How daf yomi helps us remember

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By Rabbi Mordechai Rhine

Members of Kvutzat Rodges study the Gemara (Talmud), 1935.
Photo by Zoltan Kluger /Wikimedia Commons

This week, the Jewish world is celebrating the 13th Siyum Daf Yomi, the end of a seven-and-a-half-year cycle during which participants study one folio (two-sided page, or daf) of Talmud each day. It is a monumental, international accomplishment.


The Talmud is the remarkable record of Judaism, and includes the underlying principles of mitzvot (commandments) and Jewish attitudes and beliefs, as well as anecdotes and wisdom to enable the student to apply Torah in real life, for all generations. The threat of forgetting comes from disengagement. The success of Talmud study and daf yomi is in engagement.

When Rabbi Meir Shapiro, a prominent Polish Chasidic leader, introduced the concept of daf yomi in 1923, he advocated it as an endeavor of unity, saying: “A Jew travels by boat and takes a volume of the Talmud with him. He travels for 15 days to America, and each day he learns the daf. When he arrives in America, he enters a beis medrash [study house] in New York and finds Jews learning the very same daf that he studied that day, and he joins them. Could there be greater unity than this?”

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Shapiro cited a story in the Talmud about a time when Rabbi Akiva was on a ship that sank. It was assumed that he and all the passengers had drowned.

One day, Rabbi Akiva walked into the study hall very much alive. People asked him how he survived. Rabbi Akiva responded, “Daf Nizdamein Li,” a daf — a plank of wood — was provided to him during the shipwreck, and he held tight to it, using it as a flotation device until he reached land.


Rabbi Shapiro, using a play on the word daf, suggested that the same principle can apply to the daf of daily Talmud study. By staying connected to Torah, one can survive threatening storms and all kinds of threats. And so, daf yomi was born, creating an international system of keeping Jews on the same page and ensuring that we remember.

The Talmud is a unique work of scholarship whose style has never been duplicated. As my rebbe described it, “It is a joy to study, but it is not entertaining. The text has little punctuation, and its long and complicated run-on sentences can go on for pages. It is difficult and sometimes intentionally ambiguous, yielding its secrets only after the student commits considerable time and effort to its study.” It is that effort, and the resulting discoveries, that bring joy.

Most of all, the Talmud is engaging. The bystander will get little from it. But, when one enters its world with regularity, one becomes at one with the Talmud, with the tradition and with the eternal Jewish experience. This year, on Jan. 5, the Jewish world will begin the 14th cycle of daf yomi, the cycle that will include the 100th year anniversary of the program’s inception.

In this cycle, an ever-increasing number of people will participate in the learning. Some will study in depth, for hours each day, each and every word, while others will make the most of the 45-to-60 minutes that they can commit each day. Still others will attend a lecture given by an accomplished scholar. Few will remember every word they learn, but all will remember that they are part of something very big.

I have the honor of serving as the moderator for a project, new for this cycle, called “Take Ten for Talmud” by TEACH613™, which enables everyone to engage the daily daf on their own level. An audio class of about 10 minutes is posted for beginners and for those who want to review the highlights of the daf, while the blogging feature invites participants on all levels to post insights, questions and responses.

Whether you have a strong background in Torah study or little at all, whether you can commit a lot of time, or just a little, I encourage you to participate in the new cycle of Daf Yomi on some level. Together, we will be engaged in Torah. Together, we will remember.

Rabbi Mordechai Rhine is the rav of Southeast Hebrew Congregation—Knesset Yehoshua in White Oak, Md. He also is the director of TEACH613, an organization which promotes Torah and mitzvah education through classes and virtual media. To participate, go to teach613.org/take-ten-for-talmud.

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