A Basic Law: Torah Study

The Vision of Talmud Torah
When attempting to present a vision for the State of Israel, it is imperative to first address the mitzvah of Talmud Torah (Torah study), because the unique vision of the Jewish people is revealed in the Torah; the further we expand and deepen our study of it, the more we will understand our special role as a nation, as individuals, and as family and community members.
This mitzvah is so great that our Sages said it is equivalent to all the commandments.
Rabbi Tarfon and the Elders were once reclining in the upper storey of Nithza’s house, in Lydda, when this question was raised before them: Is study greater, or practice? Rabbi Tarfon answered, saying: Practice is greater. Rabbi Akiva answered, saying: Study is greater, for it leads to practice. Then they all answered and said: Study is greater, for it leads to action” (Talmud Kiddushin 40b).
There are two meanings to the conclusion of our Sages: First, that Talmud Torah is great. Second, that it leads to action. It follows that if Talmud Torah does not lead to action, it is not great. From this we also learn the importance of action which stems from the Torah.
The Three Levels
The Jewish nation’s study of Torah must take place on three levels:
1) Study aimed at promoting great Torah scholars who will elucidate issues for the benefit of the clal (general populace), including morei hora’ah (law deciders), community rabbis, dayanim (judges), and ramim (rabbis) for advanced yeshiva studies.
2) Study aimed at training rabbis working in the fields of education and counseling: teachers, instructors, counselors, psychologists, and social workers.
3) Torah study for all Jews, in order to know the basics of Torah – its general rules and details – so one can manage his life according to its path. To achieve this, a lot of study time must be dedicated in the formative years of one’s life, and later on throughout the years, to set times for Torah study.
Facilitating the Study of Torah Scholars
The first level is the study of Torah scholars, who delve into the Torah to understand its foundations and reasoning, and to reveal its illuminating light for the clal, the family, and the individual; to clarify its laws and instructions – what is permitted, and what is forbidden; what is commanded, and what is optional; the Sabbath, and the holidays; the administration of justice, personal and public conflict resolution, setting decent work procedures, and long-term planning for a sound spiritual, social, and economic life. These Torah scholars will also lead the communities, teach in yeshivas, and serve as judges in the rabbinical courts.
Subsequently, we will then be able to inspire the entire world with goodness and blessing. At present, the advanced technology and power placed in the hands of man are in desperate need of moral guidance. Today, mankind possesses enough bombs to destroy the world a number of times over. There are countries living in unprecedented abundance, but the people’s lives have become uninspiring and meaningless, to the extent that the nation’s future is in jeopardy. Bordering them are countries with countless desperately poor and frustrated people suffering from hunger and disease, while at the same time, a small number of their brethren are wealthy and have power over sophisticated weapons and all the wonders of technology.
Israel’s role is to spread the light of Torah and ethical behavior in the world. “For from Zion will go forth the Torah, and the word of God from Jerusalem”.
For this purpose, we must advance Torah scholars who devote themselves to their studies and realize the responsibility placed upon them – to enlighten and guide the daily life of the individual and society.
Talmud Torah to Train Educators
The second level relates to the training of Torah scholars who will engage in education, teaching, counseling and therapy. There is no need to expand upon the importance of the field of education; however, it should be mentioned that the more Torah both men and women teachers know – in breadth and in depth – the higher quality their teaching will be.
Talmud Torah for Various Counselors
An additional challenge is that the various categories of counselors should also be Torah scholars. It would be fitting that within religious educational frameworks such as yeshiva’s and michlalot (colleges), alongside serious Torah study, suitable students should also study the human knowledge that has accumulated over recent generations. All the material that social workers and psychologists normally learn in university should be taught, but in the light of the Torah, and intended for tikkun and spiritual elevation. It appears that genuine b’nei Torah who are willing to faithfully serve the public as psychologists and social workers can bring great tidings to these important professions.
Currently, these fields are at odds. The rift is deep and stems from the academic mindset which divides up the fields into separate departments. And thus, we frequently find a child who suffers from learning disabilities and mental health problems; in addition, his parents also have marital problems, and on top of that, their finances are poorly managed. Even if they receive the best possible care, it is done by four different people who usually are not coordinated, and at times, have differing value systems. This is why so many problems reach the desk of the rabbis, who forced to engage in innumerable areas which are often far from their realm and expertise, and only because of their dedication to their community, do they take the time. And thanks to their wisdom, experience and intuition – along with the assistance of various experts, and with the help of God, they are usually more successful in helping people than the professionals.
If b’nei Torah were to engage in these fields in a professional manner, their approach will be a comprehensive one, whose objective is a complete tikkun. Even if they have to split up the care between different people, there will be a singular objective – to improve the patient’s situation, with Torah values serving them and their patients as a powerful motivator for tikkun, and as a foundation for shared, moral values.
The Immense Tikkun this Entails
According to the vision, those people entrusted by society with treating personal and social problems (psychologists and social workers), will be Torah scholars who constantly engage in Torah study, giving classes to adults and youth in their communities, accompanied by a eagerness to respond to the different needs in their environs. If no one comes to them, they will continue delving into the Torah and wisdom, with an emphasis on their various fields. Thus, each problem will be answered in the best possible way, the level of the counselors will constantly progress, and our society’s situation will be infinitely better.
Talmud Torah for All
The third level involves the mitzvah of Torah study required of every Jew, who must encompass all the foundations of the Torah – in halakhamussar (ethics), andmachshava (Jewish thought). In this aspect, the study of Torah is different from the study of science and the humanities, which are generally termed as ‘external wisdom’, as compared to the inner, central wisdom of the Torah.
In regards to the fields of external wisdom, not everyone must study them; it is sufficient that a group of talented people devote themselves to their studies and develop all of society’s needs, while the rest of the populace benefit from their work. Torah, however, must be learned by every Jew, because the study of Torah reveals the soul, perfects character traits, and leads a person to perform good deeds. Without this, it is impossible to live a proper life.
In this regards, Rambam (Maimonides) wrote:
“Every Jewish man is obligated in Talmud Torah ; whether poor or rich, whether healthy or afflicted; whether a young man or an old man whose strength is gone; even if he was a poor man taking his sustenance from charity and going door-to-door; even a family man is obligated to establish a time for Talmud Torah during the day and at night; as it says ‘vehagita bo yomam valayla’ [and you shall meditate upon it [Torah] day and night] (Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:8).
Each Person’s Torah Study Benefits All
Moreover, the benefit of each individual’s Torah study is not only in guiding his personal life, but it is directly related to the grand vision of tikkun olam. First, because it is impossible to create a good society without all its members being full partners in its vision. By way of the Torah study of each individual, all of one’s social circles – family, community, and work – are increasingly filled with substance, and constantly enhanced.
Furthermore, since no two people are alike, consequently, every Jew who learns Torah reveals a unique spark in it, and discovers a beneficial point all his own. Since some of the learning is done groups, people’s individual insights emerge as questions or answers, are integrated into the general learning, deepen the understanding, and join in the complete revelation of the Torah.
Unfortunately, in the religious educational system – including high school yeshivas and perhaps, even beyond this stage – the students are not adequately taught what they need to know to guide their lives according to the Torah. We must strive to improve the educational curriculum, and develop frameworks enabling adults to set times for Torah study.
Men and Women
Here, we must bear in mind the difference between men and women’s obligation to study Torah. Women are obligated to study the fundamentals of emunah andmussar (faith and ethics), and all the halakhot (laws) needed to guide one’s life. Beyond this, however, they are not obligated to learn Torah. As for men, even if they have learned everything needed to guide their lives according to Torah, they are still obligated, according to their capability, to continue going over and delving deeper into the words of the Torah limitlessly. Women who wish to do so fulfill a mitzvah, and the more society progresses and grows, the more women will want to study and deepen their Torah learning (see, Rambam, Yisodei HaTorah 4:14).
In any event, today, when life has become more complex and complicated and there is no field in which serious study is not required – above and beyond what was acceptable in the past – even the Torah study which women are obligated to learn is so vast that, regrettably, most religious men fail to adequately cover it. This is because all the practical halakhot must be learned, and in order to fulfill them properly, their explanations and foundations must be clearly understood. Furthermore, the fundamentals of emunah and mussar must be studied seriously and in depth, including the special role of each and every individual, and the Jewish nation as a whole (see, Pininei Halakha, Hilchot Nashim 7:2, footnote 1).
Even a woman who managed to learn everything must continue setting times for Torah study to refresh her knowledge, so they can continue enlightening and guiding her life – exclusive of her going beyond what women are obligated to study.
The required Torah study for women today essentially includes the subject matter associated with the training of teachers and therapists, but it is desirable for women who choose to work in these fields to continue deepening their knowledge in matters connected to their work.
The Basic Law
In order to secure this utmost national value in our public life, a Basic Law of Torah study should be enacted, affirming that “The State of Israel is committed to encourage and fund the study of Torah in Israel”, while detailing the three levels of study mentioned above.
This article appears in the ‘Basheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

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