This is a follow up to: Why was Torah SheBe'Al Peh not allowed to be written?.

The Gemara in Temurah 14b states that one may not write Torah sheBal Peh. It then states an exception that was made so that Torah would not be forgotten.

ותנא דבי רבי ישמעאל: כתוב לך את הדברים האלה - אלה אתה כותב, אבל אין אתה כותב הלכות! אמרי: דלמא מילתא חדתא שאני; דהא רבי יוחנן ור"ל מעייני בסיפרא דאגדתא בשבתא, ודרשי הכי: +תהלים קי"ט+ עת לעשות לה' הפרו תורתך, אמרי: מוטב תיעקר תורה, ואל תשתכח תורה מישראל.

Similarly, the Mishna and Gemara were only able to be written because otherwise Torah would have been forgotten from Israel. The general prohibition seemed to have been kept for other writings. (Even after the Gemara was written, the Geonim refrained from writing other works.) Yet what allows any work of Torah to be written nowadays? Not every work is preventing "Torah from being forgotten from Israel"!

2 Answers 2


There is a discussion of this topic here. The author there brings the gemara (Gittin 60a) regarding Chazal's exeptions to the rule of not writing down Torah Shebaal Peh and fragments of Torah Shebiksav based on "עת לעשות לה' הפרו תורתך", then the dispute between poskim:

We see that in order to facilitate Torah learning, Chazal permitted the writing of the Oral Torah and parts of the books of the Written Torah. To what extent did they override the original prohibition?

This is a dispute among early poskim, some contending that it is permitted to write only as much as is necessary to prevent Torah from being forgotten. According to this opinion, it is prohibited to write or print even tefillos that include pasukim that are not intended for learning Torah (Rif and Milchemes Hashem, Shabbos Chapter 16). This opinion also prohibits translating Tanach into any language other than the original Aramaic Targum because proper translations constitute Torah She’ba’al Peh. In addition, this opinion prohibits the printing of a parsha of Chumash in order to teach Torah, since one could write or print the entire sefer (Rambam, Hilchos Sefer Torah 7:14; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 283:2). Other poskim permit the writing of any Torah that one uses to learn. Thus, they permit writing a single parsha in order to teach Torah (Taz 283:1; Shach 283:3) and the translating of Tanach into any language. These poskim rally support to their opinion from the fact that Rav Saadya Gaon wrote sefarim in Arabic, including commentaries on Tanach (Ran, Shabbos Chapter 16).

Both opinions agree that it is prohibited to publish translations of Tanach that will not be used to spread Torah knowledge (Ran, Shabbos Chapter 16).

  • 1
    Though it seems originally (in the centuries after the Amoraim) they didn't write new things.
    – Ariel K
    Commented May 29, 2011 at 14:30
  • 1
    @Ariel, In a Jewish History class I once took, the reason speculated for that was that although they were technically allowed to author books and such, they were hesitant to, as Jews had spent their entire history never writing anything down except Tanach. It took some time for the heter to "sink in". This is why even through the times of the geonim, very few books were written. It was still sort of ingrained in people's minds that we don't write books.
    – jake
    Commented May 29, 2011 at 16:23
  • Just to add to what you're saying: R' Yosef Kapach held that the Rambam limited himself to reproducing only the laws from the sources because "Despite the writing of the Mishnah, the restriction was not entirely released so that all who want to are entitled to write their own opinions and innovations. Rather the relaxation of the restriction was only for a specific time and for those traditions that were the essence and foundation of the Oral Law and not more." - see web.archive.org/web/20160404052625/http://www.torah.org/…
    – Menachem
    Commented Aug 15, 2017 at 17:27

It is popularly claimed that R. Nattan Adler, the mentor of the Hattam Soffer, was indeed 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) This is also mentioned by the K'tav Sofer's son in Hut HaMeshulash (p. 19).

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 mainstream approach in poskim is to assume as a matter of fact that the prohibition is totally obsolete today, (that is that 'et laasot' totally revoked the prohibition) 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. R. Yosef similarly concludes his aforementioned reference to R. Adler by noting that this is not the halakha.

This is particularly understandable if the whole prohibition is rabbinic as the Yereim (268) implies (noting that the prohibition to recite oral Torah is rabbinic, and the cited verse which is the source for both laws is a mere asmakhta. If it was the rabbis in the first place who forbade it, they have the licence to fully revoke it if they found it to have become counter-productive.

However, it should be noted that R. Qafih writes (Ketavim Vol II p. 546-7) that the prohibition of writing the Oral Law is still active, and therefore Rambam only recorded already recorded laws in the Mishneh Torah.[i] [ii]

Nevertheless, an important corollary of R. Qafih's assertion, is that explicating already recorded oral law is not in violation of the injunction. Although one can question where the line is drawn between deriving information from already recorded texts, and recording hitherto unrecorded information, this perspective would likely render the issue moot, as unlike in the time of the Ammoraim when much ancient oral teachings were still promulgated, most modern literary activity focuses on explaining existing texts, rather than recording ancient otherwise unrecorded traditions. Even were there such traditions, it would likely be permissible to record them under the rubric of "et laasot". Thus, if it is permissible to record and explicate already recorded oral law, and it is permissible to record otherwise unrecorded traditions, then little is left forbidden.

[i] He noted that cases where Rambam says "yireh li" are still based off already recorded sources, but the sources are cryptic.

[ii] While this is not the place to discuss this view in depth, it should be be noted that it seems difficult to maintain that everything in the Mishneh Torah is based on explicit written sources, rather that oral tradition, given for example Hilkhot Avodah Zara (12:6). Perhaps R. Qafih would answer that that tradition itself can be derived from existing sources, cf. Tashbets (2:100).


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