The Talmud has been compared to the seas, for it is vast and deep and, like the oceans, there is no real beginning or end to the study of Shas (an acronym for the Talmud). Few among us have circumnavigated its 63 tractates and 2,711 double-sided and oversized pages. It can take days to fathom even a few lines, and so familiarity with the entirety of Shas had become rare over time, and several of the less popular tractates fell into obscurity.
In 1923, the genius of Rabbi Meir Shapiro, a rising star in Agudath Israel and head of the famed yeshiva in Lublin, was to democratize Talmud study by giving it the vessel of containment in both time and space. His idea was to encourage studying one page a day — Daf Yomi — and in 2,711 days, or about seven-and-a-half years, Shas could be completed. He hoped to foster Jewish unity: All kinds of Jews, everywhere, studying the same page of Talmud.
This week marks the Siyum (completion) of the 12th Daf Yomi cycle, with more than 90,000 people celebrating at an event, sponsored by Agudath Israel, at a football stadium in the Meadowlands.
Like any major event the Siyum HaShas has its politics, in this case over who was and wasn’t invited to participate and address the huge crowd, based on religious, political and ideological views. We’ll leave those discussions for another time and rather focus on the remarkable flourishing of serious Torah learning in this country, especially among younger people.
We join in celebrating this phenomenon, and note that the Daf Yomi has motivated many — not just Talmud scholars — to take time for daily study with a chavruta (study partner), in a class, online and in other ways.
We applaud and honor those men and women who inspire us by their love of learning, and encourage each among us to find even a few minutes a day to do likewise, delving into the wisdom of our sages, past and present.
May Daf Yomi continue to be a bridge to even greater common cause in the Jewish world, from this Siyum until the next.