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Consider a person who follows all of the halachos (he is aware of) that are involved in daily living. Any free time that he has is devoted to learning Torah. This person, however, is not proficient at all in the halachos of Shabbos and is certain to transgress Rabbinic and even Torah law every Shabbos.

The question is: Is this person allowed to learn anything other than the halachos of Shabbos until he can for sure keep Shabbos without transgressing any laws? Is he allowed to learn daf-yomi, for example, or learn gemara be'iyun if that means that the time spent learning the gemara will translate into time not learning hilchos Shabbos?

My thoughts are: Maybe this person is only allowed to learn hilchos Shabbos at this point because when he has free time and he is choosing what to learn, if he knows that not learning hilchos Shabbos will (indirectly) cause him to transgress a law, he is responsible now to make sure that does not happen. Alternatively maybe he is not obligated to only learn hilchos Shabbos because 1) if such an idea is true I would have expected to see Rabbi's make a point of it, which I haven't and 2) a person is supposed to learn a broad spectrum of Torah (Tanach, Mishna, Gemara, Mussar and halacha lema'aseh).

(I chose hilchos Shabbos as an example. The scenario can easily be played out with any other halachos, e.g. hilchos berachos, tefillah, seudah, richuk min ha'arayos, tznius, Rosh Chodesh, bathroom, not to mention Hilchos BEIN ADAM LE'CHAVEIRO etc. etc. etc.)

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Logically, anyone not well-versed enough in the halachos of Shabbos and daily life to avoid regular transgressions should prioritize studying practical halacha. (Keep in mind that studying Chumash with Onkelos (or using Rashi as a substitute for Onkelos) is a weekly halachic requirement.)

However, if studying other subjects (such as mussar or chassidic literature or even gedolim biographies) is needed to give you inspiration and motivation to continue in your path of increasing your observance and Torah learning, then of course that kind of study would be appropriate as well.

Interestingly, even chassidic sources (which often emphasize the study of mystical seforim) sometimes place great importance on the daily study of halacha. For example, see this extraordinarily emphatic teaching of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov:

"Every Jew must spend a portion of his time every day studying the law codes. This applies under all circumstances. It is a very serious matter, and no one should ever miss his daily session. Even in an emergency, when he has no time for example, if he is traveling he should still learn at least one paragraph of the Shulchan Aruch, even from so mewhere other than the place he has reached in his regular daily study routine. Do not let a single day of your life go by wihtout studying something from the Shulchan Aruch. Under normal circumstances when you are not under pressure, go through each of the four sections of the Shulchan Aruch in turn until you have finished them all. Then go back to the beginning and start again. Follow this practice all your life. It is a great remedy for all the damage caused by sin. The study of the legal codes sifts the good from the bad. It is the ultimate remedy (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom 29)."

  • Do you have a source for your first paragraph? – andrewmh20 Dec 25 '14 at 12:25
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The Rambam in hilchos Talmud Torah says that a person should divide up his time learning into thirds: 1/3 written Torah, 1/3 oral Torah, and 1/3 of understanding how to understand and live Torah, and as far as what is mutar and what is assur.

A person obviously doesn't know all the Halacha of everything all the time, and still, the Rambam says to divide your learning time. While hilchos shabbos are important (as are all other halachos) and you are obligated to learn them, the Torah is broad and you are obligated to know it as well.

So, it seems a person can, and should, have a broad learning seder. As far as transgressing in various area of Halacha, as long as he is not transgressing intentionally, he won't be punished.

To finish off with a quote from Pirkei Avos (2, 16): לא עליך המלאכה לגמר ולא אתה בן חורין לבטל ממנה - it's not upon you to finish all the work, but neither are you a free person to be exempt from it; immediately after this the Mishnah proceeds to discuss Torah and qualify what was being discussed.

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    Perhaps Maimonides' recommended study regimen describes a generally optimal study system. Lack of practical knowledge might nevertheless necessitate and adjustment to the system. I beleive the posqim indeed prioritize study of halakha over other study in the event of limited time to study. – mevaqesh Feb 5 '15 at 5:14

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