Shuls, Artscroll Gemaros, and Mesivta Talmuds


artscroll-gemaraBy Rabbi Yair Hoffman

Both the Artscroll Schottenstein Gemorahs and the Mesivtah Talmud in Hebrew have taken the Torah world by storm. The sheer numbers of people now learning Shas, whether it is the Daf HaYomi or just a regular tractate of the Talmud has risen exponentially in the past decade. In synagogue after synagogue, the number of classes in Talmud or just two people studying the Talmud together has now become a commonplace sight.

All this brings us to a fascinating question: Is there a genuine halachic obligation for synagogues to purchase a general set of Artscroll and or Mesivtah Talmuds to be made available for their congregants?
It might be prudent at this point to print the following disclaimer:

Please note that the author has no financial stake or affiliation with either Artscroll’s Mesorah Publications nor the New Mesivtah Talmud Series published in Israel. Really.

We begin with the words of the Tosefta in Tractate Bava Metziah (Chapter 11 Mishna 23). The Tosefta, of course, was the first commentary written on Rabbi Yehudah haNassi’s Mishna which shed light upon the Mishna by collecting the statements of other Tannaitic-era Rabbis that were not included in Rabbi Yehudah haNassi’s formulation. The Tosefta can be viewed as kind of a Talmud, in and of itself, compiled a mere two decades after the Mishna was launched and several centuries before either either the Talmud Yerushalmi or the Talmud Bavli.

The Tosefta states: “The members of a city forcer each other to build for themselves a synagogue and to purchase for themselves a Sefer Torah and Neviim.”

Although the Talmud does not seem to quote this Tosefta, all three of the major Poskim in the era of the Rishonim do. The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 11:1) cites it, as does the Rif (Bava Basra 5a), and the Rosh (Bava Basra 1:24).

The Rambam tells us that the obligation exists wherever ten Jews can be found. He adds that not only can they force each other to build a synagogue but they can force the purchase of a Sefer Torah, Neviim and Kesuvim. The Rosh and Rif also both add the word, “Kesuvim.” The Shulchan Aruch (Orech Chaim 150) codifies this obligation as halacha.

So who can force who? The Ramah (Choshain Mishpat 163:1) explains that even a minority among the ten can force the majority of the others to do so.

The question arises, what is the significance of the addition of the word “Kesuvim?” Both the Mogain Avrohom as well as the Machatzis HaShekel, two of the most prominent commentators on the SHulchan Aruch, explain that the obligation to purchase a Torah and Neviim can be explained in order to fulfill the obligations of the weekly readings throughout the year. The word “Kesuvim” adds the idea that a library for the study of Torah must be purchased as well. There is no Haftorah reading in the Kesuvim sextion of Tanach. True, on Purim the Megillah is obligated to be read, but the other parts of Kesuvim are Minhagim.
The Mogen Avrohom (OC 150:1) adds: “It appears to me that in their times [the times of the Tosefta] it was forbidden to write down books other than Torah, Neviim or Kesuvim. But nowadays, we are obligated to purchase Gemorahs as well to teach both the youth and the adults.”

It would seem that according to the Mogen Avrohom the obligation exists to purchase a set of Talmud. We can also deduce from his words that there would be an obligation to purchase a set where the information contained within it can be taught to both the youth and the adults of that city. In other words (and this author may be extrapolating but it does seem to be the utter truth), in a city where the majority of the youth and adults do not access to the words of the Talmud through a teacher, a set of Talmud in the vernacular or in an easier Hebrew must be purchased.

This obligation of purchasing volumes of the Talmud is also discussed in the Aruch HaShulchan as well. The Mishna Brurah cites the Mogen Avrohom authoritatively too. He adds that it does not only include the Talmud but also commentaries on it and that these Torah sources must be made available to all the residents of the city.

It is interesting to note that it was the Mogen Avrohom who was the first to expand the obligation to include the works of the Talmud.

Is there no one that disagrees with this obligation? The Sma in Choshain Mishpat 163:2 adds a note that may indicate that he disagrees with the words of the Mogen Avrohom. He writes: “Nn our times (presumably after the advent of the printing press), where books are now found among us, it is not the custom to force the purchase of books, with the exception of a Sefer Torah. Nonetheless, on account of Bitul Torah, a Beis Din can force the residents of the city to loan books to study from them..”
Even though the Sma may disagree with the technical obligation of the viability of forcing the synagogue membership, he writes that Beis Din may force the issue on account of Bitul Torah.

This author would like to suggest that even the Sma’s lenient opinion may not necessarily apply in our days in regard to the obligation of purchasing a Talmud. While the Sma is certainly correct in that in our times, post-Guttenburg, the printing of the Talmud has brought down the price of owning a set of Talmud, the cost of an entire set of Artscroll and or the Mesivta Hebrew Talmud is still so very expensive that it may be tantamount to the cost of Talmud manuscripts in the pre-printing era. It therefore may be that even the Sma would agree with the obligation as described by the Magen Avrohom.

One last point. Thankfully, with the advent and rise of Daf Yomi, the numbers of people studying the Talmud has risen as well. There is an area, however which has been given short-shrift. The study of Tosfos has been somewhat neglected. The Gedolim of yesteryear have described the obligation of studying Tosfos as tantamount to the obligation of putting on Tefillin! The Mesivtah Talmud series has a sect\ion in the back in which every Tosfos is explained and illuminated very clearly. There is no question in this author’s mind, that when the Mishna Brurah explains that the commentaries must also be purchased – he most certainly meant to include the words of the Baalei HaTosfos.

The author may be reached at

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  1. people cant successfully lein a simple blat gemorah with Rashi like we did for thousands of years?? something is seriously wrong
    We are on a very low level Rc”l.

  2. Yasher Koach to Matzav, to Artscroll, to 5TJT and to Rav Hoffman for all you do. Almost forgot also to Mesivta. Fantastic work all of you.

  3. “The Gedolim of yesteryear have described the obligation of studying Tosfos as tantamount to the obligation of putting on Tefillin! ”

    What is the basis for such an equation?

  4. with regard to the ability to “lein a simple blat,” some can do it and others can’t, like it has always been for a thousand(s?) years.

  5. #1 & #2: Yes you are both correct. I know this because i myself am on a very low level. I went to a Tzioni day school, public school, a bit of yeshiva, and others.
    I am not alone. I am a full-blood yid just as yourselves. If it wasnt for the Artscroll siddur, I likely would not be frum today. (Long story). If it wasnt for the Artscroll shas, i wouldnt be able to kearn gemorra on any level. I have learnwd a lot due to English “seforim” albeit not on the level of true understanding. But I am aware of that. I still consult my rabeim for questions. No, I will never be a gadol, but at least this pushiteh yid shares an intense joy of learning and is not left out.

  6. It might be said that more people are READING gemara today, but fewer are LEARNING gemara.

    Tosfos will remain neglected until Artscroll translates that too.

    (Disclaimer: this commenter worked briefly on the Artscroll mishnayos project many moons ago.)

  7. The Maharal felt that it was a mistake to put Tosfos on the page. He felt that Tosfos is beyond most people. He suggested that he would have put Rashi and the Rosh on the page, and Tosfos in the back of the volume, where the Rosh is today. This way, most people would gain the pshat from Rashi and the Halacha from the Rosh, leaving the intricacies of Tosfos to the seasoned Talmid Chacham.

  8. #9, I am happy that you have the opportunity to benefit from the many hours and hard work spent on the Artscroll gemaras.

    In regard to the ameilus batorah involved, no one ever said that the Artscroll is there for yeshiva bachurim who have the mind, knowledge and ability to learn through the gemara properly. It is for those rare occasions when clarity is needed, it is for those people who are less fortunate and can’t learn and wouldn’t learn without it.

    And as far as the misuse goes, is someone wants to use something in the wrong way they will, be it the Artscroll or something completely unrelated.

    We must be thankful that we have the Artscroll available for those who need in times of need to learn and to shteig!

  9. #10:
    I think you should get off your ivory temple and do a little learning.
    It is a misconception that LEARNING Gemara means you have to sweat it out. On the contrary, you might be sweating it out for fours hours straight trying to make sense of the sugya and only at the end making sense of the sugya because G-d had pity on you, not because you were learning.
    It is no mitzva to davka go nuts trying to understand pshat. If that was the case, I would suggest learning without Rashi and Tosfos and sweating it out not for four hours, but for four years on a sugya if that is what it takes. At one time, there was no Rashi and Tosfos. What did they do then? They had a Rebbi who taught them the Gemara. Rabbeinu Gershom had a Rebbi, Rabbeinu Yehuda, who taught him the whole Shas. Was he spoon-fed? You bet! Did he remain an Am Haaretz? No! He went on to bigger and better things.
    This generation obviously needs Artscroll and Mesivta. And this generation could produce an Artscroll and Mesivta, something that previous generations could not, given the shortage of Torah scholars, communication technology, and money. If you intentionally sweat it out for four hours, when next to you on the shelf is a Mesivta that could explain Tosfos to you, or an Artscroll that could translate the difficult Aggadta for you, or teach you the whole Yerushalmi, and you don’t use it, I think that is four hours of intentional bittul Torah, and you will have to give Din V’cheshbon why you didn’t use the aids Hashem sent you, so that you could then spend the four hours learning Rosh, Ran, Rif, and Rashba.

  10. that’s why they have seforim like Avodah Berurah. so you can be ameil b’torah & not just “do the daf”. unfortunately it’s only on a few masechtos: avodah zara, arachin, horios, temurah, rosh hashonoh, succah (perek shlishi), &but there’s more in preparation.
    maybe learn one of these masechtos besides the daf – so you can really have some mesikus hatorah?

  11. “The Gedolim of yesteryear have described the obligation of studying Tosfos as tantamount to the obligation of putting on Tefillin!”

    not according to the Maharal of Prague! he was against the study of Tosafos as an ikar!

  12. To all that look back at the alter heim with rose colored glasses… most Jews were simle peasants who could not learn a blatt gemara or in some instances even read…
    That’s why we have for example chazaros hashatz (well that and the lack of a printing press- but those go hand-in-hand)

    The level of learning today is unprecedented in Jewish History.

  13. Agreed, Artscroll is a crutch, and by using it exclusively, you will never learn how to open a blat and start reading let alone comprehending. But, Chevre, let us not forget that the Gemara is written in the “lingua franca” of the day, Aramaic. Is it that much different to have it written in the “lingua franca” of our day, being English? I have had 4, count ’em, 4 siyyumim of Masechtot, which may not seem like a lot to many of you, but it takes me and my chevrusah a good three years to make a siyyum, as I am working man and can only learn after parnassah work is done for tha day. So, to make a long story short, for a baal ha bayit like myself, that cannot be immersed in Torah all day, the Artscroll is an invaluable tool. Can I open a blatt and start leining and understanding it? Not without a dictionary next to me and a lot of “shtaigging.” But, can I argue “svoras” in a cogent fashion with other highly Kollel and Yeshivah Gevohah educated Jews, Boruch Hashem yes. And that my friends is the essence of the Talmud…not so much the actual mechanics of reading it, but instead the understanding of the logic and thought process that goes in to a sugya and the ability to state your case and defend it. Without Artscroll, this simple Baal Habyis would also be lost. Do I think that Artscroll should be used regularly in Kollels and Batei Midrashim of Yeshivot? No. But for community learners, they are a truly miraculous addition to learning that has opened many new worlds for many people. Just for information sake, I have made siyyumim in Brachos, Sukkah, Makkos, Megillah and am currently in the middle of Kiddushin.

  14. Credit is due them that Shas and other seforim are now within the intellectual reach of many for whom it was previously closed.