The Mishnah in Avos (6.6) tells of difference ways to acquire Torah. Here is Rashi’s commentary on one of the items, translated by Sefaria.org.

בַּעֲרִיכַת שְׂפָתַיִם. שֶׁאֵינוֹ מְגַמְגֵּם בְּדִבְרֵי תּוֹרָה אֶלָּא חוֹתְכָן בַּלָּשׁוֹן וּמוֹצִיאָן בַּפֶּה, דְּאֵין דִּבְרֵי תּוֹרָה מִתְקַיְּמִין אֶלָּא בְּהוֹצָאַת הַפֶּה, דִּכְתִיב כִּי חַיִּים הֵם לְמוֹצְאֵיהֶם אַל תִּקְרֵי לְמוֹצְאֵיהֶם אֶלָּא לְמוֹצִיאֵיהֶם בַּפֶּה:

Preparation of speech: that he not stutter in words of Torah, but rather enunciate them with the tongue and bring them out with the mouth. Since words of Torah are only preserved by their being put out with the mouth, as is written, (Proverbs 4:22) "They are life for those that find them" - do not read for those that find them (motsaeihem), but rather those that bring them out (motsieihem) with the mouth.

I wonder, then, how this compares to the subject of subvocalization. Wikipedia and others websites discuss the value in its removal, in order to be able to read faster.

Advocates of speed reading generally claim that subvocalization places extra burden on the cognitive resources, thus slowing the reading down. Speedreading courses often prescribe lengthy practices to eliminate subvocalizing when reading. Normal reading instructors often simply apply remedial teaching to a reader who subvocalizes to the degree that they make visible movements on the lips, jaw, or throat.

I would imagine that there is a math problem one could devise on how many WPM Jewish scholars of recent times would have needed to be reading at in order acquire the mental libraries they did. Such would be people like Rabbi Yosef or Rabbi Kaplan. (Or not so modern times, Rabbi Eiger or Rabbi Karo) But there are countless others certainly.

Are we to suppose that this is an important rule, or must it not be followed under the right circumstances, or only sometimes? Otherwise, I don’t see it plausible that this rule was always in effect. For how could one read that much text, that quickly, with subvocalization?

  • 1
    Is Subvocalisation could also be hearing the words in your mind but not saying them? It’s a term I have not heard before Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 1:43
  • Intriguing question and +1 but could be stronger if (1) defining subvocalization for the many who didn't know what it is (but know silent reading) and (2) clarify the question (is it to know how is it possible to read so much so quickly when reading aloud?, or how is it possible to memorize so much when reading silently despite the mishna in Avot?)
    – mbloch
    Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 4:29
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subvocalization Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 4:38
  • There are gemaras that discuss the importance of vocalizing one's learning (such as the one with Bruriah chastising one of her husband's students for not doing so). Aside from that, the entire question is predicated on the assumption that by vocalizing their studies, past noted scholars would not have been able to learn as much as they did. I personally feel this is a stretch. Many spend close to 20 hours per day studying and as someone who is a speed reader (well over a few hundred WPM) I dont find it difficult to believe they could vocalize their learning and still cover the ground they did. Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 4:43
  • You mention the mishna, which says to vocalize. Then you ask whether our greats subvocalized and if so how they managed to do so and still learn so much, since it takes a long time. The latter may be a reasonable question, but what does it have to do with the mishna?
    – msh210
    Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 5:04

3 Answers 3


The mishna is not referring to reading a lengthy text. It is referring to reading Tanach and reciting Mishnah.

We must remember that in the time of the mishna it was forbidden to write down the mishna. To review a mishna, or to analyze one, a person would have to first recite the mishna from memory. To remember the mishna, scholars would reveiw it constantly (once every thirty days). Here we are told to speak out the mishna when reviewing it, so that parts don't get left out of the recitation and hence not remembered.

Also, speed reading is great for comprehending a whole text, but when studying Tanach and mishna, the majority is in the nuances. Reading a text once is never enough.


As enumerated in Hilchot Talmud Torah (1:12), only a small portion of your Torah learning time need involve reading:

כיצד היה בעל אומנות והיה עוסק במלאכתו שלש שעות ביום ובתורה תשע אותן התשע קורא בשלש מהן בתורה שבכתב ובשלש בתורה שבעל פה ובשלש אחרות מתבונן בדעתו להבין דבר מדבר ודברי קבלה בכלל תורה שבכתב הן ופירושן בכלל תורה שבעל פה והענינים הנקראים פרדס בכלל הגמרא הן במה דברים אמורים בתחלת תלמודו של אדם אבל כשיגדיל בחכמה ולא יהא צריך לא ללמוד תורה שבכתב ולא לעסוק תמיד בתורה שבעל פה יקרא בעתים מזומנים תורה שבכתב ודברי השמועה כדי שלא ישכח דבר מדברי דיני תורה ויפנה כל ימיו לגמרא בלבד לפי רוחב שיש בלבו ויישוב דעתו

How is the above expressed? A person who is a craftsman may spend three hours each day involved in his work, and [devote] nine hours to Torah study: In those nine hours, he should spend three reading the Written Law; three, the Oral Law; and three, meditating with his intellect to derive one concept from another.

The "words of the prophetic tradition" are considered part of the Written Law; and their explanation, part of the Oral Law. The matters referred to as Pardes are considered part of the Gemara.

The above applies in the early stages of a person's study. However, when a person increases his knowledge and does not have the need to read the Written Law, or occupy himself with the Oral Law constantly, he should study the Written Law and the oral tradition at designated times. Thus, he will not forget any aspect of the laws of the Torah. [However,] he should focus his attention on the Gemara alone for his entire life, according to his ambition and his ability to concentrate. (Touger translation)

  • I don’t see anything here that talks about, well, talking as opposed to thinking. Are you assuming להבין דבר מתוך דבר necessarily means to do so strictly mentally?
    – DonielF
    Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 21:31
  • @DonielF It's not that it necessarily has to be done strictly mentally; it's that it doesn't have to be done via reading.
    – Alex
    Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 21:33
  • The Alter Rebbe is using idiomatic expressions to distinguish between written Torah, Halacha (as in Mishna), & the reasons behind each Halacha (as in Talmud). He is not talking about reading silently. On the contrary, he holds exactly the opposite, that all the words which one learns must be audible and fully pronounced. This is also the explanation he gives over the blessing, "על דברי תורה". This halacha also relates to the concept of Nevuah which at certain levels is essentially an edited playback of ones own pronounced words. Commented Nov 11, 2019 at 20:58
  • This idea is further illustrated by the story related of the 32,000 hours that the Tzemach Tzedek spent learning Shas and also the numerous stories of how each category of Torah had its own unique melody. That one could know which section of the Torah was being studied by the Rebbe from the melody even if you couldn't hear the actual words. Commented Nov 11, 2019 at 21:05
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    @YaacovDeane I didn’t mention the Alter Rebbe.
    – Alex
    Commented Nov 11, 2019 at 23:51

As indirect proof, Rav Elyashiv is seen in this video on YouTube learning partially out loud in a relatively slow manner. So, perhaps indeed one answer is uninterrupted focus for many years. He lived for over one hundred years.

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