Introduction to Learning Gemora

In July 2009, my Partners in Torah chavrusa wanted to learn Gemora. We started learning the second perek of Bava Metzia about returning lost objects. We used Art Scroll for the basic flow and translation and then we discussed in depth on each step of the Gemora. It caused a good deal of brain pain and he enjoyed it.

Here is the outline I prepared when we got started.

1) Purpose of Torah Study
– Understand the practical law and the commandments
– Seeking the essence, relationships and connections of all things, in every area of life, in this world and beyond.

2) Components (See Appendix)
– Written Torah – 24 Books – Torah (5), Prophets (8), Writings (11)
– Oral Torah – Mishna, Talmud
– Commentaries, Halachic Works

3) Chain of Transmission
– Moshe, Joshua, Elders, Prophets (Described in the 24 books of the Written Torah)
– Great Assembly, (transition from Written to Oral Torah)
– Tannaim (literally the “repeaters”) are the sages of the Mishnah (70–200)
– Amoraim (literally the “sayers”) are the sages of the Gemara (200–500)
– Savoraim (literally the “reasoners”) are the classical Persian rabbis (500–600)
– Geonim (literally the “prides” or “geniuses”) are the rabbis of Sura and Pumbeditha, in Babylonia (650–1050)
– Rishonim (literally the “firsts”) are the rabbis of the early medieval period (1050–1550) preceding the Shulchan Aruch
– Acharonim (literally the “lasts”) are the rabbis of 1550 to the present.

4) Two Elements of Talmudic Study
– Understanding the steps of the discussion as described in the Elements
– Trying to discern new insights and a deeper understanding of the principles (Havana)

5) Seven Elements in the Steps of Talmudic Discussions
– Statement – an idea is expressed
– Question – requesting for information
– Answer – responding to a question
– Contradiction – disproving a statement or idea and totally refuting it
– Proof – presenting evidence from which the truth of a statement or idea is apparent
– Difficulty – pointing out something untrue or unpleasing about a statement or idea
– Resolution – turning aside a difficulty against a statement or idea

6) Understanding the Steps
– A Gemora statement consists of a subject and a predicate, which is information about the subject. For example, Women are obligated in the mitzvah of kiddush. Women is the subject and “obligated in the mitzvah of kiddush” is the predicate”.
– The Gemora often chooses unusual cases to highlight the boundaries of the subjects and predicates and the principles involved.
– Rashi’s commentary helps us understand the cases and the steps.

7) Deeper Understanding
– Torah learning often involves reconciling contradictions within the Gemora.
– Tosfos’ commentary points out additional contradictions from other Gemoras and reconciles contradictions.
– This process of reconciling contradictions gives us a deeper understanding of the principles.

Originally published July, 2009

Appendix (Mostly from Wikipedia)

Torah (literally “teaching”) consists of the first five books of the Bible, commonly referred to as the “Five Books of Moses.” Printed versions of the Torah are often called Chamishei Chumshei Torah, literally the “five fifths of the Torah”), and informally “a Chumash.”

1. Genesis [Breishit]
2. Exodus [Shmot]
3. Leviticus [Vayikra]
4. Numbers [Bamidbar]
5. Deuteronomy [D’varim]

The Hebrew names of the books of the Torah are based on the first prominent word in each book. The English names are not translations of the Hebrew, but are rather Greek names created for the Septuagint which are, in turn, based on Rabbinic names describing the thematic content of each of the Books.
Nevi’im (“Prophets”) consists of eight books. This division includes the books which, as a whole, cover the chronological era from the entrance of the Israelites into the Land until the Babylonian captivity of Judah (the “period of prophecy”). However, they exclude Chronicles, which covers the same period. The Nevi’im are often divided into the Earlier Prophets, which are generally historical in nature, and the Later Prophets, which contain more exhortational prophecies.

6. Joshua [Y’hoshua]
7. Judges [Shophtim]
8. Samuel (I & II) [Sh’muel]
9. Kings (I & II) [M’lakhim]
10. Isaiah [Y’shayahu]
11. Jeremiah [Yir’mi’yahu]
12. Ezekiel [Y’khezqel]
13. The Twelve Prophets
a. Hosea [Hoshea]
b. Joel [Yo’el]
c. Amos [Amos]
d. Obadiah [Ovadyah]
e. Jonah [Yonah]
f. Micah [Mikhah]
g. Nahum [Nakhum]
h. Habakkuk [Havakuk]
i. Zephaniah [Ts’phanyah]
j. Haggai [Khagai]
k. Zechariah [Z’kharyah]
l. Malachi [Mal’akhi]
Ketuvim (“Writings”) or “scriptures”, are sometimes also known by the Greek title “Hagiographa” and consists of eleven books. These encompass all the remaining books, and include the Five Scrolls. They are sometimes also divided into such categories as Sifrei Emet (literally “Books of Truth”) of Psalms, Proverbs and Job , the “wisdom books” of Job, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs, the “poetry books” of Psalms, Lamentations and Song of Solomon, and the “historical books” of Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles

The “Sifrei Emet,” “Books of Truth”:
14. Psalms [ Tehilim]
15. Proverbs [ Mishlei]
16. Job [ Iyov]

The “Five Megilot” or “Five Scrolls”:
17. Song of Songs [ Shir Hashirim]
18. Ruth [Rut]
19. Lamentations [Eikhah]
20. Ecclesiastes [Kohelet]
21. Esther [Esther]

The rest of the “Writings”:
22. Daniel [Dani’el]
23. Ezra-Nehemiah [Ezra v’Nekhemia]
24. Chronicles (I & II) [Divrei Hayamim]


Mishnah and Gemora

The Gemara and the Mishnah together make up the Talmud. The Talmud thus comprises two components: the Mishnah – the core text; and the Gemara – analysis and commentary which “completes” the Talmud

The Mishnah consists of six orders (sedarim, singular seder, each containing 7-12 tractates (masechtot, singular masechet; lit. “web”), 63 in total. Each masechet is divided into chapters (peraqim, singular pereq) and then paragraphs or verses (mishnayot, singular Mishnah). The Mishnah is also called Shas (an acronym for Shisha Sedarim – the “six orders”).[4]

The Mishnah orders its content by subject matter, instead of by biblical context, and discusses individual subjects more thoroughly than the Midrash. It includes a much broader selection of halakhic subjects than the Midrash.



In the three centuries following the redaction of the Mishnah, rabbis throughout Israel and Babylonia analyzed, debated and discussed that work. These discussions form the Gemara. Gemara means “completion” (from the Hebrew gamar “to complete”) or “learning”( from the Aramaic: “to study”). The Gemara mainly focuses on elucidating and elaborating the opinions of the Tannaim. The rabbis of the Gemara are known as Amoraim (sing. Amora).

Much of the Gemara consists of legal analysis. The starting point for the analysis is usually a legal statement found in a Mishnah. The statement is then analyzed and compared with other statements in a dialectical exchange between two (frequently anonymous and sometimes metaphorical) disputants, termed the makshan (questioner) and tartzan (answerer). Another important function of Gemara is to identify the correct Biblical basis for a given law presented in the Mishnah and the logical process connecting one with the other: this activity was known as talmud long before the existence of the “Talmud” as a text.

These exchanges form the “building-blocks” of the Gemara; the name for a passage of gemara is a sugya (סוגיא; plural sugyot). A Sugya will typically comprise a detailed proof-based elaboration of a Mishnaic statement.

In a given sugya, scriptural, Tannaic and Amoraic statements are brought to support the various opinions. In so doing, the Gemara will bring semantic disagreements between Tannaim and Amoraim (often ascribing a view to an earlier authority as to how he may have answered a question), and compare the Mishnaic views with passages from the Baraita. Rarely are debates formally closed; in many instances, the final word determines the practical law, although there are many exceptions to this principle.

Halakha and Aggadah

The Talmud contains a vast amount of material and touches on a great many subjects. Traditionally Talmudic statements can be classified into two broad categories, Halakhic and Aggadic statements. Halakhic statements are those which directly relate to questions of Jewish law and practice (Halakha). Aggadic statements are those which are not legally related, but rather are exegetical, homiletical, ethical or historical in nature. See Aggadah for further discussion.

Bavli and Yerushalmi

The process of “Gemara” proceeded in the two major centers of Jewish scholarship, the Land of Israel and Babylonia. Correspondingly, two bodies of analysis developed, and two works of Talmud were created. The older compilation is called the Jerusalem Talmud or the Talmud Yerushalmi. It was compiled sometime during the fourth century in Israel. The Babylonian Talmud was compiled about the year 500 C.E., although it continued to be edited later. The word “Talmud”, when used without qualification, usually refers to the Babylonian Talmud.


The six orders of the Mishna are:

* Zeraim (“Seeds”), dealing with prayer and blessings, tithes and agricultural laws (11 tractates)
* Moed (“Festival”), pertaining to the laws of the Sabbath and the Festivals (12 tractates)
* Nashim (“Women”), concerning marriage and divorce, some forms of oaths and the laws of the nazirite (7 tractates)
* Nezikin (“Damages”), dealing with civil and criminal law, the functioning of the courts and oaths (10 tractates)
* Kodashim (“Holy things”), regarding sacrificial rites, the Temple, and the dietary laws (11 tractates) and
* Tohorot (“Purities”), pertaining to the laws of purity and impurity, including the impurity of the dead, the laws of ritual purity for the priests (Kohanim), the laws of “family purity” (the menstrual laws) and others (12 tractates).


Zeraim (“Order of Seeds”) is the first and shortest Seder (“Order”) of the Mishnah, the first major work of Jewish law. The section of mishnah was written by the rabbis to inform all Jews what must be done to fulfill their biblical obligations of prayer and commandments about food. Observers of Jewish law are bound with many obligations and restrictions regarding agricultural areas, and must adhere to a stringent schedule for prayer times.
Zeraim is divided into eleven tractates:

1. Berakhot (Blessings) deals with the rules of blessings and prayers, particularly the Shema and the Amidah. nine chapters.
2. Pe’ah (Corner) deals with the regulations concerning the commandment to leave the corner of one’s field for the poor (Leviticus 19:9–10, 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19–22), and with the rights of the poor in general. 8 chapters.
3. Demai (Doubtful Produce) deals chiefly with various cases in which it is not certain whether the priestly donations have been taken from produce. 7 chapters.
4. Kil’ayim (Of Two Sorts; Heterogeneous) deals chiefly with rules regarding forbidden mixtures in agriculture, clothing and breeding (Leviticus 19:19; Deuteronomy 22:9–11). 9 chapters.
5. Shevi’it (Seventh Year) deals with the agricultural and fiscal regulations concerning the Sabbatical Year (Exodus 23:11, Leviticus 25:1–8, Deuteronomy 15:1–11). 10 chapters.
6. Terumot (Donations) deals with the laws regarding the terumah donation given to the Kohanim (Jewish priests) (Numbers 18:8–20, Deuteronomy 18:4). 11 chapters.
7. Ma’aserot (Tithes) or Ma’aser Rishon (מעשר ראשון, First Tithe) deals with the rules regarding the tithe to be given to the Levites (Numbers 18:21–24). 5 chapters
8. Ma’aser Sheni (Second Tithe) deals with the rules concerning the tithe which was to be eaten in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 14:22–26). 5 chapters
9. Hallah (Glob of Dough) deals with the laws regarding the hallah offering of dough to be given to the Kohanim (Numbers 15:18–21). 4 chapters
10. Orlah (Blockage of Trees) deals chiefly with the prohibition of the immediate use of a tree after it has been planted (Leviticus 19:23–25). 3 chapters.
11. Bikkurim (First-Fruits) deals with the first-fruit gifts to the Kohanim and Temple (Exodus 23:19; Deuteronomy 26:1). 3 / 4 chapters.

Of all the Tractates in Seder Zeraim, only Berakhot has a corresponding Gemara in the Babylonian Talmud.

However, many of the mishnayot of Seder Zeraim are addressed throughout the Babylonian Talmud. The Tractates of Seder Zeraim are included in the Jerusalem Talmud.


Moed (“Festivals”) is the second Order of the Mishnah, the first written recording of the Oral Torah of the Jewish people (also the Tosefta and Talmud). Of the six orders of the Mishna, Moed is the third shortest.
Moed consists of 12 tractates:

1. Shabbat:(“Sabbath”) deals with the 39 prohibitions of “work” on the Shabbat. 24 chapters.
2. Eruvin: (“Mixtures”) deals with the Eruv or Sabbath-bound – a category of constructions/delineations that alter the domains of the Sabbath for carrying and travel. 10 chapters.
3. Pesahim: (“Passover Festivals”) deals with the prescriptions regarding the Passover and the paschal sacrifice. 10 chapters.
4. Shekalim: (“Shekels”) deals with the collection of the half-Shekel as well as the expenses and expenditure of the Temple. 8 chapters
5. Yoma: (“Day”); called also “Kippurim” or “Yom ha-Kippurim” (“Day of Atonement”); deals with the prescriptions Yom Kippur, especially the ceremony by the Kohen Gadol. 8 chapters.
6. Sukkah: (“Booth”); deals with the festival of Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) and the Sukkah itself. Also deals with the Four Species (Lulav, Esrog, Hadas, Aravah — Palm branch, Citron, Myrtle, Willow) which are waved on Sukkot. 5 chapters.
7. Betzah: (“Egg”); (So called from the first word, but originally termed, according to its subject, Yom Tov – “Holidays”) deals chiefly with the rules to be observed on Yom Tov. 5 chapters.
8. Rosh Hashanah: (ראש השנה) (“New Year”) deals chiefly with the regulation of the calendar by the new moon, and with the services of the festival of Rosh Hashanah. 4 chapters.
9. Ta’anit: (“Fasting”) deals chiefly with the special fast-days in times of drought or other untoward occurrences. 4 chapters
10. Megillah: (“Scroll”) contains chiefly regulations and prescriptions regarding the reading of the scroll of Esther at Purim, and the reading of other passages from the Torah and Neviim in the synagogue. 4 chapters.
11. Mo’ed Katan: (“Little Festival”) deals with Chol HaMoed, the intermediate festival days of Pesach and Sukkot. 3 chapters.
12. Hagigah:(“Festival Offering”) deals with the Three Pilgrimage Festivals (Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot) and the pilgrimage offering that men were supposed to bring in Jerusalem. 3 chapters.

The Jerusalem Talmud has a Gemara on each of the tractates, while in the Babylonian, only that on Shekalim is missing. However, in most printed editions of the Babylonian Talmud (as well as the Daf Yomi cycle), the Jerusalem Gemara to Shekalim is included.


Nashim (“Women” or “Wives”) is the third order of the Mishnah (also of the Tosefta and Talmud), containing the laws related to women and family life. Of the six orders of the Mishna, it is the second shortest.
Nashim consists of 7 tractates:

1. Yebamoth (“Levirate marriage”) the tractate Yebamoth (יבמות) (or Yebamot or Yevamot), referring to the mandated marriage of a widow to her brother-in-law, deals with the Jewish law of levirate marriage (Deut. 25:5-10) and other topics, such as the status of minors. 16 chapters.
2. Ketubot (“Prenuptial agreements”) deals with the Ketubah (Judaism’s pre-nuptial agreement), as well as topics such as virginity and the obligations of a couple towards each other. 13 chapters.
3. Nedarim (“Vows”) deals with various types of vows and their legal consequences. 11 chapters.
4. Nazir (“One who abstains”) deals with the details of the Nazirite vow and being a Nazirite (Num 6). 9 chapters.
5. Sotah (“Wayward wife”) deals with the ritual of the Sotah – the woman suspected of adultery (Num 5) as well as other rituals involving a spoken formula (such as breaking the heifer’s neck, the King’s septa-annual public Torah reading, the Blessings and Curses of Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, etc…) 9 chapters.
6. Gittin (“Bills of Divorce”) deals with the concepts of divorce, the legal document and the use of agents in divorce.
7. Kiddushin (“Betrothal”) deals with the initial stage of marriage – betrothal, as well as the laws of Jewish lineages. 4 chapters.

Both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud have a Gemara on each of the tractates in the Order.


Nezikin ( Damages) or Seder Nezikin (The Order of Damages) is the fourth Order of the Mishna (also the Tosefta and Talmud). It deals largely with Jewish criminal and civil law and the Jewish court system.
Nezikin contains ten tractates:

1. Bava Kamma (First Gate) deals with civil matters, largely damages and compensation. 10 chapters.
2. Bava Metzia (Middle Gate) deals with civil matters, largely torts and property law. 10 chapters.
3. Bava Batra (Last Gate) deals with civil matters, largely land ownership. 10 chapters.
4. Sanhedrin (The Sanhedrin) deals with the rules of court proceedings in the Sanhedrin, the death penalty, and other criminal matters. 11 chapters.
5. Makkot (Lashes) deals with collusive witnesses, cities of refuge and the punishment of lashes. 3 chapters.
6. Shevu’ot (Oaths) deals with the various types of oaths and their consequences. 8 chapters.
7. Eduyot (Testimonies) presents case studies of legal disputes in Mishnaic times and the miscellaneous testimonies that illustrate various Sages and principles of halakha. 8 chapters.
8. Avodah Zarah (Foreign worship) deals with the laws of interactions between Jews and Gentiles and/or idolaters (from a Jewish perspective). 5 chapters.
9. Avot (Fathers) is a collection of the Sages’ favourite ethical maxims. 5 chapters.
10. Horayot (Decisions) deals with the communal sin-offering brought for major errors by the Sanhedrin. 3 chapters.

There is both a Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud to each of the tractates except for Eduyot and Avot.


Kodashim or Kodoshim (Holy Things) is the fifth Order in the Mishna (also the Tosefta and Talmud). Of the six Orders of the Mishna, it is the third longest. Kodoshim deals largely with the religious service within the Temple in Jerusalem, the Korbanot (“sacrificial offerings”), and other subjects considered or related to these “Holy Things”.
Kodoshim consists of 11 tractates:

1. Zevahim: (“Sacrifices”); Deals with the procedure of animal and bird offerings.
2. Menahot: (“Meal Offerings”); Deals with the various grain-based offerings in the Temple.
3. Chullin: (“Ordinary Things”); Deals with the laws of slaughter and meat consumption (ie animals used for every-day as opposed to sacred reasons).
4. Bekhorot: (“Firstborn”); Deals with the sanctification and redemption of animal and human firstborns.
5. Arakhin: (“Dedications”); Deals mainly with a person dedicating their value to the Temple or dedicating a field.
6. Temurah: (“Substitution”); Outlines the laws of what happens if an animal is substituted for an animal dedicated for a sacrifice.
7. Keritot: (“Excisions”); Deals with the commandments for which the penalty is karet (spiritual excision) as well as the sacrifices associated with their (mostly unwitting) transgression.
8. Me’ilah: (“Sacrilege”); Deals with the laws of restitution for the misappropriation of Temple property.
9. Tamid: (“Always”); Outlines the procedure of the Tamid (daily sacrifice).
10. Middot: (“Measurements”); Describes the measurements of the second Temple.
11. Kinnim: (“Nests”); Deals with the complex laws for situations where the mixing of bird-offerings occurred.

There is a Gemara in the Babylonian Talmud to the first 8 tractates, and three chapters of Tamid. Although the subject matter wasn’t relevant to life in the Babylonian academies, the Gemara was included to follow the idea that the study of the laws of the Temple service is a substitute for the service itself.


Tohorot (literally “Purities”) is the sixth order of the Mishnah (also the Tosefta and Talmud). This order deals with the clean/unclean distinction and family purity. This is the longest of the orders in the Mishnah.
Tohorot contains 12 tractates:

1. Keilim: (“Vessels”); deals with a large array of various utensils and how they fare in terms of purity. 30 chapters, the longest in the Mishnah.
2. Oholot: (“Tents”); deals with the uncleanness from a corpse and its peculiar property of “overshadowing” objects in the same tent-like structure as it.
3. Nega’im: (“Plagues”); deals with the laws of the tzaraath.
4. Parah: (“Cow”); deals largely with the laws of the Red Heifer.
5. Tohorot: (“Purities”); deals with miscellaneous laws of purity, especially the actual mechanics of contracting impurity and the laws of the impurity of food.
6. Mikva’ot: (“Ritual Baths”); deals with the laws of the Mikvah.
7. Niddah: (“Separation”); deals with the Niddah, a woman during her menstrual cycle.
8. Makhshirin: (“Preliminary acts of preparation”), the liquids that make food susceptible to tumah (ritual impurity)
9. Zavim: (“Seminal Emissions”); deals with the laws of a person who has had a seminal (or similar) emission.
10. Tevul Yom: (“Bathing (of the) day”) deals with a special kind of impurity where the person immerses in a Mikvah but is still unclean for the rest of the day.
11. Yadayim: (“Hands”); deals with a Rabbinic impurity related to the hands.
12. Uktzim: (“Stalks”); deals with the impurity of the stalks of fruit.

There is a Babylonian Gemara on only Niddah. This is because most of the other laws of purity do not apply when the Temple is not in existence.

17 comments on “Introduction to Learning Gemora

  1. Dear Friends,
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  2. There may have been a reaction against the approach of Graetz, who tried to explain the halachic viewpoints and decisions of our Talmudic sages as grounded in their personalities and backgrounds, as opposed to objective scholarship.

  3. When I learned Gemorrah in yeshiva, the tannas and amoras were faceless commentators. Nobody explained who they were, and besides the infrequent blurbs in the gemorrah itself, they were all the same. Someone “omar” and someone “omar”, and so it went. Rashi is a commentator with a cool name.

    Then you graduate to the meforshim, where the Rif and Rosh and Marshahah were ancient rabbis who lived somewhere in their shtetls and said things to be picked apart and interpreted. Tosfos was a rabbi, until you learn “he”‘s a “they”, and Rambam and Ramban must be good friends since they’re only one letter apart, and eventually if you’re still in a shiur, you’ll get to the Gris and Grach and and all the Briskers however they were related, and who’s Velvel and what’s this have to do with YU? Maybe you’ll get to a famous Chatzos who learned at midnight, I guess.

    This always bothered me. Why didn’t we start out learning the biographies of these people BEFORE we learned what they said? Making them into real people and understanding how and when they lived would make a big difference, yet for some reason, it’s all brushed aside. Just learn what they say, and wave those thumbs.

    Wouldn’t it help to know Shmuel was a doctor, and how its understandable that Rav Chisda would say this type of halacha? Doesn’t it make a difference that Rav Elchonon had the Chofetz Chaim as a rebbi, and Rav Chaim or Rav Naftoli Trop lived during this time period, and what about their upbringing? Why did the Rambam live in Egypt, and he was a doctor, too?!

    It’s such a shame…it opens up a whole new world of learning when you see why the Chatzos wrote differently than the Netziv and the Pnei Yehoshua.

    They’re NOT all the same, and their personalities and life circumstances, as well as stories about each one, should be learned as they are introduced.

  4. This really is, er, brilliant, Mark! I believe it should be made into a wall poster and distributed at least by Torah Umesorah.

    In fact, I would rename this column, or entitle that poster, “Introduction to the Talmud,” because it really explains the entire lay of the land of the Oral Torah.

    I would however say that you are actually not correct in your insistence on “literal translations of Rishonim and Achronim” as “Firsts” and “Lasts.” I would say the literal and less confusing translation would be “The First Ones” and “The Latter Ones.”

    Finally, while I would never want to minimize the profound contribution Artscroll has made to our generation, in which I readily include myself, I very much appreciate your quoted remark that “Learning begins where Artscroll ends.” Their description of their Talmud volumes as “elucidations” is apt. We are all best served to think of the Artscroll Gemaras as reference works. If one can get this conceptualization down he will understand why “reading” one is so little, unfortunately, akin to “learning” gemara, without in any way giving short shrift to the legitimate use, especially for non-experts, of good reference books.

  5. Date change of Gaonim and Rishonim made. Thanks.

    I’m going to leave the literal translations of Rishonim and Achronim for now.

  6. The last of the Gaonim, Rav Hai, died in 1038. Contemporary scholars in Europe and North Africa, notably Rabbeinu gershon in france and rabbein Channanel are counted among the Rishonim.

  7. Yeah, I agree with Gary that about 250 years should be chopped off the Geonim and tagged onto the Rishonim. (Michoel # 10)

    An overlap would be OK, too.

    Perhaps some of the Geonim were still living when Rashi did his work, but they were unknown to each other because of geographical distance. I often wonder how far word about great rabbis traveled during their lifetimes.

    The Ramchal (R’ Moshe Chaim Luzotto of Italy) and The Gaon of Vilna (R’ Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman) had an overlap of several years in their adult lives, but they never met. The Vilna Gaon, after reading the Ramchal’s great work, Mesillat Yesharim (Path of the Just) is reported to have said that he would travel on foot to meet the author of that work (apparently he said this after the Ramchal’s death).

    It’s interesting to speculate about the outcomes of collaboration among great leaders who lived at the same time but were never able to meet due to distance, communication difficulties, persecution, war and the like.

  8. Yeah, I agree with Gary that about 250 years should be chopped off the Geonim and tagged onto the Rishonim.

    Steg has a nice tyche.

  9. – Geonim (literally the “prides” or “geniuses”) are the rabbis of Sura and Pumbeditha, in Babylonia (650–1250)
    – Rishonim (literally the “firsts”) are the rabbis of the early medieval period (1250–1550) preceding the Shulchan Aruch

    Rashi and the Rambam lived during the time of the Geonim, but they did not live in Babylonia. I often see them included among the Rishonim, but they lived earlier than the period described in this article.

    Would it be more accurate to adjust the chronology to show an overlap (i.e., begin the age of the Rishonim in 1050) of these two stages whose scholars lived in different parts of the world than the Geonim?

    Thanks for a fine article and good comments.

  10. This message is for the benefit of all women and men who can not learn Talmud:

    Talmud is not the only thing we can study.

    Other important Jewish holy books we can learn include: Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Tanna DeBeu Eliyahu, Orchot Tzaddikim, Shevet Mussar, Shaarei Teshuvah, Midrash Tanchuma, Midrash Rabah, Mechilta/Sifra/Sifrei, Mesilat Yesharim, Midrash Mishlei, Midrash Tehillim, Sefer Erech Apayim, Rambam’s Mishnah Torah, the writings of the Chafetz Chaim and Tanach with its classic commentaries: Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Ranban, Ohr HaChaim, Baal HaTurim, Metsudath David, Ralbag, Seforno and Chizkuni.

  11. Jason, Here are my thoughts on your questions:

    1) The primary Gemora learning is in-depth learning and I believe that is where the greatest pleasure in learning also lies.

    My Rav says, learning begins where Art Scroll ends. You should always be working on skills and vocabulary, but a good portion of your learning should be in-depth. Although I personally love the Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim method of learning, any method that goes into depth will suffice. Find a chavrusa who knows more than you and go with his method of learning.

    2) During the week you can review a page or two of the Gemora with Art Scroll and make sure you understand every step (in terms of the Ramchal’s Elements) with absolute clarity. You also should try to think of what the Gemora originally thought at each step and what changed in the next step.

    When you learn with your Chavrusa, review the steps with him and make sure you have it clear. Show your chavrusa the elements page from Ways of Reason, so you are working with the same elements. Most yeshivos don’t lay the elements out as clearly as the Ramchal does. Ask him to primarily learn Tosfos with you.

    3) The Gemora makes certain assumptions (ie that you know all of Tanach and Mishnayos). Also the Gemora is trying to be as brief as possible to bring home the principles to be learned. Art Scroll does a decent job of filling in some of the gaps. Perhaps you can email me ( some specific issues so I can get a better feel of your question.

    4) My experience has been that most people do not say the tefillos printed in the Art Scroll Gemoras.

    5) Rashi is definitely first and Art Scroll does a great job there. And thanks to Art Scroll, you can follow Rashi with the Ramban. After that, there are many different Rishonim and Achronim and you may want to go with what speaks to you best.

    I find Nachshoni’s sefer on the parsha great, because it brings down 3-4 major topics in each parsha and discusses the major opinions on each of those topics.

    I also happen to like Rabbi Uriel Milevsky ztl sefer Ner Uziel.

    I also want to highly recommend Rabbi Noson Weisz’ commentary available on Aish com. You sometimes have to read them twice but he highlights great hashkafic principles from the parsha.

  12. Mark,

    Thanks very much for this logical and methodical presentation. (Thanks also for recommending the Ramchal’s Ways of Reason and Book of Logic, which I picked up a few weeks ago.) I have some follow-up questions that I wonder if you (and/or anyone else on the thread who feels so inclined) can shed some light on.

    Thank you again and kol tuv,

    1. To the uninitiated, there is another barrier to starting to learn gemara (and, I suppose, mishna and poskim as well?)–the variety of methods. That is, *how* should one learn? We hear about the Brisker method, the Mirrer method, related terms such as “pilpul,” “lomdus,” et al…. Your thoughts?

    2. If one wants to learn gemara (or mishna, poskim, etc.) daily but can only meet weekly with a chavrusa, what is a good way to go about this? Perhaps learn solo daily and then cover highlights and difficulties b’chavrusa?

    3. From my limited experience so far, it seems that there are often questions to which it would seem that the gemara should be attending, but doesn’t. This conveys a (somewhat frustrating) sense of randomness. Any thoughts?

    4. What is the relationship between the shacharis brachos on Torah study, and the pre- and post-learning tefillos printed in ArtScroll gemaras? Do we have a chiyuv to say the ones printed in the ArtScroll, or are they just a nice thing to do?

    5. On a related note, I wonder if you have any recommendations on a sequence for learning peirushim on Chumash. Many recommend beginning with Rashi and moving on after a few years to Ramban; then there are Sforno, Me’am Lo’ez, Ba’al HaTurim, Ibn Ezra, Rav Hirsch, Malbim, et al.–if one seeks to develop a long-term seder along the lines of what R’ Meister recommends in The Meister Plan, in what order should one plan to learn these peirushim?

  13. It’s primarily from the Ramchal,

    The Ways of Reason (Derech Tevunoth)
    The Book of Logic (Sefer ha-Higayon)
    Way of God (Derech Hashem)

  14. Great stuff, Mark. I thing some sources for Chain of Transmission can be found in R Aryeh Kaplan’s Handbook of Jewish Thought (vol 1).
    This should, for sure, be given to schools.

  15. Mark, what were your sources for the contents of this really useful outline? At least some content seems to resemble writings of the Rambam and Ramchal.

    This could be made into a mega-bookmark (with Beyond BT logo?)

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