The Magen Avraham in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim Siman 50 Sif-Katan 2 writes that learning (Torah) is only called "learning" if one understands what they learn (see there for the context in which he says this. However clearly speaking about Torah She'bal Peh, the "Oral Torah" -- Mishnah, Gemorah, etc.)

The Maharal in Gavuros HaShem Perek 63 (see beginning of top left column) writes that we make the bracha on learning Torah of "l'asok b'divrei Torah" since any of our "asek" (toil) in Talmud Torah is a Mitzvah even if one does not understand. Does the Maharal mean to say this by both the Written Torah (Tanach) and the Oral Torah (Mishnah, Gemorah, etc.) Or perhaps only the Written Torah or only the Oral Torah. Is there a maklokes (disagreement) here between the Maharal and Magen Avraham. What other seforim or mefarshim discuss this?

  • IIRC the Kisur discusses this as well as many others. Commented Apr 14, 2013 at 1:39
  • @HachamGabriel please bring mareh makomos!
    – Yehoshua
    Commented Apr 14, 2013 at 21:11

1 Answer 1

  1. The Magen Avraham distinguishes between davening, which you can say in Hebrew because "even if you don't know and understand what the words mean, G-d knows and understands" and Torah, in which you must understand. He does not distinguish between Written and Oral Torah.
  2. The Maharal in his introduction to Tiferes Yisrael explains that the brachah on learning Torah is "la'asok be-divrei Torah" because the mitzvah is the effort of trying to understand, and even if you come out with an incorrect p'shat, you have still fulfilled the mitzvah. But the Maharal agrees that the mitzvah is to attempt to understand what the Torah is saying, not just reading the words.
  3. The Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav (Hil. Talmud Torah 2:12) is the source for the idea that there is a difference between Torah shebe'al peh and Torah shebiksav, and that for Torah shebiksav, there is a mitzvah even if one doesn't understand what one is reading. Many later discussions begin with the Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav as a starting point. See e.g., R. Yaakov Kamenetzky's introduction to Emes le-Yaakov al ha-Torah. However, there are a number of sources which dispute the Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav altogether. See, e.g., fn. 10 here.
  4. The aforementioned footnote also contains Rishonim which support the Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav's contention.
  5. Finally, there are kabbalistic sources which support the idea that even reading Torah shebe'al peh without understanding is a mitzvah, although I cannot find them right now.
  • Can you provide a link to the Tiferes Yisrael?
    – Yehoshua
    Commented Apr 14, 2013 at 9:16
  • OK, added link hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=42865&st=&pgnum=36
    – wfb
    Commented Apr 14, 2013 at 15:52
  • I also learned that kriah is considered "learning" even though it is without understanding.
    – SAH
    Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 23:06

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