Know It All – Torah Study

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Dear Rabbi Simon,
I’m looking for a source in the Jewish tradition that states that a man must know or learn the entire Torah, for example all of Talmud Bavli [Babylonian Talmud]. Can you help?

Dear Tal,
Thank you for your question. There are numerous passages in the Talmud and elsewhere about the scope of the obligation of Torah study. Here are several that immediately come to mind:

  • B”B 12a, “Happy is he who comes to this place, and his Torah knowledge is in his hand.”
  • Avot 1:15: “Make your Torah study principle, and your craft (livelihood) secondary.”
  • Avot 4:16: “Be careful about study, for an inadvertent error in study is tantamount to an intentional sin.”
  • Shabbat 31a: “In the Next World, a man is asked…have you designated times for the study of Torah?
  • Kiddushin 30a: “One should divide his years (time) in three: one third Scripture, one third Mishnah, one third Talmud.”

However, the notion that one is expected to study/master the entirety of the Torah cannot be taken at face value, as learning the entire Torah is beyond the grasp of mere mortals. Even the breathtaking, profound and encyclopaedic knowledge of sages of our times such as Rav Ovadiah Yosef, Rav Chaim Kanievsky or Rav Moshe Shapiro cannot be said to encompass the entirety of the Torah.
However, as per Avot 2:16, you are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.
I feel that all of Talmud Bavli (even Shas Mishnayos) is an unrealistic requirement to place upon every Jew. In praise of Torah mastery, yes. But to demand a designated benchmark IMO is not realistic. A source which seems to require this would be difficult to accept at face value.
See also end of Mesilas Yesharim.
I hope these reflections are of use.
With Torah blessings
Rabbi Rashi Simon

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Ask the Rabbi: Quinoa on Pesach
Dear Rabbi Simon,
Where do you stand on quinoa (and the kitniyot ban) for Pesach?
Many thanks,
Dear Tzippy,
In line with other American authorities, I am in favour of quinoa. Although I reject completely the voices (mostly from Israel) seeking to abolish the ban on kitniyot entirely, IMO we do not need to include in the prohibition pseudo-grains that were unknown in the Old World until modern times. Best to buy with a Pesach hechsher though, to be free of any possible wheat contamination.
Rabbi Rashi Simon
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