The Torah is traditionally seen as being comprised of a Written Torah - the Bible - and an Oral Torah - all other traditions that comprise the covenant between God and Israel. For millennia Jewish scholarship has been heavily weighted towards Oral Torah and only a minority of the sages devoted great effort to studying Written Torah.

Some poskim say that the Bible is simply too easily understood in a heterodox fashion by the immature and therefore it is unsuitable for children. This is the view of Zemah Gaon as reported by Abraham Zacuto and some later poskim adopted a similar (if not quite identical) position - e.g., Nathan ben Jehiel and Rashi. Obviously, this is difficult to reconcile with the view that requires a father to teach his sons the Bible.

Other poskim say that the Bible should only be studied between the ages of five and ten and the rest of a man's years ought to spent exclusively on Oral Torah. This is the view of Maharsha. This view is difficult to reconcile with Joshua ben Hananiah's recommendation that a man split his study time between Bible, Mishnah and Talmud.

Theoretically, a third view is possible that considers the Bible unsuitable for both children and adults. One wonders if such an stringent view exists in the poskim?

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    How would you understand shnayim mikrah in this context?
    – Dov
    Dec 27, 2022 at 16:27
  • Also worth noting @Moshe that there are mekoros that note that the age brackets set as per pikei avos for chumash, mishnah and gemoro etc are no longer relevant....
    – Dov
    Dec 27, 2022 at 18:07
  • See Abarbanel on that mishna; it doesn't appear in any manuscript and was never quoted until the 15th century. Giving an age for gemara study before the gemara had been written is also an internal difficulty. So this age guide is actually Rishonic.
    – user25970
    Dec 27, 2022 at 18:40
  • No no, contesting the "pirkei avos" that @Dov cited. I have no reason to doubt Zacuto.
    – user25970
    Dec 27, 2022 at 19:14
  • 1
    Avot 5:21: "At five years of age the study of Scripture; at ten the study of Mishnah;... at fifteen the study of Talmud;" Dec 27, 2022 at 19:19

1 Answer 1


While you linked to the Maharsha, he quotes and channels the Rambam in Mishneh Torah, who says:

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.

This isn't forbidding study of Scripture, just recommending a particular focus and emphasis. And even such a person should learn Scripture at particular set times, so that he doesn't forget.

Zemah Gaon's approach was a reaction to Karaism. Rather, as children, they are to focus more on the midrashic interpretations and stories, and only delve into such things as peshat by learning bare pesukim and thinking about peshat interpretations later in life.

Combining these approaches doesn't seem logically consistent, though that wouldn't preclude a posek somewhere, somehow, from possibly disagreeing. Aside from leining thrice in shul, and shnayim mikra ve'echad targum, the Rambam approach is that one need not learn Scripture after that point because one already internalized it and has no need for it. And the Zemach Gaon approach is that it is indeed Talmud Torah, but delay it. So once one delayed it in childhood, why would one not learn it -- indeed be forbidden from learning it (as Rambam and Maharsha never ever said) in adulthood?

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    The word גמרא is a censor's substitution for Maimonides' תלמוד. See mechon-mamre.org/i/1301.htm
    – user19234
    Dec 28, 2022 at 11:56
  • Zemah Gaon does not say his explanation of הגיון is rooted in anti-Karaite polemic. One wonders if there is any evidence for seeing his interpretation as mere polemic. Many later commentators adopted his view even in regions where Karaism was rare or non-existent so perhaps the polemic explanation is not really correct.
    – user19234
    Jan 1, 2023 at 17:32
  • In the linked article, this explanation is attributed to R. Yehoshua Rice, Hi Sichati (Alon Shvut: Maggid Press, 2013), p. 36. No one said "polemic", which would indicate perhapss that he didn't mean it. Rather, a reaction to the realities of his present day. Karaism was 9th century, as was Tzemach Gaon. He does say (according to your link) that the issue is שהן נוטין למינות. Later commentators needn't shed light on him. Please link to them so we can consider their words in context. Jan 1, 2023 at 18:51
  • If Rashi, yoter midai means to exceedingly focus on it, not to prohibit teaching it. If the Aruch, מפתרון פסוק כצורתו means not to teach it to them literally, not to prohibit studying it. Regardless, both are translating one opinion in the gemara in its context, rather than giving a pesak halacha. Then, how to balance one gemara with another gemara is a commonly arising issue, where one either says that different Tannaim / Amoraim have different approaches, or that they are meant to modify / mitigate one another. On reflection, yes, Tzamach Gaon too... Jan 1, 2023 at 21:14

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