Taking Ownership of Our Talmud

Daf Yomi Missed Chance To Celebrate Living Document

Happy Moment: Orthodox young men celebrate the Daf Yomi at a packed New Jersey stadium.
Ezra Glinter
Happy Moment: Orthodox young men celebrate the Daf Yomi at a packed New Jersey stadium.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published August 19, 2012, issue of August 24, 2012.
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No Jewish tradition is more revered, more popularly identified with Judaism than learning. And yet, strangely, the commandment to study Torah appears nowhere in the Torah. It actually originates in the Talmud. The sages inferred it from the biblical commandment to “teach it (the Torah) diligently to thy children” (Deuteronomy 6:7). They figured you can’t teach it if you haven’t learned it yourself.

Whatever the Torah says, though, the Talmud insists study is commanded — in fact, it’s “equal to all the other commandments combined” (Tractate Shabbat). This is the logic behind the celebrated Daf Yomi movement, in which tens of thousands of people worldwide study a page a day of Talmud. They just concluded their 12th seven-and-a-half-year, 2,711-page cycle with the August 1 spectacle known as Siyum, featuring mass rallies at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey and dozens of other locations on five continents.

But since all this stems from the commandment to teach one’s children, Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald argues in a compelling article in the Jewish Press that Daf Yomi-niks might want to rethink their priorities and consider spending that hour a day studying with their kids.

It’s a powerful thought. But I want to take it a step further, and suggest that the entire Daily Talmud movement do some rethinking. That New Jersey rally was an enormous missed opportunity. For one brief moment, the world media’s attention was focused on Orthodox Jewry and its love of study — not because it angers draft-age Israelis or sparks lawsuits in New York suburbs, but because it inspires thousands of our neighbors to seek wisdom.

This was a huge teaching moment, reported in print and broadcast to a global audience of millions, most of them clueless as to what’s in the Talmud. It was a rare chance to show the world what the big book is about, how it works, why it’s been cherished through the centuries.

Instead, we got a victory lap, a self-congratulatory salute to the hardy folks who got through — well, whatever it was they were reading. Not surprisingly, the media coverage consisted of endless stories about people with funny hats who heroically squeeze sacred study into their busy days. That, plus the inevitable sniping about who wasn’t invited to the party, like women and Reform rabbis.


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