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?
  • 1
    For 1: the Aruch HaShulchan (Siman 47) writes for Aggadata one must recite a blessing. Jun 24, 2012 at 5:35
  • 1
    @HachamGabriel sounds like the makings of an answer.
    – msh210
    Jun 24, 2012 at 6:43
  • 1
    I think the first one and the latter two should be split into two questions.
    – Double AA
    Jun 24, 2012 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. Jun 24, 2012 at 18:38
  • 2
    @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, 2012 at 18:41

1 Answer 1


The Gemara in Maseches Berachos (11b) clearly tells us what types of learning require a blessing.

א"ר יהודה אמר שמואל השכים לשנות עד שלא קרא ק"ש צריך לברך משקרא ק"ש א"צ לברך שכבר נפטר באהבה רבה אמר רב הונא למקרא צריך לברך ולמדרש א"צ לברך ור' אלעזר אמר למקרא ולמדרש צריך לברך למשנה א"צ לברך ור' יוחנן אמר אף למשנה נמי צריך לברך [אבל לתלמוד א"צ לברך] ורבא אמר אף לתלמוד צריך ] (לחזור ו)לברך דאמר רב חייא בר אשי זימנין סגיאין הוה קאימנא קמיה דרב לתנויי פרקין בספרא דבי רב הוה מקדים וקא משי ידיה ובריך ומתני לן פרקין

Rab Judah said in the name of Samuel: If one rose early to study [the Torah] before he had recited the Shema’, he must say a benediction [over the study]. But if he had already recited the Shema’, he need not say a benediction, because he has already become quit by saying ‘With abounding love’.

R. Huna said: For the reading of Scripture it is necessary to say a benediction, but for the study of the Midrash no benediction is required. R. Eleazar, however, says that for both Scripture and Midrash a benediction is required, but not for the Mishnah. R. Johanan says that for the Mishnah also a benediction is required, [but not for the Talmud]. Raba said: For the Talmud also it is necessary to say a blessing. R. Hiyya b. Ashi said: Many times did I stand before Rab to repeat our section in the Sifra of the School of Rab, and he used first to wash his hands and say a blessing, and then go over our section with us. (Soncino translation.)

Rambam codifies this in Hilchos Tefila 7:10, and he simply states that the blessing is necessary both for the Written Law and for the Oral Law.

המשכים לקרוא בתורה קודם שיקרא קריאת שמע בין קרא בתורה שבכתב בין קרא בתורה שבעל פה נוטל ידיו תחלה ומברך שלש ברכות ואחר כך קורא ואלו הן אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו על דברי תורה והערב נא יי' אלהינו את דברי תורתך בפינו ובפיפיות עמך כל בית ישראל ונהיה אנחנו וצאצאינו וצאצאי עמך יודעי שמך ועוסקי תורתך ברוך אתה יי' המלמד תורה לעמו ישראל ברוך אתה יי' אלהינו מלך העולם אשר בחר בנו מכל העמים ונתן לנו את תורתו ברוך אתה יי' נותן התורה

One who rises to study Torah, whether the Written or Oral Law, before he recites the Shema, should wash his hands beforehand, recite [the following] three blessings, and then study.

[These blessings] are:

[Blessed... universe,] who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us concerning the words of Torah. And please, God, our Lord, make pleasant the words of Your Torah in our mouths and in the mouths of Your people, the entire House of Israel. May we, our offspring, and the offspring of Your people, be knowers of Your name and among those who occupy themselves with Your Torah. Blessed are You, God, who teaches Torah to His people, Israel. Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who has chosen us from among all the nations and given us His Torah. Blessed are You, God, who gives the Torah. (Chabad.org)

The Tur codifies this in Orach Chaim siman 47:

וצריך לברך למקרא למדרש ולמשנה ולתלמוד

The Shulchan Aruch codifies this in Orach Chaim 47:2.

צריך לברך בין למקרא בין למשנה בין לגמרא הגה בין למדרש

(Even though R. Yosef Karo left out Midrash, the Peri Chadash in Orach Chaim 47:2 states that those that left out Midrash did not mean to exclude it; rather it was self-understood, or it was included in Mikra or Talmud.

הפוסקים לא כתבו מדרש דמכל שכן דגמרא נפיק אי נמי בכלל מקרא הוי וכן משמע בגמרא ומוהריק"ש כתב שבכלל תלמוד הוא כדאמרינן לקמן סימן נ' שהמדרש כתלמוד אבל הטור הזכירו)

The Levush codifies this in Orach Chaim 47:2.

וחייב לברך בין למקרא בין למשנה בין לתלמוד בין למדרש דכולהו תורה מיקרו

The Shulchan Aruch Harav codifies this in Orach Chaim 47:2.

צָרִיךְ לְבָרֵךְ בֵּין לְמִקְרָא לְבַד בֵּין לְמִשְׁנָה לְבַדָּהּ בֵּין לְתַלְמוּד לְבַדּוֹ בֵּין לְמִדְרָשׁ לְבַדּוֹ שֶׁהַכֹּל תּוֹרָה הִיא וְנִתְּנָה לְמֹשֶׁה מִסִּינַי

A blessing is required whether one [reads or studies] Scripture alone, Mishnah alone, Talmud alone, or Midrash alone. For it is all Torah and was given to Moshe at Sinai. (Chabad.org)

In the Gemara there was clearly a difference of opinion. In the main codes of law cited above there seem to be only very slight differences.

1) Rambam holds that the Written Law and the Oral Law require a blessing.

2) Tur holds that Mikrah, Midrash, Mishnah, and Talmud all require a blessing (this is the most expansive opinion mentioned in the Gemara.)

3) R. Yosef Karo holds that Mikrah, Mishnah, and Gemara require a blessing (which does not seem to correspond to any of the Talmudic opinions, unless we accept the Peri Chadash's argument above).

4) R. Moshe Isserles holds that Mikrah, Mishnah, Gemara, and Midrash require a blessing.

5) Levush holds that Mikrah, Mishnah, Talmud, and Midrash all require a blessing because they are all called "Torah".

6) Shulchan Aruch Harav holds that Mikrah, Mishnah, Talmud, and Midrash each require a blessing because they are all "Torah" and were all given to Moshe at Sinai.

It seems apparent that the accepted ruling is that all four categories require a blessing. However, the problem is that most of these terms are somewhat vague. What is meant by the Written Law, the Oral Law, Mikrah, Mishnah, Gemara, Talmud, and Midrash? This cuts to the heart of your question, because it is conceivable that all three of your categories fall under one of these categories and thus would require a blessing, but it is also conceivable that they do not fall under any of these categories, and thus would not require a blessing.

The Aruch Hashulchan attempts to address this problem. He quotes the students of Rabbeinu Yonah who explain that when each opinion in the Gemara adds on Midrash, Mishnah, and Talmud, it is on account of the fact that those works directly explain the Scriptural verses, make derivations therefrom, or explain the laws of the Torah. However, anything which is not based on Scriptural verses would not require a blessing. Included in this, he says, might be the Midrash Rabba and the Kabbala. However, he then notes that according to the Levush the reason is that they are all called "Torah", and according to the Shulchan Aruch Harav the reason is that they were all given at Sinai. If that is the case then certainly Aggada and Kabbala would require a blessing since they were given at Sinai. He notes again that this seems to be against the students of Rabbeinu Yonah and he leaves off inconclusively.

צריך לברך בין למקרא בין למשנה בין לגמרא בין למדרש והיינו מדרש המקראות במכילתא וספרא וספרי [רש"י ברכות יא:] ודע שיש להסתפק בלומד דברי אגדה כמדרש רבה או חכמת הקבלה אם מחויב לברך ברכת התורה דהנה בגמרא שם יש פלוגתא דרב הונא אמר דרק למקרא צריך לברך ור' יוחנן אמר דגם למשנה צריך לברך [גירסת הרי"ף] ופירשו תלמידי רבינו יונה משום דהמשנה מפרשת טעמי המצות ור"א אמר דגם לגמרא צריך לברך משום שהתלמוד מפרש עיקרי הפסוקים [תר"י] והמסקנא דגם למדרש צריך לברך משום שבמדרש לומד ג"כ מהפסוקים מקל וחומר ומגזירה שווה ומהמדות שהתורה נדרשת בהם [שם] ולפ"ז משמע שאין החיוב רק בדברים שמפרשים דיני התורה אבל דברי אגדה או קבלה שאין עיקרם לדינים והלכות א"צ ברכה אבל אם נאמר הטעם משום שהכל ניתנה למשה מסיני [הגר"ז] או משום דכולהו תורה מקרי [לבוש] פשיטא שגם אגדה וקבלה ניתנה למשה מסיני ומקרו תורה אבל מלשון תלמידי רבינו יונה לא משמע כן וצ"ע לדינא

It would appear based on all of the above that you would not be required to make a blessing on the three categories you mentioned, except for the select parts that contain Torah, and even then perhaps only if they contain explanations/derivations of Scriptural verses or explanations of Torah Laws (for example if the biography relates a Torah explanation of its protagonist). Note that according to this there are perhaps many sefarim that (barring, perhaps, certain selections) would also not require a blessing.

As always, consult your rabbi for a practical ruling.

  • Realise that "Gemara" is almost exclusively an artifact of replacing the word 'Talmud' due to the taboo around it.
    – mevaqesh
    Jan 1, 2018 at 21:27
  • It should be noted, that Rambam never clearly uses the term Written Law to refer to anything but Humash. (Nor do almost ant of his predecessors). The Rogatchove holds that birkhot hatorah are not recited before studying Nakh. Although just looking at Rambam one would likely assume the Rogatchover was correct, Rambam himself indicates otherwise in a teshuva.
    – mevaqesh
    Jan 1, 2018 at 21:29
  • @mevaqesh judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/57639/…
    – Alex
    Jan 1, 2018 at 21:31
  • I forgot that I posted that. Since posting it I researched it more.
    – mevaqesh
    Jan 1, 2018 at 21:32
  • @mevaqesh Indeed, towards the end I referred to only four categories. However, I maintained fidelity towards the texts I was quoting from, some of which use the term Gemara.
    – Alex
    Jan 1, 2018 at 21:42

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