Book Review

In the years after I left kollel I continued to struggle with the highly idealized idea that one is supposed to spend his entire life learning and the reality that that ideal isn’t possible for me nor for many other people for lots of reasons; financial obviously, psychological, emotional and just because it didn’t make any sense. All through my yeshiva years I struggled with the yeshivish attitude towards learners vs. non-learners, their derekh halimud which consists of endless lomdus with never any knowledge of torah obtained. The yeshivish defend the current state of affairs tirelessly and maintain that this was always the way learning was conducted but I was never satisfied that this was correct.
In my quest to find an answer that was older than R’ Ahron Kotler and the wave of
“Torah Lishmah” that he is credited with bringing to America and the Chzon Ish for bringing it to Israel, I learned shaar daled in Nefesh Hachaim, I learned hilchos talmud torah in Shulchan Aruch Harav but never felt completely satisfied. That quest brought me to this book. Although this book provides a more thorough treatment of the subject matter than any others I have seen, I have to say that I did feel a little bit of bias towards the prevailing “yeshivish mehalech“.
I hereby present to you a review I wrote of this book some time ago.

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This book reads like a college text book, which is fine because there may not be a way to cover this material as extensively as this author has while writing in a more engaging style.

The book is fairly comprehensive; it quotes mishna, gemara, lots of midrashim, rishonim and of course plenty of achronim and contemporary authorities from Modern Orthodox to Litvish Yehsivish to Chasidish.

The book is broken up into seven parts and my biggest complaint with the book was, that although it is organized by topic, many areas overlap one another so that sometimes you get a feeling of deja vu and repetitiveness, and when he quotes the same sources to make a different point in different chapters or parts of the book it gets rather confusing.

Part 1 Torah and the World – Idea and Realization

Chapter 1 Derekh Eretz
In it he analyzes the vexing problem of the contradictory statements we find throughout rabbinic literature concerning the primacy of full time torah study vs. the need to make a living, to be a part of the world, the fact that the torah is written for dwellers and actors in this world and not for malachim, as Moshe so aptly told the malachim.
He does not fully reconcile all the contradictions with the current practice of full time torah study which is supported by tzedakah; he gives the well worn excuse that says that because torah study is at such an abysmally low level it must be done.

Part 2 The Torah: The Spirit and the Lettter of the Law
In it the author discusses the agadic sections of the torah, what defines agadah vs. halakha, how we approach them, what parts are obligatory and generally how we view those parts of the torah which are not clearly definable (e.g. the size of a lulav) but rather is established by each person according to his own good judgement.

Part 3 Teaching Torah and Reaching Out to the Estranged

A very interesting discussion on the halakhic obligation to do kiruv and how those estranged from the torah are viewed, both those who were not brought up with knowledge of torah and mitzvos and those who have left it.

Part 4 The Purpose of Torah Study

In it he discusses the difference between torah lishma and torah for the sake of of practice. The author, of course, addresses the fact that these are two distinct mitzvos of learning.

Part 5 Formulating a Torah Study Program

Possibly the longest section of the book addresses such classic discussions which the gemara itself hasn’t solved; sinai vs. oker harim, knowledge or intensive study – which should come first? A discussion of pilpul; the place it has in torah learning, whether pilpul should be recorded, whether we can decide halakah according to pilpul goes on for 10 pages.

Part 6 Torah Study vs. Torah Living

Discusses the age-old questions; what is greater, study or practice and provides a relatively comprehensive treatment of the subject.

Part 7 Secular Studies: The Torah View

I will simply give the chapter titles here and leave the reading, analyzing and decisions as to his conclusions up to anyone who feels like reading this section.
Chapter 1 Introduction
Wherein he shows the many apparent contradictions in the words of the sages and subsequent authorities as to whether the study of secular wisdom is allowed and he lays the groundwork for his arguments in the following chapters; there’s a difference between the sciences and the humanities. Whereas one can, and possibly, should study the sciences, study of the humanities should be limited to torah sources.
Chapter 2 The Study of the Natural Sciences: The Obligation
Chapter 3 The Study of the Natural Sciences: Limits
Chapter 4 The Study of the Humanities
Chapter 5 The Opinions of The Torah Leaders of the Past Generation

By way of explanation as to the stated purpose of chapter 5 I’ll quote from the prologue to Part 7: “To test our findings against actual halakhic decisions, we conclude with summaries of four responsa by outstanding authorities of the last generation, dealing with the question of university studies.”
The four outstanding authorities the author has chosen are:
1. R’ Avraham Yitzchak Bloch
2. R’ Elchanan Wassermann
3. R’ Barukh Ber Leibowitz
4. R’ Yosef Rozin
I feel that some inference may be drawn as to what the the author does and does not consider The Torha View by his choice of responsa.

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