Monday, September 16, 2013

Two parts of Torah


"There will accordingly be two schools of study engaged in the exposition of the Divine law, differing only in the sources from which they draw their knowledge of it. One school will concern itself with the comprehension of the utterances regulating our practical conduct in and for themselves, and of the lessons – equally concerned with practice – which can be derived from those utterances; and its knowledge will be derived almost exclusively from the tradition which transmits the oral and written Divine utterances and the regulations of the Sages. The other school will concern itself with reflecting and pondering on these laws, and its source of knowledge will be the more or less illuminating power of insight which dwells in each individual religious thinker.

"The work of the first school lies before us in the שמעתתא made up of things heard (שמע). The work of the second we find in the אגדתא made up of the ideas which have occurred to each one, of what each one has related (הגיד). Everything belonging to the first school is obligatory, because it emanates from the authority which has power to bind. All that springs from the second school has no power to bind, because it represents only the views of individuals, and can claim recognition only in so far as it is in conformity with what is contained in the work of the first school.

"The work of the first school, from the very nature of its contents, came to an end with the completion of the Gemara, the collection of the שמעתתא. The production of אגדתא is, however, free and capable of enlargement at all times. It is all the freer the more firmly established and self-contained the work is of the first school and the less the first school is exposed to any change from the second. The first school should rather serve as a standard regulating the second."

(Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, Foreword, pp. clvii-clviii of Dayyan Grunfeld translation)

פתקא טבא,


  1. This is very interesting, thank you for sharing. Does Rav Hirsch define these categories any more clearly? Where does medical advice or ethical advice fall for example?

  2. Rav Hirsch does have more in the Foreword, yes. But I don't think "advice" is part of this picture. He is dealing with how one explains Torah, not how one applies what one has learned.

  3. Interesting, I will have to look it up. Also of interest is the strong stance Rav Zeira takes regarding the puerile nature of Aggadah in Yerushalmi Maasros end of chapter 3. Perhaps that is the basis for excluding it from the status of dogma.