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What are the earliest sources that confirm or contradict the assertion that recitation of Torah Shebiksav fulfills the obligation to study Torah even without understanding of the words?


Preferred: Halachic sources not kabbalistic sources.

  • I know you're asking for earliest source, but a late source is the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch. That can probably be traced back to the Gemara by following the sources back. – Salmononius2 Feb 8 '15 at 1:37
  • @Salmononius2 where is the Kitzur? – mevaqesh Feb 8 '15 at 1:38
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    Siman 27 Sif 5 Wow, first time I needed to add words to reach the 15 character limit :) – Salmononius2 Feb 8 '15 at 1:42
  • This was an answer until I realized that it wasn't ;) On Shabbos I saw someone quote a של״ה who says such a concept on the פסוק in תהלים of עדות ד׳ נאמנה מחכימת פתי. They also quoted a זוהר on קפה. (Not sure which volume) that says that what we don't understand in this world we will understand in the next world. If it's not a fulfillment of the mitzvah of learning Torah, but it is reserved for the person in the next world, then what is it? – y.lub Feb 16 '15 at 1:25
  • @y.lub My experience (albeit limited) with kabbalah seforim is that they focus on the lofty effects of our activities. Lets say I try to shake a lulav, but dont. Obviously this isnt a mitzvah of lulav. Nevertheless it would be unsurprising for such books to focus on all the mystical tikkunim, etc. etc. of trying to shake a lulav. This isnt necessarily different. Thanks for trying though. – mevaqesh Feb 16 '15 at 2:35
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+50

A fairly early source is Rabbeinu Bachaye in Kad Hakemach, but he indicates that the idea predates him: כבר ידוע דקריאת התורה מצווה גדולה היא אע"פ שלא מבין מה שקורה (this is on the entry for "Torah"). While one might argue that a 'mitzvah gedolah' is not necessarily 'mitzvas talmud torah', it's at least a strong indicator for early sources to such as idea.

Additionally, the Maharal (Gevuros Hashem ch. 62) says that one can even make a bracha on learning without understanding, and perhaps he would differentiate between the written and oral Torah in this regard.

  • Rashi in Avoda Zara says Rava was talking about Torah shebal peh. And Rabbeinu Bichaye's expression would imply some known idea other than from chazal, kvar amru razal or chazal would imply it's from the Gemara. As is 'yadua' usually implies 'sod'. – user6591 Feb 17 '15 at 22:25
  • Besides for @user6591 two excellent points I would add that it isnt so unreasonable for the Gemara to promote reading without understanding even without kiyum mitzva for because it creates a lifestyle centered around Judaism (that is he speaks Torah as opposed to dvarim b'teilim). I would add that although R. Bachye is relatively clear, given that Matt noted that he likely references sod, and kabbalistic works often reference lofty effects of our acts independent of technicalities, it isnt a full proof. The Maharal=proof, so the goal would be sources from 15th century or before. – mevaqesh Feb 17 '15 at 23:52
  • @mevaqesh that sounds to me like your accusing Rabbeinu Bachaye of being inaccurate; he calls it a מצווה גדולה, that sounds like a mitzvah to me. Also, the point of bringing the Gemara is not that it's necessarily saying so, but that the Maharal interprets it as such (which is why the Rashi there is irrelevant) – הנער הזה Feb 18 '15 at 2:39
  • @Matt the Maharal you quoted does not claim to be basing himself on that gemara. That was your addition, which is why Rashi is very relevant. Also the fact that he compares the bracha on learning without understanding to the reading of the Megila and Hallel 'for so the Rabbis instituted' can be a basis to say he is only discussing learning on a rabbinic level, for which one would make a blessing. But he doesn't say one fulfills learning on a Dioraisa level. But this is a side point. Rava did not mean Torah Shebikhsav. – user6591 Feb 18 '15 at 3:17
  • @Matt For that reason I wrote that "R. Bachye is relatively clear" nevertheless I pointed out that a counter diyuk (although not as strong) would be his appeal to sod rather than the Gemara. Once in the realm of sod "mitzva gedola" doesnt necessarily mean a formal kiyum. E.g. (l'havdil) מצוה גדולה להיות בשמחה surely means a major inyan rather than a formally legislated biblical or rabbinic precept. Note also this not infrequent usage in rabbinics such as Shir Hashirim Rabba "anyone who refrains from an aveira has done a mitzva gedola" and R. Bachye himself in parshas pekudei that talking... – mevaqesh Feb 18 '15 at 4:04
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At the end of Moreh Nevuchim 3:51, the Rambam presents the level one should aspire to in divine service, in which he trains himself to do more than the minimum--one should learn to focus on not only the first pasuk of Shema and the first blessing of Shemoneh Esrei, but throughout. The clear implication is that although one fulfills the mitzvah of Shema and Shemoneh Esrei with kavvanah for the first pasuk and first berachah respectively, the Rambam is discussing the level beyond what is strictly required. If so, when the Rambam continues,

״וכאשר יצלח בידך הדבר ויתחזק במשך שנים, הנהג עצמך אחרי כן שתהא כל זמן שקראת בתורה או שמעת אותה, לא תחדל בכל ישותך ובכל מחשבתך מלהתרכז בהבנת מה שאתה שומע או קורא״

it would seem that here as well the Rambam distinguishes between the basic fulfillment which does not require understanding what one is reading, and the higher level of kavvanah which one should strive to attain. See also the Rambam's continuation, in which he applies this to Nevi'im as well:

וכאשר יעלה בידך זה במשך זמן, תרגיל את עצמך שתהא מחשבתך תמיד שלמה בכל מה שאתה קורא משאר דברי הנביאים, ואפילו בכל הברכות, תתכוון בו להבין מה שאתה מבטא ולהתבונן בעניינו

As for sources that contradict this notion, see Turei Even Rosh Hashana 28b who explains the Gemara in Berakhot 13a to mean that reading without understanding serves no purpose; the same interpretation is given by the Tzlach in Berakhot as well as the Nachalat David in Berakhot (citing R. Menashe of Ilya). The Magen Avraham in Orach Chaim 50 also implies that there is no fulfillment of Torah study without understanding what one is saying. This also seems to be the position of R. Chaim Soloveitchik in a letter printed at the beginning of Torat Chaim al ha-Torah. See note 10 in this article.

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Shulchan Aruch Harav (18th century) quoted here writes that one does. Further support (although not proof) can be adduced for this from a responsum of Maimonides (P'er HaDor 104) in which he makes the unqualified statement that even to read a single verse of the Torah one must recite the blessing for Torah. Furthermore, he continues and writes that this would be the case even if the verses were recited in the context of prayer, rather than study. This might imply that the blessing, and by extension, the mitzva is related to reading the words themselves; not appreciating their contents.

  • Commentless down vote? – mevaqesh Jul 3 '17 at 4:09

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