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I'm starting to become a little more serious about my Torah learning and wondering what age-old path of Torah study Jews have followed. How do I balance learning Tanach, Gemara, developing a deep ideological/meta-halacha understanding, learning the practical halachot from Shulchan Aruch?

Now with a deep desire to grow I'm wondering which areas to focus on? What is the general guiding philosophy we have for directing Torah learning.

I'm not talking about which Yeshiva to go to – rather how to learn independently.

I'm right now 16 and have been going to a modern orthodox Yeshiva my entire life – just to give you an idea of my background.

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The Way of Torah from the Ramchal may be a good place to start for guidance in the Yam HaTalmud. I believe the Maharal supported the method outlined by the Mishna in Avos (Perek 5, Mishna 25 in most editions) that one should spend 5 years just on Mishna and then move to Gemara.

Today, that method is probably not practical and we see the Cheder/Yeshiva world has boys learning Gemara pretty much right away. But a strong foundation in Mishna will go a long way to help understand Gemara as the Amoraim discuss the Mishna and clarify its meaning.

Learning Mishna with the Rav and the Tosfos Yom Tov will greatly enhance your ability to learn Gemara. The Alcalay dictionary is excellent to build vocabulary, if you can afford it!

The Artscroll Tanach series give a terrific selection of commentaries in English and provide pretty good depth - I like to use them as a starting point and then look up the original sources. You will have plenty to look at! There are Tanach Yomi schedules if you are interested in covering ground more rapidly.

  • Good sensible, general advice. I also think that having both a historical background to the Mishnah / Talmud enhances its appreciation. I do think it's a bit more critical that prior to beginning a tractate of Talmud, one should know, generally, what the tractate is about with some introduction to the Biblical sections involved. The Gemara generally assumes that people have this prior knowledge. – DanF Apr 18 '16 at 14:54
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I'm uncertain that there is a specific path per-se that might be considered a "standard" that works for everyone. I'm going with the general foundation that the purpose of learning Torah is so that you can perform.

Within all this, I think that it is important to perform mitzvot correctly. I went to a modern yeshiva through high school. Granted, the style and emphasis that I had in the 60's - 80's is significantly different from what I see now. My elementary shcool emphasized speaking and understandig Hebrew. Thus, long before Art Scroll existed, we all learned to understand Chumash and Gemarah in the original with understanding Rash"i. I think that developing this level of understanding is a critical foundation to learning and developing knowledge. Art Scroll ENglish, sadly, has become a "crutch" for so many, that, sadly, it's like jumping directly into the "Monarch Notes" of Gemarah without appreciating the fine nuances of the original language and arguments.

So, in short, I would suggest that if your Hebrew reading and understanding is weak, make this your top priority. I'm not talking about "Modern / Israeli" Hebrew, but understanding Biblical and Mishnaic Hebrew. If you can add a basic understanding of Aramaic as used in the Gemarah, that's also important, though, for many things, you can rely on Rash"i or some other commentary to translate many things.

The way all this relates to what I said about mitzvah performance, is that as you now, there are numerous opinions regarding so many mitzvot. Many people concoct chumrot that don't need to be there. Either that, or they develop a dislike towards others that don't follow their own strict rule. Often, this is because they have become "robots" thinking that mitzvot have only one path, because they never bothered to read and study the other options. If you have a good knowledge of Hebrew and spend effort to viewing or listening to other opinions, you can keep you mind open to these ideas and better decide for yourself which path you want to take. But it will emanate from your own knowledge and effort, not because of something rote that someone else dictated and you never understood.

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The Lubavitcher Rebbe ZT'L reccommended a daily study plan for all jews to cover all the basics of Torah Study called chitas. Chitas is an acronym for Chumash Rashi, Tehillim, and Tanya.

Every day learn: Chumash with Rashi of the daily Aliyah (finishing the parsha on shabbos), Tehillim divided according to the month, preferably said after davening, Daily portion of the Tanya to complete the entire work over the course of the year.

The Rebbe then added that since there is a mitzvah to learn the entire Torah (usually accomplished through finishing shas in daf yomi), the opinion of the Rebbe was that in our day and age it is unreasonable to expect every Jew to be able to do that. He suggested to learn Rambam, since the Rambams stated goal in Mishneh Torah was to compile a complete summary of the oral torah. The Rebbe suggested three levels of study:

Learning Sefer Hamitzvos to learn 1-2 mitzvos a day for beginners to finish in one year

Learning one perek of mishneh Torah a day to finish in about 3 years for Jews with some learning experience

Learning 3 perakim rambam every day to finish in one year for Jews with advanced yeshiva backgrounds

Beyond this, the Rebbe would suggest learning in this order as you feel you can manage it for a specified amount of time each day (e.g. 30 min each)

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Chassidus or Mussar, beginning with Kuntres Umayyon of the Rebbe Rashab or Chovos Halevavos (or both :)) Mishnayos, Gemara

  • Welcome to Mi Yodeya Tevya! Thanks for the answer! Consider editing in how you know that the Lubavitcher Rebbe said that. Is it something you heard? Something you saw written? Thanks. – mevaqesh Nov 30 '17 at 22:18

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