Since the Torah Sheba'al Peh (Oral Torah) was originally prohibited from being written down (Gittin 60b), and was only compiled and written by Rebbi Yehuda HaNasi for fear that it's transmission might be interrupted and it be lost entirely; nowadays, when there already are thousands of sifrei halacha (books of halacha) in existence, and thousands more learning Torah full time, it would seem that there has rarely, if ever, been a time when the transmission of the Oral Torah has been more secure.

That being the case, should we not return to the original practice of the "Oral" Torah, and resume prohibiting, or at least discouraging, the further writing of new books of Halacha as they are in violation of the spirit and letter of the oral transmission of Halacha when it is arguably no longer in any real danger of being lost?

  • I don't really agree with your premise. I think the combination of technology, working demands on families and, if you view the trend in most kids these days, in particular, it seems that their attention span and focus has greatly diminished from what it was before the availability of the internet and instant music, videos, etc. These are among the major factors, I think why things need to be written, now, far more than the need was, before. And, I think this need will increase. If nothing else, people are getting their knowledge from the web far more than from books. – DanF Jan 3 '17 at 22:44
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    Do you think Torah Shebaal Peh is not in danger of being forgotten anymore? Can you imagine if a situation arose where it would need to be written down again, and how many more arguments there would be concerning halacha? I think we should continue writing seferim about halacha, because we still know so little compared to the stuff people during Moshe's time knew. – ezra Jan 3 '17 at 23:25
  • Near duplicate: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/7894/3 – WAF Jan 4 '17 at 0:22
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    @msh210 I've seen many works that rehash already known halachot, but more importantly, that's not really how the original prohibition against writing the Torah Sheba'al Peh worked. It was all prohibited from being written down, a general rule which was only overridden because of the general threat of it being lost, not a 1 to 1 loss to writing correlation. So now where that threat is eliminated, all writing may ought to be prohibited once again. – ezzi386 Jan 4 '17 at 12:31
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    @EzraHoerster I think there's never been a less worrying time regarding the transmission of the Torah Sheba'al Peh based on the number of sefarim already available and the number of people learning full time. Whether this might lead to future makhlokhet if it ever had to be written down would not give us permission to override the prohibition, and is out of the scope of this question. – ezzi386 Jan 4 '17 at 12:35

It is popularly claimed that R. Nattan Adler, the mentor of the Hattam Soffer, was of the opinion that the Oral Law may only be written to avoid it being forgotten, and he, who would remember it anyway, was not permitted to write it. (Cf. for example Yalkut Yossef: Pesukei D'zimra V'kriat Sh'ma; notes to chapter 49).

One can certainly question how compelling this argument is, given that writing is a crucial way of conveying information to future generations, but regardless a very similar statement is actually made by his student Hattam Soffer, in a responsum to R. Ts'vi Hirsch Hajes (Vol. I OH #280):

מלבד שהוא עובר איסור דאורייתא דברים שבעל פה אי אתה רשאי לכותבן ולא הותר אלא משום עת לעשות לה' [כגיטין ס' ע"א] ואם איננו עושה לה' הרי איסורו במקומו עומד.

He writes that one who publishes a work with ulterior motives, violates the injunction against recording the Oral Law, which is only permitted for one with the intention of acting for the sake of God.

However, it is important to note, that while he does indeed indicates that the prohibition is still active, and is merely held in abeyance by appropriate exceptions, this statement is made in the somewhat flowery beginning of the responsum, and not as part of an involved halakhic discussion.

Furthermore, it is certainly a minority view. As many have noted (e.g. Hakham Faur S"t in Golden Doves With Silver Dots p. 102), Rambam omits this rule entirely from his halakhic writings, (referencing it only as a historical practice in Moreh Nevokhim I:71) indicating that it is no longer a concern, if it ever was.

The, the mainstream approach in poskim is to assume as a matter of fact that the prohibition is totally obsolete today, and it is thus not generally invoked in halakhic works. Like Rambam, the Tur and the Shulhan Arukh, for example, only mention the issue of reciting the Written Law orally, but not the issue of writing the Oral Law.

  • What's the Sevara of R' Nasan Adler (is there a source for this?) You were always allowed to write personal notes (Megilas Sesarim). The problem is teaching to others. And others don't have as good of a memory as he did. – Shmuel Aug 14 '17 at 4:16
  • @ShmuelBrin It is referenced in the Yalkut Yosef passage I cited. I agree that the reasoning is very difficult to swallow. – mevaqesh Aug 14 '17 at 4:19
  • +1. What are the mechanics for a prohibition to just "go obsolete"? The issur wasn't a תקנת חכמים or a גזירה שהציבור אינו יכול לעמוד בה, was it? Is there legal precedent for saying that once R Yehuda HaNasi justifiably violated this issur, the entire issue disappears from halakha? – Chaim Aug 14 '17 at 12:01
  • @Chai good questions. I dont know. Consider asking that separately. – mevaqesh Aug 14 '17 at 12:34

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