Daf 29b continued
YESHIVAT HAR ETZION
ISRAEL KOSCHITZKY VIRTUAL BEIT MIDRASH (VBM)
Introduction to the Study of Talmud
by Rav Michael Siev
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Within the quoted texts, my explanations and additions are also noted in red.
Our mishna (29a) taught that mitzvot incumbent upon parents to do for their children are the responsibility of the father and not the mother. The gemara quoted a beraita that enumerated these mitzvot, and the gemara then began the task of analyzing each mitzva on the list and providing Scriptural support for the fact that only fathers are included in these obligations. We have already discussed the mitzvot of berit mila (circumcision) and pidyon ha-ben (redemption of the firstborn), and the gemara now moves on to the next item on the list: a father's obligation to teach his son Torah.
We are eight lines from the end of the short lines on daf 29b.
To teach him Torah:
From where do we (know this)?
For it says: "And you shall teach them to your sons."
And where his father did not teach him, he is obligated to teach himself,
as it says: "And you shall learn."
She from where do we (know) that she is not obligated?
For it says, "And you shall teach" / And you shall learn, anyone who is commanded to learn is commanded to teach,
and anyone who is not commanded to learn is not commanded to teach.
And she from where do we (know) that she is not obligated to teach herself?
For it says: "And you shall teach" / And you shall learn, anyone whom others are commanded to teach
is commanded to teach himself,
and anyone whom others are not commanded to teach is not commanded to teach himself.
And from where that others are not commanded to teach her?
For the verse says: "And you shall teach them to your sons" - and not your daughters.
דכתיב: ולמדתם אותם את בניכם.
והיכא דלא אגמריה אבוה - מיחייב איהו למיגמר נפשיה,
איהי מנלן דלא מיחייבא?
דכתיב: ולימדתם ולמדתם, כל שמצווה ללמוד מצווה ללמד,
וכל שאינו מצווה ללמוד אינו מצווה ללמד.
ואיהי מנלן דלא מיחייבה למילף נפשה?
דכתיב: ולימדתם ולמדתם, כל שאחרים מצווין ללמדו
מצווה ללמד את עצמו,
וכל שאין אחרים מצווין ללמדו אין מצווה ללמד את עצמו.
ומנין שאין אחרים מצווין ללמדה?
דאמר קרא: ולמדתם אותם את בניכם - ולא בנותיכם.
This discussion parallels quite directly the gemara's previous discussion about the mitzva of pidyon ha-ben. The gemara begins by asking how we know that there is an obligation at all for parents to teach their children Torah. The gemara answers by quoting a pasuk that is familiar to us from the second paragraph of keri'at shema, in which the Torah commands that "you shall place these words of mine on your hearts . . . and teach them to your sons" (Devarim 11:18-19). If one's father has neglected his duty to teach him, the son is obligated to teach himself. This is learned from a separate verse, in which Moshe tells the nation, "Hear, Israel, the statutes and laws that I speak in your ears today, and you shall study them and keep them to do them" (Devarim 5:1).
Having established the father's obligation to teach his son Torah, the gemara asks how we know that mothers are not included in this responsibility. The answer comes in the form of a derasha similar to that employed regarding pidyon ha-ben. The word that teaches a father's responsibility is ve-limmadtem, "and you shall teach." This word can also be vowelized ulmadtem, "you shall learn." The gemara thus establishes an exegetical connection between teaching and learning, and determines that only those who are obligated to learn ("teach themselves") are obligated to teach others. The obvious next question is: how do we know that women are not obligated to teach themselves Torah? The gemara uses the same derasha to assert that only one whom others are obligated to teach - ve-limmadtem from the perspective of the other person - is obligated in ulmadtem, to teach himself. Finally, the gemara asks how we know that others are not obligated to teach women Torah. The answer to this question stems from the wording of the pasuk that establishes a father's obligation; the verse says "you shall teach your sons. . ." The gemara understands that the word "sons" is used purposefully, to imply that one is obligated to teach only one's sons but not one's daughters.
Our gemara clearly rules that men are obligated to learn Torah while women are exempt from this obligation. It should be noted that the Beit Ha-levi (a prominent 19th century scholar) writes that this policy is only half the story. There are two purposes to learning Torah:
1) One must learn Torah in order to know how to fulfill mitzvot. In this sense, the study is functional.
2) Learning is a value in and of itself, in that one is thus able to immerse oneself in God's word, which is an exalted and purifying experience.
The Beit Ha-levi explains that when our gemara writes that a woman is not obligated to learn Torah, it refers to the second aspect of learning Torah. A woman is certainly obligated to keep mitzvot, and therefore by definition she must study the laws pertaining to those mitzvot; if she would not do so, it would be impossible for her to keep those laws. It is with regard to the additonal aspect of Torah study, the non-functional type of learning, that a woman is exempt. In contrast, a man must study Torah whenever he is able, even if the study is not of practical import, such as if he already knows the halakhot or the topic of study has no practical application.
Back to the Gemara
The gemara continues its discussion of learning and teaching Torah. We are 3 lines into the long lines on 29b.
The Rabbis taught:
He to learn and his son to learn - he precedes his son.
R' Yehuda says: If his son is diligent and able and his learning remains in his hand - his son precedes him.
Like that of Rav Ya'akov the son of Rav Acha bar Ya'akov; his father sent him in front of Abaye,
when he came (home) he (his father) saw that his lessons were not sharp,
he (the father) said to him (the son), "I am better than you, you return so that I will go."
ת"ר (=תנו רבנן):
הוא ללמוד ובנו ללמוד - הוא קודם לבנו.
ר' יהודה אומר: אם בנו זריז וממולח ותלמודו מתקיים בידו - בנו קודמו.
כי הא דרב יעקב בריה דרב אחא בר יעקב שדריה אבוה לקמיה דאביי,
כי אתא חזייה דלא הוה מיחדדין שמעתיה,
א"ל (=אמר ליה): אנא עדיפא מינך, תוב את דאיזיל אנא.
Once again, our gemara parallels its discussion of the previous topic, and contrasts a man's obligation to teach his son with his obligation to teach himself. If a man has the means to provide for his own learning or that of his son but not for both, whose learning should take precedence? The first opinion in the beraita (remember: tanu rabbanan = beraita) rules that the man's own learning takes precedence. R' Yehuda, however, argues that it depends on the people involved; if one's son has more ability when it comes to learning, his learning will take precedence over that of his father.
It should be noted that the possibility of a man's own learning taking precedence over that of his son only arises once the father has provided at least a basic level of education for his son. The parameters of this basic education will be discussed later in the gemara.
The gemara brings a story as support for the opinion of R' Yehuda. Rav Acha bar Ya'akov sent his son, Rav Ya'akov, to learn Torah from the great sage, Abaye. When Rav Ya'akov came home for a visit, Rav Acha saw that his son's grasp of the material he had studied was not as sharp as he would have liked. He therefore told his son to remain at home and work so that he, Rav Acha, would be able to go study; since Rav Acha was more capable, it was his learning that took precedence. This supports R' Yehuda's view in the beraita that the determining factor regarding whether a father or son should go study is which of them has greater potential for success in his studies.
Compare our beraita's ruling to that of the previous beraita comparing the obligation to perform pidyon ha-ben for oneself and one's son. On the basis of that beraita, what would you have expected to see in our beraita?
What did the disagreement between the tanna kama (first, anonymous opinion) and R' Yehuda in the previous beraita hinge on? What does it seem to be based on in our beraita?
With regard to pidyon ha-ben, the gemara made it quite clear that one's own redemption should precede that of one's son, because it is a mitzva that relates directly to the person of the father. The tanna kama and R' Yehuda agreed on that point, and if it came down to a choice between the two, one would have to redeem oneself rather than one's son. The disagreement in the beraita was about the likelihood of such a scenario arising. According to R' Yehuda, one would not normally have to choose between the two, because it is likely that one will be able to fulfill both mitzvot by giving the money for the redemption of one's son and allowing a kohen to sieze property in order to allow for the fulfillment of the father's redemption (see our shiur from two weeks ago for more detail!).
In our discussion, the tanna kama seems to uphold the principle we saw regarding pidyon ha-ben; that it is better for a father to fulfill a mitzva that pertains directly to himself than to fulfill a mitzva that relates to his son, even if that mitzva is the father's responsibility. However, R' Yehuda, who accepted that principle regarding pidyon ha-ben, argues that the guiding principle here should be one's ability to study successfully. Why the change?
This issue may very well be the result of the two-part analysis of the mitzva of learning Torah that we mentioned before. With regard to pidyon ha-ben, the act of the redemption is a mitzva; a mitzva that relates to oneself takes precedence over a mitzva that pertains to someone else. Learning Torah is also a mitzva, and in that sense the same principle should apply. However, there is another aspect to the mitzva of learning Torah; it is not just a mitzva-action, but there is also a result that we are trying to attain - knowledge of Torah. Perhaps the tanna kama and R' Yehuda argue about the relationship between these two aspects of Torah study. The tanna kama understands that this second aspect is a part and parcel of the actional mitzva of study. When studying, the act itself is a mitzva, and one should try to do so in a manner that will facilitate the retention of Torah knowledge. In such a case, we will apply our regular rule that a mitzva that pertains to oneself takes precedence over one that pertains to someone else. R' Yehuda may argue that in addition to being part of the actional mitzva of Torah study, increasing knowledge of Torah is a universal value in its own right. Therefore, if one's son will be better able to grasp the topic of his study, his learning takes precedence, as it will lead to a general increase of Torah knowledge in the world.
Alternatively, R' Yehuda may argue that the superior retention of the material elevates the mitzva itself to a higher level. Since the son will perform the mitzva in a superior manner, his mitzva takes precedence. This argument makes two presumptions:
1) The greater the retention of the material, the greater the mitzva of learning Torah.
2) The superior performance of a mitzva is significant enough to override our general principle that gives precedence to a mitzva that applies directly to onself.
The tanna kama, who disputes R' Yehuda's conclusion, may disagree with either of his two assumptions. He may argue that while it is important to retain knowledge, the act of studying Torah is just as significant if one is unable to do so, as long as one is putting forth full effort. Alternatively, he may agree that the mitzva becomes elevated if a person achieves a greater level of scholarship, but argue that this factor alone is not enough to override the fact that the father's own learning relates directly to himself.