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Is YUTorah Mutar?

 

I. YUTorah

One of the blessings on the internet is the ability to easily listen to lectures from afar. As followers of Joel Rich’s weekly audio roundups know well, YUTorah.org is a treasure trove of free, downloadable Torah lectures. I am able to follow my favorite YU teachers thanks to the website.

There are many reasons to object to YUTorah but are any valid? While some may object to YUTorah because they reject usage of the internet or the concept of a yeshiva merged with a university, I am unconcerned with those issues. However, there is an halakhic concern regarding the permissibility of posting Torah lectures online where gentiles may easily listen to them.

The Gemara (Chagigah 13a) states that a Jew may not teach Torah to a gentile. If so, may a Jew’s Torah lecture be made so easily available to gentiles?

This is not a new question. Beginning in January 1953, R. Pinchas Teitz taught Gemara (“Daf Hashovua”) on the radio. Despite the limits of his audience due to his speaking in Yiddish, some were still concerned that he might be improperly making Torah available to gentiles. R. Teitz, therefore, published an article in the journal Ha-Pardes defending his Torah radio show (link; on all this, see Learn Torah, Love Torah, Live Torah, ch. 10). I found an interesting letter to him on the subject by R. Yechiel Ya’akov Weinberg (Kisvei Ha-Gaon Rav Yechiel Ya’akov Weinberg, vol. 1 pp. 26-30 – link). This letter is similar in content to R. Weinberg’s published responsa to R. Shlomo Breuer and an unnamed scholar (I believe R. Mordechai Gifter — Seridei Eish, Yoreh De’ah nos. 55-56 in the 1999 Weingort edition).

II. Why?

R. Weinberg agrees with R. Teitz’s permissive conclusions and explains how he arrived there. He distinguishes between two main positions on the reasoning underlying this prohibition. According to Tosafos (Chagigah 13a sv. ein), the Torah belongs to the Jewish people. It is an inherent aspect of national uniqueness. When a gentile studies Torah, he is taking from us an important element of our defining trait. He is, in a sense, stealing from the Jewish people.

However, the Rambam, as explained by R. Weinberg, has an entirely different approach. The Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Melakhim 10:9) states that a gentile may not create a new religious practice that he performs as a mitzvah. He is allowed to shake a lulav out of curiosity but not out of a sense of religious obligation. There is, however, a middle ground between these two intents: fulfilling an optional mitzvah. A gentile is allowed to shake a lulav as an optional mitzvah, a chosen way to reach out to God. However, observing Shabbos and learning Torah are exceptions to this permission because they represent Jewish uniqueness.

As Tosafos understand the matter, gentiles may not learn Torah because such study is an element of Jewish identity. According to Rambam, they may not learn Torah because it is a Jewish act of devotion reserved only for members of the faith. The practical difference between these two reasons is when a gentile learns Torah out of intellectual curiosity. This should be allowed according to the Rambam but not Tosafos.

III. Enabling

According to Tosafos, we need to be concerned that a Jew teaching Torah on the radio is enabling a gentile to study Torah. R. Weinberg points out that the only concern is the prohibition of lifnei iveir, which is not an issue if the gentile may learn Torah anyway. Since gentiles can obtain an English translation of the Talmud (at that time, only Soncino), they can learn Torah even without the radio program.

I am uncertain why R. Weinberg does not consider that purchasing an English Talmud is more expensive and more of a bother than merely turning on the radio. Presumably, this would create a case of lifnei iveir (see Minchas Elazar 1:53), unless R. Weinberg disagrees with this entire premise. Nevertheless, R. Weinberg concludes that it is obvious that R. Teitz may teach his radio Talmud class. And so he did, for 35 years.

IV. Conclusion

Presumably, if teaching Talmud on the radio is permissible, so is posting audios of lectures on the internet. While gentiles may wish to engage in the Jewish religious act of Torah study, that is their concern and not ours. According to the Rambam, the prohibition depends on their attitude and according to Tosafos, they are able to study Torah even without YUTorah.

 

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Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.

 
The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.
 

47 Responses

  1. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    Gil: All this and more was thoroughly discussed by Rabbi Bleich in an articlc in one of the volumes of Contemporary Halakhic Problems

  2. Hirhurim says:

    I’m sure it was.

  3. r says:

    igros moshe yoreh deah 2:132

  4. Hirhurim says:

    According to R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggeros Moshe (Yoreh De’ah 2:132), this prohibition only applies if your intention is to teach Torah to Gentiles. If that is not your intention, then you are permitted ton teach even if gentiles will certainly learn.

  5. mycroft says:

    The Lonely Man of Faith was fist read to a Catholic seminary by the RAv

  6. shim (Shimon) says:

    How would the gemara in bava kamma factor into this: that a gentile who learns torah is like a cohen gadol
    it seems there that if the learning is seen in the same way as a way of gaining closeness but not of the same type as one who is commanded to learn it would be permitted and encouraged no?

  7. Joseph Kaplan says:

    Anybody else not understand how we have this precious word of God and we’re not allowed to share it with others. Or how non-Jews can convert if they can’t learn Torah. Or how by keeping it private we would feed into all the terrible things anti-Semites say about Torah. Or how it didn’t seem to bother Hillel to teach Torah to a gentile. Or how we can be an ohr lagoyim while keeping Torah secret.

  8. Mordechai says:

    I miss Daf Hashavua, conducted by Rav M.P. Teitz z”l, the crown jewel of the old religious Yiddish radio, which has seemingly disappeared into thin air, with nary a sound heard.

    Other speakers who used to give short divrei Torah there, and have passed away in recent years include Rav Pinchos Zvi Singer and Rav Chaim Grund z”l.

    Hopefully, some of that bygone world will live again in the form of ‘re-runs’ online someday, for the public and the future.

    A few years ago there was a ‘Yiddish radio project’ which garnered much publicity, which preserved and commemorated part of the ethnic and non-religious side of Yiddish radio. The religious, holy, Torah side of the dial deserves no less, and actually much more.

  9. S. says:

    >I am uncertain why R. Weinberg does not consider that purchasing an English Talmud is more expensive and more of a bother than merely turning on the radio.

    Many public libraries have Talmuds. I imagine this was the case even 60 years ago.

    It should be pointed out that R. Weinberg himself taught Torah to gentiles when he taught in Giessen, not to mention his own relationship with Paul Kahle. In the article he co-published with Kahle in HUCA the Tosafos Yom Tov was quoted. Marc Shapiro told me that in his opinion that came from R. Weinberg (so that even if, eg, you’d argue that the kind of thing that was the subject of the article, merely publishing an unusual geniza text of the mishna was not teaching Torah to a gentile).

  10. S. says:

    Also, R. Teitz’s radio program was in Yiddish, was it not? Methinks that the Yiddish – and not just Yiddish, but Talmud Yiddish – would have been something of an impediment for radio surfers?

  11. Sharon says:

    Would you be able to further explain the Rambam’s concept that “observing Shabbos and learning Torah are exceptions to this permission because they represent Jewish uniqueness.”
    Is this uniqueness related to obligation, and if so how does it relate to women who are not obligated in Talmud Torah as men are?

  12. mycroft says:

    “Joseph Kaplan on January 12, 2011 at 12:18 am
    Anybody else not understand how we have this precious word of God and we’re not allowed to share it with others. Or how non-Jews can convert if they can’t learn Torah. Or how by keeping it private we would feed into all the terrible things anti-Semites say about Torah. Or how it didn’t seem to bother Hillel to teach Torah to a gentile. Or how we can be an ohr lagoyim while keeping Torah secret.”

    It is a very complex world-certainly your brother is much more capable than I am in discussing this issue but I’ll make an attempt according to the RAv.
    If one looks at the Lonely Man of Faith one reads a religous speech based on Torah spoken to a Catholic seminary-but one also will note that the Rav did not discuss details of Torah(Gemarrah sources) -he left that not for the speech but for the footnotes.
    Certainly as religous Jews while discusssing topics of Tshuva, Shabbos etc we are act on what the Torah teaches us-we certainly can discuss with nonJews what our proper reactions to events and behaviors are-on the other hand we can’t teach fundamental ideas relating to our particularstic Jewish confrontation with God-such as the essence of God, Matan Torah, Meshiach etc.

  13. DES says:

    Presumably this discussion would also be germane to this website.

  14. Moshe Shoshan says:

    I once heard from RAL, that he does not think that this prohibition applies to simply telling a goy some details of halakha. Torah is not an esoteric teaching that must be hidden from outsiders. It is permissible to explain to a co-worker about Jewish practice and law.
    Rather, RAL pointed to the fact that this issur is learned from the pasuks equation of “Torah” with “Morasha”. He felt that the only issur was to bring a goy into the messorah: i.e. allowing him to enroll in your yeshiva or become a “talmid” of yours in the full sense of the word. Any given lecture, article or university course was not to be seen as violating this issur.

    I have heard that Harav Professor Twersky z”l had a even more expansive view advocating the teaching of Torah to goyim on the basis of his reading of a passage in the Moreh.

  15. Moshe Shoshan says:

    I would also add that even given more conservative readings of this issur, I find it hard to accept that indirectly facilitating goyim learning torah is a concern that could override harbotzas torah d’rabbim. Is this issur even a d’oraita? preventing bittul beit midrash is grounds for overriding lesser issurim.

  16. Hirhurim says:

    Moshe: The Maharsha has a similar view — that it only applies to “sisrei Torah”. The Seridei Eish thinks it doesn’t stand up to comparison of textual variants.

  17. Jordan says:

    For a case like Internet audio lectures or radio shows, it seems strange that one potential non-Jewish listener would prevent the dissemination of Torah learning among tens or hundreds of times as many Jewish listeners.

    And how do text-based Internet divrei Torah figure into the discussion?

  18. Hirhurim says:

    Text-based is almost certainly the same. And Artscroll, for that matter.

  19. Sholom says:

    Interested gentiles may learn Torah applicable to the sheva mitvot, which arguably could include relevant general topics in machshava that may augment their yiras shamayim. Would concerns for lifnei ever be alleviated, as one can come and choose from YU torah what is relevant for them?

  20. Joseph Kaplan:

    “Or how we can be an ohr lagoyim while keeping Torah secret.”

    why do you have to teach non-jews torah in order to be ohr la-goyyim?

  21. Charlie Hall says:

    On a trip to Vermont a few years ago I encounted a Protestant minister who had discovered Rashi and wanted to discuss with me what he considered to be Rashi’s brilliant takes on the Old Testament!

  22. Hirhurim says:

    According to some (Rambam, Maharatz Chajes, Netziv), the Bible is excluded from this prohibition. It isn’t a mainstream position but it exists.

  23. Scott says:

    The toothpaste is out of the tube.

  24. Jason says:

    It’s “a halachik” unless you happen to not pronounce the “h”

  25. Toronto Yid says:

    There is another possible concern of recording Torah shiurim and making them available on the Internet. Often in a small close-knit environment with a few talmidim, a Rav may make comments on the material or issues of the day that he intends for the small group of people whom he knows, and who would understand the context of his comments.

    But someone picking it up on the Net could completely misunderstand , misconstrue or take the comment out of context.

    Torah shiurim have been recorded for decades, but again before the Net, it was a cassette tape that was passed around that had limited distribution. Now any rhetorical comment or quip could go viral within hours of posting.

    What I think this means is that Rabbanim giving over shiurim that are being recorded are likely extra careful (or should be) about what they say. (unless it is edited afterward which I think is very rare). And actually this could be at the disadvantage of the talmidim physically present, as they will miss out on some of the candor that otherwsie would have been presented!

  26. Jeff Wild says:

    Here are some quotes from the closing pages of J. David Bleich’s, “Survey of Recent Halakhic Periodical Literature: Teaching Torah to Non-Jews” (Tradition, 18 (2), Summar 1980.

    “Despite the absence of a specific obligation to influence non-Jews to abide by the provisions of the Noachide Code, the attempt to do so is entirely legitimate. Apart from our universal concern, fear lest “the world becomes corrupt,” as Rambam puts it, is also very much a matter of Jewish concern and self-interest. Disintegration of the moral fabric of society affects everyone. Particularly in our age we can not insulate ourselves against the pervasive cultural forces that mold human conduct. Jews have every interest in promoting a positive moral climate.”

    “Accordingly, Jews should certainly not hesitate to make the teachings of Judaism as they bear on contemporary mores more readily accessible to fellow citizens. That is the most direct means available to us for exercising a positive influence in improving the more atmosphere in which we all live.” p203

  27. joel rich says:

    R’ Toronto Yid,
    They should be but often aren’t (although one might argue that they should be more careful in talking just to their talmidim as well). There are many times I’d like to highlight my opinion on certain statements but edit myself so as not to draw attention to specific lack of care statements.
    I’ve also found that for many maggidei shiur there is little advantage to being physically present because there is little to no give and take.

    KT

  28. mycroft says:

    “I’ve also found that for many maggidei shiur there is little advantage to being physically present because there is little to no give and take.

    KT”

    Agreed-
    one reason why I am just as happy to attend Continuing education courses by satellite etc than by attending them live. Why shouldthere be 10 RY giving shiur-let one give shiur forthousands. Higher TAs to help with chazara.

  29. joel rich says:

    The sad part is you learn so much more with a little give and take to clarify in your mind (and sometimes in that of the maggid shiur) exactly what he meant or some of the implications.
    KT

  30. mycroft says:

    “joel rich on January 12, 2011 at 3:18 pm
    The sad part is you learn so much more with a little give and take to clarify in your mind (and sometimes in that of the maggid shiur) exactly what he meant or some of the implications.
    KT”
    Agreed- if the maggid shiur is able to answer questions intelligently.

  31. Shlomo says:

    “What I think this means is that Rabbanim giving over shiurim that are being recorded are likely extra careful (or should be) about what they say. ”

    “Hachamim hizaharu bedivreichem” is not a new concern…

  32. Avi Goldstein says:

    Didn’t Rav Yisrael Salanter teach Gemara in a university, despite the fact that there were non-Jews in the class? Can anyone confirm this?

  33. Avi Goldstein says:

    Other mitigating circumstances:
    On the radio, you are not directly teaching. The mechanism of radio is an intermediary. Perhaps this would make a difference.
    Also, in the case of the nazir who has two sources of wine (making the lifnei iveir a d’rabbanan instead of a d’oraisa), is there any difference if the other wine is more expensive? If not, then it should make no difference if Soncino cost money to acquire.
    I am not in front of my sefarim right now, but I think I recall that lifnei iveir d’rabbanan does not apply to a goy. Again, can anyone confirm or refute this?
    Finally, isn’t there a difference (assuming an issur would otherwise apply) if you are teaching as opposed to the goy coming to study? For example, if one is teaching a Torah class in a shul and the janitor stops to listen, does one have to stop teaching? I highly doubt it.

  34. Hirhurim says:

    Didn’t Rav Yisrael Salanter teach Gemara in a university

    I don’t think so. He did encourage a German translation of the Talmud to be included in the public school curriculum. But the translation was never done.

  35. Ephraim says:

    Here’s another vote against YUTorah and its lesser rivals:
    וכבר מילתי אמורה, דהשומע מִטֵייפּ דף גמרא – גם כן אינו יוצא ידי לימוד
    התורה, אלא הו”ל כחמור נוער, דללמוד תורה צריך קול שומע ומשמיע ועיין פיה”מ להרמב”ם עה”מ לפום צערא אגרא והבן כי קצרתי.

    מנשה קליין, משנה הלכות טו: מב
    http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=1887&st=&pgnum=74

  36. Ephraim says:

    “Didn’t Rav Yisrael Salanter teach Gemara in a university, despite the fact that there were non-Jews in the class? Can anyone confirm this?”

    He most definitely did teach Gemara in Koenigberg U. He wanted to reach out to the assimilated students. I don’t know if there were non-Jews in the class at the time. He did want Gemara to be included in the University’s curriculum, which presumably would mean that non-Jews would be studying as well.

  37. MiMedinat HaYam says:

    several points —
    the teitz family did put up the daf hashavua tapes online. i cant find the website now (perhaps they let the registration lapse, due to poor listnership due to poor / non existent advertising.)

    besides being broadcast on wevd new york (secular communist)yiddish radio station, it was also broadcast on radio free europe to the ussr. many russians appreciated the broadcasts, as the only torah they could listen to.

    the yiddish rav teirtz used was a very elegant yiddish. rabbi berel wein says when he was in yeshiva (skokie) they used to stay up late motzei shabat (plus one hour time diff) to listen to it, not necessarily for the learning, but for the yiddish he used.

    many non jewish germans would study gemara. in fact, some old talmud manuscripts were only kept by the “ancient” universities of germany. (mostly the “obscure” ones, in the eastern part part of germany.)

  38. eg says:

    “Moshe: The Maharsha has a similar view — that it only applies to “sisrei Torah”. The Seridei Eish thinks it doesn’t stand up to comparison of textual variants.”

    The paraphrase of RAL’s position makes it sound substantively different from the maharsha’s.

    It (RAL’s position) also has the advantage of being a formal articulation of what the general practice seems to be and the “instinct” of the average person, based on common practice, of where to draw the line.

  39. MiMedinat HaYam says:

    as for english language jewish books and non jews:

    i was invited to hear a ger tzedek talk about his (and his wife’s) conversion from a evangelical southwest us protestant minister to lubavitch. he says he lived off of artscroll till he found a rav to convert him (and rejected him the proper number of times.)

    on the other hand, i had a neighbor who was an evangelical christian who used to get artscroll catalg in the mail (communal mailbox system, dont ask). i actually emailed artscroll to take him off their mailing list (which they didnt do for a while. i guess he stopped buying from them.) but…

  40. Isaac Balbin says:

    I do not begin to understand R’ Menashe Klein’s psak. I assume he is machmir that it is NOT a Kol for Torah learning but it IS a Kol for Erva (Kol B’Isha). It is not a Kol for Megila, but it is a Kol when it’s through a microphone at an Asifa.

    What came first the halacha or the psak?

  41. Avi Goldstein says:

    Re HaRav Menashe Klein:
    Absolutely incomprehensible. Will write more later, bli neder, but it makes no sense that learning by heart is not learning. The only issue is whether one has to say Birchos HaTorah for learning by heart. But certainly it counts as learning.

  42. […] Is YUTorah Mutar? (43 c, 1,571 pv) […]

  43. […] if it is not in the person’s nature? Nobody can get himself a divine soul if he lacks one! Some Orthodox groups even think that teaching Torah to a non-Jew is prohibited, less the person uses it […]

  44. […] Yechiel Ya’akov Weinberg (Kisvei Ha-Gaon R. Yechiel Ya’akov Weinberg, vol. 1 pp. 26-30, discussed here) would not approve. R. Weinberg analyzes the Rambam’s view in […]

 
 

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