Guest Author - Lisa Pinkus
The Jewish people have a significant bond with the Torah, given to us at Mount Sinai, and filled with stories, lessons, and regulations for life. Some of those lessons and commandments are vague and, without further explanation, would remain meaningless. When Moses came down from Sinai with the Ten Commandments, he also came down with more detailed instructions and explanations of the Torah. This is the Oral Torah that was passed down from ‘man to man’ until a time when the Sages felt it needed to be written down.
The writing of the Oral Law is called the Talmud. It consists of two parts - the Mishnah, which is the Law, and the Gemara, which includes explanations of and commentaries on the Oral Law. Daf Yomi is the daily practice of studying Talmud, one page at a time. Literally, Daf Yomi means “page of the day”. It takes seven and a half years to complete the reading of the Talmud.
Around the world, various learning groups take part in Daf Yomi. Study circles from synagogues, Jewish organizations, and private gatherings come together each day to learn a page of Talmud. Imagine these study groups coming together to study the same topic as their counterparts on the other side of the world. There is such spiritual power in a unity where people aren’t physically together.
Unifying the Jewish people was one of the goals of Rabbi Meir Shapiro, founder of the Daf Yomi. He introduced this new method for learning Talmud in 1923. The first cycle of learning began in that same year on Rosh Hashanah. The unification of Jews seems to be working, and Jews from all denominations participate in the seven-year learning cycle.
At the conclusion of the learning, a Siyum HaShas (completion of the Talmud) takes place. A Siyum is a celebration of the achieved learning. Often times, the Siyum will include a gathering of hundreds or even thousands of individuals. During this celebration, the final page of the Talmud is completed and the learning for the next seven and a half years begins again with the reading of the first page.
Jewish learners interested in participating can easily find information online. Websites display calendars with the appropriate pages and topics to learn on any given day. These calendars can also be downloaded onto your smart phones and electronic calendars. There are podcasts, printable pages, and scanned images covering the pages of Talmud. There are many Daf Yomi Talmud study groups taking place in your community or virtually.
Participating in Daf Yomi takes a significant commitment. The learning itself takes about an hour a day for the seven and a half years. While the thought of taking part in such a task may feel daunting, one must consider that the benefits far outweigh the sacrifices. In the grand scheme of things, devoting an hour a day to your relationship with G-d and with the Jewish people is a habit well worth creating.