinct and yet confluent factors.

Explanation of the principles and parameters of the laws

The gemara comprises the analyses of the Sages in the centuries immediately following the Mishna's redaction. These analyses provide insight into the parameters of — and the principles underlying — the laws of the Mishna and other Tannaitic expositions. This relates to the first factor:

The first is its status as a primary – in a sense, in the world of Torah she-be’al peh, as the primary – text. On the one hand, in contrast with much of Mishnah, the gemara is not a compendium of inchoate factual or normative data. It is the arena within which raw material is analyzed and molded, within which bare bones are fleshed out and information transmuted into knowledge... Recourse to secondary or tertiary texts may simplify, but it almost certainly dilutes.

Exposure to the personalities of the Talmudic Sages

The gemara is not, however, a merely legalistic tome, filled with dry debates. Rather, the personalities of the Sages shine through on every page, in the anecdotes of their lives and conduct, in their personal interactions, in their vivid and variegated dialectic styles, and in the milieu within which they lived and operated:

[The second factor:] Relation to the primary source is felt not only with respect to the text or its content. It is felt, in a personal vein, with regard to Hazal. To open a gemara is to enter into [Hazal's] overawing presence, to feel the force of their collective personality... so as to be irradiated and ennobled by them. It is to be exposed, with a sense of intimacy, not only to their discourse, exegesis, aphorisms, or anecdotes, but to themselves – at once engaging and magisterial, thoroughly human and yet overwhelming... The gemara is clearly special. This is due, in part, to its structure as an arena within which the mind encounters a panoply of personages spanning successive generations. Primarily, however, it is attributable to Hazal’s unique stature... We acknowledge them... by virtue of the conjunction of their distinctive greatness and their historical position.

Immersion and participation in the dialectical process

However, the gemara is not merely (per the first factor) a legal manual that provides us with a finished product explaining the principles underlying Mishnaic teachings. It is not desultorily interspersed (per the second factor) with vivifying biographical details merely to help us better relate to the Sages or break up the monotony of legal discourse.

Rather, the very mode in which the gemara's dialectics are presented is highly dynamic, inviting the student to become immersed in the discussions. The student eventually learns to personally clarify and apply legal principles. He thereby participates in the process of the Living Torah, creatively drawing forth new insights and practical applications that are faithful to the edifice of the gemara while yet building upon it:

This point dovetails with a third factor, the substantive nature of gemara. We are accustomed to distinguishing between Torah she-bi’khtav as a fixed datum... and Torah she-be’al peh, sinuous, efflorescent, developmental. Asher natan lanu Torat emet, “Who has given us a Torah of truth,” explains the Tur, refers to the former, while, ve-hayyei olam nata betokheinu, “and eternal life He has implanted within us,” refers to the latter...

Gemara expounds "the rationale of the Mishnah’s reasons..." (Rashi, Bava Mezia 33a, s.vv. mishnah and she-limmedo hokhmah). As such, it was defined by Hazal and the Rishonim as a reliable guide to practical observance. The student of [gemara] is actively engaged in an intellectual enterprise, both analytic and synthetic: "He shall understand and perceive a conclusion from its inception, will extract one matter from another and compare one to another... to the point that he will apprehend the essence of these principles and how to extract the prohibited and the licit" (Rambam's Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Talmud Torah 1:11). In a word, Mishnah is the given Torat emet [Torah of truth] of the oral tradition, and gemara its implanted hayyei olam [eternal life].

Relatively speaking, the study of Mishnah per se is passive, at times even submissive; that of gemara is vibrant. To open a sugya is to gain access to a world in ferment. It is to enter a pulsating bet midrash, studded with live protagonists; to be caught up, initially as witness and subsequently as participant, in a drama of contrapuntal challenge and response, of dialectic thrust and parry; to be stimulated by the tension of creative impulse; to be charged by the Sturm und Drang of milhamtah shel Torah [the battle of Torah].

Connecting with the Almighty via immersion in Divine wisdom

We cannot expect to learn all the Torah that there is to learn, for "its measure is longer than the Earth and broader than the sea" (Iyov 11:9). The gemara's format, often filled with incomplete or unresolved discussions, reminds us of that. Yet the study of gemara is no Sisyphean task. Every moment spent probing the depths of Divine wisdom is a moment spent in the company of the Divine Presence (cf. Rambam's Mishne Torah, Hil. Dei'os 6:2,1 based on K'subos 111b and Sifre Deut. 11:22):

Often, a sugya “ends,” as T. S. Eliot said of Henry James’s novels, like life itself: unfinished. Hazal themselves perceived the Bavli as a potpourri... Its very amorphousness also serves as a source of challenge and fascination. These are not, to be sure, ends in themselves. We fasten upon gemara not out of a quest for intellectual stimulation, but out of cleaving to devar Hashem. But to the extent that we are gripped and animated by its vitality, the stimulus attains religious significance.

This, in conclusion, brings us to the fourth element. Traditionally, Yahadut has stressed that talmud Torah is not to be perceived as a purely intellectual pursuit. It constitutes, rather, a dialogic encounter with Ribbono shel Olam. This is a truism of the yeshiva world and axiomatic to the existence of every serious ben Torah.

Clearly, however, the nature of the encounter is a function of the character of one’s learning. When Rabbi Halafta ben Dosa Ish Kefar Hananyah spoke of the immanence of the Shekhinah in this context, he focused upon its presence among those who are yoshevim ve-osekim ba-Torah, “those who are sitting and engaged in Torah” (Avot 3:6) – not simply studying Torah but caught up by it. To the extent that one is more deeply and intensely involved, insofar as one’s being is more fully charged, one is more powerfully engrossed by the encounter.

1"מצות עשה להדבק בחכמים ותלמידיהם כדי ללמוד ממעשיהם כענין שנאמר ובו תדבק וכי אפשר לאדם להדבק בשכינה אלא כך אמרו חכמים בפירוש מצוה זו הדבק בחכמים ותלמידיהם... וכן צוו חכמים ואמרו והוי מתאבק בעפר רגליהם ושותה בצמא את דבריהם". Translation: "It is a positive commandment to connect with sages and their students in order to learn from their ways, in the vein of that which was stated (Deut. 10:20 [see also 11:22 and 13:5]) 'And to Him shall you cleave.' Now, is it possible for a person to cleave to the Divine Presence? [Is it not written, 'For the Lord your G-d is a consuming fire' (Deut. 4:24)?] Rather, this is what the Sages said in explanation of this commandment: Cling to sages and their students... The Sages likewise commanded and said, 'And become dusty with the dust of their feet, and drink thirstily their words' (Avos 1:4).

  • Hi thanks for reading this for us and extracting some gold nuggets. I've downvoted because it could benefit from a summary of the points being made in your own words, especially because this article is written in very academic language that can be hard to penetrate. If you don't have time, could you at lest highlight some of the key sentences that are making the main points?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 10:07
  • 2
    @RabbiKaii Thanks for the feedback! I didn't originally want to add to R' Lichtenstein's own words since the excerpts were already long. However, I now added a brief tl;dr outline at the beginning of post, a synopsis of each point, and bolded key sentences and phrases. On the downside, it is even longer now!
    – Fred
    Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 0:57
  • Length is an asset, especially if there are good summaries. Thank you very much, that's much appreciated. I look forward to reading it. Have your upvote
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 0:59

Hi and thanks for the question. Definitionally, I don't think I can use any of your examples because Torah learning is different. There is a concept called learning Torah "lishma", which means for its own sake, and this is considered the correct way to learn (see for eg. Rambam Hilchot Teshuva 10:2). Or "leshem shamayim", for the sake of heaven. The short answer is, we have an obligation to learn it, that precedes us and is not for us to take benefit from, but to fulfil that obligation that is incumbent upon us. We don't need to know why, we need to fulfil our duty, the mitzva hagadol of talmud Torah.

The closest we can get to matching your way of thinking is this: Torah is the instruction for the mitzvot, so we study it in order to perform them (see Avot 4:5). The mitzvot are our very purpose in life, the performance of which are Hashem's plan. Learning Torah gives us this by giving us the details of the mitzvot, and learning gemara especially teaches us how to think properly the way Hashem wants us to think so we can solve all of life's problems and be holy in all our dealings, and face new problems in Hashem's correct way. However this is not the main point or purpose of learning gemara.

If you would like a little more insight, let me give you a quick history. The Oral Torah was given to Moshe by Hashem, and then to Yehoshua, who gave it to Pinchas and his court, who gave it to Eli and his court, who gave it to Shmuel and his court, who gave it to King David, to Achia HaShiloni, to Eliyahu, to Elisha, to Yehoyada, to Zecharia his son, to Hoshea, to Amos, to Yishayahu, to Micha, to Yoel, to Nachum, to Chabbakuk, to Tzefaniah, to Yirmiyahu, to Baruch ben Neriyah, to Ezra, to Shimon Hatzaddik, to Antignos of Socho, to Yosse ben Yo'ezer and Yosef ben Yochanan, to Yehoshua ben Perachiah and Nittai of Arbel, to Yehudah ben Tabbai and Shimon ben Shatach, to Shemaya and Avtalyon, to Hillel and Shammai, to Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai and Rabbi Shimon, the son of Hillel, to Rabban Gamliel, the elder, to Rabban Shimon, to Rabban Gamliel, to Rabbi Shimon, to Rebbi, who wrote the mishna, to Rabbi Yochanan, Rav, and Shemuel, to Rav Huna, to Rabbah, to Ravva, to Rav Ashi, who redacted the gemara.

The gemara was written down because this chain of transmission wasn't functioning as well as it used to, so the sealing of the Mishna and the Talmud represents the last step in the chain of the Oral Torah's transmission in the unbroken, complete chain. This is why gemara is so important, it's our last strong link to Hashem's inheritance, gift and sale of Torah. It's all we have left of that as Rambam states in his Introduction to Mishneh Torah:

Thus, [the source of] all these people's knowledge is God, the Lord of Israel. All the sages who were mentioned were the leaders of the generations. Among them were heads of academies, heads of the exile, and members of the great Sanhedrin. Together with them in each generation, there were thousands and myriads that heard their [teachings].

The Talmud relates (ibid):

those matters which were decreed by the sages and prophets in each generation in order to "build a fence around the Torah." We were explicitly taught about [this practice] by Moses, as [implied by Leviticus 18:30]: "And you shall observe My precepts," [which can be interpreted to mean]: "Make safeguards for My precepts." Similarly, it includes the customs and ordinances that were ordained or practiced in each generation according to [the judgment of] the governing court of that generation.

It is forbidden to deviate from [these decisions], as [implied by Deuteronomy 17:11]: "Do not deviate from the instructions that they will give you, left or right." It also includes marvelous judgments and laws which were not received from Moses, but rather were derived by the courts of the [later] generations based on the principles of Biblical exegesis. The elders of those generations made these decisions and concluded that this was the law. Rav Ashi included in the Talmud this entire [body of knowledge, stemming] from the era of Moses, our teacher, until his [own] era.

The Sages of the Mishnah also composed other texts to explain the words of the Torah. Rabbi Hoshaia, the disciple of Rabbenu Hakadosh, composed an explanation of the book of Genesis. Rabbi Yishmael [composed] an explanation beginning at "These are the names" [the beginning of the book of Exodus,] until the conclusion of the Torah. This is called the Mechilta. Rabbi Akiva also composed a Mechilta.29 Other Sages of the following generations composed other [collections of the] interpretations [of verses] (Medrashim). All of these works were composed before the Babylonian Talmud.

Thus, Ravina, Rav Ashi, and their colleagues represent the final era of the great Sages of Israel who transmitted the Oral Law. They passed decrees, ordained practices, and put into effect customs. These decrees, ordinances, and customs spread out among the entire Jewish people in all the places where they lived.

If we want to know what the law is, in all its details, as well as all of the official decrees and fences our sages instituted throughout all the generations, the Talmud is our source. Everything must start from there. Any decrees or fences that came afterward is only binding on the communities it originated, and everything taught forwards must find its home somewhere in Talmud (or similar, don't forget Tosefta, Braitot, Mishna, Midrash).

Rambam writes (ibid):

Similarly, if one of the Geonim interpreted the path of judgment in a certain way, while the court which arose afterward interpreted the proper approach to the matter in a different way, the [opinion of the] first [need] not be adhered to [absolutely]. Rather, whichever [position] appears to be correct - whether the first or the last - is accepted.

Maybe you are wondering what the point of all this is, and why Jews have done something like this, taken it so seriously, died for it, especially when much of it seems to be done purely "lishma", for its own sake!

The answer is this: Hashem gave us the Torah. It is a revelation of Himself, otherwise we can't know Him. We are His and He is ours, and we have a mitzva to get to know Him (first law of Mishneh Torah!). Talmud Torah is our way of getting to know Him, and the more we dig out, the more we discuss and produce over the generations, the deeper that knowledge becomes, and the closer we get. As the Rambam states in Hilchot Teshuva above, and end of Mishnayot Makkot, "lishma" and "out of love" are related. We do it because we love Him and want to get closer, that's "for its own sake", because He is revealed completely in the Torah; He is One with Torah. The more light we have to fill the world with.

  • The Torah is not only a guide to the mitzvos - its one of the ways Hashem gave us to connect to him! Its not a purely intellectual endeavor, its alive! Its Hashem speaking to us! He gave it to us because he loves us and wants us to be able to learn it and become close to him!
    – Kovy Jacob
    Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 5:22
  • Yes, did you read the last paragraph? :)
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 9:51
  • No... I must have missed it. Thanks for pointing it out!
    – Kovy Jacob
    Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 6:51
  • but that doesn't mean u have to learn gemara. maybe halacha since all u said was learn torah lishma but u can also learn rambam or chumash or navi lishma. @RabbiKaii Commented Aug 22, 2023 at 15:17
  • @yehoshuanisanov I think I said more than lishma, but made a case for how gemara is unique in its capacity to draw us closer to Hashem. If not, please help me by providing more specific feedback thank you
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Aug 22, 2023 at 15:48

First I'll explain what the Torah is, and then I'll explain why we learn it, and the fundamental difference between the Torah and all other wisdoms.

The Torah is divided into to parts - Torah Shebiksav (the written Torah), and Torah Sheba'al Peh (the Oral Torah). Torah Shebiksav is the bible, and Torah Sheba'al Peh includes that Talmud, which learns up and explains the Torah Shebiksav. But its important to note that the Torah and the Talmud are not just textbooks, they are the word of G-d.

So why do we learn Talmud? The Mesilas Yesharim explains (in a nutshell), out purpose in this world as Jews is to come closer to Hashem (G-d), and for that Hashem gave us 2 pathways - the learning of Torah, and the mitzvos (commandments).

So what is the fundamental difference between the Torah and other wisdoms (besides for that the Torah is the word of G-d)? Torah is nitzchiyus. That means it is eternal. Torah is not like other wisdoms, it is not just a knowledge. It is the way Hashem gave with us to connect with him. Walk into a study hall in a university, and all is quiet - everybody is quietly studying their subjects, trying to memorize whatever they are reading. But walk into a beis medrash where Torah is being being learnt - its alive! Ah! People are talking, people are arguing, people are debating! Its a living Torah. Its not another wisdom, its G-d's words, the words he gave us so that we can connect to him. Its not merely a dry, purely intellectual thing - its living!

  • 2
    Torah Shebiksav does not translate as oral Torah.
    – user6591
    Commented Dec 29, 2022 at 9:37
  • @user6591 Oh good point, meant Torah Sheba'al Peh.
    – Kovy Jacob
    Commented Dec 30, 2022 at 7:13
  • 1
    As an aside, it is forbidden for non-Jews to learn Torah Sheba'al Peh (the oral Torah)
    – Kovy Jacob
    Commented Dec 30, 2022 at 7:13

1) Inculcating Toil

Gemara study does not just represent a new concentrated degree of learning, the intricacies contained within its pages, usher the onset of heightened עמילות – toil.

The Chofetz Chaim (Toras HaBayis, maamar 'Elbona shel Torah") explains in length that this עמילות inspires an unparalleled level of דביקות - closeness to Hashem.

יסוד אומתינו ויסוד תקנת איש יהודי נאמן לאלקיו להשאיר בנו אחריו דבוק בד' תורתו ואשר לא תהיה זאת רק מלימוד הגמרא בעמל ויגיעה שבדבוקתם בקדושתה באורה ובכבודה

The foundation of our nation and the foundation of perfecting a Jewish man faithful to his G-d is to leave his son behind him clinging to his Torah, and this is only from studying the Gemara with toil and effort and it will come that you cling to it in its holiness in its light and honour.

Building on this point - it is worth taking a look at Rav Yitzchok Hutner's Pachad Yitzchok on Shavuos (17:1). He notes there Rambam's advice in Hilchos Torah 1:11:

וְחַיָּב לְשַׁלֵּשׁ אֶת זְמַן לְמִידָתוֹ. שְׁלִישׁ בַּתּוֹרָה שֶׁבִּכְתָב. וּשְׁלִישׁ בַּתּוֹרָה שֶׁבְּעַל פֶּה. וּשְׁלִישׁ יָבִין וְיַשְׂכִּיל אַחֲרִית דָּבָר מֵרֵאשִׁיתוֹ וְיוֹצִיא דָּבָר מִדָּבָר וִידַמֶּה דָּבָר לְדָבָר וְיָבִין בַּמִּדּוֹת שֶׁהַתּוֹרָה נִדְרֶשֶׁת בָּהֶן עַד שֶׁיֵּדַע הֵיאַךְ הוּא עִקַּר הַמִּדּוֹת וְהֵיאַךְ יוֹצִיא הָאָסוּר וְהַמֻּתָּר וְכַיּוֹצֵא בָּהֶן מִדְּבָרִים שֶׁלָּמַד מִפִּי הַשְּׁמוּעָה. וְעִנְיָן זֶה הוּא הַנִּקְרָא גְּמָרָא

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. (Sefaria translation and notation)

Rambam continues in the subsequent halacha:

בַּמֶּה דְּבָרִים אֲמוּרִים בִּתְחִלַּת תַּלְמוּדוֹ שֶׁל אָדָם אֲבָל כְּשֶׁיַּגְדִּיל בְּחָכְמָה וְלֹא יְהֵא צָרִיךְ לֹא לִלְמֹד תּוֹרָה שֶׁבִּכְתָב וְלֹא לַעֲסֹק תָּמִיד בַּתּוֹרָה שֶׁבְּעַל פֶּה יִקְרָא בְּעִתִּים מְזֻמָּנִים תּוֹרָה שֶׁבִּכְתָב וְדִבְרֵי הַשְּׁמוּעָה כְּדֵי שֶׁלֹּא יִשְׁכַּח דָּבָר מִדִּבְרֵי דִּינֵי תּוֹרָה וְיִפְנֶה כָּל יָמָיו לַגְּמָרָא בִּלְבַד לְפִי רֹחַב שֶׁיֵּשׁ בְּלִבּוֹ וְיִשּׁוּב דַּעְתּוֹ

The above applies in the early stages of a person's study. However, when a person increases his knowledge and does not have the need to read the Written Law, or occupy himself with the Oral Law constantly, he should study the Written Law and the oral tradition at designated times. Thus, he will not forget any aspect of the laws of the Torah. [However,] he should focus his attention on the Gemara alone for his entire life, according to his ambition and his ability to concentrate. (Sefaria translation & notation)

Rav Hutner builds off the Rambam to make the following point:

הרי לנו דעצם עצמיותה של תורה הוא רק לימוד גמרא, וכל מהלכי הלימוד הם כמו הדרך המוביל אל המטרה. וזהו חידוש נפלא, דבעצם עצמיותו של תלמוד תורה אין אנו דנים על כל חלקיו בהשואה אחת. אלא דהכל נידון בערכין. ובערכה של תורה, כל המהלכים מלבד תלמוד גמרא כמכשיר הם נידונים

After all, for us, the essence of Torah's identity is only the study of Gemara, and from all the approaches to learning they are like the road leading to the ultimate goal (i.e. learning gemara). And this is a wondrous chiddush, since the very nature of Talmud Torah is such that we do not discuss all its parts equally. Rather, everything is judged on its merits. And with the value of Torah, all approaches other than the learning of Gemara are considered part of the preparation.

In other words, Rav Hutner tells us that all our other Torah learning is to be regarded as a means to get to the end goal, which is purely that of Gemara study. Now why is it regarded as the ultimate aim? Rav Hutner continues that it inspires a greater sense of toil. This toil that is so part of Gemara study is not to be deemed as added value but rather represents the very definition of Torah study.

In 17:5 Rav Hutner notes that Rambam defines the learning of Gemara as the final third (as this is the final piece that everyone should be building up to) as understanding and conceptualising the derivation of a concept from its roots, inferring one concept from another and comparing concepts. As such:

הוא עיקר מקומו של השכל העמל בהתבוננות העיון לעומקו ולהקיפו של ענין, בהתאמצו להוציא דבר מתוך דבר

It is the main place of the intellect that toils in the observation of the study to the depth and scope of a matter, in an effort to extract something from something.

Thus, the more regularly we do this, the more ingrained it becomes in our thinking process, thereby refining our ability to probe Torah thought as well as enhancing the breadth of our Torah knowledge.

2) Foundational Building Blocks

Rav Aharon Kotler זצ"ל in Mishnas Rebbi Aharon, cheilek gimmel, shaar asiri, p. 168 asserts that the study of גמרא must be emphasised as it concretises a person’s basic ידיעת התורה – knowledge of Torah, and it must already be firmly introduced from a an appropriate age because it plays such an important part of further study in a person’s life.

In this vein, it is worth bringing the Gemara in Gittin 60b which notes the primacy that Torah sheba'al peh is afforded:

אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן לֹא כָּרַת הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא בְּרִית עִם יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶלָּא בִּשְׁבִיל דְּבָרִים שֶׁבְּעַל פֶּה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר כִּי עַל פִּי הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה כָּרַתִּי אִתְּךָ בְּרִית וְאֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל

Rabbi Yoḥanan says: The Holy One, Blessed be He, made a covenant with the Jewish people only for the sake of the matters that were transmitted orally [be’al peh], as it is stated: “For on the basis of [al pi] these matters I have made a covenant with you and with Israel” (Exodus 34:27).

Thus, whilst Torah Shebichsav represents the written word of G-d, the Oral Torah is to be understood as the process and application of His word, that Hashem gifted uniquely to us. It is the means through which the Rabbonim throughout the ages, as well as each and everyone of us throughout the generations have the ability to attach ourselves to in order to gain a greater foothold of understanding and that is why it is prioritised.

Perhaps the Ksav VeHakabbalah on the pasuk quoted in the gemara there puts it best:

ביאור הדבר שהיה נפלא ומכוסה ונעלם הידיעה, והיא התורה שבעל פה המסורה לנו לבאר התורה שבכתב

The explanation of the matter is wondrous and covered up, and the knowledge is concealed, and the Oral Torah was given to us in order to explain the Written Torah.

3) Acceptance of G-d's Kingship

When delving deeper into the piece from Gittin 60b above, I came across this here which provides yet another reason why the learning of Gemara is emphasised above that of other Torah learning.

Rav Pinchas Koretzer, zt”l, gave another reason. “If Hashem had chosen to commit the oral Torah to writing, we would not be able to say any more than what was written down, just as one may not add or subtract to scripture. This would be very detrimental, since the only way to truly master the intricacies of oral Torah is to speak in learning and review the material in an individualized way. With each review, it gets clearer and clearer to the learner. This is why the Tikunei Zohar teaches that the oral Torah is an aspect of accepting Malchus Hashem. The difficult process of mastering the oral Torah is how we truly accept Hashem’s Kingship over us!

(אמרי פנחס, שער התורה, מ"ג)

  • You might find this book helpful - feldheim.com/why-do-i-need-to-learn-gemara
    – Dov
    Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 12:41
  • Great find Dov! There might occur a question on what the Chofetz Chaim writes: and this is only from studying the Gemara with effort and it will come that you cling to it in its holiness in its light and honour. - why not with learning Tanach in depth? Why especially the Gemara? What is it within Gemara that is so special? (not my questions, but it might occur to someone that is not familiair with Gemara).
    – Shmuel
    Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 13:17
  • @Shmuel - see my follow on edit from Rav Hutner
    – Dov
    Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 13:44

See (ליקוטי אמרים (תניא the 4th and 5th chapters. There The Alter Rebbe explains based on the statement of the Zohar that “G-d and the Torah are one”, that the words of the torah are a concretization and encapsulation of G-D’S wisdom and will. One could never grasp the essence of G-d or even begin to know him, the best we could do is to grasp that will and wisdom which he has placed into the words of the Torah.

In the 5th chapter he explains (paraphrasing) that when the Halacha states that should Reuven claim this and Shimon that the Halacha is X, even should such a case never happen, it is still the crystallization of the will of G-d and thus by us studying it we are achieving the closest possible knowledge and connection to G-d we could possibly achieve.

Thus the answer to your question could be, that the purpose of studying Gemara is to know and connect to G-d by studying and knowing his will.


In Orchos Chaim, a sefer written by Rabbi Aaron Lopiansky, it gives three goals of our learning (p. 153):

  1. To know that which is incumbent upon us to do;
  2. To be inspired;
  3. To become intellectually engaged in Torah.

Rabbi Lopiansky cites the Rambam (Mishneh Torah; Hilchos Mikvaos 11:12) and says that learning Gemara can be seen as "immersing in the waters of wisdom". Learning Gemara gives a person dveikus (דביקות) with Hashem, e.g. getting closer to Hashem.

Halacha states that a person's learning should be divided in thirds:

One is obligated to divide his learning schedule into thirds: one third in Written Torah; that is, the twenty-four [books of the Tanach]; one third in Mishna, that is, the Torah She'b'al Peh, and the explanations of the Written Torah are included herein;

The Rama on this explains that the reason why we study Talmud Bavli, is because Bavli consists of both Written Torah, Mishna, and Talmud. And hence, studying Bavli, is considered as if a persons learns all three.

Rashi, in his commentary on Brachos 11b explains why we need to make a bracha on studying the Gemara. Rashi explains that the Gemara is the primary part of Torah, because halachich rulings are derived from it.

אף לגמרא צריך לברך – שהוא עיקר התורה שממנו הוראה יוצאה. גמרא היינו סברת טעמי משנה ותירוצי משניות הסותרות זו את זו וחסורי מחסרא:

In Maseches Soferim, it says:

[The Sages], however, said: Scripture has been compared to water, the Mishnah to wine, and the Shas to spiced-wine. The world cannot exist without water, it cannot exist without wine, and it cannot exist without spiced-wine; but a rich man enjoys all three of them. So, too, it is impossible for the world to exist without Scripture and without Mishnah, but it can never exist without the Shas. (Soncino press-translation on Sefaria).

Sefaria on Maseches Soferim, adds a footnote as to why it says "but it can neverexcist without Shas". Sefaria says "because it includes all three".

See also this very interesting Gemara in Eruvin 60a.

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