Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Back to the Daf!

[Very worth seeing: The Death of Abu Rahma, on The Muqata]

I started teaching the Daf this morning again, after a 16-month hiatus.

Wow, did I miss it. I feel like Jim Tomsula (bottom of the page here), only I get to keep on going after the first game.

I’m not a fan of making Daf Yomi one’s only regular Torah study; it’s too quick and superficial. But for giving people an authentic sense of the breadth of Torah, its wisdom and challenges and contradictions and so on, there’s no substitute. And teaching it is a good way to make sure not to get bogged down in small, narrow issues, but instead to keep the big picture in mind.

Further, and not to be underestimated, it’s great to have a group that meets every day, same Bat Time and same Bat Channel, to learn together. While I don’t know the group here yet, I know that in our group in Allentown, where I did the Daf for 8+ years, everyone had a special “learning personality,” a special role, questions that everyone knew they would ask, items that everyone knew they would pick up on. This is natural in a group that studies and discusses and debates for an hour (or, in this case, 45 minutes) on a daily basis.

Rabbis often debate the issue of using a significant of their time to prepare and teach the Daf Yomi to a small group of people, and particularly in shuls where it’s an all-male group, further limiting those who can take advantage of their connection in this way. Assuming 30 minutes to prepare and an hour to teach, that’s 90 minutes of the rabbi’s waking time. Even assuming there are 25 in the group – quite large for most shuls - that’s still a small percentage of the population.

To me, though, it’s a worthwhile investment – because of what it does for the rabbi’s own learning, and because of the powerful bond this creates among the group. Going back to our Allentown group – many shul leaders came out of that group, and I think part of that was because of pollination among the group itself. (And, of course, because people who came to Daf regularly were people who knew how to make a commitment, and how to make time.)

When I did the daf in Allentown, we recorded the audio but kept it in-house, for Daf regulars only. That was partly because of concern about how the gemara might be taken out of context and misunderstood, and partly because I never prepared in advance. With this run, I intend to record and post the audios on our kollel site, torontotorah.com. Today's audio is here.

Now, the only slight problem is that this Daf is at 6 AM, which means I need to get up at 5 AM. Ugh. But definitely worth it.


  1. True, but it's interesting to think about what would be if it were aruch hashulchan yomi - how much more practical knowledge would be amassed by participants as well as a derech inlearning.
    Joel Rich (2 times through and now a once a week maggid {daf shiur that is :-)})

  2. I certainly agree, but as Joel Rich points out - there are also alternatives that are underutilized for appropriate circumstances.

    Ever since I met Rav Aharon Batt z'l in the early 80s, I have been a proponent of Mishnah Yomit. It has many of the same benefits of the daf (lacking the extent of breadth and the depth, of course), but is shorter and more accessible/doable for people who lack the learning skills. Interestingly, when dealing with a genuinely uninformed group, even two mishnayot can take the better part of an hour while filling in background and explaining things.

    Congratulations on getting back to the daf. I still recall you stepping in on a Shabbat afternoon unprepared and doing a great job with a g'mara from somewhere in Kodshim, in Worcester. ;-)

  3. Joel-
    I love Aruch haShulchan - I translated his Hilchos Shabbos into English, many years ago - and I endorse it mightily. But they wouldn't get the breadth.

    R' Mordechai-
    Thanks; as my wife says, "Oh my gosh, I remember that! It was Krisus." I had completely forgotten about that.

  4. At one point in my life, I went through all of Tanach 1 perek a day (actually, some of the larger ones I split into 2 or 3 days. I think I may do that again.

  5. Aruch HaShulchan is one of the few achronim I have great respect for. His stuff is amazing. I I agree that a daily shiur in his book would be a great idea.--but on the other hand there is something about the Mishna and Talmud that towers above all later halacha books.

  6. Adam Zur:

    It is definitely true that the Aruch Hashulchan is an amazingly special and unique work. I am just wondering why you only have respect for a "few acharonim." I have a hard time coming up with a name of a published acharon (at least from the Aruch Hashulchan's era and prior) whom I do not have respect for.

  7. Adam-
    That does stand to reason, doesn't it?

  8. FWIW, I agree with the Arukh haShulchan's take on daf yomi. Okay, he wrote it about the typical Chevrah Shas, daf yomi wasn't invented yet. But they too learned a daf a day, they just didn't have Agudah coordinating which daf. In short: in the ideal world, shas isn't what we would encourage as a balebas's daily spoon fed text to run through rapidly. In the real world, people are excited and motivated to learn gemara. If you try switching people to something else, far fewer people would end up cracking open a sefer daily.

    I am completing a yomi cycle on isrus chag Pesach. I currently plan on resuming my Arukh haShulchan yomi, mostly because I don't like how much day-to-day halakhah I've forgotten, and Arukh haShulchan has enough sevara to be fun learning. Unlike the Chayei Adam, Qitzur SA or Mishnah Berurah, which are more lists of positions (in the MB's case, often multiple positions per topic) than the logic behind them.