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My friend who is just getting into judaism asked me a question while learning some gemara: Why should I learn gemara? Obviously it is interesting and etc, but halacha-wise, it is just these people's opinions. I can also learn torah and mishnah and come to my own conclusions. How would you answer him?

Thanks!

Edit: thank you for the really interesting discussion. I love this site.

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    "i can also learn torah and mishnah and come to my own conclusions." Most likely, they wouldn't be the correct conclusions. – ezra Feb 14 '18 at 15:44
  • But what is "correct" and "incorrect"? It is all our understanding /interpretation of the statements of god! Why should this person's (may be a great rabbi) opinion be any more "correct" than mine? - (what I answered him is that there is marked difference in the level of understanding of the torah and torah shebeal pe between us and these great rabbid that pasken halacha. However, this isn't a great answer, I think. – Voctave Feb 14 '18 at 16:08
  • It sounds like a great answer to me. As for your friend ... you can judge better :-) – DanF Feb 14 '18 at 16:36
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    @Voctave "It is all our understanding/interpretation of the statements of god" Not really. The Rabbis had long chains of tradition going back to Moshe at Har Sinai. We don't. Besides, the Gemara explains why each maskanas halacha is the correct answer. – ezra Feb 14 '18 at 16:39
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    Mishna is still a Tora and gemara is still a mishna. How aren't you interested to know what ravina and Rav ashi said. You are not curious? So why did you learn Tora and mishna – kouty Feb 14 '18 at 16:40
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I think we have a related question on this site, which I'll include when I find it.

There's a rather simple answer for your friend. The Talmud could be considered the "foundation" of halacha. Almost every later halachic work refers to the Talmud at some point. (I say "almost" in the sense that Ramba"m is a respected halachic authority but he is known, generally, for not citing his sources.) So, it is always better to view the source of something.

The other reason to study Talmud is because it is far more than a halachic book or journal. The argumentative style of the Talmud, I have found, is extremely helpful in teaching a person thinking skills and such skills are an incredibly important life skill as a person matures. Thus, it is best to start learning Talmud at a young age. However, even people who have begun studying Talmud in their 60's and 70's have benefitted from the argumentative thinking. I've personally seen this change in many people, and I'm sure there's enough research evidence to prove this, as well. (I'd be curious if anyone found that Talmudic study could hold off Altzheimers.)

As for your friend's saying, "it is just these people's opinions", no it is not just an "opinion". If you look at the structure of the Talmud, it's an analysis, not an opinion. Rarely, does the Talmud state a rabbi's view and leave it at that without explaining why he arrived at that view. And, inevitably, the reasoning is challenged, sometimes by a contradictory statement the same rabbi said elsewhere! So, it's definitely not just a person's opinion. It's a carefully derived analysis, which, at the end, may not even be "valid". That's why you would need to see the Talmud to see both what and why they arrived at the conclusion. You wouldn't get this from just the Mishnah.

There is nothing wrong with coming up with your own conclusions, and, in a sense, that's encouraged in Torah study. But, you cannot use your own conclusions to decide halachic matters unless your a rabbi. And, even within that, there are guidelines.

  • Why is the talmud considered "the foundation of halacha"? Isn't just the discussions of rabbi's about how to understand the statements of the mishnah? Why couldn't I just skip there discussions and have my own conclusion? Also, why do I need to be a rabbi to decide halachik matters? – Voctave Feb 14 '18 at 16:13
  • Re the Talmud - Many halachot actually come from the Talmud, not the Mishnah, actually. That may sound counter-intuitive, but, it's actually the arguments, themselves that frequently arrive at a halachic conclusion. Simple case - many Mishnayot have several opinions on what to do. The Talmud frequently explains opinion 1 is done under only one set of circumstances, whereas opinion 2 is done in a different situation. Without exploring the Talmud, how would you know that? As for the rabbi question - too complex to explain, here. But, one reason is based on what I just said in previous sentences. – DanF Feb 14 '18 at 16:34
  • @Voctave Have you realized how vague mishnayos are? If you study a sugya of Gemara, you'll realize that it's possible to interpret a mishnah multiple ways, sometimes completely opposite of what the halacha is. That's what the Gemara's for, to explain what the Mishnah means. – ezra Feb 14 '18 at 16:50
  • @Voctave "Why couldn't I just skip there discussions and have my own conclusion? Also, why do I need a rabbi to decide halachik matters?" You need a rabbi because he's an expert in halacha. It's simple to say that you need a expert to properly understand something as difficult as halacha! No one would say they'd rather prescribe their own drugs and forget the doctor... Besides, like I said, you'd most likely be wrong in your conclusions, and be going against halacha and the Torah! We're not relying on blind faith in the rabbis here; they explain their conclusions clearly in each sugya. – ezra Feb 14 '18 at 16:53
  • I answered him a similar answer, that after you learn in detail gemara, mishnah, torah and etc you'll basically be a rabbi and in turn will hypothetically speaking be able to pasken for yourself. I, however, wasn't sure if he could actually act according to his own psikot. Could he? – Voctave Feb 15 '18 at 18:46
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If you want to learn about anything, you can't ignore what was said by the experts who came before you. This is especially true in the field of law which depends on logical analysis. Your personal conscience might be satisfied -- indeed, ignorance is bliss -- but you will inevitably be missing innumerable facts and logical nuances. The Talmud is the foundational book laying out the received teachings, arguments and logical analyses of our greatest scholars. Your personal opinion will not -- and should not -- carry much weight if you cannot even humble yourself to become familiar with what it says on the subject.

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I know the person probably wont be satisfied with this answer but ...

The reason we learn Gemara (talmud) is because it is part of the chiyuv talmud torah (positive commandment to study Torah). Only after that is clear should we come up with explanations as to what we gain from it. This rule applies to most things in Judaism.

Now...

The Gemara (talmud) says that one who learns halacha (final rulings) without the Gemara behind it will lack in Yirat Shomayim (fear of God).

Also, because not everything is codified in Sifrei Halacha, one must understand the reasoning behind the rulings so that he or she (or most commonly, their Rav) can know what to do in a situation where there is no clear cut ruling. This is usually what the Poskim do in Shut sefarim (books of Q&A).

The process starts with learning Gemara. Afterwards one learns the sifrei halacha and tries to understand how they (the poskim) learnt the sugya (topic). At this point the learner should have somewhat of an understanding in the underlying reasons for the Dinim (rulings) in question, and as above will know how to apply them to a unique situation.

  • because the process i mention is much easier said than done.( I have friends who became doctors & friends that became rabbanim, it is clear to me that the latter requires much more work) it is for this reason that we don't just get up and decide to be an ibber chochem & pasken for ourselves because we are very likely going to make a mistake – Ibber Chochem Feb 15 '18 at 18:48
  • I believe that this is not just a happenstance that beginners make mistakes in learning / psak . In fact I believe it is poshut that Hashem set up the world in this way. The Gra discusses this in mishlei – Ibber Chochem Feb 15 '18 at 18:50

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