Illumination on the same page

The Israeli Talmud’ makes the Daf Yomi program accessible to kids.

Avi Rath: ‘If parents would learn five minutes a day with their children, our country would be healthier.’ (photo credit: THE ISRAELI TALMUD)
Avi Rath: ‘If parents would learn five minutes a day with their children, our country would be healthier.’
(photo credit: THE ISRAELI TALMUD)
The Daf Yomi program, created in 1923 by Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin, has gained popularity with Jews throughout the world, who study one daf (page) of the Talmud per day.
Yet the study of Talmud is demanding and challenges many Israeli youngsters in yeshiva high schools; sometimes students don’t see its relevance to their lives in the 21st century. Students study it for hours a week and take the bagrut (matriculation exam) on the subject, but often feel disconnected to its messages, despite its many relevant issues to Jews as individuals and as a nation.
With this in mind, businessman Meir Jakobsohn and his wife Zilit – owners of Medison, an international marketing group of innovative healthcare solutions companies – initiated The Israeli Talmud: The Daf Yomi for Children , a seven-volume series published by Yediot Books.
“When my children started learning Gemara [Talmud] in school, it brought back memories of my years in school, the yeshiva high school and the hesder yeshiva,” says Meir. “If back then the centrality and importance of the Gemara wasn’t always ap - parent, what about today’s tablet and WhatsApp generation? We tried to think of a new way for boys and girls to like learning Gemara from a young age, endearing it to them by making it part of the family routine, by reinforcing the connection between par - ents, brothers and sisters.”
The Jakobsohns believe that the love of studying Gemara is enhanced by the time and attention that parents give their children during daily or weekly study sessions.
Each volume of The Israeli Talmud includes the Daf Yomi in a format suitable for children from third to sixth grade, presenting one idea from each daf. As with the worldwide Daf Yomi programs, children can complete their study of the entire Talmud within seven years – by which time many will already be studying the original Talmud in high school in Aramaic.
In addition to the seven volumes, editor Avi Rath and Meir Jakobsohn have prepared a weekly Talmud study kit, available on Facebook (where it has over 17,000 users) and through email.
These study kits are distributed free in communities through - out the country, as well as in some Diaspora Jewish communities. Parallel to the main text, the kits provide information on places, events and people connected to Israeli/Zionist history.
“For example, when mentioning Babylonia in the Talmud, there’ll be information on Operation Ezra and Nehemiah, which airlifted Iraqi Jews [to Israel], and on Iraqi-born politician Shlomo Hillel,” explains Rath.
An educator, author and columnist in the Hebrew media who started compiling talmudic material for children eight years ago, Rath notes that “the reactions to The Israeli Talmud and the study kits are exceptional. Those exposed to a one-time study session can’t stop learning. There is a wide range of topics in clear language, connecting parents and children to the Talmud.”
The volumes also include a timeline of Torah scholarship, stories of the Sages, Talmudic expressions, and illustrations.
Rath believes the project caters to general society as well.
“There’s no reason why non-observant Jews can’t learn from The Israeli Talmud ,” he says. “With minimal intervention, they can understand and enjoy the talmudic treasures, as well as connecting to their children. People are busy today; it’s difficult to create true quality time with children. If parents would learn five minutes a day with their children, our country would be healthier.”
Haim Freilichman, chairman of the project’s board of directors, considers the Talmud “the great secret of the Jewish world.”
He notes that “it was always at the core of studying Torah and includes the ability to analyze text, to study deeply and to benefit from the talmudic principles. This is the basis for everything.”
A former director-general of the Union Bank, Freilichman says he has used the wisdom of the Talmud as a senior banker. Echoing Rath, he says the study project “connects children with each other, and with their parents, throughout Israel and through - out the world.”
He, too, reports that “the feedback is positive, from all sectors of Israeli society, and from people in the finance world. We’d like the project to grow in the school system and in communities.”
In Givat Shmuel, where there has been a weekly class, the initial beit midrash (Torah study hall) reached full capacity, so a second study venue opened up. Chief Rabbi David Lau attended a siyum ceremony in Givat Shmuel this past June to mark the completion of Tractate Succa , and he commented on the spiritual strength that the project was fostering among children.
Rath says The Israeli Talmud study sessions are popular in the periphery.
In Dimona, parents and children have been studying together for over a year.
In Ashdod, children and parents study regularly in the religious schools. In the North, the series is part of the Education Ministry’s curriculum and taught in about 25 state-religious schools. Some of these schools have a percentage of non-observant students learning the material as well.
Following its success in Israel, the initiators of the project received requests from abroad. In the United States, Jewish communities in New York and New Jersey receive the weekly study kit, and parents learn together with their children, who also benefit from the chance to reinforce their Hebrew and learn Israeli history.
One of the many requests to distribute the series came from the Netanya-based Central Library for the Blind, which has started to record the Talmud to help the visually impaired study it.
Another request for a translation came from Germany, from the ZWST – the youth department for the welfare of Germany’s Jewish communities. The ZWST, which comprises 107 communities, plans to incorporate the upcoming German version into the curriculum of youth movements and Jewish schools from about March 2015. Studies are expected to commence in all Jewish communities in Germany, including in large cities like Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Cologne and Munich.
Plans are under way to translate The Israeli Talmud into English as well. •