Does one fulfill the Biblical precept to study Torah while studying Rabbinic precepts? R. Mordechai of Vilna writes that one does not. Are there disputants? Please answer with exact sources or powerful inferences.

  • 3
    To which "R. Mordechai of Vilna" do you refer, and where did you hear this?
    – Fred
    Jan 29, 2015 at 5:47
  • 2
    I've never heard of R. Mordechai of Vilna. Who is he? Jan 29, 2015 at 6:49
  • I think the author of maasa rav on the Gaon, but i'm not sure.
    – mevaqesh
    Jan 29, 2015 at 17:04
  • @Fred this idea from r moredechai of vilna is brought in the back of the siddur hagr"a "Eizur Eliyahu" just before a copy of maaseh rav. His conclusion is based off the famous gemara in megilla that "mevatlin talmud torah lemikra megillah" he asks how could it be a bittul torah, isnt megillah also torah? he answers that it is only talmud torah miderabanan. Jan 29, 2015 at 18:58
  • Thats where I saw it. It happens to be that the proof is predicated upon an understanding of the Gemara contrary to Ritva there.
    – mevaqesh
    Jan 29, 2015 at 19:11

3 Answers 3


There are two sources I know of indicating that one does not fulfill the mitzvah of Talmud Torah by learning laws which are derabanan:

  1. There is a law that one may not receive payment for teaching Torah, but the Rama (Y.D. 246:5) writes that this is not true regarding teaching of rabbinic laws. This strongly implies that there's no biblical obligation to study these laws.

    • The Aruch Hashulchan (there) writes that he finds this ruling difficult, as the Gemara (Megillah 19, Brachos 5a) indicates that even the rabbinic laws were told to Moshe at Sinai
    • R. Ahron Leib Shteinman, (Ayeles Hashachar to Nedarim 37a) writes that although this halacha indicates that studying rabbinic laws such as eiruvin or channukah wouldn't fulfill the mitzvah of Talmud Torah, he writes that this is not the case. Perhaps the mitzvah really is fulfilled, but the rule of teaching Torah without pay doesn't apply because Moshe himself never 'taught' these laws.
  2. According to Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah (Brachos 11b), one only makes a bracha on studying Talmud or the like because it is an explanation of the Written Torah. (Based on this, the Aruch Hashulchan (47:8) is hesitant to make a bracha on studying aggados, because they do not explain any scriptural verses.)

    • It would appear, therefore, that studying laws which do not explain scripture (such as the laws of Chanukah) are not subject to birkas haTorah, probably because Rabbeinu Yonah felt that such study cannot be considered talmud Torah d'oraisa
    • However, the Eshel Avraham (47:2) writes based on the Rambam that one does make a bracha on studying purely rabbinic laws as well (could this be a dispute between Rambam and Rabbeinu Yonah?)

Besides for R. Shteinman, here are the words of R. Soloveitchik as recorded in שעירוים לזכר אבא מרי ז"ל, pg 253:

האם נאמר למשל כי מכיון שמצות מגילה היא רק מד"ס גם הלכות מגילה אינן מוטבעות בחותמה של תורה שבע"פ דבר תורה ומסכת מגילה מהווה חפצא של תורה רק מדבריהם שמדאורייתא אין בה חלות תורה כלל וכלל... שהלומד אותה אינו מקיים מצות תלמוד תורה מדאורייתא כי הלא כל הדברים שמסכת זו עסוקה בהם אינם אלא רשות דבר תורה? ...נראה פשוט כי התפיסה השניה נכונה וכי כל דיני מצוות דרבנן חפצא של תורה הויין ואין שום הבדל ביניהם לבין הלכות מילה או חמש הלכות שחיטה

Rav Soloveitchik then shows how this is evident from the Rambam (Hil. Mamrim 1) who includes the laws made by the rabbis as התורה אשר יורוך.

Building on this principle, Rabbi Zvi/Hershel Schachter writes in Nefesh Harav (pg. 41) that these laws become an integral part of the Torah itself, and therefore studying them is very much a fulfillment of the Biblical command. He relates this to the rule that כל דתקון רבנן כעין דאורייתא תקון, the rabbis pattern their enactments similar to the ways of the Torah, because it's all one inter-related package. In person, I've heard him take this a step further: there are times when one can understand a biblical law better because we can extrapolate from a detail in a rabbinic law which was patterned after the biblical one (he pointed to Kovetz he'Aros of R. Elchanan Wasserman, no. 66 for examples). We therefore see that even rabbinic enactments can indirectly clarify scriptural verses, perhaps answering the problem posed by the implication from Rabbeinu Yonah above.

  • +1, but I think you meant "two indications that the answer is yes".
    – Fred
    Jan 29, 2015 at 7:05
  • @Fred I meant no (as an answer to "Does one fulfill the Biblical precept to study Torah while studying Rabbinic precepts?") as the indications are towards 'no', but honestly the information here is very poorly organized/presented, I may come back and rework it later Jan 29, 2015 at 7:07
  • Well, it looks to me like 2 and 3 indicate "yes", while 1 is open to different interpretations.
    – Fred
    Jan 29, 2015 at 7:09
  • @Fred I am definitely going to rewrite this later Jan 29, 2015 at 7:11
  • 1
    I believe I've heard that Rav Michael Rosensweig of RIETS/YU in a Q&A answered that he would make birchas hatorah even on reading outdated medical advice of Chazal (though I wonder if his answer was somewhat polemical in nature due to perceived agendas in the question and the public nature of the forum).
    – Loewian
    Jan 29, 2015 at 17:48

Shulchan Aruch HaRav writes in Hilchos Talmud Torah (2:1) that the obligation to study Torah includes דיקדוקי סופרים, which Rashi (Succah 28a) defines as Rabbinic enactments.

(Note that, pace the Aruch Hashulchan, he paskens (O.C. 47:2) that Birchas HaTorah applies to Medrash as well).

  • How do you know he is using Rashi's definition?
    – Double AA
    Jan 29, 2015 at 18:35
  • @DoubleAA, it seems kind of obvious, and the author of the footnotes (forget who he is offhand) agrees.
    – Yishai
    Jan 29, 2015 at 18:44
  • The footnotes were a collaborative effort.
    – Yishai
    Jan 29, 2015 at 19:39

Additional evidence that one doesn't fulfill a biblical obligation can be adduced from Rambam's opinion that one is obligated to teach his son specifically the written law (Hil. Talmud Torah 1:7). In general Rambam (e.g. sefer hamitzvos assei 11) parallels the obligations of personal study and teaching ones sons as parts of the commandment "v'shinantem l'vanecha" as noted by Maharam Shik (cited in sefer hamafteach to talmud torah 1:7). This would imply that one's personal biblical obligation to study also includes only the written law.

Maharam Shik himself however assumes that the obligation to teach students, and presumably one's personal obligation does include the oral law, and therefore doesn't understand Rambam's ruling about teaching specifically the written law.

  • So gemara doesn't count? That's sounds pretty extreme.
    – Double AA
    Feb 8, 2015 at 17:17
  • @DoubleAA Rambam seems to adopt the interesting approach (not that I know any Rishonim who disagree) that one ought to spend one's time of study (two thirds in the beginning, more later) on subjects outside the purview of the commandment to study torah.
    – mevaqesh
    Feb 8, 2015 at 18:12
  • @DoubleAA why is this not a question on R. Yona, et al quoted above?
    – mevaqesh
    Feb 8, 2015 at 18:42
  • It sounds like R Yona would be ok with parts of gemara which deal even indirectly with pesukim, ie all deoraysas. Is that what you think the rambam here means?
    – Double AA
    Feb 8, 2015 at 18:44
  • Rambam Hilcohs Talmud Torah 1:7 (8-10 in Mechon Mamre) is crystal clear that the obligation to teach one's son includes Oral Torah, even if he has to pay for it, and that it is a personal obligation is in 1:10 (1:13 in Mechon Mamre) as well.
    – Yishai
    Feb 8, 2015 at 19:00

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