5 Reasons Why “Daf Yomi” Electrifies the Jewish World
Jan 5, 2020 | by Rabbi Shraga Simmons
A quarter-million people celebrate Siyum Hashas – completing the 7-year daily Talmud study cycle.
In every corner of the globe, Jews are energized by Daf Yomi, the program to study the Talmud’s 2,711 double-sided pages in 2,711 days.
From a few hundred participants 50 years ago, Daf Yomi has exploded and on January 1, 2020, one of the largest gathering of Jews in American history took place in New York’s MetLife Stadium to complete the 7-year cycle. 90,000 people greeted one another – not with “Happy New Year” – but with “Happy New Daf Yomi Cycle.”
What is it about Daf Yomi that has so electrified the Jewish world? Here are five take-aways.
(1) Daf Yomi taps the font of Jewish wisdom.
Published 1,500 years ago in Babylonia, the Talmud is the repository of ancient Jewish wisdom, exploring every aspect of existence – geometry, mathematics, land use, civil law, love, happiness, and success. As a reflection of the Jewish people’s emotional-spiritual DNA, the Talmud is the place to recalibrate our societal arc, employing time-tested principles to guide us today.
One example, among thousands:
The best way to give charity is anonymously. This helps to protect the recipient’s dignity and self-esteem. Furthermore, one who gives anonymously – without expectation of accolades or reward – connects with a drive to purely “do the right thing.” (Talmud – Bava Batra 10b)
The thrill of Talmud study is probing the great ethical-spiritual giants of human history: Abraham, Moses, Rebbe Akiva, Maimonides. Indeed, talmudic principles form the basis for Western ethics and values. John Adams, second President of the United States, wrote: “I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation.” Winston Churchill wrote that Jewish ethics is “incomparably the most precious possession of mankind, worth in fact the fruits of all other wisdom and learning put together.”
Daf Yomi is a direct, daily tap into the wisdom of timeless Jewish values.
(2) Daf Yomi is every single day, no excuses.
In identifying the most important verse in the Torah, our Sages suggest two obvious options: “Shema Yisrael” (Deut. 6:4) and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). A third option, however, is perplexingly: “Offer one lamb every morning, and one every afternoon” (Exodus 29:39). This is one of the most important verse in the Torah because it represents the idea that day-in, day-out consistency is the key to success.
Completing the Daf Yomi cycle requires studying for 2,711 consecutive days. With Daf Yomi, there are no vacations. Whether in a synagogue and on a commuter train, regardless of daily frustrations and challenges, that daf has to get done – every single day.
Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits, Rosh Yeshiva of Aish HaTorah, speaking at the Siyum Hashas in Jerusalem, January 1, 2020, sponsored by Rabbi Mordechai Kornfeld’s Kollel Iyun Hadaf.
(3) Daf Yomi is a Jewish victory over oppressors.
There is an eerie connection between Daf Yomi and the Holocaust. When the Nazis marched into Lublin, Poland, they headed straight to Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin, the premier yeshiva in the pre-war era headed by Rabbi Meir Shapiro, founder of Daf Yomi. They murdered his students and made a grand public spectacle of burning the Talmud volumes.
The Nazis harbored a particular hatred for Talmud study. In 1940, the German High Commander in Poland, I.A. Eckhardt, warned against Jews escaping Europe, out of concern that could “bring about the spiritual regeneration of world Jewry, even American Jewry.” Speaking at MetLife Stadium, Rabbi Yissocher Frand declared that this mass gathering of American Jews celebrating Torah proves that the Nazi’s fears were absolutely correct!
In 1975, rabbinic leaders in America permanently dedicated the Siyum HaShas – and its 2,711 pages – in memory of the six million Holocaust martyrs. In 2005, the Holocaust memorial in Berlin – the epicenter of destruction – was completed containing 2,711 slabs of stone. As the prophet predicts, “from the ashes comes redemption” (Isaiah 61:3).
Shortly after the liberation in 1945, completion of the Daf Yomi cycle took place in a DP camp near Dachau. It was then that Jewish survivors – their connection with Talmud study severed during the war – undertook to print sets of Talmud dedicated to the US Army for defeating Hitler.
Fast-forward 75 years to MetLife Stadium, and the sagely Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky using an original volume printed in the DP camp to officially complete the Daf Yomi cycle. Indeed, out of the ashes of the Holocaust has emerged the phenomenal renaissance of Torah study in America.
Dedication page from Talmud printed in DP Camp, 1945.
(4) Daf Yomi inspires and unites the Jewish people.
It is a principle of Jewish philosophy that “God made one idea opposite the other” (Ecclesiastes 7:14), meaning that for every experience in the mundane realm, that same energy is found in Torah. Daf Yomi, it seems, is the spiritual counterpart to a packed stadium shouting in unity at a football game or a rock concert.
Speaking on an Olami broadcast from MetLife, Rabbi Shlomo Farhi said that the nature of a typical sporting event is there is one winner and one loser. But with Daf Yomi, every seat is filled with people celebrating a “triumph of self,” a constant dedication to reaching the goal line of 2,711 Talmud pages.
The MetLife celebration also pointed to the tribalism of sports fans, uniting around a temporal victory, where next year a new champion is crowned. With Talmud study, we unite time and again around this precious collection of Jewish wisdom.
After being scattered to four corners of the world, into different languages and cultures, Torah study is our portable homeland – the common thread and centrifugal force that holds the Jewish people together. Daf Yomi is a real moment of Jewish unity, a family celebration where Jews around the world study the same page, every single day.
(5) Daf Yomi is a source of stability in a turbulent world.
At the first Siyum Hashas held in Lublin, Rabbi Meir Shapiro cited the Talmud (Yevamot 121a) in which a ship broke apart in stormy waters. The great Rebbe Akiva, who lived during a dark period of Jewish history marked by the destruction of our Holy Temple, was cast overboard. Amazingly, he survived the turbulent waters by holding onto a “board (daf).”
Rabbi Shapiro explained: That daf can be understood metaphorically as the Talmudic page (“daf”) to which we hold tight against the turbulent waters of society.
A look at history shows that societies and cultures come and go (just ask the ancient superpower Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, et al). The Talmud (Megillah 6a) predicts that “the nations will build stadiums, and rabbis will teach Torah in them.” The celebration at MetLife Stadium is a fulfillment of that prophecy.
I for one am so inspired that I’ve now started the new Daf Yomi cycle. See you in seven years!
About the Author
Rabbi Shraga Simmons
Rabbi Shraga Simmons is the co-founder of Aish.com, and co-author of “48 Ways to Wisdom” (ArtScroll). He is Founder and Director of Aish.com’s advanced learning site. He is co-founder of HonestReporting.com, and author of “David & Goliath”, the definitive account of anti-Israel media bias. Originally from Buffalo, New York, he holds a degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin, and rabbinic ordination from the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. He lives with his wife and children in the Modi’in region of Israel.