By 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.