On Aug. 1, about 93,000 people gathered in the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey to complete the Talmud together. Since 1923, when the young Polish Rabbi Meir Shapiro first proposed the idea, Jews around the world have been studying a daily daf (two-sided page) of the Babylonian Talmud, day in and day out, rain or shine. Since there are 2,711 of these dafs in the Talmud, it takes about 7-1/2 years to complete this daily, or daf yomi, cycle. This month’s celebration was the 12th, and by far the largest, such completion.
Large Jewish communities throughout the world held local celebrations and joined the Jews in New Jersey via video link. In Toronto, some 2,500 people assembled at the Sony Centre downtown. The feeling of packing a theatre with Jews of all ages and stripes, and joining the throngs in New Jersey on the screen, was pure inspiration. As we all completed the last lines of Tractate Niddah, everyone broke into singing and dancing.
Our joy was not just because we felt a sense of educational accomplishment. This was also a victory for the Jewish People over our enemies. Despite all their efforts over the centuries, we remain the thriving “people of the Book,” a book that has kept us alive all this time.
At our synagogue, we have three daf yomi classes every day. Most days I enjoy the intellectual challenge of having to figure out what these 2,000-year-old sages were conveying, but at times it’s been quite taxing on my aging brain cells to clear out the cobwebs so early in the morning. Fortunately, many in the class are themselves accomplished scholars and keep me on the straight and narrow.
More than any political cause, more than any organization, Torah study has kept our people united and alive over the centuries. This was palpable Aug. 1 in New Jersey and at the Sony Centre. Jewish literacy can only be accomplished through committed study of our texts. If you seek Jewish literacy, if you want to ensure Jewish continuity for the next generation, nothing is as effective as dedicating a portion of your day to studying Talmud.
And it isn’t just for Orthodox Jews. The Talmud collects the greatest wisdom of Rabbi Akiva, Hillel, Rav Ashi and hundreds of other voices that shape the Judaism of today. Join a daf yomi class. If your synagogue doesn’t offer one, ask your rabbi to start one.
But here’s the best reason to learn the daf: Fred Stoll was a kind, lovable man who had a great following of admirers in the Toronto Jewish community. He built a beautiful family of multiple generations. On Aug. 1, Fred attended the party at the Sony Centre, since he had attended the daf yomi lectures for the past 15 years and finished the entire Talmud for his second time. He had no formal yeshiva training, just a love for learning. That next Friday, a few hours before the new cycle of the Talmud was to begin, Fred passed away peacefully. He had been struggling with his health for two years, but something kept him hanging on. Of course, it may have been his wonderful multi-generational progeny who gave him a continued reason to live. But it also may have been a drive to finish the Talmud just one more time before having the curtain fall on a wonderful life.
The Talmud gave Fred life. May it do the same for you.
Rabbi Korobkin is senior rabbi of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto Congregation.