Forgetting The Torah (Part 1)

(This should not be relied upon for practical halacha. When a question arises a Rabbi should be consulted.)

Jewish law places a tremendous amount of importance on amassing Torah knowledge and not to G-d forbid forget one’s learning. Throughout the Gemara and Medrash our Sages tell us of numerous activities which one should avoid since they are “kasha l’shichcha,” cause one to forget his learning. In the next few blogs we will discuss some of the more common and more obscure actions which can cause one to forget his studies. For a full list of things that one should avoid please see Harav Chaim Kanievsky’s Sefer Hazikaron.

Section 1: The Prohibition-

1. The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (3:8) says that anyone who forgets what he has learned is considered to be deserving of death. The source for this is a verse in Parshas Va’eschanan, which says: “Only beware for yourself and greatly beware for your soul, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen and lest you remove them from your heart all the days of your life, and make them known to your children and your children’s children” (Devarim 4:9). Similarly the Gemara in Menachos 99b says in the name of Reish Lakish that someone who forgets what he has learned has transgressed the negative commandment of the aforementioned pasuk. The Gemara explains that since the verse uses the words “hi’shamer” (beware) and “pen” (lest), this verse constitutes a negative commandment. This prohibition is cited by the Smak (9, 105), Smag (Lo Saaseh 13) and Yireim (28).

2. The Shulchan Aruch Harav (Talmud Torah 2:4) likewise rules that one who abstains from reviewing his learning and therefore forgets it has transgressed a biblical prohibition. This is only true if he neglected to review his learning due to laziness, however, if he does not have time to review because of his work and the like he is considered an “ones” and has not transgressed. He also adds that the prohibition applies even today where the oral law is written down.

[While this seems like an obvious ruling, in fact the opinion of Harav Chaim Volozhiner was that the prohibition only applied when the oral Torah was just that “oral.” Once the oral Torah was written it is no longer possible to forget Torah.]

ראיתי דבר חדש מהגרי”זּ הלוי, שכתב הכתר ראש (אות ס”ז) בשם הגר”ח מוואלאזין, וז”ל: “בענין שוכח דבר אחר ממשנתו, זה קאי על הראשונים שלמדו בעל פה”, עכ”ל. וביאר בחדושי מרן רי”ז הלוי על התורה (פרשת ואתחנן, על הכתוב “והיו הדברים האלה”) שעיקר האיסור שלא לשכח דבר אחד מן התורה קאי דוקא על התורה שבעל פה הנמסרת מדור לדור, מרב לתלמיד פה אל פה, כדי שלא תשתכח. אבל אחר שכבר נכתב התלמוד, ונפסקה הקבלה של תורה שבעל פה איש מפי איש, שוב אין זה בכלל שוכח דבר אחד ממשנתו, ע”כ. אכן בשו”ע הרב מבואר דלא כדברי הגר”ח. ויש לבאר שנחלקו בגדר האיסור לשכוח דבר אחד מן התורה, האם הוא על הגברא- שלא ישכח, או על התורה גופה, שאנו נזהרים שלא לשכוח את התורה באופן שתפסק מסירת התורה. שמדברי הגרי”ז מבואר, דזהו איסור על הגברא, שלא ישכח דבר אחד מן התורה, ולכן איסור זה נוהג תיכף כששכח דבר אחד ממשנתו, אע”פ שיכול לחזור ללומדו פעם שניה. ולהכי פשיטא ליה, דלא ישתנה איסור זה בשינוי הדורות. אולם הגר”ח ס”ל, שכל האיסור הוא שלא לשכח את התורה באופן שתפסק מסירת התורה, ולפיכך פשיטא ליה דאיסור זה נאמר דוקא על הדורות הראשונים שלמדו בעל פה, שאם שוכח דבר אחד ממשנתו לא יוכל להעביר לתלמידו את כל מה שקיבל מרבו. אבל אחר שנכתבה תורה שבע”פ, אף אם ישכח דבר אחד ממשנתו אין התורה משתכחת, שהרי יכול הוא לעיין בספרים, לפיכך אין בזה איסור.

3. Interestingly, Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l uses this prohibition of forgetting Torah to prohibit double ring ceremonies. In the betrothal process, the giving of the ring is a means by which a kinyan is made. Here, the man is “acquiring” the woman. In a double-ring ceremony, where both the chosson and kallah give each other a ring (accompanied by commitments), it is unclear as to who is acquiring whom. This exchange of rings may lead to the erroneous conclusion that a woman can acquire a man for a husband. In addition this may lead to people forgetting the halachic kiddushin ceremony, which falls under the negative commandment of forgetting Torah. (Igros Moshe Even Haezer 3:18)

4. As stated above there are many activities that the Gemara warns against as it can lead to one forgetting his learning. The poskim debate whether performing these activities falls under the biblical prohibition stated above. Rav Chaim Palag’i, Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld zt”l and the Aruch Hashulchan all feel that performing theses acts are biblically forbidden. However, the Sefer Chassidim seems to indicate that there is no prohibition. (See Yabia Omer Y.D. 2:8 and Sefer Shemiras Haguf V’Nefesh Mavo chapter 18 for a full discussion.)

5. Harav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a explains the view of the Sefer Chassidim. He writes that these actions do not actively cause one to forget his learning, rather, they weaken the mind’s ability to remember, which in turn may lead to forgetfulness. The Torah only forbids actively forgetting learning by deliberately not reviewing Torah. Merely weakening one’s ability to remember is not forbidden. It should, however, be avoided (Sefer Hazikaron).

6. The poskim write that women may perform the activities which the Gemara warns against (Mishmeres Shalom 72:2, Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a who adds that a child should not perform these activities).

7. The Yad Yitzchak (vol. 2 84:17) writes that an “am haaretz” (ignoramus) may also perform these activities.

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