Torah study

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In rabbinic literature, the highest ideal of all Jews is Torah study. This literature teaches an eagerness for such study and a thirst for knowledge that expands beyond the text of the Tanakh to the entire Oral Torah. According to many historians, this carried over into the general characteristics of Jewish society, both religious and non-religious, down to the present. Some examples of traditional teachings:

  • The study of Torah is considered to outweigh a number of mitzvot, such as visiting the sick, honouring one's parents, and bringing peace between people (Shabbat 127a). This paragraph was incorporated in the daily prayer service.
  • A number of Talmudic rabbis consider Torah study as being greater than the rescue of human life, than the building of the Temple in Jerusalem, and than the honor of father and mother (Megilah 16b), provided that the individual's life will be saved by someone else.[citation needed]
  • According to R. Meir, when one studies Torah for its own sake (Torah Lishma - תורה לשמה) the [the creation of] entire world is worthwhile for him alone, and he brings joy to G-d (Avot 6:1).
  • As the child must satisfy its hunger day by day, so must the grown man busy himself with the Torah each hour (Yerushalmi, Berakhot ch. 9).
  • Torah study is of more value than the offering of daily sacrifice (Eruvin 63b).
  • A single day devoted to the Torah outweighs 1,000 sacrifices (Tractate Shabbat 30a; comp. Tractate Menachot 100a).
  • The fable of the Fish and the Fox [1], in which the latter seeks to entice the former to dry land, declares Israel can live only in the Law as fish can live only in the ocean (Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 61b).
  • Whoever learns Torah at night is granted grace during the day and whoever neglects it will be fed burning coals in the World to Come. (Avodah Zarah 3b).
  • God weeps over one who might have occupied himself with Torah study but neglected to do so (Tractate Hagigah 5b).
  • The study must be unselfish: one should study the Torah with self-denial, even at the sacrifice of one's life; and in the very hour before death one should devote himself to this duty (Tractate Shabbat 83b).
  • All, even lepers and the ritually unclean, are required to study the Torah (Tractate Berakhot 22a).
  • It is the duty of everyone to read the entire weekly portion twice (the law of shnayim mikra ve-echad targum, Tractate Berakhot 8a).
  • According to R. Meir, a Gentile who studies the Torah (for the purpose of finding out about the Noachide Laws) is as great as the High Priest (Tractate Avodah Zarah 3a).
  • According to R. Yehudah, God Himself studies the Torah for the first three hours of every day. (Tractate Avodah Zarah 3b).

Torah study is the study by Jewish people of the Torah, Hebrew Bible, Talmud, responsa, rabbinic literature and similar works, all of which are Judaism's religious texts. Ideally within Judaism it is done for the purpose of the mitzvah ("commandment") of Torah study itself.

This practice is present to an extent in all branches of Judaism and is considered of paramount importance among traditional Jews. Torah study has evolved over the generations, as lifestyles changed and also as new texts were written.

Origins

Torah study is counted amongst the 613 mitzvot ("[Biblical] commandments"), finding its source in the verse (Deuteronomy 6:7): "And you shall teach it to your children," upon which the Talmud comments that "Study is necessary in order to teach." The importance of study is attested to in another Talmudic discussion (Kiddushin 40b) about which is preferred: study or action. The answer there, a seeming compromise, is "study that leads to action." Although the word "Torah" refers specifically to the Five Books of Moses, in Judaism the word also refers to the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), the Talmud and other religious works, even including the study of Kabbalah, Hasidism, Mussar and much more.

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