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Is it considered Talmud Torah if one just reads mishnayos without understanding what he's saying?

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It appears from the words of the Shulchan Aruch HaRav that one does not although the Chida suggests one does fulfill the mitzva if one exerted himself to comprehend the words even if he did not succeed in understand the meaning.

Shulchan Aruch HaRav (Laws of Torah Study 2:12-13) writes that

Whereas one who studies the Oral Torah without understanding the words has fulfilled no mitzva, one who studies the Written Torah without understanding still fulfills the obligation of talmud Torah.

R Yosef Dov Soloveitchek had also commented on this (see here)

for that reason, the Brisker Rav suggested there is no concept of Oisiyos Machkimos (reading the text makes one wiser) regarding Torah SheBaal Peh.

R Tzvi Sinensky writes

We might explain the logic for this view as follows: the primary value of the Oral Torah is to understand the halakhot [...] Thus, one who does not understand the words fails to fulfill one’s obligation. However, study of the written Torah is qualitatively different; the very encounter is significant [...]

However the Chida (Maris HaAyin, Avodah Zara 19) qualifies the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch HaRav

This [...] only applies if one did not make a sincere effort to understand what he is saying. However, if one exerted himself to comprehend the words, he fulfills his mitzvah of learning Torah, even if he did not succeed in understand the meaning.

  • I wonder if tikun l'el shavuos is treated as mikra or as Torah sh'baal peh. It has Torah sh'baal peh but is in the form of being mikra – Dude Feb 25 at 16:10
  • Note there are different levels of understanding. To take an example that can apply to a lot of Zeraim: (a) there is a plant called x in Hebrew that certain halachos apply to (b) there is a plant called x in Hebrew and y in English that certain halachos apply to (c) there is a plant that has certain properties and therefore certain halachos apply to it (d) there is a plant that I had for dinner last night, I can tell that it has certain properties, and that's why certain halachos apply to it. In terms of understanding, I'd say (d) > (c) > (a) = (b) – Heshy Feb 25 at 19:56
  • See also the Maharal's introduction to Tiferes Yisrael – wfb Feb 25 at 20:16
  • regarding the comment of the Brisker Rav, Oisiyos Machkimos would not apply since Mishnayos are an Oral law,and not meant to be read, but to be recited. It should not depend on the question of reading Mishnayos without understanding. – simyou Feb 26 at 13:17
  • I think Chida says something slightly different. He tries reconciling an opinion ostensibly in contrast to Magen Avraham and suggests that MA, who says that reading Mishnayot without comprehension is pointless, refers to an individual who is capable to comprehend but doesn’t attempt to; OTOH one who cannot comprehend then the plain reading has some value. – Oliver Feb 26 at 14:50
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Yes, with multiple revisions and memorization (as mentioned by @Dr.Shmuel in his answer on name of The Vilner Gaon) it's the right way, to aggree to learn a lot of topics, mainly mishnayot, despite that the understanding isn't sufficient. To learn Mishna is this. The Shlah (1) in masechet shevuot (the name of a part of the book) says that learning with Bartenura is called Gemara, not Mishna. Mishna is to read and memorize with a very minimal understanding of the words. One doesn't need to know If there is a חסורי מחסרא והכי קתני or other important things to understand rightly the Mishna. Learning is divided on Mikra, Mishna, Talmud. And we see from the below quoted Gemara that even Gemara's learning is ok if some insights are left in stand by (we can assume that Rav Kahana included Talmud in the meaning of Shmua).

Bavli Shabbat 63a

א"ר כהנא כד הוינא בר תמני סרי שנין והוה גמירנא ליה לכוליה הש"ס ולא הוה ידענא דאין מקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו עד השתא מאי קמ"ל דליגמר איניש והדר ליסבר:‏

R`Kahana said: By the time I was eighteen years old I had studied the whole Shas [I think that the right translation is all topics], yet I did not know that a verse cannot depart from its plain meaning until to-day. What does he inform us? - That a man should study and subsequently understand.

Rashi

דליגמר איניש - לגרוס שמעתא מרביה ואף על גב דלא ידע לכולהו טעמיה:‏

One needs to learn the topic from the his Rabbi, (they were informed orally) despite that one doesn't know the whole explanation.

והדר ליסבר - טעמיה דהא קשה ליה לרב כהנא ולא הוה ידע להאי טעמא ותלמודיה הוה קים ליה מדהוה בר תמני סרי:‏

And afterwards, one needs to understand the reasons. As Rav Kahana did. From his young age. He did know all the talmudic topics and was not aware of a primary principle of learning mikra (that a verse cannot be interpreted entirely out of its litteral sense).


(1):

ומכל שכן האידנא שזכינו לפירוש הרמב"ם והרב ברטנורא שמבארים המשנה כפי ההסכמה שבתלמוד וגם כתבו פסק ההלכה. הרי מעלת המשנה רבה כי מה שאמרו תחילה תלמוד אין לך מידה גדולה הימנה כי גירסת המשנה בלא תלמוד לא יגיענו לתכלית המכוון ללמד חוק ומשפט בישראל...‏

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    Does ליגמר איניש והדר ליסבר actually imply that it’s still a fulfillment of Talmud Torah without understanding at all? – Alex Feb 25 at 19:39
  • @Alex you read my post? – kouty Feb 25 at 20:55
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    Yes. But I think that that Gemara is just saying that you shouldn't spend too much time trying to understand what you learn the first time, not that if you just read the words without any understanding at all that you're fulfilling Talmud Torah. – Alex Feb 25 at 20:57
  • Yes, indeed, but this is for Gemara. For Mishna the translation of this principle is to know loosely words meaning, without cheshbon and without חסורי מחסרא והכי קתני and without Rabbi ploni hsiinu t. k. Yka benayhu etc, i.e. very loose lecture and mainly chazarot, and memorizing is the most important – kouty Feb 25 at 21:11
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    But "very minimal understanding" and "without understanding" are not the same thing. – Alex Feb 25 at 21:13
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In his introduction to his commentary to the Torah, R. Yaakov Kamenetzky explains that only the Torah consists of God's direct words. Even Nevi'im and Ketuvim are only the prophet's own expression of God's words. Therefore the only subject that is a fulfillment of Talmud Torah without understanding is the Torah itself, since even when reading without understanding it is God's words that are being read. Anything else only qualifies as Talmud Torah when the person understands what he is reading, since the words themselves are not directly God's:

ויוצא לנו נפקותא גדולה בין תורה לנביאים וכתובים דבתורה התיבות כמות שהן תורה הן שהרי אומר ממש דברי ד' ושפיר מקיים המצוה על ידי המקרא בלבד אפילו אם אינו יודע מאי קאמר משא"כ בנביאים שהלשון הוא הבעת מחשבת הנביא א"כ ע"כ כשהלה מבין מה שהוא אומר אזי הוא מקיים מצות תלמוד תורה ודו"ק והיינו ביאור דברי רש"י הנ"ל דלפיכך קרי ליה לחומש מקרא משום דבקריאתה בלבד הוא מקיים מצות ת"ת משא"כ בנו"כ דבהו רק על ידי הלמוד הוא מקיים מצות תלמוד תורה לבאר

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Even Shleima 8:1 from Aggadic commentary by Vilna Gaon

One must first learn of the tanach. And all of Mishnah, even if he doesn’t understand the Mishnah.

In the commentary, the Mishnah is likened to chopping down trees and Talmud to chopping the trees into wood pieces. Also, that one cannot really understand the Mishna, for that is why we have the Talmud, to explain the Mishnah. Nonetheless, the Mishnah is an integral spiritual endeavor and must be studied entirely from the onset regardless of comprehension ability.

He seems to relate this verse in Ecclesiastes 6, with but God does not permit him to enjoy it referring to study of Mishnah, while the latter section of the verse referring to Talmud study.

אִ֣ישׁ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִתֶּן־ל֣וֹ הָאֱלֹהִ֡ים עֹשֶׁר֩ וּנְכָסִ֨ים וְכָב֜וֹד וְֽאֵינֶ֨נּוּ חָסֵ֥ר לְנַפְשׁ֣וֹ ׀ מִכֹּ֣ל אֲשֶׁר־יִתְאַוֶּ֗ה וְלֹֽא־יַשְׁלִיטֶ֤נּוּ הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙ לֶאֱכֹ֣ל מִמֶּ֔נּוּ כִּ֛י אִ֥ישׁ נָכְרִ֖י יֹֽאכֲלֶ֑נּוּ זֶ֥ה הֶ֛בֶל וָחֳלִ֥י רָ֖ע הֽוּא׃

That God sometimes grants a man riches, property, and wealth, so that he does not want for anything his appetite may crave, but God does not permit him to enjoy it; instead, a stranger will enjoy it. That is futility and a grievous ill.

The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 19a) makes similar claims:

ואמר רבא לעולם ליגריס איניש ואע"ג דמשכח ואע"ג דלא ידע מאי קאמר שנאמר (תהלים קיט, כ) גרסה נפשי לתאבה גרסה כתיב ולא כתיב טחנה

And Rava says with regard to Torah study: A person should always study [ligeris] and review even though he may afterward forget, and even though he does not understand what it is saying. As it is stated with regard to the study of Torah: “My soul breaks [garesa] for the longing that it has for Your ordinances at all times” (Psalms 119:20). It is written: “Breaks,” and it is not written: Grinds, demonstrating that the soul is satisfied with breaking apart material, on a basic level, even if it does not have the opportunity to grind and analyze it in greater depth.

Pesach Eynaim explains this by discussing that the letters and words themselves have a certain power [which is not to be dismissed].

ואמר רבא לעולם לגרס איניש ואע"ג דמשכח ואע"ג דלא ידע מאי קאמר וכו'. אפשר לתת טעם לדבר כי אותיות ותיבות התורה מעוררות רוחניות למעלה כי כל אות רומזת בצורתה לרוחניות ידוע מבחינות הספירות ולכל אות יש רוחניות ואור נכבד אצול מעצם הספירות משתלשל עד שיגיע האור ההוא באות ההוא ומהבל פיו יהיו צורות קדושות עליונות מתקשרות בשרשם וכשיזכור תיבה מהתיבות יגיע כח האותיות המצורפות בה ומסיבת תנועת כחות ההם והכאתם זה בזה עוד יתהוה בהבל פיו רוחניות ומציאות חדש וכמו שהאריך מז"ה חס"ל מעיין ב' עין הקורא נהר י"א ע"ש באורך ולזה מועיל הגרסא לבד וכיון דמשמע ליה מדכתיב גרסה אף דלא ידע מאי קאמר ממילא הוא אע"ג דמשכח שהרי לא ידע מאי קאמר ולק"מ מה שהקשה הרב ת"ל דמנא ליה אע"ג דמשכח וחרב הגדול מהרח"א במקראי קדש דף ס"ח השיגו ממ"ש בנדה דף כ"ד ע"ש דיש קצת שינוי בש"ס ודוק:

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    "Understand" in "one cannot really understand the Mishna," means, I think, something higher-level than understanding what the words mean. If that's what's meant by "even if he doesn't understand the Mishnah," then I think that's slightly different from what the question is asking about, which seems to be just saying Hebrew words without knowing what they mean. Also, I'm not sure if "even if he doesn't understand the Mishnah" is an apt translation, in this context, of "אע"פ שאינו יודע לפרש המתניתין". – Isaac Moses Feb 25 at 21:36
  • In the context of even shleimah and the aggadic commentary it seems to make logical sense. I don’t see a basis to kind of fetch a further more exalted meaning, if that’s what you meant @isascmoses – Dr. Shmuel Feb 25 at 23:33
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    I mean that I don't think E"S is suggesting that it's valuable to mouth words of Mishna without any comprehension of their meaning. – Isaac Moses Feb 26 at 1:05
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    @Dr.Shmuel If the point is that you don't have to understand anything, why should it come first? – Alex Feb 26 at 2:48
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    @Dr.Shmuel Right, but you said that it means that one should learn Mishnah even if he understands nothing at all from learning it. – Alex Feb 26 at 2:54
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There are two completely different aspects of "Torah study":

  1. To know the Torah, to be proficient in the knowledge, to understand the reasoning etc. According to this aspect, reciting whatever without understanding does not constitute "Torah study".

  2. To "connect with G-d", to be constantly engaged in G-d's words, to cling to G-d, to fulfill "לֹא יָמוּשׁוּ מִפִּיךָ וּמִפִּי זַרְעֲךָ וּמִפִּי זֶרַע זַרְעֲךָ אָמַר ה' מֵעַתָּה וְעַד עוֹלָם" and to fulfill "וְהָגִיתָ בּוֹ יוֹמָם וָלַיְלָה". According to this aspect, reciting Torah verses or Mishnayos without understanding constitutes the Torah study.

Because many Rabbis are not aware of this distinction, you might get contradicting answers, but in fact, they all fit [one of] those two aspects.

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