Thursday, March 03, 2005

Daf Yomi: The enduring spirit of the Jewish people!

I have both great respect - and a dose of jealousy - for anyone who has finished the Daf Yomi cycle, and substantial skepticism as to the practical value for most participants of learning Talmud by drinking from a fire hose. But, of all the current wave of Daf Yomi adulation, the worst was dished out this morning by the editorialists of the Jerusalem Post, of all people:
The next step would be to see the growth of daf yomi, or some form of similarly dedicated Talmud study, spread outside of traditional Orthodox circles, and into the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism.

In recent years, there has been a growing realization among Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist leaders, and even Jewish educators without specific affiliation, that exposing their constituents directly to the study of Judaism's fundamental texts is essential to elevating their basic Jewish literacy. Talmudic study in some form or another is no less essential to Jewish cultural life than synagogue attendance, no matter at what level of Jewish observance.

Non-Orthodox Jewish educational institutions should take the daf yomi example as an inspiration for their own efforts to make the study of Jewish texts more accessible and inspirational to a broader audience. Perhaps it should also motivate them to lend greater support to such projects as the Steinsaltz English translation of the Talmud, which was expressly designed to reach beyond the Orthodox world, and still awaits completion.

Are they serious? Too many Orthodox Jews in the diaspora can barely read a page of Hebrew, let alone Talmud. What value can there possibly be to Talmud study for audiences who are nearly ignorant about the Chumash?

All Jews should have some exposure to Talmud, as a basic matter of cultural literacy. It is one of our founding texts. But regular Talmud study for the Jewish masses must surely take a back seat to more fundamental study.

"A daf is the instrument of our survival in today's stormy seas," said Rabbi Shapiro a century ago. And the survival of daf yomi itself, through each unbroken cycle, testifies to the enduring spirit of the Jewish people.

The Jewish spirit is about Daf Yomi? Not Shabbat or prayer? Not Chumash or Rambam? Get a grip, folks.


Soccer Dad said...

Do you mean "Too many Orthodox Jews in the diaspora can barely read a page of Hebrew, let alone Talmud?"

Zman Biur said...

Unfortunately, yes. Some are ba'alei teshuvah, others are day school graduates, but they exist even among the Orthodox. Just because someone can find his way around a siddur doesn't mean he can read a page of Hebrew without vowels and understand it.

Why else is there such a vast market for English-language sifrei kodesh - including the Talmud?

As a gross generalization, anyone who needs an English-language Talmud (not "uses as an occasional reference", but "needs") should be learning other things before they get to the Talmud.

Soccer Dad said...

The reason they're in English is because people are lazy. I'm going to attempt Daf Yomi with my two older sons. Time constraints are such that I'm inclined to attempt it with the Artscroll Gemoras as much as possible.
And while I realize that reading Hagot B'Parshot Hashuva is much more satisfying in Hebrew than in English, I suspect that most people would rather buy Artscroll's Meditation on the Weekly Parsha. (And for Mishna Yomi with them I'm using Blackman more than Kehati.)
Of my 3 older children only my (Bais Yaakov) daughter has a command of the Hebrew language. But that doesn't mean that my boys can't learn Chumash with Rashi.

yaak said...

I posted a different take on it, but you definitely have a good point.

Zman Biur said...

Should we be celebrating the publication of study aids for lazy people? Are they really contributing to Jewish learning, or trivializing it?

I appreciate that at certain educational stages, translations are useful, even vital. But the object must be to be weaned from them. You aren't really learning Gemara if you aren't struggling to read the words on the page - including figuring out how to punctuate them.

Learning with a constant parallel translation never develops the basic reading skills. And, with Gemara, they aren't that basic either; even reading the page is a challenge.

Do you think Daf Yomi is the best learning framework for kids for whom reading the daf is a struggle?

I don't mean to suggest that fluency in modern Hebrew is necessary for Jewish learning. But fluency in biblical and rabbinical Hebrew is, and my sense is that many day schools focus less on reading skills so they can discuss the concepts. You do need both, of course.

Soccer Dad said...

The reason I'm learning Daf Yomi with my boys is a) I want to learn Daf and the discipline inherent in that. Something I hope will rub off on them.
b) I am not hoping that they learn how to learn as much as learn the wide scope of Halacha and Aggada. Do I have any idea how much they'll retain? No. But I figure that when they are doing their real learning, the ideas that they've heard in passing in Daf (i.e. Bekius) will be of greater interest. I would not be doing this if it was their only learning. But to learn outside of school and possibly pick up some ideas and vocabulary, I think, is a good thing.

Zman Biur said...

Those sound like good reasons to attempt Daf Yomi. The point is it should be a component of a richer learning program. On its own, I'm not sure it's the best use of learning time.


Soccer Dad said...

I've found out that my sons' Rebbes are not in favor of the boys learning Daf. (That doesn't change anything. This is an hour that my boys wouldn't be learning or learning anything with the substance of Daf.)
I should also mention that my father, when he started learning - in his 50's - decided that he wanted to learn from Kehati. He wanted to learn Hebrew. Most of the time he uses English sefarim, but for his learning, he wanted to do it right.