Thursday, July 30, 2009


No, I don’t, but you’ll see what I mean in a few paragraphs.)

“Thou shalt not study Torah,” beginning at midday today, erev Tisha b’Av, as part of our mourning for the Beit haMikdash.

As the gemara (Taanit 30a) explains, “One may not learn Torah, Neviim or Ketuvim, or study mishnah or talmud, midrash, halachot or aggadot.” There are permitted exceptions, principally for sad topics and study related to mourning, but the overall theme is that Torah learning is a joyous experience, so we don’t engage in it on Tisha b’Av.

[I wonder if this law is not also related to the aftermath of the Golden Calf. Per the midrash, when the Jews received the Torah they also received special crowns. After the Golden Calf, HaShem instructed them, “Remove your crown” (Shemot 32:5-6), apparently a reference those crowns. “You have sinned; you don’t deserve to don the glory of Torah.”]

Many of us take this law lightly; how could Gd punish a Jew for studying Torah?

And we have other such limitations on Torah study. We are not to think about Torah in the bathroom, or when inappropriately dressed. We are taught that it is sinful to study Torah without first reciting birchot hatorah, the special blessings for Torah study. And for all of them, there are those who ignore them; how could Gd punish a Jew for studying Torah?

It reminds me of the Jew who studies the parshah every Shabbat by reading divrei torah on, or, or

Were this Jew not reading divrei torah on-line, he would likely be engaged in some other activity that I consider desecration of Shabbat – shopping at the mall, driving to a park, talking on the phone, flipping channels on TV. In that sense, it’s better that he read divrei torah, I suppose.

Again: How could Gd punish a Jew for studying Torah?

I suppose it comes down to our sense of ownership of Torah, our feeling that we have a certain right to evaluate and set priorities among its various imperatives. A mitzvah is only a mitzvah when the Torah defines it as a mitzvah.

Perhaps a good Tisha b’Av example of this is in the Kamtza/Bar Kamtza story (Gittin 55b-56a, and see also the version in Eichah Rabbah), when the sages are seated at a feast and Bar Kamtza is embarrassed by the host.

The sages don’t protest, because they think it’s better to be humble (see the Eichah Rabbah version, especially). But the Torah’s priority is to protect Bar Kamtza, who is being attacked.

And perhaps the same thing happened with the rabbis in the Brooklyn/New Jersey scandal of this past week. Maybe they thought they were helping generate tzedakah money, maybe they had some other justification for committing these financial crimes. [I am NOT justifying it; my point is that people who set their own priorities get into trouble.]

When we set our own priorities, we get skewed results and rationalizations. Better to hold off on Torah (other than the permitted parts) during Tisha b’Av, remove the crown, absorb the intense reality of exile, and get started on rebuilding the Beit haMikdash.

[Of course, the big problem is when skewed-view human beings try to define the Torah’s objective priorities… implementation is harder than theory…]

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