Most Yeshivos (from 5th Grade-End of High school) Learn Talmud Bavli.

My question is: Why? What is the point of learning Talmud Bavli so extensively?

I know that it is Hashem's Word, but there are a lot of other things to learn which are more useful (ex. Shulchan Aruch Harav where he gives the reasons (mostly from the talmud) and gives the halacha) and are Hashem's words?

So why specifically learn Talmud Bavli? And why spend so much time on it?

Indeed, there is a reason that we would not learn Talmud Bavli; that we know that the whole point of learning is actual performance of mitzvot, so Talmud seems ineffective vis-à-vis e.g. Shulchan Aruch Harav

  • when I say Extensively it means: Spend a lot of time on it. – user5224 Jul 1 '14 at 19:02
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    Duplicate, I think, of judaism.stackexchange.com/q/16136. – msh210 Jul 1 '14 at 19:27
  • My question is not so much focused on why they don't learn as much halacha but more on why do they learn Talmud Bavli so much. SO I do not think that these are the same. – user5224 Jul 1 '14 at 19:30
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    books.google.com/… – הנער הזה Jul 1 '14 at 23:39
  • I second @Matt's recommendation, especially chapter 3, to answer the question "what makes G'mara more worthwhile than other halacha texts?" It is parallel to an amazing discourse in אורות הקודש by Rav Kook in which he explains how halacha and agada are inextricably linked. – WAF Jul 3 '14 at 12:41

Yeshivos start learning Gemara too early (the Maharal said this already many centuries ago). However, the overall goal of the Yeshiva curriculum is to train the student to be able to learn Torah She Baal Peh on their own in their lifetimes - specifically the 613 Mitvos and their details.

Before Torah She Baal Peh was written down, the Yeshiva had to teach the student the whole thing and get them to memorize it. Now that it is written down the goal has changed to enabling the student to read and understand it, continuing the study of it after they graduate.

The main key to that level of learning is the Talmud Bavli. Without being able to learn that, there is no way to be able to learn more.

Of course curriculum will vary in how they get there and additional goals they want to teach students. But the Talmud Bavli part is about that "learning how to learn" process. Learning Halachos alone will not enable that.

(One Source which discusses this goal of Yeshiva learning is Hilchos Talmud Torah by the Alter Rebbe of Lubavitch).

The above should not be taken as an endorsement of a specific curriculum, or a specific amount of time spent. There is no one right answer in how to achieve that goal, and קנאת סופרים תרבה חכמה - competition in schooling increases scholarship.

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    I am a little confused on your answer, How does Talmud Bavli "teach us how to learn" and why can't halachos accomplish the same? – user5224 Jul 1 '14 at 19:25
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    @user613, Halachos just give you raw facts. They don't tell you how to analyze them, or where they come from. Even if you feed them an overview, you aren't teaching the students how to go to the primary source and find it themselves for a topic you don't cover. – Yishai Jul 1 '14 at 19:28
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    I could really write a lot on this. Most who have gone through yeshivot and 'learned' bavli do not end up knowing how to learn. A yeshivo is not a college or university where one is 'taught'. The whole system is wrong. The RY gives a shiur usually very badly attended which very few even understand. They dont use artscroll or mesivta and end up with just managing to read it. – preferred Jul 1 '14 at 19:36
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    The Shulchan Aruch Harav usually brings reasons and even in Shulchan Aruch. You can learn the nooks and crooks of halacha. Even though most Yeshivos don't because they have Talmud Bavli, and why is Talmud Bavli different? And if Halacha is not good then what about Chumash with all the Mephroshim. That I think teaches you a lot of what Talmud does – user5224 Jul 1 '14 at 19:36
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    @user613, see the introduction to the Shulchan Aruch Harav by his children - they say he said the correct way to learn it (in depth) is to first lean the suggia with the Rishonim, then the Shulchan Aruch and commentaries, and then the Shulchan Aruch HaRav. Sure you can get a basic idea of the Halacha - but really understanding its source and how it is derived - no. Deriving a new Halacha? Never. – Yishai Jul 1 '14 at 19:39

The Gemara in Kiddushin 30a says that one should divide his days into thirds, learning Chumash for one third, Mishnah for another third, and Gemara for the last third. I had heard that we learn Bavli so extensively because it fulfills all three requirements.

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    Do other later works not fulfill all three? – Double AA Jun 6 '16 at 19:33
  • Bavli only fulfills all three because it's statements of Amoraim (Gemara) that expound on Pesukim and Mishnayos. In theory, any work that expounds on those three should fulfill this criterion as well, but ultimately anything post-Bavli is based on Shas Bavli in some form or another. – DonielF Jun 6 '16 at 23:10
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    But the question was exactly about Bavli vs a later work. – Double AA Jun 6 '16 at 23:45
  • It should be noted that the word gemara originally had a different definition. There was the mishna, and there was the talmud. The talmud = mishna + gemara formulation is relatively modern. See hil. talmud torah 1:11. – ShamanSTK Jun 7 '16 at 0:07
  • I understand that Gemara literally means "tradition" and, especially when used in the Gemara itself, refers to teachings known through our mesorah, or discussions about said teachings. And my point, Double AA, was that although technically later works, depending on their content, may very well fulfill the chiyuv of v'shilashtem, we might as well learn Gemara since it's the basis for all of those later works. – DonielF Jun 7 '16 at 1:44

Talmudic style uses the Socratic method of learning, which is somewhat unique. First, it encourages students to learn from each other rather than from the teacher ("chevruta" style). Second, the style of learning in the Talmud is based on questions and answers - proofs and rebuttals - much like a debate. This style is unique to the Talmud. The Torah doesn't have debate, and Shulchan Aruch and Ramba"m, as examples, don't use this style either.

Gaining these two skills - cooperative learning as well as debative / "argumentative" logic is a critical skill in terms of learning. The first skill helps develop friendships and understanding how to deal with peers as well as a diverse audience. While I don't think the yeshiva's goal is directly to promote skills that will be useful in business, this skill does end up achieving this.

The discussion / argumentative skill is a "mixed" end-result. Understanding how to question and disect a problem is an important skill as it teaches you not to always take things at face-value but to research it. On the flip-side, I've also seen this skill be detrimental when teenagers use this style to debate parents' and elders' requests or when they over-analyze an issue that isn't or shouldn't be debated.

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    Cooperative Learning can be learned in any other subject. (Halacha can be learned with a chavrusa etc.) – user5224 Jul 1 '14 at 19:50
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    And before I argue further. You are answering the reason why we learn Talmud Bavli but not why we learn it a lot. – user5224 Jul 1 '14 at 19:51
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    Yes - you raise a good point on this, and many rabbanim I've spoken to and I would probably agree with you on this. I assume by "a lot" you are referring to the number of hours spent on this, daily in yeshivot? If this is your main point, spare the "argument" :-) BTW - of course halacha can be with chevrusa - anything can, technically. But, the style of these writings does not lend itself to the same type of debate that the Gemarah has on its own. – DanF Jul 1 '14 at 20:11
  • You are correct I was referring to the amount of hours spent. And speaking for myself I learn with a Chavrusa a lot of subjects and each one (more or less) we debate the same. I do not see how Talmud Bavli helps more then Halacha or whatever subject in "develop friendships and understanding how to deal with peers as well as a diverse audience" – user5224 Jul 1 '14 at 20:17
  • I'd have to go through a long explanation of the benefits of "cooperative learning" which has been used in ways other than Talmud, and then relate it to why Talmud does a better job. That's for a research paper. Perhaps, I can find a web link, and I'll try to post it in a day or so. – DanF Jul 1 '14 at 20:27

It is true that Talmud study is not the most practical way to reach halakhic conclusions (cf. here). It is also true that many authorities held that rather than study Talmud, the most important thing to prioritize in study is applicable halakha.

Nevertheless, Ashkenazi yeshivot historically focused nearly exclusively on talmud, because they were designed to promote the small percentage who would need that knowledge in order to be rabbis and poskim. The educational system was not designed primarily to accommodate the other 99%.

In the words of R. Dr. David Katz:

Obviously, not every student was capable of mastering such material. Whatever the ideological reasons, there can be no doubt that society felt comfortable with a highly elitist educational philosophy with an almost conscious, exclusive, focus on the production of a few gifted students at the expense of the great majority. [1]

Similarly, Dr. Ephraim Karnfogel writes:

The basic educational curriculum in Ashkenaz was structured with the hope that it might produce a young Rabbnu Tam. It was, above all, Talmudocentric...The communities felt no acute need for an educational system...that would address the needs of ordinary men [2].

And similarly Dr. Jacob Katz writes:

[Altohugh] only a small minority of students could hope to attain this ideal...the heder...was made subservient to the needs of the minority...Even if only a minority could actually engage in it, study of the Talmud was a primary value...The educational goals for the people as a whole, knowing the fundamentals of Judaism and the fulfilment of its precepts, were considered as no more than byproducts of an educational system directed to developing Talmudic scholars. [3]

[1] A Case Study In The Formation of a Super-Rabbi: The Early Years of Rabbi Ezekiel Landau, p. 104.

[2] Jewish Education and Society in the High Middle Ages p. 180, cited ibid.

[3] Tradition and Crisis p. 163, cited by Katz ibid.

  • And note that Rav Dessler wrote very similarly in Michtav Meliyahu (3:356-357): In contrast the Lithuanian yeshivot focused on a single goal – to create great Torah scholars...Don’t think that they didn’t realize from the beginning that this approach would ruin some...But this is the price that they paid for the sake of producing in their schools great Torah scholars – mevaqesh Sep 11 '16 at 13:58

the Rambam prescribes talmud as the first priority as written in Yesodei Torah 4:13

I maintain that it is not proper for a person to stroll in the Pardes unless he has filled his belly with bread and meat. "Bread and meat" refer to the knowledge of what is permitted and what is forbidden, and similar matters concerning other mitzvot. Even though the Sages referred to these as "a small matter" - for our Sages said: "'A great matter,’ this refers to Ma'aseh Merkavah. `A small matter,’ this refers to the debates of Abbaye and Ravva" - nevertheless, it is fitting for them to be given precedence, because they settle a person's mind.

The talmud is the most intellectually rigorous arena of (nigle) torah study due to its dealing with the roots of halacha. To settle the mind by strengthening the intellect over the yetzer hara is a major purpose of torah study as the Chovos Halevavos writes in gate 3 chapter 3:

Hence it was necessary for there to exist something, whose use would not involve man's physical organs nor the animalistic lusts, but only the exercise of his intellect, freed from the predominance of lusts. This aid is the Torah, the study of which will make the intellect stronger, purer, and more luminous and will drive away from man the folly that masters his soul and prevents him from seeing things as they really are and placing them in their proper relations. As the Psalmist said, "The law of the L-ord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the L-ord is faithful, making wise the simple; the ordinances of the L-ord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the L-ord is pure, enlightening the eyes" (Ps. 19:8-9).

I also read in the name of Rabbi Elyashiv (the book HaSod) that the beginning of one's torah study must be b'omek haiyun (in the depths of deep study) as this is what builds a person properly.

the Chovos Halevavos was a strong advocate for in-depth study as he writes in Gate 8

To bring oneself to an accounting for delaying coming to understand the book of G-d's torah, and his being contented not to grasp its matters. And one would not do this for a book that was sent to him from a king. If he had a doubt as to its meaning due to its unclear handwriting or words, or due to the depth of its matter, or its subtlety, or confusing mix of subjects or its enigmatic words. Rather, he would apply his whole heart and mind to understand its meaning, and would greatly pain himself until he understood its intent.

If he does this to understand the words of a weak, mortal man like himself, how much is it his duty to do many times more than this until he understands the book of G-d, which is his life and his salvation , as written "For it is your life and the length of your days" (Devarim 30:20). How did you permit yourself, my brother, to hide from it, and to content yourself from it with that which is readily familiar of its matter and revealed of its surface meaning, and you were lenient with (knowing) the rest.

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    But he also says ""Bread and meat" refer to the knowledge of what is permitted and what is forbidden" – user5224 Jul 1 '14 at 19:48
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    @user613 true but mostly in summary form. the main excavation work for the underlying reasons is obviously in the talmud and commentaries – ray Jul 1 '14 at 20:54
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    Quoting Rambam as a source to learn Gemara as opposed to later halachic works is ironic, considering that Rambam writes that his Mishenh Torah is meant to become the sole book of study of halacha (as much as people try to get out of the implication). – mevaqesh Jun 6 '16 at 19:32
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    @mevaqesh, the Rambam himself disavows that interpretation in a letter (Responsa, No. 140 as referenced in wikipedia here) – Yishai Aug 12 '16 at 16:27
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    @mevaqesh, not very persuasive, honestly. Unless you are suggesting he was lying and not actually teaching Talmud, et. al. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure he wanted his sefer to be the Psak Halacha for Klal Yisroel (so did, for example, R. Yosef Kairo, as he writes in his introduction to the Beis Yosef). But there is a big difference between that and saying that someone looking to pasken halachos outside of what he wrote about (or pasken Halachos for others) could simply be ignorant of the reasons and sources for Halacha prior to the Rambam. – Yishai Aug 12 '16 at 17:44

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